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QUESTIONS & ANSWERS:
Relationships Department

Please remember, this column is designed to help the consumer seeking behavioral-health information, and not intended to be any form of psychotherapy or a replacement for professional, individualized services. Opinions expressed in the column are those of the columnist and do not represent the position of other SelfhelpMagazine.com staff.

Question

My husband cannot stand up for himself with his ex-wife. She is very abusive toward both him and me. He gets angry at me but never at her. How can I make him stand up for himself with her?

Answer

Your question does not indicate what type of leverage the "ex" has over your husband, or any of the circumstances surrounding the divorce. So let me make some general statements.

Often the one who left the marriage feels guilty for having left or for inflicting pain on the other spouse. Sometimes the spouse who did not want the divorce will even use the threat of self-harm to manipulate the guilty party. The guilty spouse will often allow the other spouse to punish him/her for the leaving or causing pain. Accepting the abuse can be a way of expiating the guilt and leveling the playing field.

The presence of children compound the guilt. If the children are with the mother and the father was the one who left the family, the "victim" parent may use the children as emotional leverage to make demands and retaliate. The guilty parent, out of fear and guilt, capitulates to the demands and accepts the abuse. If the father left and also has custody of the children, he may feel even more guilty for "destroying" the life of his ex-wife and that he deserves punishment.

There is no way that you can "make him stand up for himself." He has to work through his guilt and/or fear. Once he is no longer afraid of the consequences or has resolved his guilt, he will be able to stand up for himself without your intervention. Your statement suggests that he is displacing his anger onto you rather than confronting his ex-wife. How do you stand up to him?

3/5/98

Dr. Edward A. Dreyfus is a Clinical Psychologist, Marriage, Family, Child Therapist, and Sex Therapist. Dr. Dreyfus has been providing psychological services in the Los Angeles-Santa Monica area for over 30 years. He offers individual psychotherapy to adolescents and adults, divorce mediation, couples counseling, group therapy, and career and vocational counseling and assessment.His book, Someone Right For You, is available in the Amazing Bookstore Catalog.

Dr. Dreyfus can be reached at: (310) 208-5700.

 

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