Leave or stay with verbally abusive husband

I’ve been married over thirty years, and I never thought I would be considering divorce. I realize that I have been living for a long time with a verbally abusive husband. He has never been physically abusive, but every so often he erupts in rage. It’s like a screw pops out. He’s like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. One minute he is Mr. Nice Guy, and then he turns into a monster, whom I don’t recognize. Little things can set him off. He always has to be right. There is never room for a different opinion on anything, so it can be difficult to discuss much (even though we are politically similar.) At times he belittles me and my two kids. I feel like I’m walking on eggshells, tiptoeing around, trying to keep everyone happy all the time. This has been going on for years, and it’s often so subtle, but it has gotten worse more recently. I’ve finally reached a boiling point. After the most recent episode, resulting from my college age son (at home during the pandemic) attempting to voice a different opinion, he argued back and then told him that he hopes he leaves and never comes back, before storming out of the room. When I confronted him the next day, on my own, he referred to his son as a piece of $hit, said he doesn’t love him, and refuses to apologize. He also makes inappropriate jokes about trans and gay people and always has to mention how people look, i.e. if they are fat or ugly. This has always upset me, but I always just ignored it. I now realize that this has caused much distress to my daughter, who has come out to me as bi-sexual; she is too afraid to tell her father. He also drinks heavily and could be described as a high functioning alcoholic. I discussed things again with him several days later. He had calmed down by then, and he was actually attentive and listened to me when I voiced all my concerns. He said he doesn’t want to lose his family, and he agreed to see a therapist at my suggestion. His drinking makes things worse, but clearly, he has some serious unresolved mental health issues. I only regret not standing up to him sooner, but it’s hard when he always has to be right. After feeling all the pain he has caused my kids and me, I don’t know if I still want to be with him, even if therapy helps. I feel raw and sad, and I hurt inside. I’ve lost my appetite, which rarely happens to me. I no longer have any feelings toward him. Will things change if he gets help? He has caused so much damage to my kids, and my inner mama bear wants to protect them. I love my kids, and we have a great relationship. He said he would apologize to them, but it’s going to take a lot more than an apology to fix things. Is this situation even fixable? Finances are not a serious consideration. I can live comfortably with 50% of our assets/income. Thankfully the kids are adults, so there are no custody issues, but they will need therapy for awhile. I have seen a therapist myself. I’m not sure how to proceed with divorce proceedings if/when it gets to that. Any advice would be appreciated.

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Hi, I just happened across your post and I want to make sure that you know you're not alone. Personally, I haven't experienced this, but I want you to have these resources: https://www.thehotline.org/ is the domestic violence hotline that you can call or do live chat. Most people do not recognize they are experiencing DV when it's not physical, and people there and your therapist can also help you to recognize what's going on and name it for what it is so you gain clarity about what to do next. Support groups such as https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/groups/domestic-abuse/california can also help you to talk with others in the same and similar situations. 

Take care.

So sorry to hear your story and I am sure that many folks will respond who have more experience with the kind of temperament you described.   However, I do think that your kids should be in therapy, both you and your husband should be in therapy separately and perhaps together as well in couples' therapy.    I have no experience with AA and tend not to like their step approach, however, your husband needs serious help with his drinking if he wants to keep his marriage.  What about a separation now while everyone is working on their stuff?  You and your kids could rent a place since I assume your husband will refuse to move out.   It is not too late to take control of your life and heal yourself and your children.   This will be a good role model for your children as well, demonstrating that one need not stay in an abusive situation.   A temporary separation sounds less drastic and is a first step.   I wish you all the best!  

You are being subjected to emotional abuse which can be just as damaging and devastating as physical abuse. He will not change, not after this long of getting away with it. I urge you to explore divorce, you deserve to feel safe in your home from from your husband's toxic behavior. I speak strongly about this because I have a close family member who suffered this kind of abuse. Please consider what it would be like to be free from this situation. Good luck.

