How to deal with a critical/negative spouse?
September 19, 2020 3:02 AM   Subscribe

My husband and I are relatively newly married, and are struggling in our dynamic. From the beginning of our acquaintance, I knew that he was an intense perfectionist with discriminating taste and with an Eeyore-like glum/negative streak.  This didn't bother me because he was never negative about me, and he seemed in general to be increasingly more cheerful and happy when we were together (when we were dating/engaged).  He had had a rough time of it before we got together, and so I assumed that the longer we were together, the more he would mellow out as he became more content. Unfortunately, the reverse has happened: since we've been married, his criticism is more often directed at me.

I really thrive on praise rather than criticism, so it's very difficult for me to stay motivated when all I hear for my efforts are the things he's not happy with. If it were just a moderate amount of constructive criticism, centered firmly on the issue at hand, in a neutral tone, that would be one thing. But his tone is abrasive and sarcastic when he's being critical. It's happening multiple times a day, and each time leaves me upset for hours. It feels like a tsunami of negative energy directed at me. As just a few examples: he doesn't like how I fold his clothing after I launder it, he doesn't like how untidy I keep the kitchen, he's complained a few times that dinner isn't always hot enough when I serve it, he's upset that we're not always stocked with milk for him to drink (maybe once every month I misgauge and we're out of milk for a day), he thinks I don't do a good enough job keeping the drinks fridge stocked with a variety of cold drinks, he thinks I haven't cleaned the house properly, he thinks I don't handle household admin fast enough (all the bills get paid early, but there is often paper clutter on surfaces in the living room - we're living in very suboptimal accommodation now with no office space, and I'm not the most naturally organized). He criticizes the way my teeth look, the smell of my shoes, the way my hair looks, my style of dress. He even complains that I don't enjoy sex enough, to the extent that I feel tempted to fake it (I do enjoy it, but maybe I'm not as vocal as some). I think I'm becoming increasingly sensitive to his criticism, as increasingly when he's speaking I'm bracing myself for the verbal blow. My self esteem has taken a big hit since our marriage: the barrage of really specific criticism leaves me feeling incompetent at everything, and unclear about why he married me.

Let me give a reasonably typical example:
- Yesterday, I noticed a rust ring had appeared in our ancient kitchen sink from me leaving a can there overnight.  (It had been a can of chopped greens, I had rinsed the can, there were tiny bits of greens left in it in the water, we have no garbage disposal so I couldn't pour it down the sink; I had wanted to pour the remains into the back of the yard but it was dark last night after dinner so I waited until morning to do it).  I scrubbed it with detergent and a rough sponge for a while and nothing happened, which I mentioned to my husband.  He made a sarcastic comment about how most people would try multipurpose cleaner, but somehow, unlike most people, I had apparently managed not to learn about cleaning products in my X number of years of life. This incident came 20 minutes before the next critical comment from him (about something, as it happens, that I already apologized for multiple times - he often won't stop criticizing something over and over again, even after I have already apologized).
- I think the suggestion of multi-purpose cleaner is a good one, and I welcome it. It is true that I perhaps know less about cleaning products than someone of my age should: my mom for whatever reason usually used water for everything. If he has suggestions like that about what is likely to work in a given situation, I would like to hear them, as he usually has good insight.
- What I take issue with is his tone, first of all. It's cutting and sarcastic. I also think he doesn't need to bring up my lack of prior knowledge of cleaning products. That seems mean and counter-productive to me. I would like to see suggestions made in a pleasant and helpful manner, focusing on the situation at hand. For instance, in this situation, what I would like is for him in a thoughtful and upbeat tone to say something like "You know, I bet that multi-surface cleaner I bought would get that stain off.  I think it would definitely be worth a try!" That's how I'd approach it if the roles were reversed, and that's what I think I definitely would respond best to.

Other times it is just random comments. We were having a date night watching a TV show and a nice big kitchen appeared on the screen: he immediately said, "Man, you'd make a mess of that kitchen SO FAST". It was less even that he said it and more that he thought it.  It made me feel so deflated to think that that was the first thing he thought of. I have my faults (not being naturally tidy being one of them), but I guess I wish my husband championed my strengths instead of constantly drawing my attention to my shortcomings. I feel this most strongly when were in public, where I often feel humiliated by how he speaks to and about me. One of my friends who has seen us interact many times told me that she would feel so upset if her husband spoke to her as mine does to me, and that she has noticed how "sharp" his tone often is with me. I remember every one of these comments he has made about/to me, and they periodically appear unbidden in my mind and make me feel even worse about myself. We're in a situation where my natural gifts aren't being used and where the responsibilities I have aren't things I am naturally very good at or naturally have much prior experience with, so that is difficult for both of us. But I think we'd both do better with it if he could try to be more positive about my efforts.

