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Author Topic: Personal Question for Hatrack
Paulus
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I am struggling to make sense of my marriage at this point. And before anyone else tells me to do this, I am already in individual therapy, group therapy, and have trusted family and friends I am talking to. I am just wanting an unbiased outsider perspective (granted I recognize my reporting will be inherently biased, but I will do my best to not be).

I am just starting to realize that I may be in an emotionally abusive relationship. We are married and I have been in a relationship with her for 4 years. This is my second marriage. I have two children from my previous marriage. This is her first marriage and she has no children of her own.
I married my current wife understanding these significant issues:

1) She has a variety of chronic illnesses and weighs almost 400 lbs
2) She has been a victim of almost every type of abuse throughout her entire life, particularly sexual and physical abuse (she is 38 years old now)
3) She had a mini-stroke in 2006 that lowered her inhibitions, thus leading to excessive swearing and emotional outbursts

I fell in love with her emotional depth and wisdom. She has the capacity to show tremendous compassion towards others. She came to understand me quite well and was able to provide a lot of support to me that I had never found anywhere else. She is quite intelligent and intuitive. I was also able to provide similar support and insight to her. We didn’t have a lot in common when it comes to interests. I considered these secondary to having similar values, emotional depth, and maturity.

I remember when we were dating when she told me that she didn’t have anymore “issues” to work on, that she had resolved everything from her past. This was a red flag (1 year of therapy undid 34 years of chronic abuse and now you are ‘fixed’?), but I convinced myself to trust her. Her emotional intelligence earned my trust.

She would tell me all of the stories of the things that would happen to her, and I began to believe (I feel foolish thinking about it now) that she really was one of those people who just kept having the unlucky fate of always interacting with judgmental people. Stories about doctors, customer service people, trusted friends, church people, nurses, etc. All of them eventually betrayed her. “Everyone leaves me” was what she would keep saying.

Other red flags started showing up:
Rigid body language over silly things that would send the message: “Don’t mess with me or else.”
Over reactions to mild problems
Irrational beliefs: all women are evil, everyone in Utah sucks, I am destined to get in car wrecks, accusing me of seeing a therapist who likes to womanize younger men based on 0 evidence, etc.
Saying violent or rude things about other people, or teasing me over things that I was insecure about, but kept insisting it was just for fun. If I made any objections, she would play the victim and say I just don’t understand her dark humor.

I am trying to keep this short. In essence, I started to feel like I was walking on eggshells around her. I found her to be unpredictable. But I explained everything away under the explanation that she was a trauma survivor and had this stroke and that she “couldn’t help it.” My kids began to show signs of intimidation. Some of the more severe things that have happened over the years:

1)She stubbed her toe when we were dating and she started yelling really loud. She always screams bloody murder when she gets hurt. My 4-year-old daughter went up to her and said, “What’s wrong?” My wife responded by shoving my daughter backwards about 6 feet. My wife acted as if nothing had happened at all and just kept acting like someone had just literally chopped her foot off. My daughter started crying in shock and fear.
2)A year ago, after driving away from a wedding, my wife’s foot started hurting while she sat in the passenger seat. She started saying loudly: “Ouch, ouch, ouch, ouch.” My daughter, just out of normal honest curiosity says, “Why are you saying that?” My wife responds by screaming at the top of her lungs (and she has an opera-volume voice) “Somebody make her shut the F*** up!!” Later in the night, when my wife calmed down, she claimed she didn’t remember saying that. Then a little later, she said, “I do remember, sometimes I lie to you about forgetting because I am embarrassed.”
3)A month and a half ago, I helped her back her car out of the garage, and I accidentally scraped the car against the rubber molding of the garage. It did cosmetic damage that wiped off later, but in the moment, my wife took one look at it, then clenched both fists, closed her eyes, and shouted the F-bomb long and loud enough for the neighborhood to literally hear it. Then she stormed into the car as I got out, threw a ceramic plate (which had been in the car) across the street so that it shattered into a million pieces, and zoomed away off to work. Both of my kids happened to be standing there and witnessed the whole scene, very shocked.
4)She has overturned our coffee table a couple of times when it was in her way, again acting as though she hadn’t noticed it was even there.
5)She grabbed my daughter forcefully by the face once and forced her to look at her, almost seeming to squeeze her face. My daughter started crying in fear and shock as I stood there trying to get her hands off of her face. Then she shoved her away.
6)I put love notes all over the house for my wife a couple weeks ago, and her only response to me was to ask me if she could take them all down, then went around and threw them all away. She apologized for this hours later after I told her how much it upset me. She said she had been embarrassed by them. She has expressed jealousy at a painting I made for her, because of my talent, and it took her a week to feel appreciation for it.

