Friday, April 24, 2009

Compassion Heals

It's been a long time since I posted. I am happy to report that I am doing much better, and surprisingly, so is my marriage. There has been slow, but steady improvement for more than seven months, so I have reason to be cautiously optimistic.

One reason I haven't been posting is my awareness that all too often, any changes an abusive man makes, do not last. Some men change for months, even years, and then revert to old habits. Maybe I didn't want to chronicle my foolish, false hopes. - if that's what they turn out to be - but I decided to do it anyway. His changes may or may not last, and if they don't, hopefulness and disappointment is part of the process too.

After the ugly name calling scene in August, I purchased Steven Stosny's book "Love without Hurt". Some cyber friends had told me that it had helped them heal even though they chose to end their marriages.

Stosny's approach, towards both husband and wife, is very compassionate. His book has two sections, the first devoted to the abused spouse (more often the wife), the second section for husbands, he calls boot camp. Both sections, specially the boot camp are very "hands on" with lots of exercises to do.

After looking at the book, I was so impressed that I approached my husband. I told him that I believed that he truly wants to be a good husband and that I know he can't feel good about some of his behavior towards me. I said that I had total and complete confidence that he could be a good husband if he does the necessary emotional work. I said that obviously his attempts to simply 'control' himself wasn't working and maybe it was time to try another approach.

He bought a copy of the book for himself, and started doing the work. Not surprisingly, he would slack off after a short time. When he did, I backed away from him. When he kept at the work, I came a little closer. It was very, very difficult for him to grasp some of the material, but once he did, it has made a huge difference.

  • I no longer have to fight to be heard. (Now I realize how crazy it was for me to even do that in the first place.) Discussions of issues between us no longer feel like battles, even when we disagree.
  • He no longer gives me orders. He asks politely and expresses appreciation for the things I do.
  • I no longer avoid him. I rarely feel tense around him anymore. Sometimes I still do begin to feel uneasy when I sense he is anxious about something, remembering that would often lead to him being abusive towards me. When that happens, I tell myself that if he blows, I can handle it. But he has handled his feelings without taking them out on me.
  • He can, and does, apologize spontaneously and sincerely, and even makes amends.
  • There is a growing sense of partnership in the relationship. His pack-rat tendencies remain, but he is making an effort make more room for me in the common areas of our home.

There are still areas that need improvement, but I actually enjoy being married to him now.

I highly recommend Steven Stosny's approach. Patricia's Evans book was very helpful to me because of her detailed description of what a verbally abusive relationship looks like. She gave me valuable insight into the mindset of an abusive man. Unfortunately, her suggestions for dealing with it were only partially effective. I think the missing piece was compassion.

Stosny's book helped me increase my compassion for myself and for my husband, while at the same time making me stronger. Although I already realized it, Stosny's writings helped me keep it front and center that an abusive person is also a hurt person.
Stosny says:

. . . the sole purpose of your husband's resentful, angry or abusive behavior is to defend him from feeling inadequate, especially as a protector, provider, lover, and parent.

Your husband's inability to tolerate occasional feelings of inadequacy is why he becomes resentful, distant, angry, or abusive when you express some desire or emotional need or say anything that he can remotely construe as criticism. The vast majority of people who are resentful, angry or abusive fail to tolerate feelings of inadequacy long enough to motivate behavior that will allow them to reconnect and reattach to loved ones. Instead, they blame their feelings of inadequacy on their loved ones.

Lest anyone confuse compassion with 'being nice' or tolerating abuse, let me say that Stosny makes clear that if a man refuses to do the necessary work, you must leave him in order to prevent grave damage to yourself. He also makes the point that leaving a man who does not change is the most compassionate things you can do for him.

Every time he says a harsh word to you or gives you the cold shoulder, or simply fails to value and respect you, he hates himself a little more.

If he won't change, your leaving him is his only hope.

Well, that's a nutshell update for now. Wherever this goes, I'm doing better.


Anonymous said...

Hi Jennie,
I just wanted to write and tell you that I appreciate your blog. I have been in a similar relationship for 4 years and have finally convinced my partner to go to the Stosny Bootcamp. I hope that your life becomes full of love and light and I wish you the best in your relationship.

Anonymous said...

I truly wish you the best. My ex-husband and I also read one of his books, and things improved for awhile and I had such hope. It all fell apart as always, and I was once again devastated. The book Why Does He Do That, really showed me what has to happen for a life of change. If you haven't read it, give it a try. It is very hard work for the man, but some do change. I hope yours is one of the small percentage. Mine wasn't.

jennie said...

