Q My husband of 16 years has always been a dominant man, and I’ve accepted that over the years. I’ve got used to his put-downs and criticism of me, my cooking, how I look, my family, and how I take care of the house and our son.
What worries me now, is that my teenage son is speaking to me just like my husband does and I’ve got two of them having a go at me all the time.
I’ve spoken to my husband about it and he just tells me not to be so sensitive, that it’s my problem and to just toughen up and get over it.
I can’t. I feel useless. I’m thinking of leaving them to it, but I only have a part-time wage and can’t afford to leave and live on my own. I fear for any partner my son will have in future if he turns out like his dad.
A I’m wondering when you first noticed this happening, and what prevented you from discussing it much sooner. Not that I’m suggesting that you’ve brought it on yourself, just that it might now be a case of too little too late.
As an underdog who’s been emotionally bullied for years I suspect that you haven’t felt strong enough to stand up to him or to change this pattern much sooner.
I’m also curious about why your husband treats you like this, and what attracted you to one another. Were old family patterns playing out between you that are now being passed on again?
Your son will have been heavily influenced by his male ‘role model’ and internalised this way of speaking and relating to women. He may have come to believe that this dominant/subservient type of relationship, which he’s grown up with, is normal.
Your husband is ‘invalidating’ you as a person – and that is emotionally abusive. He has taught your son to do the same.
I hope that your son has some different influences from other family members, his peer group’s families. and from the media – which show him a more respectful and considerate way to relate to women.
If you have a good bond with your son you should speak to him and make it clear how the way his dad treats you makes you feel.
Admit that you have allowed it to go on for too long, and that you want to make changes now.
Ask that he treat you as he’d like to be treated… with empathy, care and consideration – so that he has a better chance of being a good partner to someone himself later on.
Whenever your son is rude to you, ask that he reflect upon it. His teenage brain should be able to make sense of that and change his behaviour if he sees a reward in it.
He may start to feel disloyal to his dad, and this might create conflict for him – and maybe even the need to protect you from his dad.
You have a choice about whether to get professional help (firstly for your own self-esteem and self-empowerment, and then for you both as a couple – if he’s be willing to commit to that. Then for family therapy for the three of you; which would help to expose those toxic patterns of relating and help you all to make changes); or you could continue to make plans to leave.
All options need to be carefully considered and for you to be clear about the desired outcomes.
It’s never too late to change… it starts with the awareness of the problem and how it has evolved.
Then (with help as required) making the changes one step at a time. If your husband wants a relationship with you to continue then he needs to put in his share of the effort to make that happen.
Maxine Harley (MSc Psychotherapy)
www.maxineharley.com – where you’ll find a page of FREE RESOURCES to help you on your road to self awareness, empowerment and growth