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Am I the victim or perpetrator of emotional abuse in my marriage?

(99 Posts)
MatchDullness Sun 08-Nov-15 09:16:56

AIBU to want to see my aging parents?
Am I the perpetrator or victim of emotional abuse?
Should I stay in my 25 year + relationship or should I go?

My wife and I are in our mid-fifties, I have severely limited contact with my parents and sister. Our young teenage sons have only seen my parents twice in their lives. My wife forbids contact saying they have always put her down, set an appalling example that the boys should not be exposed to and that if I want more contact I should leave her – in which case I can have free access to the boys provided I never introduce them to my parents and sister.

I am at my wits end, my parents are in their early eighties and aging fast, not being in contact with them them is having a corrosive effect on me, my wife says having contact would be intolerable for her reiterating that I have a choice, honor her, my marriage and our children or leave to have the contact with my parents and sister. She is very scathing about my pain, citing the fact her parents are dead and she has had cancer for which she blames the shock of discovering I had been having covert contact with my parents and sister. She tells me I should focus on what I have and get on with life with her in the same way that she gets on with hers. She feels emotionally abused, I do too.

I have tried to put the pain of separation from my parents and sister out of my mind, getting on with my wife by adopting Le Carre’s Maria Ostrakova’s mantra for withstanding interrogation; “Never to match rudeness with rudeness, never to be provoked, never to score, never to be witty or superior or intellectual, never to be deflected by fury, or despair or the sudden hope that an occasional question might arouse. To match dullness with dullness and routine with routine. And only deep deep down to preserve the secrets that make the humiliation bearable” – but I don’t do it well and now find the situation intolerable.

If anyone has any advice or comment to make I’d welcome it, there is of course a long story behind the current impasse – I’ve written it up trying to be fair to my wife though obviously it reflects my perspective, It runs to over 8000 words – I’m new to discussion sites but suspect that is too much for one post but if anyone is up for reading it let me know.



DoreenLethal Sun 08-Nov-15 09:23:04

I don't want to read 8000 words.

The question is:
Did your parents always put her down and set a bad example?

On balance, do you think that she is correct in not wanting your kids to see your parents?

If she is not allowing you to see them, for no good reason, then she is being totally unreasonable. If there is good reason, then you should be allowed to see them on your own.

If this is not possible, then you need to decide whether this is worth breaking up over.

There is not enough info to decide on one or other of you being abusive; I thought this was about your parents?

Iamthinking Sun 08-Nov-15 09:25:04

What did they do to her? How bad an example do they set to your sons?

Iamthinking Sun 08-Nov-15 09:29:03

By the way, I love that quote but it makes your relationship sound awful. Dead. Is it really that bad? Because surely that is a crucial point in deciding what to do.

NotQuiteSoOnEdge Sun 08-Nov-15 09:33:42

You will have to give details about what it is that has caused her to issue this ultimatum.

E.g. They were abusive to her/your DC in some way, then she could be being entirely reasonable.

She's jealous of your close, loving family in the absence of hers= unreasonable.

You are going to have to say more. There are no black and white answers.

AttilaTheMeerkat Sun 08-Nov-15 09:37:20

Eight thousand words is too long.

Have you ever talked to a therapist, that may be worth doing now particularly if you've never considered it. Better than following that character's mantra; this is real life, not a spy novel.

What are the memories of your own childhood?. Was your sister more favoured?. What is her own relationship like with them now?.

What did they do to your wife?.

It is not unreasonable on the surface anyway for you to want to maintain a relationship with your parents but do you accept that your wife on some level may also be correct re them being abusive. She like you has acted in the ways she has seen fit and feels she has protected the children from them.

Is it that you have been so conditioned to accept their ill treatment of you (and perhaps on some level you think they are not that awful, think that they will change or you still want their approval) that you perhaps cannot see how badly you and by extension your own family unit have been treated?.

m1nniedriver Sun 08-Nov-15 09:48:10

I don't think it's relevant what they did or didn't do. They aren't her parents and he is a grown man capable of making decisions. She got cancer because you saw your parents against her will hmm do me a favour, that's a sick thing to say! If this was the other way around and he was telling her 'if you do this I will leave you, I will let you see the children but on condition, you gave me cancer ....' He would get called controlling, abusive etc That's riduculous!