I'm not claiming that I'm the perfect wife, but I do my best to extend charity to him when he screws up (his mom noticed that and complimented me on it, so I don't think I'm being too generous to myself here). I don't rub his shortcomings in his face. When he screws up at work, for instance, I listen sympathetically and try to make helpful suggestions that are focused on what he can do in the future rather than harping on what he did poorly. I try to be flexible about things we disagree on, giving in when I don't feel extremely strongly about a given thing. I wish he could try to extend similar flexibility and charity towards me. We have had this conversation multiple times about specific incidents like the one above. He said he feels like I'm trying to micromanage his tone and he feels like he's walking on eggshells, and he thinks he's made progress and I don't see it. It's true: I see almost no improvement, and I'm flabbergasted that he feels like he's walking on eggshells because he seems still to feel very free to make multiple sarcastic comments per day.

I guess I just feel at a dead end here in terms of how to make progress. I thought it would be most helpful to focus on his behavior in specific instances, so I point out each of these things as they occur, but he doesn't seem to be able to recognize a pattern enough to stop doing it in the future. I also have tried to get him to be more positive overall, and to focus on the positives (especially about me) rather than the negatives, but he can't seem to do that. He's gone on anti-anxiety medication, which has helped a bit but the current level is nowhere near acceptable. My previous boyfriend was amazing at targeted spontaneous (and genuine) praise, which really motivated me to go the extra mile, but which maybe spoiled me. I just long to be in the same room as my husband and for him to look at me and say that he was just thinking how beautiful I am in the evening light, or for him to notice that I had cleaned something and tell me how much better it looks and that he's appreciative, or any other spontaneous positive comment.

I feel depressed and unhappy, and find it difficult to motivate myself to do things around the house, which obviously makes him more critical. And I feel so angry and resentful towards him that I often feel that I don't even *want* to do things to please him anymore. Help?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (86 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
"My previous boyfriend was amazing at targeted spontaneous (and genuine) praise, which really motivated me to go the extra mile, but which maybe spoiled me."

Spoiled you.

Spoiled. You.

It's not you.

I'm not saying you should focus on whether a specific previous person was better, but this completely took me aback. The idea that you might be spoiled to expect positivity from your husband is just... You're not spoiled. You're not overly sensitive. You're not being inflexible. The problem is not your shortcomings. I say this tith as much confidence as a complete stranger can have: you are doing fine, and you are enough.

If you were still unmarried, this would be an unqualified "Dump him and never look back" from me.

A charitable interpretation of this situation might be that his sarcasm and tone might be meant humorously, so from his perspective this stream of negativity is meant to defuse tension that he feels between his unmet expectations and disappointing circumstances around him. This might be why he resists having his tone "micromanaged;" his tone and his intentions don't necessarily match.

But I don't think he deserves that charity. He's abusing you, whether or not he recognizes that or intends it to be cruel.

I would be curious to know what his parents' dynamic was/is like, if applicable. You said his mother complimented your ability to soothe her son's feelings when he made a mistake – this may be a role that his family expects women to fulfill but not men. He may think his behavior is perfectly acceptable, or that he's doing you a favor by not being more intensely critical. That's not an excuse for refusing to stop emotionally abusing his wife, but it may be part of the background.

Either way, this will not go away with medication or with time. If he won't listen to you, you may need to look for an external mediator/therapist/religious figure/whatever to provide objective feedback to both of you, or to you alone if he refuses to participate.

Honestly, if this was the beginning of an episode of Snapped on Oxygen, I would feel like he had it coming.
posted by wakannai at 3:26 AM on September 19, 2020 [91 favorites]

My heart goes out to you. There is something very, very wrong with how he is treating you. It's not your fault, and it won't get better. Please start executing your exit strategy now. Do not wait, do not try to fix it.

Also, in every culture there are kind, loving men, and then there are those that cite culture to justify their meanness. He does not get to make that excuse.

Whatever it is that is causing him to treat his newlywed wife like an emotional punching bag and beddable maid, it is not your problem to fix. Ignore anyone that tries to tell you that marriage is work, to just try harder. No, absolutely no. It doesn't matter how many guests were at the wedding or how much was spent. None of that matters.

