Tell Me About It: Fearful of leaving a 'big bully'

Posted: December 11, 2012

Adapted from an online discussion.

Question: I've been married for five years. My husband can be a big bully, going so far as to throw things around and be really hurtful and insulting. I've been in therapy basically since we got married, and left him shortly after our wedding after a particularly scary fight. We reconciled, he worked on his anger management, and I continued therapy.

We are both marijuana addicts. After a few relapses over the last couple of years, I've been clean for four months. He continues to smoke daily and has many excuses for not giving up. My career is going very well, I've gotten myself out of debt and have a good social network. I am able to support myself.

Four months ago we had another fight in which he threw things and kicked the stuffing out of our garbage can. Over the last four months I have been basically planning our divorce, and talking to him about my feelings. He does not ever want to hear how it affects me - it's a "not this again" sort of response.

So what's stopping me? I believe it's fear, and feeling like a huge hypocrite. I am no better than he is, and not sure yet if I am really self-aware enough not to make several more serious mistakes in my life. I want peace and security, and that has brought me back from the brink of divorce so many times. Not sure what I'm asking here.

Answer: Leaving wouldn't make you "better than he is," any more than staying would declare you his equal or inferior or whatever else. Even as a couple, you have your life, he has his, and it's not an inner-beauty contest.

Your only responsibility here is to make a (deceptively) simple decision about the right path for you, using the best information you have. And that information is, if I'm understanding you:

You're unhappy in your marriage. You've established boundaries, and your husband has crossed them. You have expressed to him your feelings and needs; he has chosen not to honor them. Indeed, he's been openly dismissive. You are in a position to stand on your own, financially and emotionally.

Does that help clarify your thinking?

There's no such thing as mistake-free living, so you can expect to make several more mistakes in your life with your husband or without - which means your doubts about your own progress have no bearing on whether you stay or go.

Comment: I was also in an abusive marriage, to a man who smoked marijuana daily, drank heavily, regularly and explosively lost his temper, and who had little patience for my requests for more respectful treatment.

Divorce is not a picnic, but being on your own terms and away from that sort of environment makes for a far happier, not to mention infinitely more peaceful and secure, life. My life became immensely better after I left my ex, and I wish the same for you.

A: A caveat: Leaving violent people is necessary, but risky. 1-800-799-7233.


E-mail Carolyn Hax at tellme@washpost.com.

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