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How to Handle an Abusive Spouse

They were getting ready to go to a party. She was all dressed. He demanded that she change her dress. “He didn’t like the way it looked,” she said. They got into a huge argument. Finally she backed down and changed her dress.

The other evening a friend called to talk. Within five minutes he was telling her it was time to get off the telephone. He thinks she should talk to her friends and her mother during the day.

He continually points out how much money he makes in comparison to how much she makes, as if their individual worth as a human being were determined by their paycheck. At one time she did have a better paying job, but he demanded that she quit because she had to travel and he didn’t like that.

If they’re at a party and he wants to leave, they leave. The other evening they were with friends and she started to feel sick. She wanted to go home. He refused.

Why does she stay in the marriage? She says she loves him. They have fun. She wants to have a baby. She’s hoping he’ll grow up.

—————

Rose is also married to a bully. She’s been married to him for 44 years. All their children are out of the nest.

“He complains about everything,” she says. “We’re driving down the street and I’m looking at the beautiful trees. He points out that the neighbors haven’t put away their trash cans. I say, ‘Look at nature. Don’t look at the trash cans.’ He says I have my head in the sand.

“He expects to be waited on. When’s lunch, when’s dinner? And then he never makes a suggestion for what I should fix.”

“When I ask him to help, like take out the trash, he says okay. But when two days go by and the trash starts to smell I take it out. He then tells me I have no patience, and asks why everything has to be done on my schedule.”

“If I get irritated with him about anything, he puts me down, tells me I’m stupid, and then refuses to talk for a few days.”

“Last week there were no towels in the bathroom. I had taken them to the washer. Instead of getting himself a towel, he fussed, ‘There are no towels in here. Get me some towels.’ Our linen closet has not moved in 20 years.”

“If I want a new lamp or carpeting, I have to fight for it. When I tell him I’m going shopping with a friend, he tells me I have enough clothes. We live carefully and I do not overspend.”

“He puts me down in front of our children. The children have said they don’t want to come visit if we are going to argue. So I say nothing when he makes rude remarks. Sometimes I wonder why the children don’t say anything to him.”

Why does she stay married? She wants a companion. She wants to be a couple. She’s fearful of being poor.

I suggested to both of these women that they detach. They need to pull back emotionally and stop arguing and trying to get their points across. Detaching is a little like watching a scene in a movie and having no feelings.

When the first woman’s husband wants her to change her dress, she should say nicely, “This is the dress I’ve chosen to wear. Next time I’ll wear something different.” When her mother or a friend calls in the evening, she should take the call if she and her husband are not having dinner or doing something together. She should be respectful of their time together as a couple but also respectful of herself. When her husband talks about how much money he makes, she can say calmly, “It’s nice that you bring in a good paycheck.”

The second woman’s goal should be: Not to respond to her husband’s inappropriate comments. Nor should she roll her eyes or show by her body language that he’s gotten to her.

If he complains about the neighbors’ trash cans, she should say nothing. If he complains about her wanting to put in new carpeting and they can afford it, she should get new carpeting and stop the ugly discussions.

Because he resists seeing the house as half his responsibility, she can make a list of what she will do and not do anything else. This may mean that the basement, garage, and closets never get touched. Or she should decide to hire a cleaning service periodically. Another choice would be to do all the tasks and take pleasure in a job well done.

Men who are bullies are not nice people. What I regret about women who live with bullies is that they often become not nice people themselves in response to their mate’s bad behaviors.

Check out Doris’ latest books, “The Boy Whose Idea Could Feed the World” as well as, “The Parent Teacher Discussion Guide” and “Thin Becomes You”.

Doris’ web page: www.doriswildhelmering.com

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Why people complain, why it’s bad, and how to stop it.
Complaining is a real drag in any relationship.

Have you been grumbling, complaining, and whining to someone recently about your job or an unfulfilling relationship with a mate or friend? Why are you doing this?

Chances are your complaining is a way to make contact with the person you’re complaining to. If you can get the person to listen, even briefly, you get some attention. And this attention is important because it makes you feel better about yourself. It helps you forget about those job difficulties or the other people in your life who have been letting you down.

At the same time, too much complaining can be destructive.

If you complain too much about your job, others will start to see you as passive or unmotivated because you’re not doing anything to correct it. If it’s really that bad, think about a transfer to another department. Start checking the online job search sites. Beef up your skills. Do something to make your situation better. Act instead of fussing.

A constant stream of complaints about your mate also gets old after awhile. Work to fix the problem. Insist on seeing a marriage counselor together or go yourself. If you change the way you relate to your partner, it’s likely that he’ll change. If you can’t get him to change his behavior, you can work on handling it better.

Health complaints also drag your listener down. Most people do not want to hear how much sleep you didn’t get, or how your teeth are bothering you. Instead, talk about a class you’re taking or a book you’re reading or a movie you’ve seen recently.

