Why Do We Do It?

I was reading someone’s blog the other day and he talked about how he didn’t speak up because he was afraid his wife would leave. I’m paraphrasing but he stayed on his best behavior, afraid to rock the boat or call her out, because he was afraid that any misstep on his part would cause her to leave.

I can identify with this and told him so. Now I’m left wondering, why did I do it? I used to be an opinionated person. I don’t think I ever came across as the type of person who was so desperate for a boyfriend/husband that I would let someone walk all over me. What was it that led me down this path? I feel like I need to get to the bottom of this so I can prevent it from ever happening again, but then I think back to that really bad relationship in high school and I remember how, once I was out, I said, “Never again!”

See, I knew how he did it. If you just throw a tantrum and make a big enough stink about whatever it is, you teach the person to not resist. You want to go out with friends instead of hanging out with him on a weekend? Fine, but I’ll call you names and accuse you of not loving me and I’ll start a big fight. Each and every single time. When you tell me you can’t go out or can’t do something with me, I’ll throw a fit. Every time you go somewhere I’ll start a fight with you and tell you how selfish you are. Eventually they wear you down. It becomes not worth it to go out with your friends because you know there’s going to be a huge fight about it. It becomes not worth it to resist because the payoff is so little and the payment is so high.

To my credit I never ended up in another abusive relationship again; I can still spot those red flags a mile away. But I got sucked in anyway.

One of these days I’m going to publish my bitch list. It is 21 pages of the shitty things he did or said, or stupid things I did in my quest to be the perfect wife. I won’t hit you with all 21 pages at once. I look back on that list and I think, “Why the hell did you let him get away with that?”

Some of those things were small- like when he would ask me to make him a frozen pizza. Yes, here is a college graduate, a man with a supposed genius level IQ, but he can’t manage to put a frozen pizza in the oven. “Will you make it for me?” I could have said no. I could have told him he was a big boy and he could get his ass up off the couch and put it in the oven himself. In hindsight that’s exactly what I should have done. But I was newly married and I wanted to be the best wife possible, so I did it for him. Despite his victim rants of me never having loved him I would fix his frozen pizza for him whenever he requested. I would even cut it into 8 pieces, place it on a plate, and take it to him. Probably brought him a beverage, too.

What I once thought of as being a good wife I now think he thought of as me serving him. No, of being subservient to him. It was a request, yes, but it was also so much more. Let’s see what all I can get her to do. Let’s see how far I can push this. Today it will be a pizza. Tomorrow the world! And soon after came the request for dinner at one in the morning after I had been sleeping on the couch and was ready to go to bed. Say what?

Oh yes, I had asked him when we both got home around 10 or 11 that evening if he wanted anything for dinner. He said he didn’t. He proceeded to install a ceiling fan while I dozed on the couch. I got up, fully intending to go to bed, and he tells me, “I’ll take that dinner now.” I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps he said, “I could go for that dinner now.” In hindsight I should have told him firmly but with no anger or bitterness that the time for dinner had come and gone, that I was tired and heading off to bed. Instead I headed off to the kitchen and fixed him pork chops, potatoes and a vegetable. Once again, I’m looking at it as me being a good wife. He’s looking at it as an exercise to see how far he can take his entitlement. Will she do this? Will she finally rebel if I ask for that? How far can I push her? What all will she take?

Or how about when we were both working and as I was cleaning the house on Saturday I asked him why it was that I was always the one cleaning, doing laundry, making dinner, grocery shopping, and doing dishes? His response to that one was that he made more money. Apparently he thought I should do these additional household chores to even out our contributions. Again, hubris on his part and I should have shut it down hard. Why didn’t I?

I don’t know. Maybe because it didn’t happen that often? I could shrug it off. I figured it wasn’t something worth fighting over. I don’t know. What I do know is he used those things as a barometer of what kind of shit he could get away with.

Then we had kids. Once again I wanted to be the perfect wife. I didn’t want to nag. I didn’t want to be seen as hysterical. I tried to look at things from his perspective. Meanwhile, he took and took and took. It became the natural order of things. I made concessions and he did what he wanted. I could understand him wanting to finish the upstairs before he had to begin traveling for work. He couldn’t understand how it was possible that I might need help with a brand new infant while I worked from home. And again it becomes a matter of him testing to see how much I’ll put up with. It turns out I put up with a lot.

