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can you retrain an emotionally abusive DH?

(36 Posts)
olderandbecomingwiser Mon 28-Oct-13 19:30:17


I fall into the trap of having married a grade 10 * and settled, after divorce, for a grade 4-8 one, depending on his mood of the day. He can be charming and lovely when not in a bad mood.

Our son is at university and we live in the country, so are quite isolated, apart from our dogs. I depend on him financially as my son is only in his first year - I work, unpaid, as my husband's secretary. When DH is cross, he makes jokes about our son's university fees.

DH used to air his Mr Hyde self regularly until he became ill last year. He was beaten as a child. On his recovery we had six months of Dr Jekyll friendliness.

Since June, Mr Hyde has resurfaced with increasing regularity.

One of the problems is the length of time that DH will sulk for, even when he is the one who started a row.

Today, for example, I had forgotten to remind him to deliver a package to his business, meaning that he had to repeat the 1-hour round journey today.

He stayed out in the pub until 4.00pm and then after a few insults went straight to bed, where he remains. I have my study door locked.

When I try to cajole him into coming out of his mood, it makes things worse. He says harsh things and his face contorts.

The problem is that I find it hard to get on with my normal life while these sulks - or punishment as I see it - continue.

I am trying to build a business as a proofreader, but my concentration during these periods is not up to the job.

I also am increasingly having to cancel visits - eg my yoga teacher - if on a day when DH is still in a sulk.

Has anyone been able to convert a Mr Hyde into a Dr Jekyll and if so, how?

All thoughts welcome.

Dahlen Mon 28-Oct-13 19:39:42

I'm sorry, but no. Very, very few people change from this pattern of behaviour because it is one that is usually deeply ingrained and seemingly very effective.

A small number of people change, but these are the ones who have decided off their own back that their behaviour is a problem and are determined to change it. It usually takes years.

What is more possible is for partners of abusers to change their own behaviour so that they can achieve a small amount of change in their abusive partner. However, the trouble with this approach is that it really just results in the abuser switching to more subtle types of manipulation. Also, and it is dangerous because living with the mistaken notion that you have achieved change actually makes you more invested in the relationship and more likely to overlook transgressions. Not to mention the fact that your abuser will only keep up the good act as long as you make it clear you won't tolerate anything else. As soon as you are vulnerable or low, the true colours come back out. That's not a partnership.

I also believe that in 99.9 cases when an abuser does effect change, it is only a subsequent partner who can enjoy the results of that - in a relationship where abuse has already taken place, the dynamics involved with that involve so many strands it is almost impossible to build a new abuse-free relationship.

I know a few couples who seemed to achieve change (although in my mind there were still warning signs, even though they didn't see it). In one case, there was a 7 year gap between violence, but as soon as they got into an intractable conflict, he immediately reverted to type. Make of that what you will.

You won't want to read this, I know. And I know it's never easy to walk away from a long relationship when things can often be good and there is so much to lose. It is far from an easy decision and no woman should ever be judged for wanting to work at it. As a gender we are encouraged to do just this, society encourages us to, and our emotions play into it as well. It is the harder option to stay, not the easy one. But IMO staying with an abuser is nearly always a mistake. I would never advise anyone to work at it. THe closest I could get would be to leave and tell your abusive partner to look you up in a few years time after extensive therapy and see if you're interested.

Chubfuddler Mon 28-Oct-13 19:40:37


Run like the wind.

SoleSorceress Mon 28-Oct-13 19:41:16

He has to change for.himself and via a therspist. If his andwer is no way, never you should leave of you want contentment and peace. I feel you might need a therspist as you are sticking around to be shat all over.

Vivacia Mon 28-Oct-13 19:44:46

Why would you want to?

onetiredmummy Mon 28-Oct-13 20:47:26

No you cannot retrain him, he is choosing to behave this way.

Do you love him?

Do you want to stay with him?

Liara Mon 28-Oct-13 20:52:23

Does he recognise he has a problem?

If he does, then he may be able to change it. You can help, but you can't do it yourself.

EricLovesAnyFucker Tue 29-Oct-13 06:17:22

Of course not. He's not a dog, or a child. He's a fully formed adult and this is who he is.
Sulkers are so vile. They suck all the happiness out of their environment and it's a highly effective tool for punishment and control. You can't do what you want (yoga) and you can't work when he's doing it. You can't even be free in your own home (why have you locked the door?)
This is a miserable life you know. You don't have to accept it. Worst case scenario your son will have to get a loan to pay his fees - lots of people do it. Don't martyr yourself.

