Silence Can Encourage an Abusive Personality

A website visitor writes, “My husband and I (we have no children) have been happy for the last four years. But now, he has suddenly become Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. He’s fine one minute, then in response to the slightest thing he gets terribly angry and lashes out at whoever happens to be there. He says the most hateful things then storms off. Later on he acts as if nothing happened. You never know what will set him off. Before I walk out on him during his next childish tirade, I’m wondering if there’s any advice you can give.”

Repeat after me: “I can’t live this way.” Powerful words, yes, and you have to mean them. Say them to your husband repeatedly. And be prepared to put them into practice. Obviously, he has something on his mind. Don’t drive yourself crazy trying to guess, and don’t waste energy begging him to tell you. Do make sure he is aware that he’s hurting you. Say, “If I’m really important to you, this is not the way to treat me.” If he keeps it up, then you have your answer: He doesn’t care. Ouch! That won’t be easy to take. But it’s the truth and that’s all you’ve got. Either you misjudged him, or there are sides to him you didn’t know about until now. I see this sort of thing all the time.

Some people will make excuses for him. The amateur psychologists will say, “He has a chemical imbalance. Get him on medication!” The amateur substance abuse professionals will say, “Poor thing, he has a drug problem.” Maybe so, maybe not.  But the fact remains: If he won’t take responsibility for his actions, then he’s telling you that he doesn’t care about himself any more than he cares about you. There’s no point diagnosing someone with a problem if they’re unwilling to do anything about it.

Of course, approaching abuse this way is not fashionable in our society of conspicuous compassion. In these times of walking on eggshells, we are piously chided to “never offend anyone.” Ridiculous! We have to hold people accountable at least some of the time. If he’s ruining a good thing, make sure he knows that you know it.

Start making space in your mind for a new beginning. Unless you can live under the shadow of his tantrums, you’re going to have to move on. You wouldn’t have written, “Before I walk out on him…” if you thought it was tolerable. If you need a professional’s permission to say it’s OK to not live this way, consider it granted. But know that you don’t need anyone’s permission to live your life the way you see fit.

Some abusive personalities are incurable. In other words, they’re going to act like that no matter what. But some people act that way because they think it’s tolerable. It’s your job to let them know it isn’t. Once he is faced with the prospect of losing you over his behavior, it might motivate him to reverse course and sustain that reversal. Your job is to find out what the truth really is. Your husband had a pretty good track record before this. Whatever is bugging him, he’s not handling it the right way. He’s not being “selfish.” On the contrary, his behaviors are not indicators of self-interest. You can help him in any way you wish, provided he stops treating you the way he does.

If you don’t make this clear now, then you’re telling him that his behavior is acceptable. If you can continue living like that, then disregard everything I just wrote.



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