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I live with a very well educated middle-aged man, who is very high minded.

However, in any disagreement or conflict he calls me names!

I've been called:

Stupid cow

Stupid c*nt

Bloated pig (back when I was fat.. I lost the weight after that, ha!)

Hideous skag

And those are just the simple names!

Some of his favorite insults for me:

I'm dead

I don't know who I am from day to day

I never know where I am

I have no access to myself

I live a 'life unconsidered'

I have the 'tastes of a toilet'

I'm dishonest/lying

I'm afraid of big ideas (aka pornography, sick/violent movies, etc)

There's more, but I think those are the worst. As you can see he's quite the accomplished insulter!

So in latter years (been with him 10 years now) I've started doing the same to him!!! It's not like he's perfect, right? See how he likes it!

I don't like it that I've sunk to his level though, and I'm terrified I'll act like this out in the world someday. I don't want this childish behavior to be something I take with me from this relationship some day...

Anyone have any strategies for dealing effectively with this sort of thing?

Edited by JaneE
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Good morning Jane,

After reading this and what you wrote yesterday, I can only empathize for you, for you are really in a painfully difficult situation and nearing a dangerous crossroads. I say this b/c in most of my couples therapy sessions, once a couple has arrived at this stage, the emotional energy has been sapped and there’s little left to work with for the marriage. Mind you, not all marriages fail here, if one person is willing to work hard, the marriage can be salvaged, and made healthy and whole again.

Here’s some background regarding this. Dr. John Gottman at the University of Washington has done extensive research on what causes marriages to work. He states, and has shown via much research, that within minutes of watching a couple, even newlyweds, he can predict whether they will divorce/have a miserable marriage or satisfying/happy one (and I believe him b/c I’ve seen the same thing for nearly 30 years) with 90% accuracy. He and his team have also arrived at some important conclusions as to what causes divorce. From their research, they have found four predictors of divorce. Even though any of these issues could be present in any marriage at some point, it is the accumulation of these problems that warrants danger.

The four predictors are criticism, defensiveness, contempt and stonewalling. Even though any of these issues could be present in any marriage at some point, it is the accumulation of these problems that warrants danger.

Here’s a quick description and as you read them, I would encourage you to do a quick self-test to see how you rate in each one on a 1-5 scale (1=low and 5=very high).

  • Criticism - Losing the positive mental attitude toward your spouse and developing a critical spirit. All of us see problems in our spouse, but we must also see the good and keep the disciplines of thanks, praise and complimenting one another alive and well. Without this, criticism is inevitable and dangerous.
  • Defensiveness - Not allowing your spouse the right to complain. All of us are imperfect and need the input and perspective of our spouses. When we won’t allow our spouses the opportunity to complain, it bottles up anger in the relationship and also implies that our spouses are the cause of the problems.
  • Contempt - Long term anger that hasn’t been dealt with properly causes bitterness, lost passion and a contempt for others. When you haven’t forgiven your spouse for something they’ve done, contempt is inevitable. Contempt is often expressed through name-calling, cursing, verbal abuse and rejection.
  • Stonewalling - Refusing to participate in a civil discussion of an issue or issues so they can be resolved. This can be demonstrated through obstinance, silence or a long term refusal to yield on a subject. Stonewalling is a very dangerous trait because it emotionally abandons your spouse and leaves problems unresolved.

Jane, all is not lost, but what you need to think about is whether or not there is ample emotional energy/love/affection/caring in the marriage to fight for it. If the answer is yes, then we can go to work and help and offer much support and encouragement.

Please write back and let us know,


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Good morning again Jane,

I should have added a bit more but needed to get some coffee to think clearly. I didn't want to leave you feeling hopeless and as if all was lost--- on the contrary, if your marriage is in the emergency room, or just has a broken bone or even a few deep wounds, there are still many things you can do. My 1st suggestion would be to purchase the following book (they're around $10 at Amazon, used):

The Divorce Remedy: The Proven 7-Step Program for Saving Your Marriage

It's an excellent step by step guide, with clear instructions, no psycho-babble or jargon text, on proven strategies for "Divorce Busting (the title of her 1st book)".

For now, understand that the first three minutes of any confrontation dictates the rest of the encounter. Harsh start-up dooms a conversation to failure from the beginning and usually means the conversation also ends in failure. So step 1 is to simply bail out-- turn your back and walk away into another room w/o saying a word, making a face, or showing any emotion. If he purseus, keep walking out the door and into the neighborhood and stay gone for around 1 hour. This is necessary cool off time and trains him that you will not accept his abuse, and empowers you by forcing you to take action as opposed to simply reacting. Each of you has trained the other to treat you a certain way (either via silent acceptance, or by yelling, or by throwing things, or by sulking, etc.), and this begins to break the 10 year training cycle. For today, just try this and we can proceed later.

