Advanced search

Mumsnet has not checked the qualifications of anyone posting here. If you need help urgently, please see our domestic violence webguide and/or relationships webguide, which can point you to expert advice and support.

I need advice please from people who are in relationships with partners who have experienced emotional abuse.

(50 Posts)
ArghMIL Tue 30-Dec-14 16:54:45


DH was emotionally abused by his mother for most of his life. She is a vile woman. He will not go No Contact with her (I have asked, several times) as she is his only surviving parent (his DF was lovely, neither of us have any earthly idea why he married MIL - she was just as vile to her husband, even when he was dying) and he keeps trying to please her, e.g. by buying her gifts or doing things for her.

She is a very sprightly 72 and goes to the gym regularly. She had to leave the pensioners classes as they were too slow for her. So she's not going away any time soon. She lives in another country and we have sporadic phone calls and bi/tri-annual visits, usually for three or four days.

These visits make DH depressed and angry. Usually he starts smoking again as an outlet for pent-up frustration. He only tells me about 50% of what goes on with her. Every couple of months there is a new thing - she has control of his finances in their home country (he said it was easier to sign it over than fight with her) and has messed them up a few times, although this is limited because DH's best friend works in the bank where the savings are, so usually intervenes and counsels his mother out of whatever it is she's planning.

The whole situation with her is so bizarre and upsetting. She is rude, arrogant and violently (verbally) furious with everyone. And I don't know how to help him.

I am always there as a listening ear, I give him no end of physical affection and tell him he is loved (for she certainly never does, is constantly telling him how awful he is, never hugs him etc.). After her visits if he is depressed I look after him, food, drink etc as best I can.

But what I can't deal with is the anger, because sometimes he directs it at me and gets furious with me over minor ridiculous things, or - he even admits - nothing at all, he just wants to shout at someone and I happen to be there. I never ever let that behaviour slide but I am in a complete quandary:

- If he would never talk to his friends like that (and I believe he would not) then he shouldn't be speaking to me like that. He always feels justified in what he has done and never apologises unless I force him to (usually by refusing to engage with him until I have had a sincere apology - this has happened three times). I believe very firmly in apologies and always apologise if I feel I am to blame.

- OTOH he is clearly very emotionally damaged. She has done a complete number on him. He says he was No Contact for ten years but didn't get away from her, partly because FIL was still alive and also because relatives and friends kept ringing him to sort out their problems with her (she falls out with everyone on a regular basis, she is full of hate). I love him, beyond anything and 99.9% of the time he is sweet, gentle and kind, strokes my hair so I can fall asleep and looks after me (I was briefly quite badly injured and needed lots of care). He is an equal partner in all chores and we are getting married next year. He only ever, ever treats me like this following an issue with her (e.g. could be following one of the financial situations, doesn't have to be a physical visit). These are few and far between, maybe three or four outbursts a year.

I was wondering how those who have been the children of emotionally abusive parents, or who are with someone who has been, cope? How do you support them and where do you draw the line in terms of reactions? I am looking for other people's experiences as if there is no way of changing this then I am not sure it's a good idea for us to get married and have children. However we have been together for many years and I have tried to help him... it's only now as the wedding approaches that I am beginning to think (perhaps a little late!) about whether this is a permanent thing or not.

I have suggested counselling a couple of times but he thinks it's for "mental people" so won't go hmm

I am posting because I called him today about something and realised that I was consciously editing what I was saying to appease him so he wouldn't shout. That horrified me. MIL stayed with us for a week over Christmas and it was hell. He cried on Christmas Day and then drank solidly until 1am watching costume dramas on TV, until I got out of bed and persuaded him to come upstairs. I hate her so much for what she has done to him.

meiisme Tue 30-Dec-14 17:12:57

Are you planning to have DC together? His outbursts may be infrequent now, but becoming part of a parent-child relationship again has an unfortunate way of triggering all sort of childhood pain. If he's not willing to work through those experiences before becoming a dad, I'd be quite wary...

ArghMIL Tue 30-Dec-14 17:16:35

Thanks meiisme. We are planning to TTC next year. I fully believe that if he got some help then we could deal with this as he is a fundamentally sweet and decent person (he takes after his Dad). It is the uncertainty of knowing how he will react to being a father or, if his mother gets worse, whether his outbursts get worse that has me worried.

I don't know how other people deal with it and I feel like I'm stumbling along.

In my ideal world he would go NC and seek out some proper therapy. But he's not willing to do either of those things.

ArghMIL Tue 30-Dec-14 17:20:13

It has crossed my mind a couple of times that he might be still in contact for financial reasons. MIL lives in an exceptionally nice house that would be worth about £400k in the right area in the UK and also has substantial savings.