I could start citing other examples of similar situations, but the large majority of the tension comes from this feeling that if one says the wrong thing, she will respond with criticism, a pity-party, intense emotion, or silent treatment. I have watched my kids display shameful body language in the ways she talks to them or to me. I am finding myself often feeling uneasy and afraid around her.

What makes this hard is the fact that she has difficulty with inhibitions, and all of the times that she is loving and kind and uplifting and wise.

Currently, I have been told by her that I am to never ever offer to help her again, and that she will never ask for my help again. If she needs something heavy brought in from the car, she won’t ask me, she will call a friend or break her back doing it herself, despite her serious health problems. She has told me recently that she doesn’t like being around me, that I won’t let her be herself, and that I shouldn’t have to wait for her to ask to help her with something.
This is all ridiculous, given that I have been her caregiver practically for a long time. I cook dinner for her most of the time, I offer to carry things for her, I used to take her to 2-3 medical appointments a day and sit patiently by her side and wrap her lymphatic legs morning and night, and a whole host of other things. But if I am not perfect in all things, she decides it is better to never ask for help again. She said she will get her emotional needs met with other friends, but just doesn’t like my negative attitude.

This coming from someone who has a pattern of offending other people, including family members who used to trust her. I have been embarrassed by her in many occasions with doctors or customer service people. Ugh, the list could go on. I really am just venting at the moment.

I have been quite codependent with her, and yet even knowing that, I find myself really struggling with guilt and doubt about whether or not I am exaggerating the problems. I realize things must change, but I really just want out of this relationship. I feel too tired to go to work to get better at setting boundaries with her and holding her accountable for her behaviors. I have little hope that these things will change any faster than a glacial pace, yet I feel some responsibility, given our marriage, to try and work.

There are so many other stories I could tell that are just ridiculous. But when she is singing my praises and telling me I am the most amazing man in the world, I forget these things and start thinking, “It will be better now.”

She is going to therapy now, after many years of resisting. She is making positive changes for herself, such as choosing to actually dress nicely and to do more self-care and to eat better and to start resolving trauma and PTSD. But she is making these recent changes after years of ignoring me telling her she needs to make these changes, and acting like I never even said this stuff in the past, and now she has this self-righteous attitude. If she were making changes for the right reasons, would she suddenly be telling me that we can never work together again and that she doesn’t like anything about me and that she just doesn’t feel safe around me?

I feel like I am being gas-lighted. I have bent over backwards for her, and suddenly she can’t even talk to me, except for functional speech, because I am so bad apparently. This recent reaction of hers to say these things came from two incidents last weekend:

1)She was having anxiety about the kids making noise downstairs playing, and she said, “I feel like taking a baseball bat to a couple of heads downstairs.” I told her I didn’t like her saying those kinds of things, and she later that day accused me of not appreciating her dark humor and that I won’t let her be herself.
2)She asked me to carry something in from the car, and I said I would get to it, but because I ate breakfast first and talked to the kids for a bit, she decided I don’t love her and don’t care about her and I am not interested in helping her.

Those two scenarios triggered where we are now, but we have been here before. I have just recently woken up to the realization that I think I am in a manipulative relationship and I feel pretty stupid, given that I help people overcome codependency as a counselor. I have not stood up for myself or my kids like I should. And right now, despite only doing functional speech with me, she is doing it an unusually nice and pleasant way. She talks as if there is nothing wrong, as if she didn’t just say to me last weekend: “I don’t ever like being around you and I don’t like anything about you and we have zilch in common."

I really am struggling as to whether I should try and make this work, or just jump ship now. I know it is my decision, but I am curious to hear viewpoints on both sides of the argument. I love my wife, but I am realizing that I have fallen in love with this image I have had of her and I have been in denial about the other side where there is hostility, loads of denial, excuse-making, patronizing, passive-aggressiveness, ‘teasing’, and reactivity in the name of “I can’t help it, I had a stroke” or “I am just joking” or “It’s my personality, deal with it.” I am so tired of her stroke excuse, especially because she seems to be able to control herself when she really wants to in certain situations.

I really do have empathy for the trauma she has been through. I have seen her try really hard at times to overcome certain issues. But I am beginning to realize that all of the good intentions in the world don't negate the actual bad behavior. It is amazing how the obvious can become so un-obvious when you are the one living it.