Good luck Jane,


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Being treated that way would have to eat away at your self-esteem, Jane. :(

Has he been this way throughout your relationship and does he treat others this way or just you? My H has a tendency to lash out sometimes in frustration, but he never directs anything negative right at me. He yells outward. A lot of times he seems to use anger as a defense for other feelings that he is less comfortable with. Do you notice any pattern with his angry outbursts? Maybe it is his way of pushing the real issues aside and avoiding the actual source of conflict he is feeling by directing it toward you. Or as David suggested it could be contempt, a built-up anger from unforgiven events that occurred in the past. Whatever the cause, this type of behavior is likely eroding the good feelings you have for one another and is potentially very damaging, I would think. If your partner is as upset as you are about what is happening between the two of you, then maybe the two of you can work together to change your behaviors. The relationship does have to be something you both want to fight for, though, and something that you both feel is worth fighting for. Just my thoughts. I hope it works out for you.

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Guest ASchwartz

Hi JaneE,

Here at Mental Help.Net, we get lots of E. Mails by women who report the fact that they are in abusive relationships and don't know why they stay. There was on posted this morning by a woman who reported that she is ashamed by the fact that she stays but she keeps hoping things will change for the better, so, she puts more time in. Mark responded that what she is doing is akin to throwing good money after bad money. It kind of like keeping an broken down car that is costing thousands of dollars to maintain rather than getting a new car.

So, Jane, why do you stay with this man? What stops you from ending this relationship and getting a divorce?


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Hi Jane,

I don't have much to offer in advice but I wanted to send a hand of support to you because I understand and deal with a similar situation, it was hard to read David O's 4 points about the predictors I think I recognise all of them and even Allen's question why stay? for me I'm just stuck, it's like a island in my life every direction seems hard, I hope you are able to find a sunrise and things work out for either the two of you or for you, hope things will be well. :(

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Thanks very much, you guys, this info is really helpful.

But unlike many women perhaps, I know exactly why I stay!

First of all, I don't want to lose access to my son.

Secondly I am not able to make it on my own in this world. I've never been able to make anything work out, can't keep jobs long etc. I get very overwhelmed and crushingly depressed, I have a very low energy level. I have no friends and no family. If I left here I'd be going to nowhere and nothing and I'm frankly just not up to that. So that's why I've stayed. It's hard sometimes but it'd be harder if I left. If I had something else going for me, anything at all, that would be a blessing, but I don't and have no expectations. I used to work in the medical field but haven't worked in over 10 years, and left my last job without notice after a breakdown.

Anyway excuses excuses, I know! But I have serious limitations. Gotta hold on for as long as I can.

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Being married, but not feeling married, can be like "sleeping with the enemy," which can often hurt even more. A tough (but salvageable if one looks carefully) marriage often does not equal the pain of a difficult divorce (which I've been thru), that is why I very seldom recommend it.

It's a rather strange thing for me that couples often wait to the very last minute to come in for therapy so they can say they tried it-- and it failed too. So over the years I've begun to develop certain strategies to undo years of pain and a rekindling of a relationship, to their initial disappointment since they were hoping to be on the road to divorce. Once they begin making the behavioral changes, they realize that the marriage is worth saving, then it's making it work for their betterment and eventually, it becomes an essential part of their life. We averted a painful divorce and see a 2nd sort of honeymoon as they rediscover their partner.

Gottman's 4 stages of marital problems do not spell ultimate divorce- for me they signal only that we have reached a certain stage of painful exchanges and disconnect, and they tell me what size gauze and tools will be needed to take it out of the emergency room.

Since you have the motivation/need to remain in the marriage, there are changes you can make that will alter the relationship. As I stated earlier, begin by purchasing the book I mentioned-- it's your first excellent step. If you can have it within a week and read the first chapter, write back in and let us know what you think and whether you have the emotional energy and motivation to follow through on the recommendations. It's a small investment given the outcomes you may get from doing the work. It may also reduce your sense of isolation and depressed feelings, and even allow you to paint differently since the soulful source of your artwork may begin to come from a different place.

