This week, I answer a letter from a reader who whose husband is exhibiting controlling behaviour.
Dear Dr Eddie,
I am a married lady for over twenty years. Throughout my marriage, my husband has been a touch controlling in respect to my socialising without him. I like to go out with my sister, usually to concerts, and we both are non-drinkers. A few years back he began to join us, even if he didn’t like the singer or even if he never heard of them. Nine times out of 10 he would be morose, and once the evening was finished it was straight home we have to go.
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Recently he has started to resent my sister visiting our home. He puts himself into the middle of our conversations, but for the most part sits there without speaking, his mood getting darker with each passing second. By bedtime he is in another morose, silent mood which lasts for days.
I feel like I have done something wrong but before she called he was fine, and sometimes the next day he is fine. If I ask why the mood he has no answer.
Recently, on two separate occasions he has made a social outing all about him. If he makes plans I have to adhere to them or live with silence for days.
He had no intention of going out on the first occasion but behaved appallingly to my sister — very gruff and insulting. The second time concerned a festival show we always attend. It’s a girlie day out and we end up visiting another sister who lives close by.
This year he, for some reason, wanted to go. He made a point of wanting to drive down with me and once the festival was over boycotted visiting my sister and we headed home, again because I was going to be out without him and he, in his warped mind, imagined all sorts of temptations.
Again he was abrupt with my sister; she even hinted at staying away in the future and not coming between us. This is exactly what he wants, to isolate me so that if and when I go anywhere, it is with him only.
Last Christmas and New Year, he shut down in middle of a family gathering and didn’t speak again until January 3, my birthday. I suffered 10 ten days of silence, with no apologies and no present or treat once that silence lifted.
He seems to wipe all these incidents from his mind, but they keep happening and are more frequent and more prolonged.
I fear he is never going to change. He has an awful temper and anger which flares up over even small things.
Dr Eddie responds:
Mary, I am saddened that the quality of life, the freedom to socialise, the joys in your life, are just not there.
In your email to me there was no sense of warmth, no mention that you ever loved this man or that you have children. If I were to wear a somewhat compassionate/clinical hat, I might question if there is some depression present, given his bouts of silence and irritability.
However I doubt it, and I can tell you that past behaviour is the greater predictor of future behaviour.
I am weighted more to the opinion that you are in an abusive relationship. To me, the presence of jealousy, silence lasting days, gruff and insulting behaviour, anger, extreme passive aggressiveness, resentment, temper, flare-ups, controlling your relationships with your sister, speaks volumes.
These are your descriptions, Mary. If you think your husband will just change, unfortunately I can’t really see it happening. This leaves you with a number of options.
2: Have an honest conversation (only if it’s safe) about changing the situation and get couple counselling support.
3: Plan to separate — but do nothing rashly.
Domestic violence doesn’t have to be physical abuse. It’s also where one person uses abuse to control and assert power over their partner. In the majority of cases, it is perpetrated by men and experienced by women. Any woman can be affected and it can happen in any home.
If this begins to form a consistent pattern and you feel afraid of your partner, then this in a sign of domestic violence. You may feel like you have no power over your life and that you are being controlled by your partner.
Below are some warning signs below to help you make sense of your situation. Any one of the following signs is serious. You do not need to experience several, or all, of them for your relationship to be abusive.
In your relationship, I see aspects of emotional abuse where there is highly effective means of establishing a power imbalance within a relationship. It is often unseen or intangible to those outside the relationship. Emotional abuse is as harmful as physical violence. It often involves threats and can include these signs:
l You are afraid of your partner.
l You are constantly ‘walking on eggshells’ because of his mood swings.
l You spend your time working out what kind of mood he is in and the focus is always on his needs.
l He loses his temper easily and over minor things.
l He criticises your family and friends and/or makes it difficult for you to see them or talk to them on your own.
l He is jealous and accuses you of flirting and having affairs.
l Your needs are not considered important or are ignored, and he makes the decisions in the relationship.
l Being put down.
l Being constantly criticised.
l Threats by the abuser to harm others or himself
l Never being left on their own; being accompanied to all outside activities.
l You find it hard to get time on your own. When you do spend time away from him, he demands to know where you were and who you were with.
Mary, if you, or another reader after reading this, thinks that you are, or might be, living in an abusive relationship then I recommend you contact Women’s Aid (www.womensaid.ie, or their Helpline at 1800 341 900).
The Helpline is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
I encourage you to get good advice from Women’s Aid or a GP/counsellor so you can reflect, think and plan your options.
Keep safe, you deserve a life of peace, joy and growth.
Dr Eddie Murphy runs a psychological and counselling service in Portarlington, Co Laois. If you are organising a speaker or training for school, community, voluntary, sporting or work groups, call Dr Eddie on 087 1302899 or go to www.facebook.com/ dr.eddie.murphy.psychologist