But we are not in dire straits - he owns our house outright (I didn't have any money to put into it) and I now earn over £30k whilst he has recently reduced his hours to part time so he is less stressed (am happy for this to happen - he supported me fully for 18 months whilst I was a student and then unemployed). The plan is that he would be a part time SAHD so we could save on childcare but in the meantime try and build up his self-employed business. Therefore we have no need of her money at all and I worry about the cost of things more than he does (was brought up in a low income family, he has always been well-off). So I don't understand confused

meiisme Tue 30-Dec-14 17:57:13

I'm afraid I find it hard to be positive about situations like this. Childhood pain and parent/child patterns sit so deep at the core of us that even decent, kind people will find them taking over sometimes.

Can you talk to him about your worries?

GoatsDoRoam Tue 30-Dec-14 18:09:24

It's not his fault that he is damaged, but as a grown-up now, it is his responsibility to deal with that damage: limit the harm it can cause to himself and others.

If he is refusing to break free from dysfunctional childhood patterns of relating to his Mom, then he is not healing that damage, just continuing to live it out. Which is sad for him.

If he is taking out the frustration of this out on you, then he is not being a good or respectful partner. This is unacceptable.

It is his choice to continue to hurt himself, but unacceptable for him to harm others.

GoatsDoRoam Tue 30-Dec-14 18:13:54

And to answer your OP: having both been the child of dysfunctional parents, and dated children of dysfunctional parents, I would not enter a relationship with a person who is still in the grips of a dysfunctional parent.

Only those who are at least aware of how their upbringing was a bit fucked up and who actively want to control the damage done, and stand up for themselves.

Lottapianos Tue 30-Dec-14 18:22:39

Hi OP, both DP and I are emotional abuse survivors. I am certainly guilty of directing my anger at him, wrongly, because he's a safe person to be emotional with and I felt he could take it. This was automatic rather than planned but it was still very wrong. I am in therapy and working very hard to turn my life around. Its slow progress but I am becoming a better and nicer partner.

It sounds like your DP is very stuck, not being able or willing to change his behaviour or his relationship with his mother. It sounds like he is deep in FOG - fear, obligation, guilt - which can be crippling. However none of this means that you have to put up with crappy or hurtful behaviour for him. You say you want to help him but the incredibly frustrating truth is that only he can change this. So I would carry on challenging him when you feel that he is unfair to you, but give up any hope that you can fix him or rescue him or make this better for him. Your instinct to put yourself first here is correct. This may be something that he never deals with head on and you need to be prepared for that.

McSantaPaws Tue 30-Dec-14 18:37:50

Your situation is pretty identical to mine but we now have children. I didn't realise what I was getting myself in to really. I have posted on the mental health boards. Your DH is so like mine. He is a good man but he rants a lot, luckily never at me, but it kind of feels like it is. I am from an abusive background too, not so much though. It is really really TOUGH. You are right to question your future. Only the other day I sincerely wished Id stayed single and childless

I will try and link to my post. Nobody has answered it yet, I think I will re-post in relationships

McSantaPaws Tue 30-Dec-14 18:46:36

We are low contact with his DM ATM. Previously, my dh would do the same as yours following a visit, get stressed, drink, all that sort of stuff. It isn't much better now. He is working through a lot of shit but it just feels all a little too late.

Even if your dh started therapy now, it will take many years to come to terms with his past, if ever. Added to that, whilst she's still in the picture, it will make matters worse. She has financial control because she wants to control your DH. My MIL is the same, she's wealthy and threatening to cut DH out of the will because we're so cruel, blah blah blah. She can go shove her money up her arse as far as I'm concerned. She's one evil, evil cow

ArghMIL Tue 30-Dec-14 18:54:09

Thank you all for your responses. Goat He told me he tried standing up to her in his twenties and it got him nowhere. Then he moved abroad and had NC for a few years. Then decided to go along the path of least resistance since nothing he tries gets her out of his life, or so he believes.

Lotta A lot of what you posted rings a bell. meiisme I can talk and he listens. He has got over the grumpiness today, given me a hug and a kiss and taken some paracetamol as he has a headache. He's lying on the sofa wrapped in a blanket watching trash TV. He hasn't been the same since his dad died 3 years ago and he had to dal with his mum himself. I feel so sorry for him sad

McSantaPaws Tue 30-Dec-14 18:54:22

Oh and also as pp said, having kids will bring up all sorts of memories. My 8 yo DS triggers my DH all the time, for quite a few reasons.

badbaldingballerina123 Tue 30-Dec-14 21:04:41

Putting his frustration onto you is abusive. You shouldn't have to monitor what you say either. Having been in this situation twice I would not get married or have dc until this is resolved.

trackrBird Wed 31-Dec-14 01:49:08

I don't think you'll want to hear this, but I would be very wary indeed regarding marriage, or ttc with this man.