For now, we can look at a base strategy to get you started. You will likely have to muscle thru it for it to be effective, and do so for the first 2-3 weeks:

  1. If he begins to call you names, quickly turn around and walk away. Say nothing, don't sigh loudly, don't make a face, don't react, don't walk away seething--- you must give him nothing to react to.
  2. Walk completely into another room and create enough space for him to not be able to see or hear you. If he follows you, walk outside and into the neighborhood and don't return for an hour at least. Always have some money to spend if there is a small coffee shop nearby or go to the library to read and write to us.
  3. For your part, identify 3-5 things that you do that trigger him and write them down. Let us know what they are by posting them here in very brief statements (<10 words per issue).
  4. Seek out a friend or other positive relationship to spend time with to fill your cup and help you heal/cope. No need to discuss the issues, just spend pleasant times together so as not to burn out your friendship.
  5. Become aware of what you do that is pleasing to him so that we can begin adding a little sugar to the situation.

Remember that you will be making the modifications and he will slowly modify his behavior to match yours, as each of you has done for awhile. This will take 20-30 days of very consistent effort on your part, so stick with this plan no matter what. Once the emotional abuse has started to end, we will develop the next set of strategies.

Finally, you stated that there are certain "limitations" that prevent you from leaving, if you're comfortable, can you tell us what they are?

Good luck and please write back,


Edited by David O
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Guest ASchwartz

Hi JaneE,

Are you in psychotherapy? It appears to me like you need to be.

I have no way of knowing whether divorce is the right thing for you or not. Certainly, marriage therapy would be good for both of you and if your husband won't go then it is something you could do for yourself.

When a person has been battered for a big part of their life, it is easy and understandable for that person to feel helpless in the world and at the mercy of forces they believe they cannot control.

What I want to point out to you is that if you ever chose the divorce route, your husband would be responsible for paying child support for your children. Also, the courts still favor the mother over the father in terms of custody. Third, your husband would be required to pay you alimony.

I point out these things because you are not as helpless as you seem to believe.

What do you think?


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  • 4 weeks later...

Oh boy! This is a lot to wade through, and I'm not sure I could just show up with a book about marriage and not get laughed at to death.

All those signs, contempt and all that, well these days it goes both ways. I've never measured up with him. When I was first with him I worshipped the ground he walked on, he could do no wrong. But I don't feel that way any more, obviously. I can't be a loving wife to someone I am afraid of and feel continuously disapproved of by. I can barely look at him.

Lately I feel so at the end of my rope. Like there's nothing left of me but useless tattered rags. I can't stitch a personality upon these shreds. I feel decompensated, nothing matters much and I have nothing to give to anyone anymore.

Yes, I do need therapy, badly!!!! That is not going to be easy, I am not even allowed to have any friends (or I get called a "lesbian"). Imagine how threatened he's going to feel by a therapist!

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Oh boy! This is a lot to wade through, and I'm not sure I could just show up with a book about marriage and not get laughed at to death. The book is for you alone to read-- there's no need to share it or even show it to your husband. It will give you solid strategies for behavioral change on your part.

All those signs, contempt and all that, well these days it goes both ways. I've never measured up with him. When I was first with him I worshipped the ground he walked on, he could do no wrong. But I don't feel that way any more, obviously. I can't be a loving wife to someone I am afraid of and feel continuously disapproved of by. I can barely look at him. This is such a consistent pattern, I hear about it in couples therapy very often and it's usually when the relationship has seriously deteriorated.

Lately I feel so at the end of my rope. Like there's nothing left of me but useless tattered rags. I can't stitch a personality upon these shreds. It seems you've finally "hit bottom" and I understand from another post the the reasons you can't leave him. It may be that you'll have to emotionally cut him off so that he can no longer hurt and control you. The steps I outlined above may take you a long way towards regaining control of the situation, I strongly encourage you to do them as described, be consistent and stick to it for about 4-6 weeks. It seems that you guys are becoming deeply entrenched in some fairly pathological relating, and what started out as mild has become serious/severe and has been deeply embedded in a way that will be difficult to undo, especially if the emotional resources are now gone. The longer he can do this, and the longer you feel this great animosity, the deeper and longer will be your healing and recuperation process.

What couples hate to hear, but that has to be said, is that they trained each other to be this way in the relationship. The steps above established balance and retrains both of you, that's the goal.

I feel decompensated, nothing matters much and I have nothing to give to anyone anymore. Yes, I know this feeling all too well, I've been here before and it never seemed like I would ever heal or be able to be in any type of relationship again as I was moving thru a very painful divorce.