Sorry for rambling, and I apologize for this being too long. I am just in a difficult place this week.

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TomDavidson
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Jump ship. Your first duty is to your children, and your next is to yourself. She is clearly toxic to both of those, and while you have indeed vowed to help her, your priorities must lie with your existing family and your own safety and sanity.
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Lyrhawn
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I don't have any special training in mental health or anything...but it sounds like she really needs some help.

It also sounds like it's not a particularly healthy situation for you or your kids, who are probably especially thrown/confused by her behavior.

It's tough, I think, because you take vows for exactly this sort of situation, where one partner has a problem and they need you to take care of them. But I don't think marriage should be a suicide pact, and your kids certainly didn't sign up for that.

But yeah, if you're looking for a third party independent opinion, I'd say she needs help, and she's possibly dangerous for your kids, as well as your mental health and well-being. I think you need to get out of the situation and set her up with some help, but in the mean time, you aren't doing anyone in your house a favor by keeping the status quo operational.

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RivalOfTheRose
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What Tom said. Sorry to hear about your situation.... Must be maddening at times, saddening the rest.
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Xavier
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I'd have jumped ship long before it got to the point where you are at. Don't try for sainthood. I don't think staying in this situation is helping anyone, really.
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PSI Teleport
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I think it's only a matter of time before she seriously injures one of your kids. Anger issues like hers only get worse as time goes on and she gets more comfortable with the fact that you won't protect them (beyond just calling her on the behavior.)
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JanitorBlade
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Paulus: I know you said you've been to individual and group therapy, and that your wife has/is? gone to a therapist. But have you gone to couple's therapy?

It's good she's working out trauma's from her past, but it sounds like she is dealing with a SERIOUS lack of self-confidence. As well as feeling good enough for you, as much as she trashes you. People who are lacking in self-confidence often try to chase people away by being absolutely terrible, and then alternating between feeling bad for it, to resentful of themselves, to resenting you, and back again.

I'm not going to butter it up, when physical violence against yourself or children is involved, I have little patience for it. But I would get the both of you into a marriage counselor and tell them you don't know if you can stay married anymore.

Get these feelings out in the open, and let an objective third party identify exactly where you both are within yourselves, as a couple, and work with you to get things back on track.

If your wife refuses to go, just flat out, even if you indicate this is essential for you, I'd probably get ready to leave.

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FoolishTook
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I sometimes think dysfunction disguises itself as emotional depth, and what seems mysterious and exciting soon turns into what your marriage has become.

I have no qualifications for giving you advice, but I feel like I know this woman personally. I come from a long line of dysfunctional people, many of them women. They will abuse or be abused, because they're not living unless their lives are infused with intense highs and lows.

I suggest you do leave, for her sake as well as yours and the children. She cannot have someone around to enable her. (I hate divorce by the way, but this is clearly a bad, dangerous situation for everyone involved.)

I also suggest you take a break from romance of any kind for awhile. If you look back through your relationships, you may find a pattern there.

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ladyday
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Yes, I agree, take your kids and get out.

Do you need help getting out?

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Samprimary
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She's a heavy splitter, has intense emotional dysregulation, is triggered into extremely abusively reactive states with no self control by things like the presence of physical pain.

Any compulsion to want to stay with her and hope for the better is completely undone by your obligation to your children and yourself. The longer your kids have to deal with her, the more I assure you they will be traumatized and have their own issues to deal with. She's horrible. Get her away from you and them. Abandon any saviour complex that blinds you to the reality of her toxicity to your children and you.

In short, this is the easiest kind of E/N thread, to which the resounding answer is a chorus of "sever"

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Drifter
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I'm a firm believer in marriage vows.
But imho Leave Now and Don't go Back.

Your kids are too precious to be in this type of toxic relationship.

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Scott R
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Seek professional help, not advice from Internet laymen.

(I will note that her excuse about having a stroke may not be an excuse at all. The human brain is wacky. Trauma makes it wackier.)

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AchillesHeel
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I only got through half, and I can't imagine anything being more important than this fact.

She is abusing your kids.

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Aros
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Wow! Please leave. Immediately. Be careful.
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Paulus
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Thanks to everyone for your input and support. Like I said, I am seeking professional help right now. And I don't need help getting out, I am not afraid of leaving for those kinds of reasons.

Samp hit the nail on the head, as I have been coming to the realization that I have a savior complex, so to speak. Even stronger than that, I have always had an intense need to do what is "right." The problem is that my perception of what is right has been distorted by how I grew up. Because, obviously in this situation, the right thing is to do what all of you have said, and that is take care of my kids first.