The problem is much closer to home than your MIL. She has a toxic effect on your partner, and you are extremely accommodating and kind to him as a result. But look what you're getting in return:

the anger...sometimes he directs it at me and gets furious with me over minor ridiculous things, or - he even admits - nothing at all, he just wants to shout at someone and I happen to be there.

That's a poor exchange for your efforts, and a terrible excuse for being aggressive towards anyone.

You quite rightly pull him up on it: and have quite rightly noted that he doesn't do it to friends and colleagues, and therefore knows what he's doing.

But the worst thing here is his response after you pull him up:
He always feels justified in what he has done and never apologises unless I force him to.

So you know he targets you, specifically, because he wants someone to shout at: and he feels fully entitled and justified in doing so. This behaviour isn't likely to improve, and he shows no sign of wanting to correct it.

meiisme Wed 31-Dec-14 02:02:09

I feel so sorry for him I can't reiterate enough that while that is totally normal and human, you can't afford feeling sorry when there are children in the picture. He has to take responsibility for himself and his actions. Children have the right to feel warm and safe, and a frustrated, upset dad, however kind and listening he is at other times, breaks their basic sense of safety. You as an adult are already walking on eggshells, while you have the adult capacity for understanding why he's doing what he's doing and that it isn't normal and okay. Children don't... They will think they need to adjust their behaviour to make dad feel okay, and that is how patterns are repeated through generations. My DC lived their first two years with a dad in the wild midst of childhood patterns and triggers, and their sense of security and trust in people has been seriously damaged. I felt sorry for him too - still do - but wish I had broken the cycle and not stayed in it with them.

Also: you deserve to feel safe and free in your home.

gincamparidryvermouth Wed 31-Dec-14 02:36:33

Why do you force him to apologise? A forced apology has absolutely no meaning, so why is it so important to you?

I had an emotionally abusive parent and as a result I am shit at relationships. My way of dealing with that is to remain single. I have enough insight to know that no one deserves to be subjected to my bad behaviour.

BTW - I have suggested counselling a couple of times but he thinks it's for "mental people" so won't go - if those were his exact words it would be a dealbreaker for me. He just sounds a bit thick TBH.

FunkyBoldRibena Wed 31-Dec-14 07:18:03

What happens when the people he shouts at are your innocent kids?

This is just going to end up in more kids from broken homes and you know it.

People often ask on here 'why did you have kids with him when you knew how bad he was', right now you have the chance to stop this and stop more kids coming from an abusive home. Because that is what it is.

badbaldingballerina123 Wed 31-Dec-14 13:11:59

There's a big difference between supporting someone and enabling them. You say you have and are supporting him , but supporting him in what ? Continuing a toxic relationship with his mother ?

In your shoes I would go nc with mil. If he insists on her visiting I'd stay elsewhere for that time. There is absolutely no reason for you to have contact with her. It may sound tight , but I would have reached the stage a long time ago where I was not willing to have conversations about mil nor soothe him once he had chosen to expose himself to her.

ArghMIL Wed 31-Dec-14 19:10:57

I have tried NC with MIL before. DH refused to book a hotel so all that happened was that I missed a friend's wedding as I couldn't figure out a way of making it work.

He has been vile the past few days. Moping, depressed and swinging between sweet (I am still ill and on a lot of medication, in pain and need help in the house) then angry. He is constantly raising his voice to me and then denying he has a 'tone' or that he is shouting. He says I am insulting him by making these suggestions. We are meant to be leaving for a party now but I don't feel festive. He is completely different with others (we have already been over there to help prep), albeit tired.

The way he is behaving he is not the man I met or fell in love with. I can't deal with his denial that he is doing anything wrong. I told him that the way he is behaving I don't want to marry him and he just snorted, said I was being unreasonable and swore under his breath. He was fine until his mother was here.

He does think counselling is for the mentally weak and told me so, in those words, after one if my counselling sessions (my illness is from a traumatic event)

How he is normally is amazing but after incidents with his mum it is awful. If he refuses counselling and continues to see her I see us splitting up. I will not be treated like this. Nothing I am saying to him at the moment is sinking in. I think he is so full of anger and sadness that he genuinely wouldn't care if I left. He would mutter, say it was my fault and maybe regret it later. He says I wind him up, have annoying habits that no one else would tolerate and that I am lucky he has such a long fuse (verbatim). I am concerned that if I stay with him I will lose my self esteem. He is like jekyll and hyde.