I'm so sorry to hear you're going through this. I have personal experience with much of what you've described. I ultimately chose divorce, and while it was a harrowing experience and full of twists and turns, it ended up being the best decision with unexpectedly positive outcomes. Of course, it's different for everyone, but I think too often divorce comes with a stigma that obscures the fact that a marriage ends when certain boundaries are repeatedly crossed. Divorce just formalizes what is already done. Especially when you have children (even they're adults now) it's a valuable model to see a parent live their values (not just speak them) when it comes to upholding behavioral standards in an adult relationship. It also hands the responsibility back to the person who is avoiding their own personal work, which is an act of love. In my experience, therapy didn't help (couples counseling and personal therapy both failed). What it took was a wake up call in the form of a divorce for him to really evaluate his own choices/behavior and decide if that was a path he wanted to continue on. And you have to really be prepared for it to go either way -- but know that ultimately, if he doesn't make personal changes then that's on him. If he does, great (but be wary of short-term promises). Living with an emotionally/verbally abusive husband/person will drain the life out of you until you're too tired to leave/fight back. Divorce isn't the end, it's a reorganization and it's a fair consequence for anyone who dishonors their vows/ doesn't show up and maintain their side of the relationship. In some cases, it's the best thing that could happen to someone who takes the status quo for granted and abuses it. And frankly, you deserve the peace that would follow. The turbulence and difficulty of the divorce process never came close to equalling that of walking on eggshells and dealing with outbursts and the emotional blizzards/aftermath. It was a progressive challenge, rather than a cyclical one. I have not regretted it for a minute. And we are now on a much better path as co-parents, even friends. 

Here's a resource that I have found helpful in the wake of my divorce: https://www.leanneoaten.com/ she offers some very interesting perspectives for what you're describing. 

I wish you strength and conviction as you move forward. You know what to do. 

I feel for you. I really do. From my experience, long-term verbal abuse chipped at my self-esteem so much so that it is hard to even see a different situation or hope for better. The alcoholism will definitely make matters worse. We struggle with that in our family, too. 

I think you already know what is in your heart and what you need to do to find peace and clarity for yourself. I believe in you. Do what feels safe and take care of yourself. hugs. 

I almost sent this to my mom because it’s uncanny how much he sounds like my dad and our family relationship. That said, my mom did divorce my dad when I was 13, but not before many years of setting a terrible example of what a marriage should look like, which has been hard for me to shake. They got along just fine and stayed friends after divorce, but it was very clearly a loveless marriage for at least the last five years of it. For your own sake, you absolutely need to divorce him. And if you have any concerns about how it may impact your family, please know that, even with adult children, you may be doing more harm staying with him than leaving him, as far as setting an example for them.

I'm so sorry. Your situation sounds precisely like mine did 15 years ago. My husband was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, which has no useful treatment. I left him, while I was in treatment for Stage III breast cancer, because I realized that every day we spent together would be hell, as all the days (18 years) before had been. Best decision ever. From this vantage point I can tell you it won't get better, and you need to get out now. My now-adult children agree that divorce worked out best for everyone.

The feeling you'll get when you no longer have to take his sensibilities into account on every decision . . . You'll be a new woman. Please reach out to me for support. Folks who haven't had experience with this diagnosis won't understand the situation. Hang in there

I would leave. But since some part of you seems to want to repair the marriage, I would tell him that he needs to get help with his mental health issues if he doesn't want to lose his family. It sounds like he has pretty serious mental health issues. Luckily, there is a lot of great treatment out there--including short term residential treatment facilities that can treat both substance abuse and mental health issues. From your description, it sounds like he struggles with emotion regulation, which can be a symptom of a wide variety of mental illness, and which can get worse in stressful situations. 

I am so sorry you have been going through this. As an LGBT person I really feel for your daughter. For your kids sake I would say get out. You and your kids will be able to live in peace, such a hard decision but it seems like you have already made it .So now contact a divorce lawyer and make sure you have access and copies of ALL your financial information.

I’m so sorry you’re going through this. I hope you get good advice here. Since you mentioned that your husband has a drinking problem, I wanted to make sure you know about Al Anon, which is a support group for family members of alcoholics. It may be a good source of additional support to you as you figure out how to deal with this situation. Many alcoholics have uncontrolled rage and the effects on family members can be devastating. Wishing you better times ahead. 

I am so sorry you are going through this. You are very brave for reaching out for help and sharing your concerns and feelings. And it sounds like you are an incredible mother. While I can't say what is the best decision for you, I would recommend talking to a therapist who specializes in intimate partner violence (I do think that what you've described is abuse), who might be able to support you in making this decision safely <3.

I'm so sorry you've had to live with this.  It sounds a lot like borderline personality disorder.  I had a friendship from age 9 to 49 that was walking on eggshells and where I felt I had to always kowtow to her opinions.  With BPD, emotions are king.  Whatever they feel is valid and real to them.  Equanimity is beyond reach most of the time when their emotions begin to swell.  I have read that individuals can recover from it and build new ways of relating to others.  My friend has been on medication and doing counseling for years but nevertheless just went through her second divorce and has very few friends.  It is sad.  With my friend, she was able to accept that she is bipolar and suffers from depression but the BPD diagnosis was something she has long denied.  I don't think any real progress can be made without fully accepting.  If I may....  I would advise to move forward in two ways.  The first is to get counseling to understand the situation better and give yourself a trustworthy sounding board.  Shop around and find someone who you really "click" with.  Research more about BPD and whatever conditions your husband is diagnosed with or that your counselor suspects he has.  If your husband is willing, he needs counseling too.  You need the facts about his condition while getting emotional support for yourself.  And if the marriage dissolves, you'll know you did what you could to save it and to be supportive.  The second thing is to make a plan for if you need to leave quickly.  Sometimes people who are emotionally out of control suddenly lose control completely--especially if they are pushed or under the influence of alcohol.  Make sure you have a safe place to go in a hurry.  Open a private bank account with some safety funds in it or stash money/luggage with someone you trust.  Make paper copies of joint bank statements and retirement accounts.  Have backup copies of important documents that are in a secure place.