Please, for the love of all that is good in humanity, get out. You are in a hostage situation. You were kidnapped under false pretenses. This is not love. This is not marriage. You are articulate, you are brave, you are strong, beautiful, and worthy. Get out, and you will be amazed how you flourish.
posted by dum spiro spero at 3:40 AM on September 19, 2020 [125 favorites]

Something I notice here is that you don't mention one single useful or positive thing he contributes to your marriage.

Like, a lot of the situations you mention could be resolved by him actually helping, but apparently he'd rather snipe at you?

That's not okay. You do not deserve the casual cruelty he is handing out. You do deserve someone who helps, who pitches in, who makes your life better, who acknowledges your humanity and is kind with ordinary low-level human foibles.

I can't tell you what to do about this man, but I can tell you that I divorced my analogue to him and I don't miss him.
posted by humbug at 3:42 AM on September 19, 2020 [75 favorites]

EVERYONE thrives on praise and wilts under that kind of sustained criticism. Everyone I know would feel unhappy in your place. Your reactions are entirely understandable and normal. You are the reasonable one.

His treatment of you is not.

There is nothing you can do to make your marriage happier. Only he can do that by not being such a jerk. If he won't change, well, your life will be happier without him.
posted by Omnomnom at 3:50 AM on September 19, 2020 [49 favorites]

Chiming in to say yes this is abusive behavior. You are totally in the right to want and expect respect and loving comments, and for alternative suggestions to help you with something be respectfully stated.

You will not get it from this guy, I'm sorry. A man who humiliates you in front of other people is not going to be interested in changing his ways, because I don't think he can be made to see that he is in any way in the wrong.

You deserve good and kind and loving treatment, and your husband's cruelty is totally unacceptable.

My advice: Run, before more of your happiness is destroyed. Find someone who wants to nurture your happiness, not strangle it.
posted by cats are weird at 3:52 AM on September 19, 2020 [39 favorites]

Everyone is going to tell you to leave. Probably you won't. So I'm just going to tell you: do not have children with this man. You feel trapped now but having a child will double your dependence on him and make everything so much worse: the state of the house, the things he has to criticise, how worthless he will make you feel.

Leave. But while you're prevaricating on that, please use birth control that you control.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:54 AM on September 19, 2020 [206 favorites]

And if what DarlingBri says feels extreme to you, just think about this: would you like to see a child of yours being treated the way he's treating you now?

Or a friend? Imagine a good friend, someone you love and respect, being talked to the way he is talking to you. What would you advise her?

Now be that friend. Love yourself, and respect yourself, and do what is best for you. You deserve as much.
posted by Too-Ticky at 4:00 AM on September 19, 2020 [59 favorites]

My husband also hates the way I fold his laundry. But his solution was to start folding his own laundry, not to criticize me about it. Because he’s not a mean-spirited jerkface, and I am not his housekeeper.

Your husband is a mean-spirited jerkface, treating you like hired help.
posted by okayokayigive at 4:00 AM on September 19, 2020 [116 favorites]

Oh I hadn’t realized my ex husband has remarried. This isn’t a “you” problem, this isn’t a “we” problem; this is a him problem. Please get a therapist to help you get coping skills/empowerment to leave. If you are not working, look for employment or education towards career goals. See your family and friends alone and often. This is abusive behaviour and it is deliberate. Don’t believe me? Does he speak like this to his boss, his doctor, his dad, a police officer when he is pulled over? No, because they wouldn’t stick around to be a verbal punching bag. This isn’t you, except for that he deliberately chose a good, kind person because he, for whatever reason, uses abusive behaviour to control you dispite being told how hurtful it is.
posted by saucysault at 4:28 AM on September 19, 2020 [57 favorites]

Please, please leave this man as soon as you are able. Like others have said above, this is abuse and it does not get better. This treatment will change you into someone you don't recognize.
posted by onebyone at 4:45 AM on September 19, 2020 [25 favorites]

First, good for you for recognizing that this isn't right and that you really don't deserve this. You sound like a strong person.

What you described sounds less like a marriage - or even like a partnership of equals - than like a relationship between a housekeeper and a bad employer. I've had employers like that, and have always quit as soon as I could afford to. It was always a good move.