Why didn’t I speak up? I don’t know. Because it became a habit, I suppose. Eventually, when I would begin speaking up he either didn’t hear me or would get angry. He conditioned me and because we had two small children and I had no idea how I would support them if we were to divorce I put up with it, speaking up less and less.

I also knew that whenever I showed anger, or I challenged him he reacted with equal, if not greater, anger. I don’t know if I wrote about this or not, but we were at his parents house and I did some laundry one morning. He was still asleep when I started; once he woke up he began looking around for his jeans. I told him I had thrown them into the washing machine and he said something to me about it. I spoke up; I defended myself. I even did it in a teasing manner. I simply said, “You should be thanking me for it instead of bitching about it.” Not mean. Not loudly. Not angry. And he went off! “I thank you for everything! Every time you make dinner I thank you! Blah blah blah!” I don’t even remember exactly everything he said to me but I do remember him almost reducing me to tears because I had the audacity to wash his precious jeans and then tease him about being thankful. For that he felt justified in going off on me.

We didn’t fight often. In fact, I would say it was a rare event, so it just became easier to swallow down any anger or upset I might be feeling and go along to get along. In the end, of course, that wasn’t such a wise idea. He got used to being treated like a king and wasn’t at all acquainted with the idea that someone might disagree with him. He didn’t handle disagreement or being critiqued well. Any constructive criticism was criticism, period.

Sometimes it simply flew over my head. I can’t remember if I shared this before or not; I think I did. Anyway, our dog needed expensive eye surgery. I called him at work to ask him his opinion. His reply was, “You’re calling me at work for this? Isn’t this what I pay you for?” That comment didn’t even register with me. My line of thinking was, “Well, I thought I’d include you in this decision because it involves a lot of money, but if you want me to handle all matters pertaining to the household, kids, and pets, fine. I’ll do that. You work and bring home a paycheck; I take care of everything else.” My mother, on the other hand, was outraged, thinking it was the most condescending and dismissive thing he could say. She was the one who pointed out that he was treating me like a subservient employee.

Sometimes it just wasn’t worth it. I’m thinking of all the times he bought me gifts that either I didn’t exactly like, or they didn’t work properly. Not because he did a bad job, or because they were cheap anything. Occasionally you just a get bad, like my under the counter can opener. It was horrible! But I didn’t let him know because then I would have to contend with him whining about how he could never do anything right and he was such a horrible husband. So not worth it. Or, how I wouldn’t tell him when anything was wrong- kids and school, repairs, anything really. He would fall apart or overreact and I just got to the point where I couldn’t deal with him and his drama.

I’m a conflict avoider, as well. I don’t enjoy it. I avoid it, usually at all costs. So shrugging things off and making myself be okay with certain things is pretty much my standard MO. I am very good at letting things slide right off my back. I’m sure that worked well with CF. Especially in light of all his drama whenever anything did go wrong. It was so much easier to handle it on my own than to deal with him.

I did speak up after finding out about his EA after I thought it was all over. Even that didn’t last as long as it probably should have. Within a month or so I got the distinct feeling he didn’t want to talk about it anymore, and whenever we would talk about it he always managed to play the victim/sympathy card. Conditioning. It got to the point that the information I got wasn’t worth all the drama surrounding it.

I did stand my ground for the most part regarding his family and their betrayal. When I saw his nephew, the one who was going to tattoo them both, the last time I never said a word to him. I never reconciled with his sister. Towards the very end I was thawing out towards his mom and stepdad, but that was a huge mistake. I did stand my ground pretty firmly for approximately 18 months.

Hell, I knew there was really no point in speaking up because he had told me many times that there could only be one crazy/depressed/etc. person in the family and he was it. When I was  stressed out he made fun of me. When he was stressed out I was expected to be understanding, if not to try to fix it. I sympathized and empathized with him all the time. He rarely returned the favor.

In the end I think speaking up, even if it was through an alternate FB page, was what doomed us. He couldn’t handle knowing things weren’t perfect. He couldn’t handle me even writing about my feelings. So I suppose that goes to show that I was absolutely correct in knowing that dissent would lead to divorce. Maybe if I had always spoken up it wouldn’t have been so jarring. Maybe if I had always spoken up he never would have married me (which would have been a good thing). Maybe we would have divorced much sooner (also a good thing).

