Upside-Down & Inside-Out: A Blog About Abusive Relationships

Living with an abusive person means learning to live in a topsy-turvy world where normal rules do not apply. It is like the movie the Poseidon Adventure where the ship gets turned upside down and the floor is the ceiling and the ceiling the floor. Yet, somehow I did break out of the invisible cage my first wife had built around me even though it was the hardest thing I've ever done. So this blog is about how we learn to live with abuse and then unlearn; it's based on my personal experience.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Abuse And Marriage: Living With A World of Negatives

This Is Part Of The Website

We all know people who say everything in negatives. They will never say, "That is really good," instead they will say, "Not bad." And for them that is a high compliment. Yet I think that these kinds of people do have a negative attitude; wherever they look they are disappointed, the glass is half-full and no one lives up to their expectations.

My first wife dealt in negatives. For starters she did not like herself, her name, her father, her mother, her brother, or either of her sisters (that covers the entire family). She did like a few things such as literature, music and me but that was about it. And for the first two years together when we were first in love, she was warm and often positive. Little did I know that her negativity would eventually be aimed at me full blast.

When I started writing this website and blog, thirty years after our marriage ended, I realized she had a poorly developed sense of identity and often defined herself as what she was not. Just about everything for her was expressed as a negative, even positive things.

She only knew one thing for sure; she did not want to be like her father who was a critical and judgmental person. I thought I could show her a lifestyle that was based on a positive outlook and she seemed to like that about me.

I had no trouble saying that I really liked something or that I really loved her. Yet even early on when I openly expressed a liking, she turned it into a negative. For example, when she wore a certain shirt, I told her she looked particularly gorgeous; after I said that, she stoped wearing that shirt.

It was almost as if her picture of herself was about what she did not like or would not do. I often heard her saying with passion, I do not like thus and such a poet or this particular news commentator. It was an odd kind of assertiveness where she set herself apart from many others who did like these people.

As our marriage progressed she accumulated a long list: she did not want to spend time with some of my closest friends (people she had liked a lot in the beginning, who had helped us in many ways); she did not want to spend time at a local gathering of musicians on Friday nights even though she liked them and their music; she did not want to give me time to myself even though I asked her to let me have an hour here and there (we had no children and I did most of the chores and earned 80% of our income); in the summer of 1969 when we lived close by, she did not want to go to the Woodstock festival; when we traveled to Europe she did not want to spend time with friends of my mother's in England even though they were friendly, generous, intelligent and hospitable; and she told me not to take my camera to Europe with us, something I unfortunately did just to please her (photography had become my art form and my passion which she knew quite well).

When she had serious problems with PMS, I suggested that she take Midol. Although she did not know that there was a medicine for menstrual cramps, she instead became angry and said, "How would you know?" since I was a man.

When she lost earring after earring and we spent hours looking for them, I suggested that she get her ears pierced like most women. Again, she flatly refused.

And she would not talk about sex. She even had a pat little phrase she said with a smile when I tried to talk about sex: "It's something I would rather do than talk about," she would laugh and wink. We were very compatible initially but inevitably as our marriage progressed problems for both of us cropped up but she would not discuss them. As a result important things were never dealt with.

And the above list is from the time when we were getting along.

Later she bad mouthed my practical decisions such as buying health insurance. When she ended up in the hospital, our insurance paid for everything but she never acknowledged that she had been mistaken. She even made fun of my habit of brushing my teeth in the morning and at night. She didn't say this once or twice but regularly. She made a big point of not brushing her teeth very often. After our marriage ended, she had to have dental surgery because she had taken poor care of her teeth, but she never admitted that she had been wrong about something as obvious as keeping her teeth clean.

Toward the end of our marriage, she decided there were many things she did not like about me: she hated photographers (I was a well respected photographer); she hated her last name (my name which she had chosen to keep); she refused to work with me on a freelance journalism work even though I had good paying jobs lined up (she was a journalist who would write the stories and I would take the photographs); she bad mouthed my efforts to get a Masters Degree (but I ignored her and got it anyway); when I had a very successful one-man photography show and also won prizes on the same day in another separate group exhibit, she told me not to let 'success go to my head'; when I said I wanted to start a freelance business in photography, she said I could not succeed (but I did anyway); when I said I wanted to apply for grants in photography, she said I could not get them (but I did); when I had another photography one man show that got wide publicity, she said that everyone 'felt pushed' to attend my show because the publicity was so extensive. And toward the end she often screamed that she hated me. Whew!

Of course, during all of this time, I asked her to look on the positive side and to at least trust that I was doing things that were worthwhile. I might as well have talked to a brick wall. She thought I was a goody-two-shoes and would have none of it.

After a while I was battling a tide of negative remarks. So of course I stopped sharing my ideas, thoughts, ambitions with her. Now her negative remarks became: Why don't you talk to me the way you used to? Why are you distant? Why don't you tell me things anymore? What is wrong with you?

But it got worse. She started to attack the things that I valued most, things that only she knew about me because I had shared them with her and only her. She knew that I wanted to be an artist, and, if the fates allowed, an important artist. Toward the end, she peppered her comments with derogatory remarks: she thought photography was a secondary art form at best and anyway I was not good enough or talented enough to succeed in any major way (even though this drive of mine to be an artist was one of the main reasons she had been attracted to me plus she knew that I was very good at learning new skills).

About a year before our marriage ended, she became quite ill (that is another story) and had to stay in the hospital. For ten glorious days, I had the house to myself. Her negative words were gone. At the hospital, because she was so in need of my help, her critical comments had temporarily disappeared. And it was like a breath of fresh air or being let out of prison for a while. I felt wonderful and realized that I did not have to live surrounded by a wall of negatives.

But this story has an odd twist. At the very end, just before our marriage broke up, my wife broke a promise she had made. Her action was almost certain to end our marriage, which she knew. If she had apologized and taken responsibility and asked for my forgiveness, I might have stayed with her. However, in order win me over, she suddenly became positive. She initiated love making (something she rarely did) and passionately kissed me and became very affectionate. She was warm and loving but never acknowledged that she had made a mistake. The change was so dramatic, I thought to myself with tears in my eyes, "Where did this person come from. This is the person I fell in love with but I have not seen her for years."

Yet if she thought this tactic was going to work, it backfired. Instead of being swept away, I was furious. Out of the blue, she was showed me the positive person I had fallen in love with, but who had vanished in a rising tide of negative remarks and critical attitudes. Where had this positive side of her personality been all these years? Why could she turn-on this personality all of a sudden when she found herself in a desperate situation? I felt I was being manipulated and that made me even madder. And if she could turn it on, she could turn it off just as easily. In a word this tactic made me trust her even less.

When I saw her next, I told her it was over.


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