Squeegle Tue 29-Oct-13 06:27:47

My XP was a bit like yours. A terrible sulker, angry man, rude to me for no reason etc etc. he was also a drinker. We have now split up. He has (amazingly) become sober. He's done a lot of work on himself, meditation, Buddhism all sorts.

He is still a major sulker, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde etc, shouts at me and tells me how lazy I am etc etc. He still abuses me by using his power over our kids (won't have them to stay sometimes if he knows I have an important night out, cancels at short notice etc). He has a new lady. I can only suppose he is less moody with her, but I don't know.

He also was very badly treated as a child. I think it's quite difficult for them to get out of these patterns. To be honest I am glad that now I only have to put up with it every so often, not every day. I can't see him ever changing with me; it seems too ingrained.

BranchingOut Tue 29-Oct-13 06:36:03

Could you tell us a bit more about your son's fee situation, as maybe there are MNers who could give advice on that so you are not tiptoeing around this man?

AttilaTheMeerkat Tue 29-Oct-13 06:52:41

No you cannot retrain such a person, this type of behaviour is deeply ingrained within their own psyche. This is who he is.

You probably also tried to change your first H with no effect either but a further crushing of your own self worth. He likely learnt this from his own childhood in that either one or even both parents were physically or emotionally abusive. Having read further I see that this is indeed the case, his damage was done back then.

Abusers also do the nice/nasty cycle very well but its a continuous cycle.

What did you learn about relationships as well when growing up?. That is a question you need to ask yourself as well seeing that you have chosen an abusive man twice over.

Staying with this man is just papering over the huge chasms in your dysfunctional relationship. What do you get out of this relationship now, what has kept you here and isolated?.

You cannot help anyone like this, your only option is to leave this man.

CogitoErgoSometimes Tue 29-Oct-13 07:03:09

I think the main problem you have here is that you care. He sulks and it upsets you. That's his leverage. You can't stop him sulking but you can easily stop caring, stop 'cajoling' and generally stop pandering. When it comes to insults, sarcasm etc., always challenge and stand up for yourself. If that results in more sulking, refer to point 1 and ignore. Once you genuinely stop caring, you'll find it easier to leave.

CogitoErgoSometimes Tue 29-Oct-13 07:05:44

BTW... being beaten as a child is not a reason or excuse to behave like an arse towards a partner. It's a reason to consult a doctor, psychologist or counsellor.

Lweji Tue 29-Oct-13 07:21:32

You can only control how you respond to him.

You may need some counselling, but you must stop being affected by his moods. I bet he knows you won't go to yoga and can't work.

And why do you feel your son's fees are your responsibility? Doesn't he want him to go to uni?

And why unpaid secretary?

How are finances shared/administered at home?

If you can, start building up your own funds, seek financial and legal advice (no commitment to leaving), start disengaging from this man and tell him plainly that if he continues you will leave him.
If he continues, then do leave.

cloudskitchen Tue 29-Oct-13 07:34:55

Treat him as you might a child behaving in such a manner. Reward his good behaviour and ignore the bad. If he's sulking, ignore him. Why are you trying to cajole him out of these episodes. You are playing right into his hands. Train yourself to be busy or at least appear it rather than pander to his childish strops.

tallwivglasses Tue 29-Oct-13 07:49:41

It sounds like it's mainly financial reasons you're staying with him. Would your son resent you if you said you cou couldn't support him any more? That he'd have to take out a loan (or a bigger one) like a large proportion of other students?

You've been home-maker and unpaid secretary throughout you're marriage - that should make for a reasonable settlement. I'm not saying LTB, just keep your options open. If the grumpy old git knows you're prepared to walk, he might just buck his ideas up. Talk to him, give it 3-6 months and if there's no improvement, walk away to freedom and happiness.

larrygrylls Tue 29-Oct-13 09:03:19

This is one of those threads that make me want to go hmmmm. The OP makes an initial post, with very little background and all sorts of assumptions, then leaves the thread. Then lots of people pile in with their own preconceptions.

"Sulking" is a very emotive word. Being annoyed for more than one minute is not per se abuse. It is only abusive it is prolonged and part of a pattern of one sided controlling behaviour. It is no less or more abusive than being so careless of one's partner's time that you "forget" to remind him of something that costs him one hour of his life. We don't know which occurs more often, the "forgetting"(which could also be part of a pattern of low level provocation) or the "sulking" unless the OP returns to explain.

As for the "unpaid" work, if you can work as a secretary and afford a yoga teacher to come to your house, then you are clearly not unpaid in any but the literal definition of the word. The OP's partner clearly gives her a very nice life, considering there are no children to be looked after permanently at home.

