Month: January 2016

Dear Prudence 12/28/15

Dear Prudence:

Last year, with the help of family and friends, I extricated myself from a physically and emotionally abusive marriage. It was the most difficult thing I’ve ever done. I understand that I’m lucky to have had relatives who were able to help me with legal fees and moving expenses (I’m on a payment plan and have repaid almost all of it by now), but now my family members make unreasonable demands for personal information about me, require I check in with them about decisions I’m making for myself, and have implied that I shouldn’t spend money on certain items (necessities like rent) until I’ve paid them back. They’ve gone so far as to repeatedly call and text me when I’m at work until I drop everything (even leaving meetings!) to answer whatever their questions may be. They make hurtful comments about how my past judgment was clearly not the best to have ended up in a relationship with an abuser and I can’t be trusted to make decisions for myself yet. They also say that I’m ungrateful, which couldn’t be further from the truth. I’ve worked hard in therapy to understand how important boundaries are to recovering from past abuse, and this dynamic feels unhealthy for me. I’m hesitant, however, to be rude to family members who likely saved my life and seem to really be doing this out of a misplaced sense of caring. How do I balance my obligation to their generosity with my obligation to myself?

Dear Letter-writer:

I had a very similar situation when I lived with my parents after leaving my abusive husband.  Suffice it to say, I had a terrible relationship with them when I was a teen and that parent-child dynamic was recreated for as long as I stayed with them.  It was so bad with my parents that I actually went back to my husband because at least I was an adult in my own home when I lived with him.  A miserable, desperate-to-be-treated-like-a-human-being adult, but an adult just the same.  So don’t do that.

I agree with Prudence that you seem to have moved from one abusive situation to another.  That’s really unfortunate, but I think that overall you are on the right path and there’s not much to be done about your situation right this second.  You can try setting boundaries in the way Prudence suggests, but don’t be surprised if it doesn’t go well.

I hate to suggest this because it sounds so, so fucked up, but channel those skills that helped you keep your head down and bide your time before you left your husband.  Use them here to de-escalate and evade.  You mention that you’ve almost paid these people back, so you don’t have to do this for very long.  Once you’ve paid them back, move on with a completely clear conscience.  If necessary, cut them off completely.

These are people that appear to have bought into some of the myths about abusive relationships, such as the idea that any and all abusive situations can be avoided, and if you did get sucked in to a toxic marriage it’s because you have “bad judgment.”  This is just a way of psychologically insulating themselves and reassuring themselves that what happened to you could never happen to them because they have “good judgment.”  Once you get some distance from them, try to forgive them by thinking of them as people that simply have no clue.  They have no idea how abusive dynamics work and that’s a good thing because they have experienced a version of the world that is closer to how it was meant to be.

But that doesn’t mean you have to listen to them.

I’m sure they mean well, but meaning well doesn’t magically make them not abusive.  You can’t make them see how grateful you are, and you can’t make them see that they are treating you horribly.  The only thing you can do is limit your exposure.



Dear Prudence:

We’ve had a string of (really) bad roommates, but recently a good friend moved in with us. He’s amazing. He makes delicious coffee for us every morning. He cleans up. He’s a great guy. He moved in with us because he just ended a five-year relationship with his fiancée. Since he’s recently single and my roommate, he’s very much off the table, but this past weekend we got drunk and hooked up. He confessed to me that he’s had a crush on me since the moment we met and that it’s hard not to kiss me every single day. I have a crush on him too.

We’ve talked and decided that this is a recipe for disaster, yet we can’t seem to stop flirting with each other. Is there any amicable solution here other than finding another new roommate?

Dear Letter-writer:

Wait – what?  No!  Honestly, you create more drama with the constant dance of we-shouldn’t-but-we-really-REALLY-want-to than you do by just going for it.

My questions for you right now are:

  1. Who’s this “we”?  If by “we” you mean yourself and a significant other, than you have some soul-searching to do on a much deeper level than wondering what to do about a roommate you hooked up with.
  2. Do you actually like him or is he just someone available who happens to like you?  I know you’ve known him for a while and he hasn’t been single until recently so it might be a difficult question to answer, but give it some thought and see what you come up with.
  3. How compatible are you two and for which type(s) of relationships?  A fuck buddy relationship?  A friends with benefits relationship?  A temporary dating relationship?  A long-term relationship?  Marriage and kids someday?  What boundaries are you comfortable with and what expectations do you have?

The best way to handle this will depend on how you answer the above.  I’ll be honest, I’m very biased in the “go for it!” direction, but I think if you sift through the questions I suggested, the right answer for the two of you will present itself.


