From the forums:
I have thought about leaving my husband many times through the years due to his behavior and, at times, our incompatibility. He never learned how to deal with emotions well, and he has pretty significant anger issues. It is significantly worsened by drinking, which he has been working on. His anger can be raging and unpredictable at times, and at other times much more subtle, as just an undertone in a conversation. He seems to have the moods and emotional level of a teenage boy. Some of my therapists have referred to it as emotional abuse, which might be accurate in a sense – he does often blame me for his actions and anger, dismisses my concerns, does not recognize the way his anger hurts me, etc., but at the same time, he doesn’t ever call me “stupid,” or isolate me from friends/family, or tell me what to wear, or many of those other obvious signs that one would consider emotional abuse.
After an extremely uncalled-for fit of anger on his part, I have been strongly thinking about divorcing him. I was adamant about my decision for a week or so, but now I’m having serious doubts, and I am getting very emotional about the possibility of losing my best friend. I am filled with both hope and doubts. I am unhappy with the way that he acts and treats me, and yet I also recognize that I have been no saint in the marriage. We don’t have kids right now, but I want them. So I feel like I’m at a point in my life where I have to decide if I want kids with a man who has anger problems, or whether I need to jump ship to get moving on with my life with someone else down the road.
Is this marriage salvagable? And how? Do we think people can change? Is this anger fixable if he takes me seriously enough? I feel like a lot of my trust and security has dissolved from his unpredictability, and I’m sure he feels that about me with my history of seeking comfort elsewhere. HELP! — Can We Save This Marriage?
You already know the answer to the questions you’re explicitly asking, which is: no, your marriage can’t be saved. It’s been doomed from the start, and you’re well aware of this. I’ll save time and energy pointing out all the ways this marriage is doomed since you already did that for me in your letter above. Instead, I’ll cut right to the chase and answer the question you’re implicitly asking – the one you genuinely don’t know the answer to and desperately want insight on: yes, you will get through the pain and the grief of ending your marriage and losing your best friend.
The pain and the grief won’t disappear overnight. You will have periods, as you did a week after making your decision, in which you will second-guess yourself. The pain will feel unbearable and you’ll wonder why on earth you’re putting yourself through it. You will miss your husband. You will miss the life you shared, the security you felt with him, the good times you had. You’ll try to convince yourself that the bad parts weren’t that bad, that no marriage is perfect, and that if you’d just hung in there a little longer, it would’ve gotten better. Maybe kids would have changed him. Maybe time and maturity would have changed him. Maybe even your leaving him temporarily was enough to finally get him to understand the seriousness of the problems and now he’ll commit to doing the work on himself so you two can rebuild your life together. None of these things will be true and if you give in to these thoughts and take your husband back after you leave him, you’ll be even worse off than where you were before because he will have called your bluff. You’ll have no credibility. He’ll know that even if things get really, really bad and you leave, you’ll come back.
Here’s what will happen if you leave and don’t go back: It will be awful for a little while – lonely, sad, painful, all of that. Then, it will be a little bit better. The sun will rise again, you’ll feel warmth, you’ll find joy again in the little things that used to bring you joy. You’ll think, “Maybe I’ll be ok after all.” Then, you might have a setback or two – a bad day, a bad date, an anniversary that makes you miss your ex. That’s when you call a friend, a family member, your therapist. Don’t call your ex! You will get through these setbacks. And then, finally, the fog will lift. Maybe it takes six months, maybe a year. It might take two! There’s no concrete timeline on grief. It’s not even linear. But there is a sort of endpoint. It could be a moment, but more likely, it’s a realization one day that you are…happy. And you’ll realize that you’ve been happy for a while. And you’ll know that you are far happier than you ever would have been with your husband even if things had gotten better with him – even if after lots and lots and lots of work and therapy and commitment, things had gotten better, you are still happier without him and it didn’t cost you as much as staying with him would have.
Everyone who has ever left a bad marriage can tell you what I’m telling you. They’ve all felt what you are feeling right now – the deep down knowing what the right decision is, the second-guessing, the doubt, the fear, the grief. It is not unique to you, this pain. And, I am happy to say, what awaits on the other side of it is not unique either. There is great joy and relief to be felt. It can be yours. If you can summon the strength to get through the tough months ahead, the good life on the other side, free of the toxicity you’ve experienced for the past ten years with your husband, will be the reward. You can do it.