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'My Husband And I Emotionally Abuse Each Other'

My husband of 11 yrs. had a very traumatic childhood that has left him distrustful of humans, insecure and with intimacy problems. When we first met, we were young and I was very unaware of the turmoil that soon would enter my life.
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Reader Vicious Cycle writes:

My husband of 11 yrs. had a very traumatic childhood that has left him distrustful of humans, insecure and with intimacy problems. When we first met, we were young and I was very unaware of the turmoil that soon would enter my life. We've struggled with everything. From communication, anger, intimacy, privacy, time management and more.

Two biggest obstacles for me are being undervalued and misunderstood because of transference from his past. Because he is emotionally distant/unavailable, I become very critical and sometimes volatile when my needs are not being met after I have stated them (which I know is still wrong but hard to keep being neglected). It starts to feel as if I am not valued, appreciated and loved even though he tells me that I am but that my rude behavior towards him turns him off. But what isn't understood is that after days and weeks and months of being neglected, I become angry and so it's a total circle of pain.

At this point, we are jaded, resentful and hurting deeply. I am feeling hopeless even with his willingness to seek help. In the past, it has been very sporadic and he didn't put his all into it. I feel dysfunctional myself. Where do I turn at this point?

Dear VC,

I'm sorry to hear about all of the troubles in your marriage. I've written before about the dynamic of the emotionally unavailable man (Mr. Perfect) and the emotionally volatile woman (Crazy Wife), and about the way that avoidant and preoccupied partners are drawn to each other and hurt each other. I would certainly recommend couples counseling, and ideally, to try individual therapy for each of you, if you want to break out of these toxic patterns.

You discuss your husband's traumatic childhood, but I am guessing that yours was not perfect either. Imago theory states that we are drawn to what's familiar, and I am thinking that on some level, an emotionally abusive or rejecting partner may be familiar to you because of a dynamic with one or both parents when growing up. It doesn't matter how young you were when you met; there are always subconscious cues about a person's personality when you meet them.

I have written extensively about how to start fixing your marriage yourself, unilaterally, and this is what I recommend to you. Just focus on what you yourself can do, and then your husband will hopefully start working on his contribution as well. I think that any marriage can be salvaged if the partners make an intentional decision to examine their own effect on the dynamic, and the origins of their behavior in their childhood and family of origin. It is hard work but can be transformative. You can learn to be aware of your toxic communication patterns to the point that you two can even acknowledge openly when you're starting to fall into them, e.g. "Here we go again, can we both try something new?" (Just for an example, the new pattern can be using "I" statements, speaking non-defensively, using empathy, whatever.)

Good luck, and until we meet again, I remain, The Blogapist Who Thinks You Can Do It.

This post was originally published here on Dr. Psych Mom. Follow Dr. Rodman on Dr. Psych Mom, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest. Order her book, How to Talk to Your Kids about Your Divorce: Healthy, Effective Communication Techniques for Your Changing Family. Learn about Dr. Rodman's private practice, including therapy, coaching, and consultation here. This blog is not intended as diagnosis, assessment, or treatment, and should not replace consultation with your medical provider.

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