Up to this point, I have been clear that things have to change. I have considered the possibility of going to couples counseling and laying out all of the dirty details and making hard boundaries for what I will and will not tolerate.

But I am rapidly approaching the point where I just don't want to do that, for three main reasons:

1) The time it would take to effect such change means that an unhealthy situation would still be happening in the meantime for me and my kids, no matter how good her intentions and effort.
2) I have doubts that it will even work.
3) I am just tired and simply don't want to do the work. I would rather work on getting comfortable being alone with the help of therapy and trustworthy friends and family.

As my friend and mentor just told me two nights ago: "You have to learn to live alone before you can learn to live together."

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Samprimary
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:/

Savior complex is fine, mostly, honestly. It's just about knowing who you have to be the savior to. In this case, you have to care about the environment for your kids. As well as, well, your own sanity. People in these situations will leech themselves dry and end up depressed or just sort of 'blank out' — like they're just sort of tuning out the world.

Also I really can't emphasize how important it is to recognize the heaviness of her splitting. It's a cognitive error and a pathology you see a LOT in people with BPD and/or who suffered severe abuse as children.

The wikipedia on it is horrid and there's a lot of weird psychoanalytic stuff rambling around the theory, but these sections should suffice:

quote:
Splitting (also called all-or-nothing thinking) is the failure in a person's thinking to bring together both positive and negative qualities of the self and others into a cohesive, realistic whole. It is a common defense mechanism used by many people.[1] The individual tends to think in extremes (i.e., an individual's actions and motivations are all good or all bad with no middle ground.)

Splitting creates instability in relationships because one person can be viewed as either personified virtue or personified vice at different times, depending on whether he or she gratifies the subject's needs or frustrates them. This along with similar oscillations in the experience and appraisal of the self lead to chaotic and unstable relationship patterns, identity diffusion, and mood swings. The therapeutic process can be greatly impeded by these oscillations, because the therapist too can become seen as all good or all bad. To attempt to overcome the negative effects on treatment outcome, constant interpretations by the therapist are needed.[3]


it's just something that's really easy to pick out once you've been exposed to it from someone who does it. It can be absolute, utter hell.
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Aros
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You can't live your life for other people. Your kids deserve to be safe and happy. You deserve the same. It will not happen with this person.
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vineyarddawg
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I'm a firm believer that marriage vows are a sacred promise that one makes towards his/her spouse, and those vows should not be easily broken. Unless one spouse abandons his/her commitment (which can mean a lot of things, and I don't really want to get into that argument at this point), I think married couples should always make every possible effort to reconcile themselves and honor the promises they have made.

With that said, however, you simply can't allow yourself or your children to remain in such an abusive situation. I would move out of the house today. You need to get out of this daily nightmare that saps all of your hope and energy.

Once you are away from the intense day-to-day trauma of this situation, I would also insist that she agree to attend couples counseling with you on a regular basis to try to help make the changes that you've been talking about. Individual counseling is fine, but your relationship consists of two people, and it needs to be repaired (if it can be) on the basis of two people working together.

I would also set clear boundaries not permitting her to come and see you or your kids at your new location without scheduling the visit, or perhaps even scheduling all visits at a third location like a park or mall or something to begin with. (Or even just at the couples counseling appointments.) This allows you to break free of the abusive cycle you live every day while still allowing your spouse to make the changes she needs to make, which you already know will take a lot of time. As she works on these changes, it might be possible to eventually relax the barriers, and even move back in at some point in the future. I don't think, even in a best-case scenario, that would be for quite a while, though.

At this point, she seems to be the one abandoning her vows, and all of the efforts you have made seem to be falling for naught because she can fall back on her old routine, still relying on you being there to care for her, do housework, and generally take care of all of the other daily chores of life. Sometimes, change must be forced upon us, and taking your children and living somewhere else is the step I think you need to take to try to force her to act.

She might simply give up, say "oh well, another person has abandoned me" and move on with her life, or she might realize that she needs to change, but either way, this home situation is toxic for you. You must get out. As soon as possible.

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Aros
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People can change, certainly. But you can't live your life expecting them to.
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MattP
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I would also consider what you would want your spouse to do if you were the one behaving this way, even if you couldn't help yourself (or at least believed you couldn't). That's what the better version of her would want for you as well even if the person she is now makes it about abandonment of her rather than protection of you and your children.
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Paulus
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I have decided to get a separation. After that, it will either lead to divorce or potential couples therapy. I haven't decided which, and her response will also influence which way I go.