Here are some resources that I found helpful:  

1.  https://www.wnyc.org/story/53183-borderline-personality-disorder-what-yo...

2.  https://www.nyp.org/bpdresourcecenter

Wishing you safety and peace.

This is a difficult situation and one to which I can relate (similar but different). I applaud you for reaching out for support. I encourage you to find a therapist with experience in alcoholism that you connect with and feel you can trust. A good therapist will not have a predetermined outcome in mind, other than improving your quality of life. (I found one at the start of the pandemic and find Zoom appointments just fine.) Given that you describe your husband as having a problem with alcohol, I also encourage you to explore an Al-Anon or Smart Recovery Family group for support. You might learn from the shared experiences of the group, and will definitely know you are not alone. Not all groups are alike and not all meetings are alike. (I don't know if this is an issue for you, but my home group is neither religious nor hard-core.) You might try a few meetings in one group, and if you find it's not for you, try another group. Take care of yourself. 

Wow. I feel your pain to some degree, and I admire your clarity. A few major points I would ask him about:

1)  Staying with your husband should, in my opinion, hinge to some degree on whether he admits that he's an alcoholic, however high-functioning, and gets help, soon.

2)  You write that his temper's even worse lately; would he also be willing to get a thorough physical check-up, if only for his own sake?

3)  Sooner, rather than later, would he acknowledge that he has to work to regain your trust, and that of your children; that it's not just a matter of apologizing and bringing you flowers a few times? This would take months and months, probably at least a few years, and lots of therapy. Would he commit himself to this work?

4)  A question for you:  If you aren't already doing so, I'd try and find out in therapy whether I really wanted him back.

Personally, I'd ask your husband to leave. Change is hard, so his leaving, whether for good or as a break, probably wouldn't bring you immediate joy and relief. Nonetheless, you deserve to be well treated. It's lonely at first, but it's also wonderful to learn how to live by yourself and to enjoy your own company. Good luck.

This sounds like a very tough situation that you're in right now. I am sorry you're in such a tough space and one that you seem to be considering getting out of.  I recommend a couple of things to help support you, as you wade through your decision-making process. I recommend you talk with a therapist who has experience working with folks who have spouses with behaviors like the ones you described. It might help you to talk with a professional about the marriage you are currently in, who can also help you figure out how you might successfully extract yourself, which is really sends like you are leaning towards. It's really important that you tell the therapist about your husbands drinking and his abusive behavior. And it is equally important for you to discover what you need to do next to find resources to help you. Your therapist should know how to do that too. You sound like you're in a lot of pain. I also recommend seeking support from friends, loved ones, and professionals who can help you sort through whatever your next steps are. (There is also couples counseling. which can sometimes serve the purpose of "uncoupling," if you think your husband is willing to do this.) I recommend looking at the list of therapists on BPN, or Psychology Today, using filters to find the right fit. And if you have friends who are in therapy, ask them who they might recommend. It's so important that you not do this alone. Wishing you all the luck and support in the world

Leave.  Life is WAY too short to live with someone who treats you like crap, is volatile, and whom your kids are afraid of.  Go.  Take your 50% and run!   Signed ~ “Getting ready to sign divorce papers...no regrets!!!”

Explore with your therapist what is going to be best for you.   If you decide to divorce or that you are close to deciding, consult an attorney before you tell your husband.  I was glad that through therapy I knew why I wanted to divorce before I started divorce proceedings. 