Again, we would have to know a lot more about how the arrangement came into being to make a judgment on the equity of it. Did the OP give up a lucrative and high powered career to reluctantly stay at home or did she marry a wealthy husband and happily agree to do a few hours of secretarial support in return for a very nice lifestyle that she could never have achieved otherwise?

Unless more background is provided, we cannot know very much about the OP's situation at all, other than the fact she herself considers herself to work unpaid and that she is being abused.

Lweji Tue 29-Oct-13 10:27:31

Larry, larry, did you read the OP?

If she forgot to remind him, it was his obligation to remember in the first place. If she had forgotten to inform him, that is different. If he was supposed to deliver a package to his own business, surely it was his responsibility, even if she acts as his secretary.
Still no reason for a sulk.

The OP clearly stated that he sulked for more than one minute. Certainly enough to affect the OP's work and relaxation.

The OP clearly states he insults her.

You chose to concentrate on her unpaid working arrangements...

CogitoEerilySpooky Tue 29-Oct-13 11:34:22

larrygrylls post is one of those responses that make me want to go.... hmmmm.

larrygrylls Tue 29-Oct-13 11:35:57


It was her obligation to remind him. It was part of her JOB. If it were a commercial arrangement for a secretary to keep her boss's diary, would you regard forgetting to remind her boss of an important appointment as not failing to do the job?

I was using the phrase "one minute" as hyperbole to make the general point that the word "sulking" is emotive. It is not abusive to be unhappy with one's partner and show it for a period of time.

What I chose to do was to say that things have to be viewed in full and in context, not on the basis of one assumptive post.

CogitoEerilySpooky Tue 29-Oct-13 11:43:02

But if it was a job, and if the manager went off and sulked for hours on end because an employee had made a mistake rather than something more constructive, the manager would also be an arsehole... Don't get your point really.

Dahlen Tue 29-Oct-13 11:54:12

The OP wasn't actually asking if we thought her H was EA though. She was asking if an EA person can change.

But, since we're on the subject, she makes it clear that the sulks last for several hours. She also says he switches between Jekyll and Hyde - classic abusive personality markers. Combined with the fact it's affecting her behaviour and anxiety, I think it's fairly certain that he is indeed an EA person. Besides, even if she had messed up, as CES says, a decent boss doesn't go around sulking in response.

Lweji Tue 29-Oct-13 12:36:47

We actually don't know it's part of her job. Assumptions and all that. wink

onetiredmummy Tue 29-Oct-13 14:09:52

OP the answer to your question is no, its not possible to retrain an adult who doesn't see a problem with their behaviour. With such adults their behaviour is not their responsibility, its always someone else's fault why they are in bad mood.a

If you would like more input on your relation ship then clarification is needed:

- why did you lock your door, what did you think he was capable of that night?

- Are you frightened of him (contorting face etc)

- If you are a proofreader does that mean you cannot be his secretary anymore? What would he do in this instance?

- Why do you have to cancel visits if he is sulking, if you have visitors what would happen?

- Why are you still there?


olderandbecomingwiser Tue 29-Oct-13 20:10:06

Thank you for all your responses - I am touched by your replies, even if the overall message seems grim at first glance.

To give more background: I have a degree and an MBA but relocated at the request of my husband who has a family business in the country. I would be able to make a reasonable income as an editorial freelancer. Acting as a secretary/admin assistant was something I was happy to do given the situation. I assumed I would have been free to do my own work as well.

Technically, I should of course be able to combine a smaller-scale business such as proofreading with acting as my husband's secretary, admin assistant, credit controller or editor of his letters and documents.

What happens today is typical: while trying to do my work in the morning I must have had up to ten calls from him on my business mobile phone, asking for a cup of coffee, saying he had an urgent matter to discuss with me etc. The urgent matter turned out to be where I had put his ironed shirts.

I had booked a training session with a photographer to teach me how to take photographs and edit them in Photoshop. After an hour of this session my husband said he had an urgent matter and needed to see me. Although we continued for some ten minutes longer, it was not a relaxed setting. The urgent matter turned out not to be that urgent.

The reason I lock my study door is that my DH does not respect boundaries and will walk in on me if I am on the phone and then stay there, waiting for me to finish.

Re the fees, my son - my DH's stepson - is at university abroad so the fees are higher.

Yes I do still love my husband so am a sucker for when he says - as this morning - how mortified he is about his own behaviour.

We had lunch together but tonight are back to siege warfare under the same roof.

I agree with the advice theoretically but have a problem with the practicalities.


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