Dear Prudence:

After three lost pregnancies, my husband and I are expecting in June. We’re very excited! I’m normally a very affectionate person, but I’m having anxiety about the possibility of random strangers reaching out to touch my growing stomach. I think it’s terribly rude to touch someone in a vulnerable and sensitive place without asking, and I would never dream of doing it to another woman. If this happens, which I assume it will, how should I react that might get them to think twice about ever doing it again?

Dear Letter-writer:


Seriously, though, why is touching pregnant women a thing?  And who actually has this problem?  I mean, I’ve heard from enough women who have suffered through having their pregnant bellies touched by strangers – clearly it happens to a lot of people, but I’ve been pregnant three times and never had anyone touch my belly.

What’s wrong with me that no one wanted to touch me?  Do I look mean and scary?  Do I give off an out-of-my-way vibe?  I just think it’s ironic that I’m the one person who wouldn’t care about being touched, and yet I’m the one person it doesn’t happen to.  Weird.

Dear Prudence:
My husband and I have been together for seven years now. We have a fantastic relationship except for one thing: We don’t know how to fight constructively. We don’t fight terribly often, but when we do, it goes a little something like this: One of us brings up something that upsets the other. The other takes it very personally and becomes defensive. A loud argument ensues. Feelings are hurt. One storms off to another room, and we ignore each other for a couple of days until we just quietly decide to act like nothing had happened. I know this is unhealthy, but he refuses to go to counseling because he says he’s already worked on changing himself, so now it’s my turn to work on changing. Until I do, he won’t even consider counseling. We’re at an impasse because I firmly believe I’ve tried to change my own behavior, and if it isn’t satisfactory, then the only thing left to try is counseling. And even though I will admit that he’s worked hard over the years to rein in his anger issues, I honestly don’t see any changes in the way he handles our arguments. Since we can’t seem to reach an agreement, counseling seems to be the only reasonable next step. He seems to think it is a waste of money and we need to figure this out on our own, but this clearly hasn’t happened.
What do I do? How do I convince him that counseling would help us sort out our feelings and give us better tools to argue without ruining several days on end? There are times when I feel so weary I want to throw in the towel, but I love him, and I made a vow for better or for worse.
Dear Letter-writer:
Oh boy.  I feel you.  My husband likewise disdains counseling, and what was really frustrating is that we were required to do some premarital counseling before our convalidation … and he completely wasted the opportunity.  And yet, there’s a handful of issues that just keep coming up over and over and result in a big, blowout fight on average about once a year.  It gets so ugly – mean things are said, and then he walks out and leaves me SO ANGRY.  At one point we got as far as starting to hammer out the details of our divorce before he came to his senses.  It’s just an awful feeling.
To answer your question – how can you convince him to go to counseling – I don’t know that you can.  Here’s what I would suggest instead:
  1. Go ahead and go to counseling alone, if only for the self-improvement aspect.  I’ll be honest, he’s being a bully and fighting tooth and nail to avoid looking in the mirror.  Because improving yourself is uncomfortable, so naturally the woman has to do it, amirite?  At the very least, you owe yourself a better you.
  2. Find a new hobby.  Something that will fully occupy your time and attention next time you and your husband aren’t speaking to each other.

Now, those are just my suggestions to get by in the here and now.  Do not treat these as a permanent solution.  The purpose is to give you a bit more space and a bit less friction while you figure out the big picture.  Do not treat these as a permanent solution.  Got it?  Good.

So what now?  Well, you need to monitor what happens over time.

  1. Does he improve over time?  Generally, my husband and I don’t push the same hot buttons more than once. Or twice.  We both work together to de-escalate and avoid the hot buttons when we find ourselves starting to get upset.  We have worked together to get better at not fighting.  Also, my husband does this thing where he will joke about some of the fucked up things we say to each other when we’re fighting – it sounds messed up, I know, but it helps make sure those awful fights have no power over us going forward.  I don’t know what “improving” will look like for you, but that’s what it looks like for us.
  2. Does he escalate over time?  “Over time” is a relative word here, but if this is the pattern, get out.  Do not pass Go, do not collect $200.  Try a trial separation and tell him why.  It may be a wake-up call for him and he may finally realize how serious this is.  You will find out how much he is willing to do to keep you.  If you do get back together, keep an eye on the overall pattern and make sure the situation is improving.  It doesn’t have to be perfect, but it does have to be improving.  If he continues to escalate after one trial separation, you will probably need to call it quits for good.  No one should have to put up with this behavior, and if he continues to get worse it will only get more difficult for you to take care of yourself.


That’s it for today!  As always, your thoughts are appreciated.