Congratulations on convincing your partner to go to the bootcamp. I'd love to hear what you think of it when you return.

I hope your partner will make the needed changes, and that you will find healing.

jennie said...

Thanks for sharing your experience Anon. It must be terribly difficult to get your hopes up, and then have things return to the way they were. I am well aware that could happen to me also.

I read the Lundy Bancroft book last year.I think I mentioned it in a post or two.

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for your blog. I first came across it last month and read it back to the beginning. Before your last post, I checked out the Stosny book based on what you'd said about it, but couldn't bring myself to consider a compassionate response to the abuse because, well, very often it makes me far too angry to want to be compassionate.

But after your last post, I went out and bought the book, and am enjoying it very much. Husband knows I'm reading it and isn't thrilled, but I'm reading it anyway. When the time comes, I'll ask him to work through the Boot Camp too.

I have a young son who shows the effects of the emotional abuse and frequent fighting between parents. However, the good times with my husband, and the fact that he's generally a very good father, have prevented me from leaving. I think that after reading Stosny's book, I'll have a better perspective on how to move forward for myself and my son.

Anyway, I just wanted to thank you for your blog. I don't feel quite as alone when I read it!

jennie said...

I'm glad you are enjoying the Stosny book anon. I understand feeling like being compassionate is the last thing you want to do. I honestly found that I felt better when I replaced my anger with compassion for me and him, and stayed centered in the conviction that I will have a home which is not merely 'abuse free' but where there is love and safety.

I'm glad you feel less alone. Abuse can make you feel isolated, even though there are many of us dealing with similar situations.

All best to you.


Bill said...

Hi Jennie,
Just stopped by to say hi. I am so glad to hear things are starting to good better for you. The book sounds to be full of great information.
You are always in my thoughts and prayers.

whinerelease said...


I chanced upon your blog because I typed verbal abuse on the blog search box. You spoke about your husband being verbally abused by his mother. I feel that I am in that situation too. I am not an American actually I am filipino and the culture here is different. I have always been told by friends and relatives that I should just be patient and understanding with my mother. I have tried since I was a child. I always tbought it was because I looked like a strong person and I had sharp features that made me look angry even if I really was not. My mother always told me that because I had a bad character i would never ever be happy. I don't really know if words like these mean being verbally abusive but I do not feel very good about myself.What did your husband do or could be doing to straighten out his problem with his mother? Thanks.

jennie said...

Thanks for dropping by Bill. I do keep up with you via your blog even if I'm not commenting so much anymore.

This Stosny guy does seem to be on to something. Not surprisingly, his approach is very positive .

jennie said...

Hi whinerelease,

I'm sorry to hear about the situation with your mother. Unless there is some context I don't understand, I think it is abusive to tell your child that they have bad character and to predict a lifetime of unhappiness for them.

I would think that abuse from your mother is particularly hurtful because as children, we tend to believe what our parents say about us and we don't have much input from other people. I doubt very much that your facial features have anything to do with it. Please understand that her bad treatment of you is due to her inadequacies, not yours.

My husband's mother died before I met him so I don't have a lot of information about how he dealt with her. Basically, he moved far away and didn't see his parents much after he left home. I don't think he recognized her behavior as abusive until decades later. I can see that part of him still believes the ugly things she told him about himself.

You didn't mention your age. Are you still living at home?

Although Stosny's book is geared towards marriages, I think it might help give you some understanding of what motivates your mother's behavior. There are some good exercises to help you connect with what is valuable about you. I have heard that the book "Healing the Shame that Binds You" by John Bradshaw is very helpful in healing pain from your past.

Here is a link which may have some helpful information about abusive mothers. I think the site also connects to a support group for teens (if you are in that age group). It can really help to surround youself with people who acknowledge and affirm your value.

I'm glad that you are looking for ways to deal with your mom. You are valuable and worthy of love and respect, whether or not you get that from all of the people in your life. Hang in there.



Kellie Holly said...

I am wondering if compassion may be mistaken for hope, once again, that the abuser in my life will be nice (and not in the Jekyll/Hyde sort of way, but the Human sort). I'm a little strung out on hope and wanting to end the addiction; I'm not sure Stosky's book will help me with that.

I'm very interested in reading your further posts, and I hope the very best for you (even though I'm tired of feeling it myself).

BTW, what has been your husband's longest "nice" period? How long, in the past, has he been able to go without abusing you?

jennie said...