Yes, I do need therapy, badly!!!! That is not going to be easy, I am not even allowed to have any friends (or I get called a "lesbian").Jane, it's not that you're not allowed to have friends, but that you have allowed him and he has taken full advantage of it, to take over your life-- this is what abusive partners do and this is what abused partner do. I know this may not be what you want to hear, but it has to be said since the only way out of this paper bag is to go thru it or separate. If separation/divorce is impossible, then regaining control is your next and only option(unless maintaining the staus quo is the best that can be done for today). Anything less allows the relationship to further deteriorate, it robs you of life itself, and strips you of more and more of who you are capable of being and becoming.

Imagine how threatened he's going to feel by a therapist! Yes, he'll be threatened, but imagine how much worse it will get in the next few months and years. My thinking is that you go to therapy, the heck with his feeling threatened, and this becomes your first act of reestablishing balance and control of your life. Your going to therapy and ignoring his behavior is your 1st act of being who you are and who he married-- it is your first step to freedom from abuse! To do less is to say no to your own life, and this is the only one you get here. So Jane, "gird up you loins," start making decisions, and start acting on them this week.

We will be here and supportive. Good luck!


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Guest ASchwartz

Hi Jane and DavidO,

In my opinion, DavidO has given you some great advice. I say that even though I am not a fan of John Gottman. Nevertheless, I do believe he has some good things to offer and David has pointed them out. I also agree with David that you have a right to bring any book into the house that you want to read.

I understand about the factors that prevent you from leaving your husband. This is another good reason why psychotherapy would be so good for you. At this point, I am guessing that your self esteem has taken a big beating. You do not deserve this treatment.

That is why I want to strongly urge you against going down to your husband's level by cursing at him. David is right, you need to walk out of the room when he behaves this way. You might even try telling him that you will not longer tolerate his abuse as you leave the room.

Jane, I keep having the fantasy, and this is a fantasy, that your husband is an old man with Alzheimer's disease. I guess that, at the very least, I cannot help thinking of him as a man with something very wrong with him. Can you tell us more about him? Does he work, if so, what does he do? Do you have children together? Do you work? You may have discussed these things but I don't remember. Can you fill us in?


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Well, I think there is something very wrong with him too... sometimes I wonder what was so wrong with me that I didn't run screaming from this guy.

Well okay to be fair to me he was nice at the beginning. Once i had our son all bets were off and the cruelty and insults began in earnest.

He's in his early 50s and scrounges to make a living buying and selling tools, cars and the like.

I've never known him to have a real job, but he does make enough to make ends meet for the most part, but we have no benefits of any kind.

He's the ideal salesman and can be super charming and funny. He's the same at parties and such too. Often he makes jokes at my expense, however, so I'm very wary of hosting or attending parties with him. And having Avoidant Personality Disorder makes social events rather excruciating for me to begin with!

The other day he asked me why I don't have two of my art clients over as friends. Yeah right! I invited one one time and he teased her mercilessly the whole time, I was so mortified. She didn't seem flustered by it, or said she didn't at any rate, but I thought his behavior excessive and mean. He always thinks he's being so funny. One time when another client was over picking up her commission he told her I was an alcoholic!!! (I am not). He comes on glib and smooth and pretty much takes over from me. I try to just mail my clients' work to them and I dread my few local clients who want to come over.

Another thing about him that's weird is he has very poor personal hygiene and will not clean up after himself. He dresses in rags and will not get new clothes. His car looks like a garbage can. It's very embarrassing to me, but I can't live my life to clean up after him and 5 minutes later it's the same thing all over again.

Whenever we disagree about anything he tells me I never did anything before I met him! Hello? I may not have been the most adventuresome person ever, but I guarantee you I did a lot more and had a more interesting life than the average woman my age! There's always this constant invalidation/negation thing, in addition to the insults and name calling. Lately he's been calling me 'b!tch' all the time, which is very beneath him, and I certainly don't want to live like this. Very low class stuff.

I think personally, that he's got a bit of an antisocial personality thing going on. He can be nurturing and kind though, when he wants to be. Well I guess that's the whole point with APD, isn't it? But then of course calling every mean person a psychopath is very facile.

He always tries to force an issue. He's always right, I'm always wrong. I'm "an ignoramus" and that's that.

The hardest thing is that I do not want to see anyone with him, in any social situation he takes over and I (who am not so glib and charming) comparatively disappear. He makes me uncomfortable and more nervous around people than I already am. It's amazing how this backfires on me, too! For example at Xmas this year, several of our friends gave him and my son gifts, but nothing was addressed to me! I've always been very friendly to these women, and hospitable when they come over... I've learned that any friends we might have are actually HIS. Invariably they prefer him, but they don't hear the nasty things he says about them when they leave!! If they only knew!

In our lives I am not really allowed to contribute, but if something goes wrong he castigates me for not "taking responsibility".

