“My abusive husband says he’ll kill himself if I leave.” Proper Advice from a Psychoanalytic Viewpoint

At 22, I married a dreadful man and got out after four years. Then I fell in love with a good man for two years and had a nervous breakdown when we split. Then (off work), I met the elder brother of a girl I knew in a pub. Andrew told me he loved me as soon as he saw me. He’d been married before but his wife had an affair and left him. Andrew was devastated, moved to Nigeria and ended up living with a prostitute.

The night we met he told me he’d got over his wife but didn’t mention the girl. He told me he loved me on the Friday and when we went for a meal the following Tuesday he asked me to marry him. I didn’t say yes that time and he went back to Nigeria. He paid the girl off (I found out later) and asked me to follow him out. When I got to Nigeria, he was awful to me. Imagine a flat, nobody around to support me, no phone, no radio, no television and Andrew playing golf all day, avoiding me.

He was also (I discovered) phoning his ex-wife and writing to her. On Boxing Day, he left me all alone with no friends (and bad flu) to play golf all day. Shortly after that I suffered a miscarriage and when we phoned home to tell people I had lost the baby he said to his mate’s wife, ‘How f***ing careless is she?’ He told me our wedding would be on a budget which was fine until I discovered he was not only paying his ex-wife’s bills but also her divorce costs.

Cut to our wedding — great day! He told me three years later he didn’t know if he wanted to be there and he was hoping I’d get the message and not turn up. Married, we moved to Saudi, and he continued writing to his ex, though he denied it. He said: ‘You’ve no right to ask me’ and ‘You’re so ugly when you’re angry’.

We had two boys. Jeff was fine but Ian needed special care. Andrew told me I was being neglectful of him and Jeff by spending so much time at the hospital. When the boys were young we moved to Abu Dhabi but because of Ian’s problems I took the boys back to the UK on my own to get a proper diagnosis.

Andrew actually called me a ‘lying whore’ saying ‘all I wanted to do was to leave him’. We came to Qatar because Andrew found a special school for Ian’s autism. If I’d not come with the boys he said he’d kill himself. We’re still there. Whenever Andrew gets drunk he comes out with awful verbal abuse, telling me I am an ugly, uncaring cow who doesn’t give him enough sex.

I don’t love him any more. I don’t want my boys to be victims of a broken home and try to keep the abuse from them, but I do want out. What would you do?

This letter first appeared in the Daily Mail.

My response:

This is a shocking, confusing and chaotic letter full of loss, misery and violence, leaping about in time and rushing around the world. The scrambled and fragmented state of your mind is instantly obvious and deeply concerning. You say you need help and you are right, but once you manage to extricate yourself from your abusive relationship, you need to address your mental health.

Yours is a chaotic first paragraph in which you seem to describe your whole adult life in terms of men. Two of them sound quite frightening (‘dreadful’ and ‘devastated – living with a prostitute’) in terms of their state of mind and the third in terms of his effect on your state of mind. It is immediately clear that your self-esteem is entirely wrapped up in men in a way that damages you but sounds very addictive – three in one paragraph and none of it good news – the need to ‘get out’, a nervous breakdown and an instant declaration of love from someone ‘devastated’. There is also an immediate sense of how you view the world – in a very binary way. Good man, dreadful man. It’s a frightening introduction and I am almost loathe to read on, which gives me a taste of your own feelings of fear and dread.

Then we have this strange courtship involving one dinner and, shortly afterwards, your move to Nigeria. You make no mention of your own feelings, as if you simply cease to exist when relating to men, as if you fall into them and loose your ego functioning completely. It seems you simply and joylessly obeyed this unstable man as though you had little choice.

It is interesting that you ask the reader to imagine the empty flat, an ‘awful’ Andrew, but not you, as though there is nothing of you, just the flat and the neglect. There is a very regressed child-like atmosphere here, an abandoned little girl with nobody to turn to, not a grown woman who could have gone out, got a job, made friends. You seem to have sought out a situation I suspect is familiar – loneliness and neglect, awaiting miraculous rescure. Your sense of self is barely there and I wonder if you felt ‘avoided’ and not worthy of half decent treatment when you actually were the little girl you still feel yourself to be.

You say you ‘discovered’ Andrew was in touch with his ex-wife, and above you say you ‘discovered’ that he paid off a prostitute. It is not clear how you found these things out but it is clear that he did not tell you – you resorted to subterfuge. His secrets permeate your letter and I wonder what unspoken horrors were the fabric of your early life, since they seem so seminal to your story.

Now we have flu, golf, loneliness, a miscarriage (again no feelings from you, though the whole letter is saturated with loss and brutality), verbal abuse and another ‘discovery’ about money going to Andrew’s ex-wife. The ‘great day!’ moment, the only real expression of your feelings, reads extremely oddly, worryingly (again, perhaps, a little girl in a dress enjoying the rare attention). Or is it sarcastic? The abusive theme is continued with more verbal violence, more accusations from you and more retrospective discovery of secrets (about sex and money/love). You skip about from past to present a great deal and I think your confusion about what is going on, what time it is, who is doing what to whom is deep seated and fundamental to your state of mind. You describe a lot of disturbance around you, but I think you are also terribly disturbed yourself.

You have two children and describe struggling with Ian, who needs ‘special care’, and with multiple country moves and a great deal of verbal abuse and murderous threats (‘I’ll kill myself if you leave,’ the classic abuser’s weapon, a pretence that you are cruel and he vulnerable when, in fact, the threat is murderous).

The words ‘special care’ leap out from your story as your letter suggests from the very beginning that you yourself might be in need of some special care. There is an emptiness to your words and no mention of a mother or father who might support you in the terrible situation you floated into as though by no fault of your own. The fact that you did not leave at the first signs of abuse suggests that you expect this kind of treatment from men and perhaps even seek it out unconsciously in an attempt to master it or simply because it feels familiar from childhood.

You say you try to keep the abuse from your sons so as not to damage them and I wonder if this too is a habit. I suspect that you suffered abuse in childhood and were surrounded by sexual secrets you did not understand and that you felt you had to conceal, either from your mother or siblings or from the outside world. You seem used to circumstances in which home is not a happy place. You don’t expect safety and you have made yourself heavily dependent on somebody cruel for the second time in your life.

There is a shock factor to your using your husband’s words – ‘lying whore’ and ‘ugly, uncaring cow’. You want the reader to be shocked, perhaps so that you have a witness, someone else to feel appalled on your behalf because you seem to feel that you have no right to be upset or to reject language like this. You want to communicate the horror. Yet there is a kernel of hope because you did write – even through your own sense of worthlessness you know that this is a terrible situation and there is enough fight in you to ask for help.

There is no question that you must remove yourself and your children from this man and that you have made the first courageous move in that direction by sending out a cry for help. However, you will also need, once you are free, to have a good look at why you define yourself as an appendage to men and what the attraction to these people might be. It sounds as though your father was someone who hid a frightening dark side with rushes of affection or a charismatic façade. You believed in Andrew’s instant infatuation, abdicated your personality completely and then accepted what went with the relationship – severe neglect and terrible abuse. Your sense of yourself as a separate person is frighteningly flimsy.

Proper Advice in private via Skype or email: anna@blundy.com

About Anna Blundy

Honorary psychotherapist with a Masters in Psychoanalytic Theory and another in Psychodynamic Clinical Psychotherapy. Novelist - Author of the Faith Zanetti quintet - The Bad News Bible, Faith Without Doubt, Neat Vodka (US - Vodka Neat), Breaking Faith, My Favourite Poison. Also a memoir of my father, Every Time We Say Goodbye and my most recent thriller - The Oligarch's Wife
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