Another problem with complaining is that you tend to frame the problem. It’s as though you put the problem in a picture frame and then it takes on more significance in your life because you focus on it.

Complaining sets in motion operating from a pessimistic frame of reference. Always we have problems to deal with in life. No one escapes. But continually focusing on problems is not helpful. And it certainly wears on those around you.

Think of the people you enjoy being with. They are people who are upbeat, laugh, and give energy. They are not people who spew out a steady stream of complaints, grievances, and ailments.

If you’re feeling down and start to complain, decide that you won’t go on for more than a few minutes before switching to a more positive discussion. If you need to do more fussing, at least call another friend and spread your complaints around.

Another option: think about what you want from the person you’re complaining to. If it’s more attention, perhaps you’ll ask the person to join you for lunch or a movie instead of complaining.

Also, ask yourself, Is there any way I can fix this particular problem? If there is, get busy.

This week, listen to yourself. See if you can stop those endless complaints. You’ll like yourself better. And so will those around you.

Check out Doris’ latest books, “The Boy Whose Idea Could Feed the World” as well as, “The Parent Teacher Discussion Guide” and “Thin Becomes You”.

Doris’ web page: www.doriswildhelmering.com

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Being critical with your mate may not be the wisest course of action for your relationship. Sometimes Silence Is Golden.

She and he are drying dishes. She clangs the dishes together and he says nothing. He clangs the dishes and she says, “Can’t you be a little noisier?”

She spills some milk on the counter and immediately takes a dishrag and wipes it up. He spills milk on the counter and she says, “Having a little trouble today?”

She sits and reads the newspaper by a dim overhead light. Later as he reads by the same light, she clicks on the lamp and asks, “Are you trying to ruin your eyes?”

She takes a second helping of potatoes and he says nothing. He takes a second helping and she pipes up with, “I thought you were watching your weight.”

She jams the milk carton into the refrigerator and he says nothing. He jams the carton into the refrigerator and she says, “Here, let me do it.”

She turns the radio on in the car and they ride along listening to the basketball game. He turns the basketball game on in the car and she says, “Are you trying to avoid talking to me?”

The sun is shining, the weather is beautiful, and she sits down to watch television. Two days later, the sun is shining, the weather is beautiful, and he sits down to watch television. She asks, “You’re not going to take advantage of this beautiful weather?”

She runs out of money and says, “I have to stop at the ATM.” He says nothing. When he says, “I have to stop at the ATM,” she says, “When are you going to start planning ahead?”

Incidentally, in these examples, “he” could be “she” and “she” could be “he.”

However, in my clinical experience, more women than men are critical and judgmental. Perhaps it’s because they have been primarily responsible for whipping the children into shape, so it comes naturally. Perhaps it’s because males have more behaviors that demand correcting, and soon the woman is correcting everything.

Perhaps it’s because more women are outer-focused, focusing their attention outward on others rather than inward on themselves. When their mate does something annoying, they immediately feel a need to address the issue. But if they do the same thing, they are not as focused on it.

Regardless of the whys and becauses, sometimes — in fact most of the time — it’s better to be quiet than critical.

Check out Doris’ latest books, “The Boy Whose Idea Could Feed the World” as well as, “The Parent Teacher Discussion Guide” and “Thin Becomes You”.

Doris’ web page: www.doriswildhelmering.com

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One day, I stopped to get a cup of coffee before taking my daughter to the dentist. When I returned to the car with the coffee, I gave it to my daughter to hold. As we were driving along, I noticed that she was holding the cup at a slant. Immediately I said, “You’re spilling my coffee!” What I didn’t add but certainly implied by my tone of voice was, “You dummy.”

She looked at me wide-eyed and said faintly, “Oh, I’m sorry.”

Perhaps it was hearing my own tone of voice or perhaps it was her childlike apology, but something certainly caused me to rethink how I had talked to my daughter. I know if it had been a friend and not my daughter, I would have smiled and said in a friendly tone, “The coffee.” But because it was my daughter, I gave myself permission to be irritated and critical.

On the other hand, I often say to my children, “Don’t be sarcastic;” “That sounds critical, say it again;” and, “Change your tone of voice.” I’m determined that my children should be polite and respectful regardless of whether they are talking to me or to one another.

When I do therapy, I continually tell people to take out the sarcasm and putdowns in their voices, for I know what distance a nasty tone of voice can create between a husband and wife or a parent and child.

Here are a few comments you might make from time to time. Read them over and think how you might sound.

“No, you may not have another Popsicle.”

“I want you to clean your room.”

“It’s time to get your bath.”

“I think you’ve had enough screen time for the day. It’s time to go outside and play.”

“I’d like you home by 12:30 tonight.”

“Please get your towel and wet bathing suit off the sofa.”

“I would like the grass cut before you go play.”

“Whose mess is this on the counter?”

“Who’s got the Scotch tape?”

“It’s time to get off the phone.”

