Frank Discussion With Dr. Kaye
Meg from Denver Co
Q: My husband and I have been married for 1.5 yrs (in a relationship for 3.5 yrs.) From the beginning, I knew he was an alcoholic with a violent temper, but felt sure that we would overcome those problems. After we married, a terrible fight ensued one night, and I ended up calling the police because I was finally in fear for my safety. My husband cannot forgive me for this incident. He has not had a drink since that night (over a year now) and I believe he won’t ever drink again. His temper, however, has not improved. He is no longer violent, but extremely expressive with his anger. I know anger can be a form of masking fear or pain, but how long is it okay for him to express such angry, hateful feelings toward me? He refuses to believe that I was asking for help that night I called the police. I wanted nothing bad to happen to him, and nothing has. Our relationship has deteriorated horrendously in the months since this altercation. He says it’s not just that incident that has made him feel this way about me and in his worst moments of anger he says he made a mistake in marrying me. In his good moments, he loves me and wants to make love to me, and says all sorts of “normal” relationshipy things. He tells me he doesn’t want to “work” at our marriage. That work is for his job, (he’s a counselor of all things) and not for his home. He also repeatedly asks me how long is long enough to work on our relationship. I always reply “forever” because this is how I view a marriage–as a lifetime commitment. Apparently, he does not feel that same way and because things are hard, he wants to leave. But we just have gotten started….1 and 1/2 years seems like such a short time in the grand scheme of things to give up so soon. I love him dearly and want to be with him forever, but with his anger and negativity, I’m finding it increasingly more and more difficult to stay positive about things. I don’t want to throw in the towel, but is there any way I can make him understand that all relationships, even good ones, take work? Is it time to give up on him?
A: Meg. There is never a clear answer to your last question. It is always an existential question of how much you are willing to gamble (and potentially lose) and how much you value lost time (from your life). From a statistical standpoint, your husband’s odds are not good. His attitude towards recovery and growth does not sound enlightened. The odds are extremely remote that you or anyone can convince him to become an open person who is willing to explore the fear or shame that drives his anger. That kind of conversion usually occurs when life forces us i nto a corner and we finally “bottom”. Sorry. – Bryce Kaye
Syndi from Naugatuck, Ct
Q: My husband scares me and i want to know if he is violent or will become violent. He has a history of hitting his ex girlfriend. He says it wasn’t his fault, she threw something at him. He is from Brazil and I don’t know what their customs are.
A: Syndi. I certainly don’t know the answer to your question. I don’t know if he had a history of repeated violence or was violent in one situation. The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. The more repeated a past behavior, the more likely the behavior will repeat in the future. You form your own judgment. – Bryce Kaye
Stephen from San Diego, Ca
Q: My wife and i have been married almost two years. She has had a rough past bought in relationships and as a child. She was sexually abused as a child (for which she says that she has gotten counseling). She was abused in her first marriage that put her in the hospital. Her next relationship was with a married man that she found out about later. He too put her in the hospital. Her next relationship was with a drug/ alcohol addict that “stuck” her to the wall with a knife. The next relationship was also violent in that he broke her nose after she got her hair cut. As far as we go, things were perfect, until such a time that i realized that i intimidated her just from my size. That was one thing that i was always worried about. I have gotten some counseling as how not to “hit” any of her triggers, but unfortunately i may have learned that a little late in the game. She has talked about getting counseling, but every time i bring the subject up she “shuts down”. Then after an episode with her sister, who’s boyfriend beat her up in a bar, she seemed even more removed then before. Now after an argument that we had where i believed that she was being very irrational and could possibly harm herself and the kids, i snatched the keys out of her hand. Mind you we did not physically touch one another. Long story in itself. I was arrested and the case was dropped. We have been separated due to court proceedings and the fact that i am trying to get further counseling on my part to maybe understand how to handle any more types of situations, should they happen again. She says that she still loves me but she is scared. I understand that statement extremely. So my question for you is how do i “convince” her to seek counseling for her past? No one has been able to give me any good methods. I have gone to Family Advocacy, and they are not doing much to talk with her. That frustrates me, because i feel that everyday that goes by, we are growing further apart. Another unfortunate thing is that because of her past, she believes that friends are more important then partners/lovers. And that has been very hard on me. Some tell me that i should just walk away, seek the counseling that i want and do a better “job” the next time around with someone else. But i can’t. I love her too much and would hate to see her go through this the rest of her life. We have one daughter that is almost two and three step-sons of hers from her past relations. I know that we can work this out, but it seems that i can’t make any head way on convincing her to get help, and for the two of us to see a counselor even after she has wanted to. Don’t get me wrong. i have also wanted to seek marriage counseling but unfortunately haven’t made any progress until now, as far as individual counseling goes. Pease help me. I fear that i may be too late.
A: Stephen. First you need to recognize that you crossed the line into violence when you snatched the keys out of her hand. If you don’t understand this, talk to a counselor about it. Second, you will not likely “convince” you wife that she needs counseling. You can only “invite” her to explore counseling together with you. If you press her about how she is so pathological from her past, she will not likely be able to take it from you. You will probably only drive her further away. Extend the invitation to explore your respective reactions together. She has a right to decline your invitation and you will need to respect that right if she does. – Bryce Kaye