Now I just have to figure out how to do it logistically and financially. I will be making phone calls to start figuring out some options. I could also request that she go live with a friend, but I can't afford our current rent if I lose her half of our income. I would need to downsize and break a lease.

Thank you all for your input. I have been hearing the same things from pretty much everyone else, too. I am still amazed at how hard it is emotionally to face the reality of my situation. Changing the narrative I have had about her and our relationship is a major paradigm shift, even though it is so obvious from an outsider's perspective. Why does my brain keep trying to tell me that it isn't as bad as it sounds since she hasn't had a big outburst in the last month?

I know the answer to that question, but my emotions think otherwise. I now have more personal understanding of why abuse victims get so confused.

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stilesbn
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I wish you good luck and I hope everything works out for the best. I don't have much in the way of advice that hasn't already been given but I want to express my sympathies to you.
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scifibum
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It sounds like you are trying to do the correct thing. Good luck.
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Bella Bee
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Good for you taking action. I think in these situations it's often only after you leave that you realize how bad it was - so well done for taking notice of the situation you're in the middle of and doing something.

Stay strong and I hope you, your kids, and eventually your wife, all come out of this okay.

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Geraine
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Regardless of your feelings for her, your kids need to come first.

If she is being verbally or physically abuse to them in any way due to her outbursts, you need to get them out of that house.

If you need ANY help whatsoever, send me a PM and let me know what you need. I'll help in any way I can.

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Stephan
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Coming out of a self imposed exile to agree with Tom. Jump ship. I have a friend in an emotionally abusive relationship. I can't talk him out of jumping ship because he doesn't think he will find anyone else. Now she is pregnant. Amazing how bat s*** crazy seems to go hand in hand with lowering the effectiveness of the birth control pill.

But get out. Kids kids kids. Think of the kids. If any part of your psyche is worried about finding someone else, don't let it.

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Paulus
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Yeah, there is no part of me that is afraid of not being able to find someone else. I don't struggle with low self-worth in that way (but I used to). My emotional struggle is feeling guilty about leaving her, worrying about doing the right thing, creating drama, etc.

But in regards to finding someone else, I want to wait simply because rushing into both marriages is what got me into bad relationships both times. I am at a stage where I am ready to learn to love being myself as an individual and having an environment where my kids can feel the same way. And plenty of ongoing therapeutic guidance this time around, which I never had before until the last several months.

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Paulus
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I appreciate the offers of help, by the way. I am not even sure what to ask for. I am trying to figure out where to go, or if I should just tell her she needs to leave (and not knowing what kind of reaction to expect there). Still trying to figure these logistics out so I know what the next step is so I can deliver the news to her.

Weird thing is, she is acting like a separated spouse in some ways anyway. She has been taking me off of our shared Google calendar, telling me to put my son on my health insurance at work instead of hers (claiming it is cheaper, even though we haven't actually checked into that), and other similar things. Yet, I don't think she would leave in a million years. It feels more like a control/forced-boundary thing that she feels obligated to do for some exaggerated reason.

Overall, I plan to have a plan figured out this weekend. My kids will be at their mom's house this weekend, so I will have some space to figure this out. I will probably go to a family member's house or something this weekend.

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Samprimary
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do you have any shared finances with her? shared bank accounts, does she have credit cards tied to you, etc
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docmagik
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I really recommend a book called "The Anatomy of Peace," by a group called The Arbinger Institute.

It's about all of our relationships and how to decide what the real right thing to do is and about all of the mess that sometimes gets in the way of trying to decide what the right thing to do is.

Specifically, it talks about how to figure out if you're "distorting" the situation and how to get back an honest assessment of what you honestly feel is the right thing to do in your own mind. I think that whatever you feel is the right thing do after reading it (it's not the kind of book that's going to tell you whether staying is right or leaving is right, it's the kind of book that helps you find the truest answer for yourself) you'll definitely have a calmer heart about the decision when you're done.

I know that a book might not be the kind of thing you're looking for, but the book (and a couple of related ones) have actually made a huge difference in my life in all my relationships.

Whatever you decide, this sounds incredibly hard. I hope for everyone's sake that you're able to figure out a way to move this to a better place, whatever you decide will get it there.

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Jeff C.
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Dude, you need to bail. The second she touched my kid (threw her back six feet? And the kid was FOUR?!), I'd have smacked her right in the face. You do NOT do that.

Ever.

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