There's so much more, of course, but that's an overview for what it's worth, haha and don't forget you asked! ^_~

Edited by JaneE
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Hi Jane,

Thanks so much for opening up even more about the relationship, it's rather eye opening and even very predictable in terms of the path taken from when you met, then married, then had children-- to today.

I'm wondering about you thoughts regarding the recommendations I mentioned a couple of days ago. I think we can discuss his behavior and social ineptness to no end, or you can make the necessary changes and challenge the status quo of the relationship. There is only one door out it seems. We will be here to support, encourage and offer you anything we can to get you thru this.

What are your thoughts?


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Yes, I agree completely... and I'm great at complaining already, I don't need any help with that! XD

I will try to come by this book and I think I can even read it secretly, and see if it helps.

So far I have not been too successful at stoic room-exiting when he name-calls, but I'm sure I'll have more opportunities to practice! ><#

Thank you Allan and David for your advice, it's much appreciated!


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Hi Jane,

Thanks for sharing - not an easy situation. What I was feeling when I was reading your post is that he is feeling very insecure, and the more insecure he gets the more he name calls you. I also get a sense you feel that your are from a higher social class than he is. Perhaps this is making him even more insecure.... I know that my X husband and I were from different types of backgrounds or social class, and he always felt he had to one up me or degrade so that he could feel better about himself. He saw nothing wrong with his behaviour, still doesn't 20 years later, he thinks he's funny..

Have a wonderful new year, and may there be less name calling and unseemly jokes in 2010!!!

Edited by Symora
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  • 2 weeks later...

Hi Symora!

It's interesting that you mention social class, which I am *very* sensitive to, but he and I are actually both from working class backgrounds with illegitimacy and all kinds of stuff like that, so that's not the issue here. If it were maybe I could handle it better?

Or maybe not! XD


I'm writing in here today because I'm very upset about something that's just occurred. Remember when I said I was worried about "acting that way out in the world"? Well it's happened!!! D-:

I was in line at the post office and some gal went in front of me. I blurted out "What an a$$hole, it was my turn!" I can't believe I said that!!! It turns out that she simply hadn't been paying attention and thought she was next.

And even if she had MEANT to skip ahead of me in line, my saying that was totally jerky, low class, and just immature and stupid!!!

What's more is I've never been like that! I was always the type who never raised a fuss about anything, even if I'd felt trodden upon.

I wish I could have apologized. It's like I was thinking it... but my mouth just blurted out my thoughts without permission. I feel like such a jerk, and am so ashamed of myself!

Argh. That's where the habit name calling gets you, so don't start!!

Phooey >_<


(bad, no-good, horrid person!!!)

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Jane, please at least stop doing it to yourself.

That would be a first step, knowing that you don't deserve it.

The next, of course, would be enforcing it. ;-)

Everybody screws up. Sometimes we say stuff we don't mean.

You don't have to dwell on it, beating yourself up for something you can't change, now.

All you can do is find out the roots, and make the changes you need.

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For having lived it with my first husband, I think it just becomes a habit. When it's happening all the time at home we become desensitized to it and it slips out in other settings. It also makes us harder as we build up a shell against it ... I even carried into my second marriage where he had never lived that before :( It becomes a way to vent anger or frustration ...

As Malign mentionned, first you have to stop yourself from doing it, to yourself and to others. Set a firm boundary for yourself and makes it so, for your own sense of dignity. You'll surely slip once in awhile, it's a learning process, but at least you know what your destination is. I also changes things around you when you change, so be prepared for some testing of your boundaries, but you will find new and creative ways of dealing with it...

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Well he has a new cute name for me... "Death Shroud" ! This was because I dared to opine negatively on a movie he chose... some horrid animated thing called Spawn that was total orgy of horrific violence and promised to move on to my other 'favorite' movie topic (not!) Prostitutes and cheap sex!!! DDDDDD-X

So when he started screaming "PIG" and "DEATH SHROUD" at me, I just got up and left.

It rather worked, he later came up and apologized. :)

But it still hurts!!! I wanna take a black sharpie and scrawl DEATH SHROUD on my face.


Oh well...

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Do not take that on, that's his sh_t!

Isn't great how a change on your part changed everything. You have to expect that it will not always be so easy, and sometimes he'll follow you upstairs to provoke, but if you can manage not to bite, he will change. The key is that you then have nothing to apologize or feel guilty about, and his behaviour will be in strark contrast so that it will be clearer how harsh he is being.

It will get easier every time and another dynamic will start to emerge. You go girl!

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