Dealing with a Critical and Verbally Abusive Husband

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    Got a critical spouse? Is your husband verbally abusive? If so, then sadly you’re not alone. Relationships where one partner is hypercritical and verbally abusive are more common than you may realize. And it can be very hard to recognize them for what they are, even for the person in one.

    Very often these relationships start off in a normal manner. But over time one partner, often the husband, becomes critical, abusive verbally, and just downright mean. The result of this kind of behavior is devastating for both partners. The good news is there are ways to deal with it and with help get things back to a healthy and happy state.

    FIND OUT IF YOUR PARTNER IS HAVING A MIDLIFE CRISIS

    What A Verbally Abusive And Critical Husband Looks Like

    Below are some thoughts from other spouses coping with verbal abuse. The following are excerpts from Carolyn Hax's column, Return to 'Crazyville' -- More on Critical Behavior in The Washington Post:

    My mom was (and still is) very critical of my dad, and growing up with it couldn't have helped me. Even though I can see it, it's still hard to shake, but I've talked with my husband about it. He knows I'm aware of it, and trying to do something about it, and that helps with his patience. And when you catch yourself doing it, say so: 'I'm sorry, I think that was overly critical for me to say.' And then try to do better. Sometimes just putting it out there helps both parties." - Anonymous #1

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    Thanks, I agree -- admitting fault quickly and completely is a crucial part of "great communication." Even if it's a warning of more nasties to come -- "I'm being a complete jerk and will probably stay that way until I make deadline/Mom's out of the hospital/I kick this cold" -- taking responsibility makes it clear it's about your shortcomings, not your partner's.

    I'm dating someone who vacations there occasionally ('Crazyville'), and I wholeheartedly agree about apologizing on the spot. I know she nitpicks when she's stressed, and she knows I know; all I want is for her to acknowledge it without my having to say my feelings were hurt.

    As someone who has broken bad patterns this way, I know the repetition of prompt acknowledgement got me to the point where I could anticipate having to apologize as I was actually doing something, until finally I was catching myself before I did it. Repetition is the best way to break patterns like this." - Anonymous #2

    Clapclapclapclapclapclapclap . . .

    My partner sometimes becomes a self-acknowledged complete jerk when his work gets stressful. He knows it, and apologizes, and I've learned to give him space during these times . . . to take the dog for a walk in the short term, or to plan a full weekend for myself when he is under a deadline.

    But the way you describe this makes me wonder: Where is the line between forgiving jerk-ish behavior and forgiving abuse? Anything physical would be obvious, of course, but barring that, is it the intent (or the lack of intent) behind it? Or what?" - Anonymous #3

    While it's a valid question, I think it can lead you down a path of justification/non-justification that ends at a brick wall.

    The question I would suggest is "Is this what I want?" Do you want a partner who unravels under stress ? When you make it about abuse, then you're almost letting that make your decision for you: If it's abuse, you leave, and if it's not, you stay.

    But behavior that doesn't fit the abuse definition can still be something you just don't want to be around, blow your weekends on, or accommodate anymore.

    If on the other hand you see his moods as a small con in a world of pros, if being calm through his freak streaks is a labor of love, if you're relieved that this flaw of his gives your flaws a little more breathing room, then so be it. You don't owe anyone anything here except an honest assessment of what you want.

    Dealing With The Abusive Behavior

    What these situations have in common is that some episodes of bad behavior tend to be situation specific and somewhat short-lived. This doesn’t make them okay, however. As adults we are responsible for our own behavior, and a bad day, tough project, or otherwise stressful situation doesn’t justify treating your partner badly. No partner should accept being treated as a whipping post as a normal part of being in a relationship. So, if you’re in this situation and dealing with a critical or verbally abusive partner, what do you do?

    It's important to recognize as the first two readers examples show, critical and verbally abusive behavior can be changed. It's hard, it takes work, along with time, patience, and persistence. But it definitely can be done -- by anybody.

    I believe that Carolyn's last comments begin to drift into a murky area where we have to find the line between acceptance as a part of loving your partner and compromising ourselves so much that it prevents them from changing as a way of showing they really do love us. Additionally, Carolyn is right that abuse should not be tolerated, and far too many spouses, both husbands and wives, accept verbal abuse. However, her firm statement that you leave needs to be combined with giving your partner the chance to change.

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    Again, changing abusive behavior is rarely easy or quick. And it will require an agreement from the spouse with the abusive tendencies that change is needed. By learning better communication skills, and perhaps counseling for anger management, he can change his critical reactions to difficult circumstances and respond in more respectful and loving ways.

    Sorting out where to draw these lines can be really difficult, especially when you're the one in the middle of it. Seek the support, guidance, and wisdom of an experienced counselor who works with verbally abusive husbands and their relationships to help you.

    Editor's Note: This post was originally published April 17, 2010 and has been updated with new information for accuracy and comprehensiveness.

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