Mary and Don, like everyone starting out in a new marriage, expected to live happily ever after. They had two children, a boy and a girl, and successful careers. But Mary had a low sense of self-worth as a result of a childhood with a disapproving mother. When she married disapproving Don, her self-esteem remained in the basement. A feeling so familiar to her it even felt comforting.
Don had a good job on the executive fast-track at a Fortune 500 firm, but Mary was doing great at work, too, and he needed to put her down to make himself feel better. He was openly contemptuous of her and put her down in front of company. One time he complained to friends seated at the kitchen table, that she was too lazy to do the dishes. This, while Mary was a few feet away, loading the dishwasher!
At the dinner table with their children, Mary asked them their thoughts about a school play they had all seen, except Don who had been out to dinner with friends. Every time Mary spoke, Don interrupted her, talked over her, and finally told her to shut up. He wasn’t interested in the play. What he was interested in was belittling and controlling Mary.
Mary had suffered many humiliations before, but this one, in front of the children, was the final straw. She decided she had to seek help for the sake of the children. She didn’t want them to think their father’s behavior was acceptable. She wanted to provide them with at least one adult role model, and she finally realized that it had to be her.
The Turning Point
So, Mary sought help. When she started therapy, she was thoroughly depressed and beaten down by her life with Don. She found it difficult to get out of bed and face the day. She took time off work and stayed in bed until the children came home from school, at which time she mustered all her strength to get up and get dressed. She had suffered gaslighting, contempt, put-downs and insults that had rendered her unable to function.
However, Mary also felt some compassion for her tormentor. He suffered from bipolar disorder, his father died when Don was young, and his mother clearly favored Don’s brother over him. Mary felt empathy for Don while she herself suffered under his abuse. To add to this precarious balancing act, Mary also felt she had to help her husband be a father to her children. Mary knew that it was important for them to have a loving father. Which he was. He just wasn’t a good role model.
But no matter how supportive Mary tried to be of her husband, there was absolutely no changing him. Therapy might have helped, but he was not predisposed to go because he already had things just the way he wanted. Mary was under his thumb. When she finally threatened to leave unless he made significant changes, it was too late. Mary was already mentally divorced, if not actually, legally divorced.
Mary finally came to the conclusion that no matter what Don’s troubles with mental illness, and no matter how inhumane his mother was to him, the results were still the same. He was abusive to her, and her life was miserable. Only she could make the change to improve her life. And that meant getting away from Don, no matter how much she wanted the family to remain intact.
Nancy Travers is an Orange County Counseling professional. If you need safe, effective counseling services, please get in touch. You can reach her here: https://www.nancyscounselingcorner.com/contact