Hi Kellie,

I would say that "hope" is largely about how I would like things to turn out and anticipating how I might feel if he consistently treats me well. Compassion is something I can choose to feel for him, regardless of how he treats me or how it turns out.

Do you have a basis for realistic hope that he will treat you better in the future or is it merely wishful thinking? If he isn't doing anything to address his issues, it is highly unlikely the future will be different from the past.

Stosny says that compassion can help you more realistically assess whether there is a basis for hope:

"Compassion Means Trusting Wisely
We never get hurt by too much compassion, but we're hurt all the time by unwise trust. Compassion lets you see the depth of other people's vulnerability and more intelligently assess their defenses against it. In short, it tells you whom you can trust. With compassion you can discern whether your partner can use his sense of inadequacy as motivation to become adequate in relationships. If your partner sees feelings of inadequacy as punishment rather than motivation to become adequate (more compassionate and loving), you will certainly be regarded as the punisher.

As you experience the healing of genuine compassion, you understand that your partner cannot heal without compassion for you, which means he must see, hear, and value you as separate from him. If your partner will not or cannot do that, your relationship will likely cause grave harm to both of you."

I'm not sure what you mean by "addiction", but I found that doing the Stosny work helped me remain more connected with my inherent value, regardless of what my husband does.

Your question about "how long" is tough to answer, particularly because much of what he does which is hurtful, is the "not doing".

Rather than focus on "honeymoon" or "abuse-free" periods, I have found it more helpful to track trends over time. For example, in the past he might "bark" at me when he felt anxiety, and then blame me for provoking him and/or withdraw when I called him on the behavior. When he began to "bark", but then immediately calm himself, take responsibility and apologize, it was step a step in the right direction, although technically not "abuse free'.

BTW, set your sights on a marriage which is a loving and connected partnership, not merely abuse free.

Kim said...

I just ran across your blog while doing some research for an article I'm thinking about writing for Christian women dealing with verbal abuse in a culture that seems to ignore it.

I was married for 15 years, in 4 of those years in marriage therapy to a verbal abuser. At the time Patricia Evans book was a pivotal book for me. Our relationship deteriorated to the point of living very separate lives and eventually divorce.

However, I gained much insight from the experience. And I think compassion is key. I had to learn it for myself first. I then realized that my ex. was a very messed up person, and that I was strong enough to distance myself from the abuse. I had to learn, as well as you have, that my life is sacred and that relationships are meant to be mutually respectful, loving and safe.

It sounds like you are doing some fantastic work for yourself. Hopefully your husband can heal and be transformed...

May you experience much peace in your life.

Anonymous said...

I've been living in a world of verbal abuse for 4 years but didn't have time to truly see it for all that it was b/c I was always just trying to aviod the next episode. I was just getting a few sips of air before my head was plunged back into the pool of control all the time.

We are separated and trying to get help but some counselors really don't get the idea of verbal abuse and what it is. They approach it as a typical husband wife disagreement and it is so much more than that.

Anonymous said...

Hi Jennie:
I just realized that I am a Passive-aggressive man..and Yes I hurt my wife (who I love her soo soo much) I did to her all the things that are described on the symptoms of P.A. I am so ashamed and I have so much pain because I caused so much misery, sorrow and unhappiness on her.I am now facing separation..and it hurts really really bad..I started to do little changes on my persona..I truly want to change and I don't want to face divorce. Your blog lines made me cry..I don't want to be a number or cause pain in that way I don't want to be hurtful, resentful and frustrated...and at the same time...I pray and hope that she can give me a chance only one......

Kellie Jo Holly said...

Somehow I came across your earlier post, "Aftermath", before this one. Your statement "hopefulness and disappointment is part of the process too" is one that I hope to embrace. I'm preparing (as much as possible) for his homecoming from a 10 month deployment. I hope (beyond reason sometimes) that he will accept help and that I will continue to grow and strengthen myself. I do plan to stay, for now. Please continue to blog and keep us updated. Even though you question chronicling your "foolish, false hopes. - if that's what they turn out to be", I want you to know that your hopes are not foolish to me.
I'm with you, and so are the wonderful women who have commented before me.

Anonymous said...

I will never be able to understand why people willingly choose to stay with people that abuse them. I could never understand my mother's choices. After years spent thinking she was so weak... I realised the strength it takes to fight for something without fighting. For believing in someone that gives you nothing to believe in.

I could never be that strong.

good luck to you.

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