If you want to see your oarents go and see them confused if they pass away you may end up with the regret ruining your life.

manandbeast Sun 08-Nov-15 10:27:11

Hi Jonathan,

So sorry that you are going through this.

You sound miserable and so does your wife.

What is keeping you both together? Would your lives be better if you were apart?

I'm sure you'll hear a few different perspectives on here and get valuable advice. One view that is fairly prevalent is that the husband needs to prioritise his relationship with his wife over his parents. I believe no person should ask another person to end relationships with their own family and that the healthiest and kindest approach of a spouse (of any gender) who has issues with their spouses's family is to try to resolve them through contact and aim for an improved relationship. Without knowing much (and admittedly your parents could be horrific abusers in which case NC might be the only option) I think your wife's demands on you are unfair.

If a man stopped his wife from being in contact with her family that would be a red flag indicating possible abusive behaviour. It's possible this is what is happening to you.

MatchDullness Sun 08-Nov-15 10:30:33

Responding to Doreen
Did your parents always put her down - They (and I) can come over as quite condescending, social class should not matter but there is a significant class difference and I think this made her feel put down , But I don't my parents set out to do so.
and set a bad example? - the two worst things they have done are
1 - to entertain discussion with me about my relationship with my now wife (she says they should just have told me to go and sort it out with her) this was in the very early days - 25 + years ago
2- collude in clandestine contact when open contact had been forbidden

On balance, do you think that she is correct in not wanting your kids to see your parents? No, the bad example they set is in my opinion only the perhaps misguided attempt by loving parents to support their son (but perhaps I idolize) - and anyway I don't think the boys see the behavior anyway - it seems to be about opposing values and beliefs

is it about my parents or abuse?
My wife tells me she feels we have abused her emotionally, I feel the ban on contact, especially as my parents age, is also abuse -ts a long story but in summary my crime is not to have gone along with having no contact but to have gone behind my wife's back and due to resentment not given her support through the death of her parents and cancer. while I feel the no contact ban ad belittlement about how important parental relationships are to me is also emotional abuse - but it takes me a long time to tell the balanced story in full

CuntryLiving Sun 08-Nov-15 10:30:35

Is your wife right or not? Have they treated her badly? Are they/would they be a bad influence on the children?

It's weird to me the way you talk about the pain of not seeing them, really weird, but maybe you just have a different family dynamic than me, so I won't judge from that. Really bloody odd that you've been sneaking off in secret to see them though. You're 50 years old! Why the hell could the two of you not have a conversation about this serious issue where you agree a course of action? Although it sounds like you have had the conversation, but you were dishonest about your feelings or intentions, or you changed your mind later and instead of talking about it your decided to sneak off behind her back, like a naughty child. Why?!

It's very odd that you're talking about splitting up due to this issue - aren't there other more important things to consider, for example, do you love each other? Do you enjoy each other's company? Do you respect each other? Are roles/responsibilities and fun shared equally and happily?

I don't know what's going on, and there's nowhere near enough information there to make a judgement about emotional abuse, so it's bloody odd you mention that as well tbh. Your relationship isn't going well, that's the one thing that's certain.

CuntryLiving Sun 08-Nov-15 10:37:25

Cross-posted. It just sounds like you are very badly matched, and there is very little love or empathy. I don't think you will be able to tell a balanced story, you're seeing things completely differently to your wife. If the bad feeling is at the point both of you feel abused, you're both better off out. Don't worry about whose fault it is, it doesn't matter.

MatchDullness Sun 08-Nov-15 11:43:53

Replying to m1nniedriver re emotional stress causing cancer.
I was skeptical when my wife laid this on me but she is adamant that her consultants support her argument.
A web search shows some research supporting and some disagreeing that there is a direct link

Weak evidence or no link:
Probably a link

Know how stressed I feel, I dont imagine it is doing me any good so if the feels the same stress we need to do something to get rid of it.

Yes AttilaTheMeerkat - At my wife - then GF's suggestion I saw a therapist over 25 years ago (on my own, with hindsight we should have gone together), he appeared to suggest she was being unreasonable, I persuaded her to see him, she went alone reported that he said it was all my fault (or words to that affect ) and refused the suggestion of a joint visit. I have suggested joint mediation several times since but my wife won't tale part.