But when things are good I am honestly the happiest I have been in my life ever.

meiisme Wed 31-Dec-14 22:03:57

Look up the cycle of abuse, which explains the Jekyll and Hyde. It's the usual way for abusers. If he were angry at you all the time, you wouldn't have a reason to stay.

He says I wind him up, have annoying habits that no one else would tolerate and that I am lucky he has such a long fuse (verbatim). And this is the classic reasoning of an abuser too. "She makes me do it."

At the start of your thread I thought that your worries were mainly for the future, but from what you've written it's clear you are already in an abusive relationship. Never mind what he decides to put himself through by staying in contact with his mother and not dealing with his issues: you are the partner experiencing emotional abuse.

Please read Why does he do that?: Inside the minds of angry and controlling men by Lundy Bankcroft. It explains perfectly what you're experiencing, why it's not going to get better, and why you can't 'help' him by 'being understanding'.

Most abusers experienced abuse in their childhood, from the men you read about on this forum to mass murderers like Hitler and Stalin. It's tempting to feel sorry for them, or for the little boy you can often still see inside them. But what counts in your relationship is how he treats you now he's an adult. If I were you I'd call it quits and focus on yourself for a while. What are you bringing into this dynamic from your childhood and relationship history?

cafesociety Wed 31-Dec-14 22:45:07

I also had an emotionally abusive parent and have proved to be rubbish at relationships, so am single and staying so. This is despite me acknowledging the problems I have and doing everything to put things right, reading all I can, getting help, courses etc. Long story.

It seems already you are walking on eggshells and he is taking his mood and anger out on you. This does not make for a healthy relationship and does not look good for the future, especially with children then involved in the storm. It sounds like he is gas lighting you too and twisting what you say and how you try to help, saying you are 'insulting', 'winding him up', have 'annoying habits that no one else would tolerate'. Wow.

He is showing how he deals with letting them slide, being in denial and berating his partner according to his anger and mood, being 'vile' as you say and refusing to get help because that would mean he was 'mental'. This is someone with fixed views, outdated attitudes and a stubborn refusal to address an issue which could ruin his happiness with you...and with anyone. His problem solving skills are immature/not healthy ones, but those of a [damaged] child lashing out at the wrong person and he needs help to develop appropriate adult skills. Note he can be ok with other people....behaviours are reserved for you to suck up.

He could also get seriously depressed in the near future, he already sounds very stressed and the problem with his mother is affecting his life to a great extent. Obviously his anger is being vented on the wrong person here.

I can see a split may be on the cards, and I think it could be for the best as I agree you should not be treated like this or your mental health sanity will suffer. He isn't the person you thought he was, the Jekyll and hyde remark rings alarm bells. See past the charm and the good bits...

KouignAmann Wed 31-Dec-14 23:16:19

I was married to a man who was the son of a narcissist DM and a bullying DF. He tried so hard to be good and kind and successful and make them happy. They still split up in his twenties. He is a mixture of both needy mother and cruel father at times. He can't express anger and is very passive aggressive which meant I got the role of Angry Person in our marriage.

He made me feel totally responsible for his moods and helping him with his depressive episodes. The burden became so heavy I became exhausted eventually. Then he turned on me and became frankly abusive but twisted it all round on me. Lundy Bancroft understands men like this inside out.

Dont have children with him. Pick a father who can give them adult love and parenting and not someone who will repeat the cycle of abuse. Look at his parents and be sure they are kind emotionally healthy people because they will have made him what he is.

GoatsDoRoam Thu 01-Jan-15 10:38:24

Echoing mei: your OP is about the future, but you are already in an abusive relationship.

McSantaPaws Thu 01-Jan-15 13:34:25

The more I read the more I want to shout run! OP, he is emotionally abusing you and his attitude will stop him from recovering. Leave now before you have kids. You can't change him, only he can do that.

Complicatedasever Thu 01-Jan-15 16:14:37

Shocking as it will be for you to realise this, his behaviour towards you IS emotionally abusive. As sorry as you may feel for him, only he is responsible for his current behaviour, not his mother. If he won't accept he's doing anything wrong, how can he ever change it. Having children or getting married can precipitate a worsening of abusive behaviour. Read The Verbally Abusive Relationship: How to recognize it and how to respond by Patricia Evans.

Join the discussion

Registering is free, easy, and means you can join in the discussion, watch threads, get discounts, win prizes and lots more.

Register now »

Already registered? Log in with: