Ending A Crazy-Making Relationship

Early on, I learned to accommodate the wishes of men without even thinking about what it meant for me. That was no doubt one piece of what taught me that I didn’t deserve to be treated with respect and contributed to me staying far longer than I should have in a marriage where I was endlessly criticized for not being exactly what Miguel wanted me to be in that particular moment (even if it was the opposite of what he wanted me to be the day before).  It was, literally, crazy-making.  

Recently I have been re-reading old journals, and I’m appalled at some of the things he used to say.  I wanted to share them, for two reasons. One: I want to say to others that if you are in a relationship with someone who treats you like this, please don’t kid yourself that it is going to get better. It won’t. Two: I used to hide this, embarrassed that I was treated this way, that I let myself be disrespected.  But I am coming around to the idea that, just like with sexual abusers, it’s HIS shame, not mine. It was a while ago but you know, some wounds take a long time to get over.

The following are excerpts from my journal from the year we separated.  This period in my life is also described in another post.  

*** * *** * ***

In the middle of the night, I awoke startled to find Miguel’s hands on my breasts and between my legs, rubbing himself against me. I moved away.  He reached out to keep touching me, and said, “I can’t help it. You have such a great body. I wish your attitude was as nice as your body.”

*** * *** * ***

Miguel can’t bring himself to be nice to me for five consecutive minutes. Even those rare moments when he wants to say something approving, he is sure to slip in his essential and ever-present caveat. For example: “You do a lot of bad things, but sometimes you do good things, too. Like this zucchini bread is good, in spite of all the bad things you do.”

Earlier, as I baked the zucchini breads, he had protested that I was baking them one at a time rather than together, which he said would be more energy efficient.  I responded that I only had one loaf pan, so I had to do it this way.  He said, angrily, “I won’t let you use the oven like that to bake eight loaves of bread.”

“I’m not making eight loaves.  I’m making two.  And anyway, it’s not for you to let me use the oven or not.  You aren’t the Boss of the Oven.” (This was an uncommon example of my talking back to him.)

“Fuck you!” he yelled, with our sons in the room.  “Who the hell do you think you are?!  I won’t allow you to waste like that!”

“Miguel, you can’t allow me or not allow me…”

“Of course I can!”  etc., etc.

He also berated me for the way I was watering the lawn and the terrible job I did vacuuming (the vacuum isn’t picking up well), and he scolded me for the crumbs from the bread that got on the stove because “I always have to clean up your messes,” he sputtered.  Another fantasy, since I almost always do all the dishes and clean up the kitchen by myself.

*** * *** * ***

I am consumed by thoughts of suicide. Even though I know that “suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem,” even though I have to protect my children, I can’t banish these thoughts. This morning in the car, I told Miguel I had a bad headache. “Well, just take some more drugs,” he said, with a sarcastic smile. He’s been very disapproving of my visits to the psychiatrist, my willingness to take medication for my depression.

“I can’t,” I explained.  “Lithium interacts with so many things, including ibuprofen.”

“That’s all right, just take everything at once, and you won’t have a headache ever again!”

I knew he said this with no idea of what I’ve been thinking in recent days.  (Although note: my mom realized I was sinking since Friday and called last night, worried about me; Natalie noticed I sounded down on the phone last night and was concerned.  But not Miguel.)

I told him, “Don’t joke like that.”

“Who’s joking?” he said, “Save us all a lot of headaches.”

“It might be better for you,” I replied, stung, “but not for the kids.”

“Who knows what is better for the kids?” he asked, and then got out of the car.

*** * *** * ***

I sometimes feel momentary anger at M, but I can’t or don’t sustain it for long. Hannah [my therapist at the time] says that people tend to fall on a continuum between blaming themselves or blaming others, and M and I both blame me most of the time. Hannah says she can easily imagine him moving swiftly into a new relationship, even a new marriage, feeling I was the culprit in our marriage.  To prove it, he’ll find someone else who wants him.  He won’t particularly think he has anything to learn from this experience.

In fact, though we are still living together and supposedly want to work things out, he often talks to me about his “next relationship.” He seems to envision living in our house, with with our children and our things, but with another woman.  I’m entirely replaceable.  I’m nothing, or at least that’s how it feels to me.

*** * *** * ***

I called my friend Gina and told her what the last few days have been like, including all the times I burned myself.  I told her that last night M got mad at me because I didn’t put tuna on the pizza I made. Besides saying that I never did anything for him, he also sarcastically recited an obituary for me:

“She was so well-loved by so many people for all her helpful contributions, her great work for the poor and for battered women, blah blah blah…”  The whole purpose of the obituary was to make the point that I don’t give anyone anything of value, despite what I say I care about. He knows just what to say to cut me. So I admitted to Gina that it hurt me that the man I married and once loved more than anything keeps making remarks indicating it would be fine with him if I were dead. He tells me I am dumb, a parasite, a nuisance, lazy, a slacker (all his actual words). He wants to replace me with some other, better woman. I don’t care if he wants a new relationship but he even wants to replace me in the children’s lives!  I can’t stand the thought of some other woman mothering them.  That’s my place.

I don’t love Miguel anymore. Nothing can keep me with this man. I won’t be hurt by him anymore.

I hate feeling like this!  I think this is only one of many hurts I have experienced in my life, and all the pain of all the other ones, which I have buried and denied for years, are mixing in with the pain of the end of this marriage, and I am very sick.

*** * *** * ***

[I went out of town for a couple of weeks to work on my dissertation, leaving my sons with Miguel.] I feel better. I feel hopeful. It’s very difficult to believe that I was burning myself this time a week ago. It’s hard to even imagine why I would want to do that. Things are already better, and I think they will keep on improving from here. I will get a divorce and be poor, and that’s okay. It’s what I need to do. I will never again live with a person who belittles me. I will take care of myself. I want to, even, and I’m eager to get to work tomorrow.

*** * *** * ***

When I talked to Miguel on the phone, he said when I get back home, I shouldn’t even move back into the house at all but should just get my own place. And, he said, I should realize that the boys need a stable home, with him, because he’s much more stable than I am.  But he’ll let them visit me often. This made me cry a lot. I  had a vision of the boys turning into vapor and disappearing right before my eyes.

When I hung up from that call, I called Gina.  She reassured me that I was not going to up being a tangential figure in my sons’ lives. Thank god for her friendship. She really helps me keep my sanity.  Miguel, in contrast, scrambles my brain.

*** * *** * ***

I ate lunch with my friend Paula.  It was wonderful to get to talk to her after almost two years—in a way it’s as if I’ve been gone forever, and in a way as though I was never gone.  Paula listened to me describe some of this summer’s experiences, such as M’s temper tantrums, how he took away my credit cards, read my journal without permission, yelled at me for what he read there, etc.  She said, “I used to volunteer at a domestic violence shelter, and he sounds so much like a batterer.”

This really struck me because Gina has also said many times that he is abusive. I don’t think M is inherently a bad person, but I do think that he is very controlling and when angered, especially if he feels his control is threatened, he can be very cruel. He doesn’t consider the impact of his words or actions on the other people. He just lashes out.

I can’t decide if his threats of a child custody battle are part of an attempt to hurt me or a sincere belief that he would be a better parent for the boys than I would. Either way, I keep reminding myself that he won’t win. I feel scared sometimes, but rationally, I know that I am their mother, I take good care of them, and no judge will be able to find a reason to take them away from me.

*** * *** * ***

I called Gina and talked for a while. It’s such a miracle that I can tell her the most dreadful things about myself, and yet she’s still my friend. Thinking about that list I picked up at the crisis center, the list of behaviors that are typical of abusive relationships, I told her tonight that Miguel had actually hit me, but just once, back when we were in Nevada.  I’d lied to her before when she asked me.  Or maybe I didn’t take it seriously, because it was only one time. I’m such a dumb, naive, and foolish person. Also I’m confused and weak, unable to stay on a track to make myself get better. Sometimes I think maybe I don’t deserve to have my children. Or that they deserve a better mother.

*** * *** * ***

The latest development: M sent me an email to tell me that he’s taken me off the checking account. Goddamn him anyway.

*** * *** * ***

Now I’m confused. Miguel has decided that he was sorry he had been so mean and that he wants 1) to go to therapy for himself and 2) to work things out with me. That latter part has make me feel confused and guilty, because I don’t want to work things out anymore.

*** * *** * ***

Since I came back home, I’ve been focused on the iron, and I’m tempted to burn myself again.  That’s why I’m writing now, to see if I can figure out why. I suspect it’s related to 1) all the confusion I feel since Miguel is being “nice”, 2) the related guilt for still wanting to leave him; 3) the sense of loss, 4) the feeling that if I leave Miguel, no one else will ever love me, and 5) the arrival today in the mail of the papers for filing for divorce, which provoke more confusion, guilt, loss and fear.

I believe that even if M is serious about going to therapy and bringing about real change, I still need to leave the house. Otherwise things will revert back to the same old familiar patterns, I’m sure. If I go ahead and move out, maybe we will break up—and I already decided I could live with that, if it’s necessary.  And perhaps, perhaps I would see enough real change to consider trying again?!?  Although I don’t know if I could ever forget how bad some of it’s been.

I feel this is the right position to take, but I am scared!  I don’t know if I’m brave enough to do it in the face of him saying, “don’t go.”  Plus, I anticipate pressure from his uncle.  Also my mom is a big cheerleader for the forces of reconciliation.

*** * *** * ***

This morning I talked to Mom on the phone.  Earlier I had asked her if I could borrow cash to get into an apartment. She had said, “Of course,” but then she paused and added, “I’d better check with your stepdad.”  Today she said that he thought that Miguel was responsible for providing me and the kids with a place to live, either by moving out or giving me money.  In other words, an abstract principle of male responsibility is given precedence over by personal statement of what I need.  But I’m only a woman; what do I know about how things really are?

*** * *** * ***

I’m trying not to allow myself to decide and re-decide about my marriage today. It’s too insane. Miguel is being great, very nice. Can I live with this man after all?  But no, wait, I won’t decide about that again today.

I feel split  again, okay and functional but despairing underneath, knowing life is cruel and harsh, feeling like someday I will kill myself. After all this time, I wonder though if suicidal thoughts are maybe more habit than anything else? I’m in a strange space where I can’t connect with people.  I talked to Mom and Gina both today, but mostly I listened and responded, very little of where I am came out. Where am I anyway?  In some sort of foggy otherworld from which I still see and (mostly) hear reality but don’t participate much. I connect only minimally because connections are too demanding. The little energy I have for connections is reserved for the boys.

*** * *** * ***

Emotionally intense day. That’s because I promised to give Miguel some answer about us tonight. I know he’s both hoping and assuming I’ll say that I’ll stay. And I really considered it, because he’s been kind and loving. But it doesn’t work like this. I can’t get work done. I can’t concentrate. I’m constantly re-evaluating the marriage. I need time and space to think without having his agenda shape everything.

So this is my decision: I’m getting my own place. I will go to therapy with him but I won’t consider moving back in until I have defended my dissertation. If he wants to keep the separation quiet (at work, for example, because he’s very worried that he will look bad), I’ll cooperate with that. If he wants, we can get a sitter and go on dates sometimes. We can plan some family outings.  But we’ll both have some time alone.

It’s not perfect, but it’s the best solution I can come up with. I hope Miguel will be understanding. I hope I am not wounding him too deeply. I feel so guilty!

Hannah and I spent the entire 50 minutes in session today arriving at this version of my decision, a version I could live with. We talked about how I need to present it as a decision, not as a request. The details are open to negotiation but the decision isn’t. She suggested I put on the professional mask that I wear when I need to feel competent for a work-related presentation.

*** * *** * ***

It’s a little difficult to write; my hands are shaking. I’m very nervous, agitated.  That’s because I told Miguel tonight that I had decided to move out.

I realize now that I expected him to put up an enormous protest, to try and stop me, so I could say, rather helplessly, oh well, I tried to change things but I just couldn’t. I am so afraid of taking this action. I think I am really a coward and have been pushing all the responsibility for this relationship and its ups and downs on Miguel, as though I had nothing to do with anything. I told Miguel in the kitchen as he prepared dinner. He reacted angrily, but calmly. Mostly he said he didn’t like the decision but would respect it. He just wants me to move soon, and he needs time to think about whether he wants to go to therapy with me. That all seems very reasonable.

I feel guilty, sad, sorry, guilty, worried, guilty, frightened and guilty.  (Did you notice I feel guilty?) Part of me longs to go and comfort Miguel, who is sleeping on the futon in the living room. Or maybe just pretending to sleep. I ask myself over and over: is this a huge mistake? What am I risking here? How will I live if Miguel never wants to take me back? I feel only a very small tinge of relief. I am wired. I am scared!

I saw Dr. F. [my psychiatrist] this afternoon too. Although previously we’d talked about changing my medications, today he said that he didn’t want to after all. He thought I was doing fairly well, certainly better, and he hesitated to switch me to something that might do less. Also he seemed convinced that moving out would be beneficial to me, even if I decide to move back in later, with a stronger sense of self.

With Dr. F. I talked about my three understandings of why I burn myself: 1) to hold myself together when I feel overwhelmed or about to shatter into pieces; 2) to make invisible pains visible, to make myself visible; and 3) to punish myself.

Punish yourself for what? he wondered. For being weak. In what sense? For not setting firm boundaries with people. So you have permeable boundaries, people violate them, and you turn the anger in on yourself rather than on the person? I’m an adult. A competent woman should know and defend her limits. So you are weak and incompetent and should be punished for that? Yes; I know it doesn’t sound very rational. No, it doesn’t, he said. But that’s how I feel.

I said that and was struck with an enormous wave of emotion, and I knew I had described something that felt very true. I do feel disgusted with myself for not being a stronger person.

*** * *** * ***

What a day, what an emotional roller-coaster. The evening with the children went fine. I enjoyed building a castle out of blocks with them and telling them an exciting story about three sibling alligators and the bad men who hunted them. I love making up stories for them; I love watching their eyes grow large as they wait to hear what will happen next. I tucked them into bed, and they were already asleep before Miguel got home. He grumbled at me because I was on the phone to Gina when he arrived. He hates that I talk to her.

When I got off the phone, he asked me if I had found a place. I said no, it had been pretty discouraging, but that I had seen the a house that was a possibility. He asked why did I want a house, and I answered that all the apartments I had seen were really inappropriate for children. This led us to an angry discussion of the boys’ living arrangements. I said that since they need both of us, they should live with both of us. He said no, that’s too disruptive; the kids need the stability of their own house and their own routine. Maybe they could spend weekends with me. I objected that he didn’t have time to be a single parent all week (look how late he comes home many evenings). More importantly, I am their mother, and I represent stability to them more than a house they have lived in for the past year. Then he got mad and said I was being selfish and engaging in a power struggle with him.I was hurting my children and only considering my own interest, he said. I was too unstable to be a good mother. I had neglected them all summer. I was crazy.

Then I got angry and said, “Stop all this criticism. I’ve had it with years of you putting me down. Why do you think I’m leaving? You are so critical! You’re mean! You’re arrogant! And I’m sick of it!”

I left at that point to wash my face and brush my teeth. When I returned, he said that I shouldn’t talk to him so unkindly. Why not? Because it will make him react badly. I replied that he should follow his own advice. At some point he concurred and even apologized, saying he’d think about the children’s living situation some more. At some point, I started to cry. I was surprised because I rarely cry anymore. Miguel and I both calmed down then and pledged to be more gentle with one another.  (I don’t think I’ve been so very harsh with him; that one outburst was a very unusual example of me protesting about anything. But he says I was being abusive.)

*** * *** * ***

I found  an apartment and moved out a week later. Miguel and I went to couple’s therapy twice before he decided there was no point. He began saying cruel things again. He called me up in the middle of the night and asked me to explain to him why he left. It made no sense. After all, everyone thought he was a great guy. So why would I leave? There was a lot of that but living in a separate home and having time away from him made it a somewhat easier to hold on to my own ideas.

*** * *** * ***

If you ever hear someone disparage women who stay with an abusive partner, please speak up. Tell that person that it’s not easy to leave if you are afraid, broke, unsure about the future. And it is even harder if the relationship has made you doubt that you deserve better. If you know someone in this situation, don’t judge her. Help her. Babysit her kids. Listen to her. Loan her a little money if you can. Assure her that her life has value. Promise her it can get better, because it can. If she is being physically abused, help her make a safety plan., or connect her with someone who can help her.         



  1. I know I have nothing new to say, but you are incredibly brave to be so brutally honest about yourself. It isn’t easy to facce up to our past, and even more difficult to place it out in the open for all to see. I should know, I hide from it every moment of my life. I can imagine the pain you felt throughout your marriage; or maybe I can’t, but I do empathise. I wish you peace.


    • Thank you! I believe I am gradually coming to a place of greater peace. There was a time when I would never have wanted to share any of this experience, but now I’m finding it actually helps me feel stronger and less ashamed. (At the same time, you notice that I haven’t put my name and face on this website, so I’m not entirely comfortable with sharing it.)
      I am sorry to hear you are hiding from your past every moment of your life. I hope you can also reach a place of peace.

      Liked by 1 person

    • The worst thing in many ways is that he is still the father of my two sons. One son is very strong emotionally and can mostly shrug things off, but my other son has been hurt a lot by his dad. Their relationship is different, but there too, his dad sets unrealistic expectations and then exudes a lot of disapproval when our son hasn’t met those expectations.


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