Abuse, Dressed in a Suit

I used to think that because my husband was in leadership callings in the church that he should have, would have learned how he was supposed to treat his wife.  He should have known better by osmosis, I guess. I believed because he kept all outward appearances of a good, active member of the church that eventually his inward feelings and behaviors would change to match.  Because he lived in this space where his thoughts and actions were disconnected most of the time, I believe this set him up to become more abusive over time. Let me explain:

I don’t feel that my husband was particularly abusive to me during our 38-yer marriage. He was somewhat critical, kind of sarcastic, a little controlling, sort of demeaning, and maybe he tended to be distant and disconnected at times.  I mean, really, how connected can you be when you travel 50 to 75% of the time?  I think our marriage worked well because he was gone so much.  We really only saw each other on the weekends, and Sunday he was gone most of the day taking care of church responsibilities. With the limited time I had to spend with him, I didn’t see these darker sides of him all that often. Until…

About 15 years ago he started going through a series of job losses.  One right after the other.  Every two years he was either losing a job or just looking for another one.  Just because.  He was restless. Bored. Or so it seemed.  The worst sides of him also came out, or I saw them more often, because he was home more often.  Sometimes for months at a time.  Sometimes for a year or more.  He was with me 24/7. That is when the trouble really started. He couldn’t control his world, so he decided to control mine. Before, what seemed to be a character that was just a little off, became full-blown awful.  I wanted to run and hide from him, most of the time.  Somewhat critical, became critical to the point of meanness.  All his other character flaws intensified as well.  It got to the point that I couldn’t stand to be around him.  So I withdrew. Would you want to be around someone who criticized and nit-picked your every move? No. Me either.

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I am not sure when the cheating began.  I am not exactly sure why it started, or who caused it. All I know is the dynamic between us became the perfect storm. Was he more critical, controlling and sarcastic to me because he was already cheating, or because he was without a job?  I won’t ever know.  He has been less than forthcoming about what he has been doing with other women, and when it started.  So I won’t ever know for sure. But, now, after years of therapy, counseling, and reading about addiction, I can make an educated guess. Hindsight is 20/20, or so they say. He certainly had enough opportunity to cheat.  And chronic job losses is a symptom of addiction.  Before this turning point in our lives he was very stable. He stayed with the same company for over 20 years.

Why am I telling you this?  The reason is simple.  Nobody, and I mean nobody should ever have to put up with being put down…ever.  Husbands are not allowed to talk down to their wives, make fun of them, be critical or otherwise subtly abuse them. Even if they are a fine, upstanding member of the church who has important callings and wears a suit to work.  Abuse doesn’t just happen in low-income families or among blue-collar workers. He may never have to hit you to do you harm.

The sinister side of emotional abuse is that it is rarely seen as abuse.  In order to discount this sort of behavior, it is very easy for a spouse to say to you:

“I was just teasing/joking.”

“Can’t you take a joke?”

“You are too sensitive.”

“I can’t say anything to you!”

“This is just the way I am.”

“Why do you take everything so personally? I didn’t mean it that way!”

As I’ve observed sarcasm in social interactions, I’ve noted that those who use it tend to underestimate its negative effects because they assume that what they say is humorous instead of hurtful. People who use sarcasm often think their targets are too sensitive or naïve when feelings get hurt.7 “She just can’t take a joke,” they say. In more disturbing cases, sarcasm communicates contempt for others and gives people the “dishonest opportunity to wound without looking like they’re wounding.” If someone feels hurt by such sarcasm, the one who made the verbal jab will often respond with something like, “I was only teasing! Lighten up.” ~ Gordon B. Hinckley

Seems benign, right? Not if it is long-term, chronic, on going. Emotional abusers get away with the abuse by manipulating the person they are abusing into believing that they are the problem.  It’s your fault, not his.  He will insist that you believe it is ok to be treated disrespectfully, and that you are the problem to boot!  Not cool!

The Greek root for sarcasm is sarkazein and means “to tear flesh like dogs.”1 One dictionary defines sarcasm as irony designed to “give pain.”2Sarcasm has many uses in our communication: it can convey aggression and insult,3 it can be used to dominate others,4 and it can communicate contempt and anger.5 Not all sarcasm is intentionally sinister, but it has a hypocritical edge because it requires us to say the opposite of what we mean. Some use it for humor, but it often damages our relationships because it leaves our friends and family doubting our sincerity and confused by what we say.  ~Gordon B. Hinckley

I allowed my husband to treat me this way. I admit it. Mostly, because I couldn’t how to articulate how his constant talking down to me caused me to feel in any meaningful way, at least not in any way to that would get him to stop.  Because I didn’t set good boundaries about how I expected to be treated at the beginning of our marriage, I sent unspoken messages to him that it was ok for him to talk down to me.  Familiarity breeds contempt.  So when life got tough, and his behavior got more critical, I had nothing in place to protect me from the effects of addiction on his previous flaws. I learned that when there is a disconnect in the integration between words and actions, there is going to be problems when life brings deep challenges. Does this make any sense?

“I am asking that we look a little deeper for the good, that we still voices of insult and sarcasm, that we more generously compliment virtue and effort.” ~ Gordon B. Hinckley

Standing up for yourself, setting boundaries, and expecting respect, are all healthy for a great marriage!  NO ONE, deserves anything less that the best from their spouse. Don’t accept anything but the best from your spouse.  Anything less, is abuse.  Being married does not give a spouse the license to treat the other one badly!

Everyone has bad days.  We all make mistakes.  There are times we say mean things.  This should be the EXCEPTION not the RULE.  If it is the rule in your marriage, you are probably  experiencing abuse. If your husband is treating you in a disrespectful way, over a long period of time, then it is up to you to set some boundaries and raise expectations for how you expect to be treated.  Don’t allow anything less, even if he is active in church, holds leadership callings, has family prayers and scripture study, or keeps up appearances.  Abuse is abuse. Even if it is dressed in a suit.

Stay Sweet, Be Strong!

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