Parents, listen to yourselves and how you talk with your child.

Check out Doris’ latest books, “The Boy Whose Idea Could Feed the World” as well as, “The Parent Teacher Discussion Guide” and “Thin Becomes You”.

Doris’ web page: www.doriswildhelmering.com

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“Let’s go to a movie tonight,” said Janet.

“That doesn’t sound good to me,” yawned Ralph.

As Janet was gathering up her coat and purse, Ralph suddenly clicked off the television set and announced he would be joining her.

Janet, already set to have a nice evening alone, asked, “Are you sure you want to go?”

Ralph assured her, and out the door they went.

As they drove into the parking lot, Ralph mumbled that the last movie must not have gotten out yet. So where did they expect everybody to park? Certainly the theatre could do a better job of scheduling.

As they waited in line to buy tickets, Ralph said that everybody and their brother must have decided to see this movie judging by the length of the line.

Janet, sensing Ralph’s annoyance, made small talk. She wanted this to be a good evening.

When they got into the lobby, Janet suggested that Ralph go with the crowd and find seats. She would get the popcorn.

Ralph replied, “You’re going to stand in that line just for popcorn?”

Janet shook her head yes, and in her head told Ralph he was acting like a jerk.

With popcorn in hand, Janet made her way to where Ralph was seated. His comment on seeing her: “You didn’t get anything to drink?”

“No,” she said. But she offered to go back after the movie started to get Ralph a drink.

“Never mind,” Ralph said.

“No, I’ll go back,” Janet replied. “I just didn’t think you’d want anything.”

“I don’t now,” said Ralph.

As they sat in silence waiting for the show to start, Janet struggled with feelings of guilt over the drink and irritation over Ralph’s negativism.

During the movie she couldn’t help checking on Ralph, trying to determine if he was having a good time. Every time he shifted his body, she felt a twinge of anxiety.

Once he commented that the popcorn tasted stale.

At the end of the movie he asked her what she thought. She said she loved it.

And what did he think, she asked. He said it was okay.

They rode home in silence.

The moral of this story: Good sportsmanship goes beyond the playing field.

Check out Doris’ latest books, “The Boy Whose Idea Could Feed the World” as well as, “The Parent Teacher Discussion Guide” and “Thin Becomes You”.

Doris’ web page: www.doriswildhelmering.com

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I went to the parking lot to get my car, and stuck under the windshield wiper was a paper napkin with a sarcastic note scrawled across it. The writer wanted to know whether I thought I was so much better than the other plebeians who worked at the building that I could park in the aisle.

In truth, I had parked in the aisle. In my defense, however, I blocked no one because the aisle is three car widths wide, there were no other spaces available, and I pay a monthly fee for parking.

At the same time, I felt a bit intimidated by the message on the napkin. I think I felt guilty because the note harked back to what I was taught as a child – that it was wrong to be pretentious or to think I was better than anyone else in any way.

Another factor may also come into play when a person is accused of some wrongdoing. Regardless of whether the person is guilty, he or she usually feels uncomfortable. This is probably because as children we were expected to be good and to do things right. And when we didn’t do something right, we lost our parents’ approval for a time, which translates into a loss of love. As adults, when reprimanded, we too feel that vague sense of loss of love.

Because everyone is sensitive to criticism and most everyone gets criticized from time to time, here are 3 questions to ask yourself.

  1. Is this criticism valid?
  2. Is it partially valid?
  3. What might I have done differently to have avoided the criticism?

By asking these questions of yourself, you put in perspective the criticism.

You might also want to keep in mind the following story which was written in the third century B.C. and recounted by Will Durant in “The Story of Civilization: Our Oriental Heritage”.

‘When a simpleton abused him, Buddha listened in silence; but when the man had finished, Buddha asked him: ‘Son, if a man declined to accept a present made to him, to whom would it belong?’ The man answered: “To him who offered it.’

‘My son,’ said Buddha, ‘I decline to accept your abuse and request you keep it for yourself.'”

Check out Doris’ latest books, “The Boy Whose Idea Could Feed the World” as well as, “The Parent Teacher Discussion Guide” and “Thin Becomes You”.

Doris’ web page: www.doriswildhelmering.com

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My boss overheard me making critical comments about her behind her back. What should I do to repair the relationship, or should I just quit my job?

If you know for sure that she overheard you, go to her and say, “The other day I realize I was out of line. You can expect that I’ll never do that again. I’m sorry.” Chances are if you’re a good worker, and you don’t repeat your behavior, she’ll eventually get over it.

Another piece of advice: Don’t talk about your boss or co-workers to anyone at work. You never know when your comments will be overheard or carried back to that person. Save those comments instead for your mate and closest of friends.

Check out Doris’ latest books, “The Boy Whose Idea Could Feed the World” as well as, “The Parent Teacher Discussion Guide.” and “Thin Becomes You”. Doris’ web page: www.doriswildhelmering.com

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