In spring this year I had several weeks of one to one telephone counselling, not sure it helped much, the main takeaway was not to beat myself up over the situation, not to believe myself, parents and sister fatally flawed or abnormal, to try to work with my wife to understand what it is she fears, perhaps through counselling and not to be frightened of taking tough decisions if I knew them to be right. I was left feeling right to be predominantly on my side and that my wife’s ban on contact was unreasonable. I’ve tried to share this with my wife, in a past job role she was involved in procuring counsellors for employee counselling – she says it sounds as if my counsellor was very unprofessional, far to directive, I should complain, but no she my wife won’t have counselling what she needs is for my parents and sister to apologise for colluding in the deceit and to recognize the effect they have had on her health and our marriage. Apparently early in the year my wife wrote to my parents asking for an apology and there was quite a lot of correspondence, I’ve not seen any of it but both “sides” imply that what they wrote was reasonable but the other side was unreasonable.

for those of you who need more info to comment I'll try and condense my 8000 word story - later but probably not today.

Im0gen Sun 08-Nov-15 11:55:07

Match - I don't wish to sound unkind, but I wonder what you hope to achieve from this thread . If the majority of respondents say that your wife is being unreasonable or reasonable, how will that help you ?

Will you then be reconciled to not seeing your parents any more ? Or if we agree with you, will you then go ahead and see them behind your wife's back ? Or will you confront her and risk the end of your marriage ?

If this an issues that has been going on for more than 25 years without resolution , I don't see how the opinions of a few strangers on the Internet, who don't have time to read 8,000 words , will help you.

An I also wonder how writing a book about this has actually helped you resolve it ?

It sounds like you feel very stuck and want someone to magically sort this out for you .

MatchDullness Sun 08-Nov-15 13:37:45


I don't have friends I can talk to about this.

Counselling leaves me minded to leave - but I don't want to so what do I want? - I suppose it is what I have always wanted, for us to be a happy family, to be in contact with my family, for the boys to at least know them, my wife not to feel threatened by them and in my wildest fantasy for them to get on, for my wife and I to grow old together in a loving relationship.

But my wife makes it a stark her or them choice, she is very articulate in an argument and makes me feel that it is indeed all my and my parents fault, or at least unable to express why it might not be.

I'm left feeling that whilst I could have supported my wife more in the past she is being unreasonable and I should leave, we have discussed this but I end up feeling as if I have been brainwashed, doubting the veracity of my views so in an attempt to get unbiased feedback from strangers I took the plunge into this discussion site. I have not written a book, but in an attempt to reconcile my self to what has happened and how she feels about it I have written a story to my self.

I will sort it out for myself but what is this site for if not to share and canvas opinion?

TaintForTheLikesOfWe Sun 08-Nov-15 14:04:51

Match you really need to (temporarily) match her abuse of you with your 'abuse' of her and leave. How can you possibly stay when she is effectively treating you like a chattel and telling you what you can and cannot do? I love my DH to bits but the day he tells me what to do is the day I leave and especially over something like contact with your OWN PARENTS!! Unless your parents removed your childrens organs and sold them on the open market you need to see them now before any more time goes by. If your unreasonable wife cannot see that she does not deserve a marriage. What your DCs do is up to them but it is to be hoped that they would also see your parents. Maybe your folks could see this behaviour in her and she did not like the mirror being held up? Leave. You can't not.
I would email her a bit so you have some written evidence of her totally unreasonable an intractable behaviour in respect of this though but I am evil.

CuntryLiving Sun 08-Nov-15 15:12:28

You took from your counselling that were right, she took from hers that she was right. Now you're on here asking us if you or she is right. Maybe you need to re-focus from who's right and just accept the two of you see things differently in an irreconcilable way, and move forward. Can you get past this together or not, do you even want to?

Is this futile search for who's right actually a distraction from having to make a decision about what to do?

goddessofsmallthings Sun 08-Nov-15 16:33:49

When did your wife's dps die and does she have any siblings? Was she on good terms with them prior to their death, how did you get on with them, and were your dc able to have relationships with their maternal dgps?

During a prolonged period of almost unbearable stress I developed psoriasis, but this would not have occurred if I wasn't genetically predisposed to the condition. After another period of stress I suffered a severe bout of shingles, but this wouldn't have occurred if the chicken pox virus hadn't been lying dormant in my system.