I know I’ve said I don’t think I’ll ever date again; I really don’t think I will. However, if I’m proven wrong and I do date someone now the challenge will be to make sure I don’t ever fall back into those patterns. I intend to speak up loudly and often.

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8 thoughts on “Why Do We Do It?

  1. I’m beginning to exercise my voice and a whole new side of my husband is starting to rear it’s head. Unfortunately for him, it is working against his favor…he could once convince me I was the one who was over reacting and at fault for his behavior. I never understood how someone so nice and so well respected could live this separate life…I allowed it. Now that my anger is rising, and being voiced, the real person is shining through…and it’s beginning to make so much more sense.

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  2. Like Secret Keeper, I have found my voice and looking back…it is so odd to acknowledge I lost it. But I did. Over and over in my groups I meet women – beautiful, strong, smart, amazing women – who have become powerless and manipulated just as you describe; just like me. The group work has helped me HUGELY.
    The other issue I see you writing about is lack of emotional safety – closely linked but not exactly the same thing. I realize now how I was very subtly, cleverly belittled and manipulated into silence even about sharing my thoughts and feelings, or doing things the way I wanted to. Again…no more. I refuse to live with or interact with (regularly, intimately) a partner who doesn’t provide me a safe place to dream and feel and think and be.
    The hard work you talk about is HUGE, Sam. Huge for your own peace, and for any relationship you have in the future. I don’t know how I got where I got, but I know I’ll never go back there again. Big Hugs, sister friend.

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    1. The scary part is I already knew all of this. I swore I would never go back to that. But I did. It wasn’t entirely the same but it was similar. CF was never abusive; I don’t want to give an inaccurate picture. He was self-centered and, I believe, gave very little thought about me and what I wanted. He gave lip service to it. He would never just come home and announce he had taken another job. He would always discuss it with me, not that it mattered because I was always willing to do whatever to help him advance in his career. It was the little things, you know? And I don’t trust myself to not fall back into that.

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  3. That’s what the shit of it is – it starts small. Innocuous things. You feel pride at taking care of someone. You’re happy to make sacrifices for someone who appreciates it. Only before long, it’s not appreciated, it’s expected. And then you realize that you’re the only one making those sacrifices. But you think, well, that’s just life now. This is what marriage is. To keep the peace, this is what needs to be done. And after a while, you’ve forgotten what it even felt like to be your true self.
    I’ve been there. I’m glad you are doing the right thing now. Getting you power back isn’t easy or fun, most of the time. But it is worth it.

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    1. Yes, exactly. The small stuff snowballs into the bigger stuff. People wonder why women stay in abusive relationships. I always want to reply, “It’s not like he started off by punching her in the face and telling her he’d be by to pick her up tomorrow night at 7!” No, instead he’s the perfect boyfriend/husband. He compliments her, showers her with gifts, spends all his time with her. And then one day he criticizes something she does, or something she wears. It’s subtle. “Are you really going to wear that?” “Is that what you’re fixing for dinner?” “This is your idea of doing laundry?” Nothing outlandish so of course she listens to him. Besides, he loves her. Look at how wonderful he’s been. He has her best interests at heart. So, if he tells her that dress makes her look fat or slutty, or tells her the chicken is too dry or she ruined his clothes, he’s only trying to be helpful. Until he eventually begins couching it in less flowery terms and eventually he’s telling her she’s fat and ugly and no one will love her and she’s a selfish bitch. By this time he’s isolated her from her friends and family and he’s the only one she has. Then, once she’s already broken and isolated, then he begins with the physical violence.

      It’s the same with this stuff. I so badly wanted to be the perfect wife and never give him anything to complain about, but it was a losing battle. There was always something!

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  4. It’s strange, my wife wasn’t really abusive at all…or demanding…she just would constantly tell me she needed “more”. I couldn’t ever get anything else out of her than that. “I need more” or “this isn’t enough”. She didn’t know what that meant. I didn’t know what that meant. But I took it to mean, “don’t rock the boat”. So I didn’t…and then she left me.

    I think I’ve learned. I hope I’ve learned. 16 years of marriage, largely marked by people telling us how we were the perfect family… such a cute couple with three beautiful well behaved children…hmmmm…sometimes that just isn’t enough. And right now…well…

    …right now I’d rather drown in the ocean then ride motionless in a boat.

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