I do not dare to write such advice for wives of abusive men because the latter may kill. Most likely, such women need to flee (with the kids) to safety first. Don’t announce you will flee. That could cost you your life!
By abusive, I don’t mean someone who is sometimes (or often) angry and unreasonable. I mean, people who systematically and increasingly try to isolate and control their spouses by confusing and intimidating them.
(Some men with furious wives may need therapy to realize that the men’s arrogance makes them livid. The seemingly problematic ones are not so.)
You can set the following steps to improve your impossible situation. They go from easy to hard. Unfortunately, there is no guarantee that you can save the relationship. If you don’t have kids yet (and no pregnancy), you could save yourself a lot of trouble by going for divorce immediately.
1. Empathy for yourself. “Obligated.”
You must (learn to) hug yourself, tell yourself that you feel for you. Take your time crying, shaking, laughing, saying words you need to say or hear. This is survival 101. You’ll get better at it over time.
Forgive yourself for every time you were unreasonable or angry in return. You’re only human. There is a limit to what anyone can take.
2. Empathy from others. Highly recommended.
In such a rough situation, you could use some help. Especially, if you (most likely) had an abused childhood or are such a good but naïve guy. And most likely, you are because otherwise wouldn’t have felt so homey with her or been blind to what was coming.
Don’t seek empathy from people with sweet lives and sweet partners who apparently simply can’t understand your predicament. They’d advise you what you should improve to change her. Effectively, they blame the victim (you). Their supposed help will sap you of all your energy. Change the subject and be with them just to have a good time, not to find empathy.
3. Her bad words are often unchecked. Just an attempt to convey anger. Try to remember that. Every time you don’t forget that, you do yourself a great service. But, the times you did fail to recall this are no big deal.
Notice that her words are quite random. Often, they don’t describe the present accurately at all. (They cover her childhood trauma.) When she comes to the end of her ‘reasons’ for being angry, she just repeats the list. These words are meaningless. Or, maybe, they’re meant to hurt you as she perceives anyone who is close as a threat. Not because you did anything bad; it’s from her first years in life when really, she was victimized.
She makes herself angry and then defends it with whatever comes up for her. Don’t ponder those words. They are not worth the airtime they got.
4. What seems to us an easy improvement for others to make, apparently isn’t so easy when they don’t improve, with or without hints. Their irrationalities don’t need to anger us anymore when we understand that such improvements are apparently very difficult: for the other person.
Do you think it’s easy enough to try to be grateful, honest, empathetic, respectful, loving, decent, fair, etc.? That’s why she married you! But, apparently, for her, it’s not easy. She finds herself in a warzone. It’s wounding the enemy or die. She’s unaware that she makes the war.
5. In an arguing atmosphere, don’t try to appear strong or weak. That is fuel on the fire for the other. A tiny bit grumpy (feeling bad) on the outside. But only a tiny bit. Inside, you can feel strong (or weak).
Don’t smile or look optimistic while she screams. That gives her the signal that you can (or need to) have more.
Don’t look sad or weak while she screams. That reminds her of how she feels and only makes her more frantic.
6. Give pure empathy and maybe compliments. “How terrible for you.” “How do you keep it up?” “It really hurts, doesn’t it?” “How wonderful that you are still doing so much for others while you feel so awful.”
Don’t blame yourself for not being able to set this step. This is really advanced stuff, and you may never be able to do this even once. Maybe you can hire someone to do this for you. But don’t expect her to open up in therapy. She’s at war and will not let anyone into her fortress.
When you try to do this, don’t say “I” or “we.” Don’t apologize for your incompetence or imperfections. You didn’t do anything wrong, and she isn’t concerned with you or the relationship at all when she’s that angry.
You can set this step to see what happens next. But you can’t predict what she’s going to do with so much empathy. Maybe she’ll get angrier, maybe she’ll cry, maybe then, she’ll stop being annoying for a/the moment.
Don’t give empathy to try and make her reasonable. It will come across as you trying to improve her, which means, in fact, you’re arguing with her.
Giving pure empathy is very difficult when you are under attack. First, try the private mantra, “I’m not the problem at all. This isn’t about me at all.”
7. She attacks, but she feels attacked, for decades. She thinks she has to defend herself.
Her anger is meant to make her feel safe enough to shiver or cry.
When you give enough empathy, tears or shivers will come naturally.
But then, the problem is not over yet.
She has to cry a lot before she understands that you are not the problem. That rather, she’s bothered by trauma from a long time ago. Even if she acknowledges that for a moment, she can forget it again. But eventually, she can remember it more often, until one day, she’ll never forget it again.
8. Even if you (sometimes) can’t do any of the above, try to remember that this is all a gift for you to grow. You don’t have to be happy about it, but you do have to be grateful to G^d for the challenge. It’s all a gift.
You could try to save this relationship. You could finally learn to love yourself enough. You can cure yourself of being naïve and overly hopeful. You can decide to say, “Enough is enough,” and go for divorce. But, in any case, use your unfortunate situation to improve yourself and your life.
You probably need to reread and reread the above to work with it.
Trying the above is more productive than worrying. Try to act rather than stay passive because the situation untreated will only worsen. If you stay (increasingly) ‘helpless,’ your kids may learn that being abusive is more attractive than being abused or that when abused in a relationship, there is nothing they can do. You don’t want them to learn either.