For your wife to state or otherwise imply that she suffered breast cancer because of the shock of discovering that you were having covert contact with your dps and dsis is reprehensible and, sadly, suggests she's not above using emotional blackmail to gain her own ends.

If you were to leave/divorce her, your wife would discover that the courts will not uphold her unreasonable demand that you should never introduce your dc to dps and dsis. In fact, other than any desire you may have to appease your dw, there is no bar to you doing so now.

Imo this is one of the saddest threads I've read on this board as I find it almost inconceivable that 25 years of marriage has failed to reach any accord in this matter and I dread to think how your dw's entrenched position, and your consequent deceit, has impacted on your dc who will not be unaware of the tensions between their dps.

MatrixReloaded Sun 08-Nov-15 16:42:16

Your wife is entitled to not have contact with your parents. She has absolutely no right to prevent you from seeing them. She sounds incredibly abusive.

spanisharmada Sun 08-Nov-15 16:53:44

I think you should leave tbh. She has no right what so ever to dictate your relationships (or lack off) with your family. Ditto for your sons. Unless your parents pose an identifiable risk and a court supports banning contact, she can not stop you seeing your sons or stop you taking them to see your parents and sister.
She sounds like a controlling nightmare, however my view may be tainted by having witnessed what sounds like a similar situation.

Im0gen Sun 08-Nov-15 17:55:25

I agree with country living. Rehashing the debate here is just another distraction from having to make a decision .

You've already had opinions from counsellors who are much more qualified than anyone here , as they have heard more of the story and have met you in RL . And their input hasn't helped you make a decision .

Can I ask you again why you think that getting opinions here will help you ?

Maudofallhopefulness Sun 08-Nov-15 18:21:23

Do you love your wife, do you want to stay in a relationship with her or is it just habit and fear of the unknown that is keeping you there? It sounds miserable and unhealthy to me, but I don't know if you have loving, fun and happy times together aside from this issue.

I think she's being unreasonable not letting you see your family. Fair enough her not wanting to see them but unless they make you behave like a total arsehole to her when you've seen them, she should let you go.

MatchDullness Mon 09-Nov-15 10:10:12

Replying to Im0gen & Country Living

I think well meaning strangers asking hard questions makes you think, that is what I hoped to get.

I agree that a tally of past wrongs does not help, what couple would not have a backlog of them after a lifetime anyway? I have suggested letting bygones be bygones and that my wife just let me have contact with my parents in their final years but she won't give me that and has made me feel it is all my fault. Comments, questions and advice here have helped me validate my own conclusions

I know what to do

shovetheholly Mon 09-Nov-15 10:27:08

I think you sound incredibly passive-aggressive in the way that you are dealing with this. To be honest, you sound completely lacking in backbone on all fronts.

Here's the thing: the intention of your parents doesn't matter. It doesn't matter if they intend to be nice but end up being condescending arses. It doesn't matter if they mean well, but end up decimating your wife's self-confidence. Their behaviour isn't on and it has a corrosive effect. Rather than making excuses for them or minimising what it is they are doing, you need to begin your negotiation of this issue by confronting this truth.

Now, I suspect that if you actually stood up for your wife with them, and refused to allow her to be demeaned and patronised in their presence, she might be a bit more open to contact. But instead you defend and excuse them to her. It sounds as though you leave her vulnerable and isolated when they are around, instead of standing together as a unit. Shutting up for the sake of an easy life is not an option when someone is taking flack. It is particularly not on if your wife is the victim of class prejudice and snobbery.

All that said, a spouse cannot control contact of children or their other half with parents. Your wife sounds very emotionally manipulative on this issue - perhaps she has reason to be so, given your attitude to your parents, but it's not really acceptable (the cancer thing is particularly wrong). I think you should both see a counsellor TOGETHER about this issue, to see whether there are compromise positions that would allow some tentative and experimental contact (either just you and them, or the whole family) without her feeling completely exposed. Bear in mind that this WILL mean that you need to take a position rather than simply going along passively.

MatrixReloaded Mon 09-Nov-15 10:39:14

Counselling is not recommended where there is abuse.

Op you do not need your wife's permission to see your parents.

ShortandSweeter Mon 09-Nov-15 10:42:48

I think it's horribly manipulative of your wife and I would take my chances and leave her.

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