Hi there -- I don't have much advice, but I just wanted to say that you're not along. I could have written your post myself, changing only the age of my kid and leaving out the homophobia. My husband and I haven't been married nearly as long as you have, but I know the misery you're talking about intimately. Things came to a breaking point finally a few months ago, and he left the house. I have to tell you -- the first two weeks that he wasn't around felt like the best vacation I have ever had. For the first time in years, I wasn't constantly policing myself, watching my every word or action because I never knew what was going to set him off. I didn't know that I had been so on edge, and how incredibly tired I was. Things are still not resolved -- he's started therapy (for the first time in his life), and we're doing couples counseling (online, with both of us in different places). I don't know what will happen, but I can tell you that I absolutely can't live like I had been any more, and I cannot allow him to do any more lasting damage to my child. Verbal abuse is real, and lasting. So what I say to you is (1) get the hell away from him for a few weeks and allow yourself to unknot, relax, and remember who you used to be; and (2) go talk to a divorce lawyer. Just talking to one doesn't mean you're committed to anything. It just means that you start informing yourself about your options, and how to exercise them. You are worth more than this. Divorce sucks (I've been through it before, sadly), but a new life is possible.

It sounds like you are living in a difficult, stressful, and frankly unpleasant situation. I have gone through a divorce with a high conflict person myself, and I didn't see clearly how tense and unhappy the situation was until I was finally out of it. 

You are fortunate to be able to afford to live independently, should you choose to do so, and to not have to negotiate child custody. These are both hugely helpful aspects. 

Here are a few suggestions:

-- read Mira Kirshenbaum's book "Too Good to Leave, Too Bad to Stay"

-- speak confidentially to an excellent divorce lawyer just to get some general advice about possible ways to move forward-- you can pay for a one time consultation if needed. Don't alert your husband to your thoughts of divorce as he may move money and other assets around in ways to advantage himself. 

- I would recommend you keep talking to a therapist. Being in a relationship such as this over a long period of time can really cause your sense of self to shrivel. 

-maybe focus more on questions of what do YOU want from your life in the future, rather than his ability to change. Think about your own values and what you want your life to look like and ask yourself if he fits into that picture. What you want may be hard to identify after so many decades of accommodating such a partner, but it's important to try. Not just for your own sake, but to set an example to your kids that all the people in the household matter, not just the intermittently explosive and unpredictable one who everyone tries to accommodate.

- you may want to read a bit about codependency and narcissism. Just to see if it resonates. 

- if you are not sure if you want a divorce, maybe a trial separation just to see how it feels to both of you?

Life goes by so very quickly.  I hope you find the right way forward for you and your family. Like Mary Oliver writes, "joy is not made to be a crumb!"

good luck!

You can’t make someone change who doesn’t want to be different. Call it a day and move on-you’re teaching your kids that it’s okay to be with someone who is homophobic, explosive, and disrespectful. There are consequences to this type of behavior. Too often women stay thinking they can “change him”. This is how toxic masculinity is perpetuated. 

Whew. I could have written almost this exact post 10 years ago. My husband was a TOTAL "Jekyll and Hyde." I blamed myself for years and did not stand up to him. I was beaten down by him and in love with him. Absolutely - your husband is profoundly abusive. Yes, he's damaged and hurt your children - and you. Your husband, and mine, have real anger management problems apart from anything else. My spouse never said he didn't love my son - that really shocks me. But I well understand the inability to calm down for hours or days - been there.

My advice is actually to slow down a bit and start with therapy for yourself. Learn WHY you stayed and did not protect your children. Perhaps you need a temporary separation for 3-6 months while you start this process (ask him to move out). I predict he will become very nice ... but if he doesn't go to therapy for a long time, nothing will change. Nothing may change even with therapy! But I do think it's worth a try. My husband went to a few sessions, declared himself cured, and was nice for a YEAR. Then went straight back to his standard angry, abusive behavior. He will never change. On my end, I became ENRAGED with him once I'd left and experienced a peaceful life without walking on eggshells 24/7, being screamed at over nothing, fee; fear literally every week. I had control back - he cannot tell me what to do. I was soooo pissed off at his BS for about 2 years, as well as heartbroken for myself, my life, my child. Then I calmed down, living apart helped, and now we actually get along quite well as co-parents. I have some of my self-esteem back. But I will say, I am still quite mentally beaten down from that era. I don't date. I have struggled to feel really happy and I still easily blame myself.

I think YOU need to deeply apologize to your children. Maybe when you've done therapy for a while you can invite them to a session and apologize there, with the mediation of a therapist. They may be angry with you one day - don't count on avoiding that.

All this said, I am not a huge fan of divorce. It might be the answer for you, but it might not IF you both can somehow change the patterns between you. I recommend the trial separation to 1) give you time to get your financial affairs in order - protect yourself!!!!!! 2) Learn your own role in this situation and change your behavior. 3) Have your husband start therapy and then become open to doing couples therapy with you after he understands his problems. For sure he needs to apologize to the kids, but AFTER he truly understands his problems. And he should of course stop drinking. This was part of my husband's problem too. Mine slipped back into drinking, thinks he does not have a problem. 

Anyway, just my 2 cents. Expect the divorce process to be very very difficult. Get ready.