Life is short. I hope you move to a better future sooner rather than later.
posted by trig at 4:50 AM on September 19, 2020 [19 favorites]

I was in a relationship like this and could tell some of the exact stories that you've shared here. This is a recognized pattern of abusive behavior. It removed years off my life (and I'm lucky he didn't end it entirely at some points towards the end of the relationship). You might want to read the book Why Does He Do That by Lundy Bancroft, but don't let him see the book if you do. I don't really have any other advice for you and only want to send you a hug and the message that you are doing your best and I'm proud of you. I'm sorry you're in this situation. It's not spoiled to want to be treated with love and kindness by your partner. Take good care of yourself.
posted by k8lin at 4:51 AM on September 19, 2020 [27 favorites]

He is using classic abusive tactics to make you feel powerless and thus control you. These tactics include belittling you in front of others, criticizing everything about you, and getting you to cut or reduce ties to people who might counteract his influence. The aim is to create a dynamic where you feel the world will end if you leave him. I assure you, it won't. I urge you to start planning on how to get out. Then when you are ready, leave him and don't make the mistake of listening to pleas to return, no matter how nice he is or what promises he makes to change. If you do leave and he convinces you to return, which is a very common pattern, just make your plans and leave again, and again until one day you will know for sure returning won't fix him or make him not be an asshole. I say this specifically because "dump him and be done with it" is popular advice around here, but that is easy for anyone to say from the outside. It's different when you are the one in it, when you're the one caught in this dynamic. So I'm telling you now that no matter what happens, you always have the right to leave him, period. You are your own best ally.
posted by Armed Only With Hubris at 4:53 AM on September 19, 2020 [30 favorites]

Bail. He is corrosive to your soul.

Culture is not an excuse for mean spiritness and abuse. Don't get into the sunk cost fallacy of relationships. The time prior to today is past and it is a fight for your future. Plan your exit strategy, do not get pregnant and GTFO because this early in the game is escalation and probing to see how much more he can scrape you to the bone.
posted by jadepearl at 4:55 AM on September 19, 2020 [30 favorites]

If he's so disappointed with your housekeeping abilities, why isn't he doing it himself? A general rule of thumb in any partnership should be that the person who is more particular of or more skilled at a task should be the one doing it.

Beyond this, if you're both committed to this relationship, I would suggest getting a couples counselor, and fast. He needs to shut down this criticism asap, and I doubt he's capable of doing it on his own.
posted by sid at 4:58 AM on September 19, 2020 [12 favorites]

Do not go to a couples counselor with this man. Couples counseling is dangerous in relationships like the one described here.
posted by k8lin at 5:01 AM on September 19, 2020 [81 favorites]

Long term, you need to leave.

Short term, stop doing the things he is so disappointed in. He can cook and clean.
posted by medusa at 5:04 AM on September 19, 2020 [17 favorites]

If you need copies of Lundy's books, memail me. They're usually floating around the web, but I can send the epub/PDFs to a throwaway email account for your privacy.

This is a particular kind of relationship - he owns you in his head and so now he doesn't have to pretend to be a good human being. He will destroy you slowly for his own convenience and amusement over your marriage and make you think that you are a bad wife failing a good man.

I still remember a friend listening to my ex talk to me and being horrified, and the sinking realisation that I would never advise a woman to stay in my marriage.

Reach out to your support network. Your husband will HATE this and try to isolate you. Stay close to family and friends, you will need them.

And please, please also make sure you have your own bank account and you've kept a credit card under your own name.

See a counsellor on your own. Pay in cash if you have to or with your own credit card that he can't access. Have someone on your side. My ex was very charming to outsiders and dragged out the divorce partly because of that.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 5:14 AM on September 19, 2020 [37 favorites]

Except for the comment about sex, his complaints about you are the same one would have against a maid, or a cleaning service. Is that what you are to him?
You don’t mention whether you are employed. If so, keep squirreling away that money. If not, I’m very sorry for you.
Please leave him. The chorus of absolute strangers saying “leave him” needs to make a dent; a bigger one than the bombshell craters he’s wiped out your psyche with. Please.
posted by BostonTerrier at 5:15 AM on September 19, 2020 [19 favorites]

I have watched my aunt, married for decades to a man exactly like your husband go from

a happy, bubbly, outgoing, interesting woman with lots of friends and family relationships


a ground-down, colorless, servile, nervous, jumpy mouse of a woman with no opinions of her own and an abject fear of displeasing her miserable excuse for a husband. He has isolated from her own family and her friends, expects her to do all of the cooking and housework and bills while he stays busy with his hobbies. She is supremely attuned to her husband's every expression, crook of the finger, side eye to (try to) avoid his inevitable displeasure.

Her depression and anxiety have hospitalized her on several occasions. She is "living" a shadow life that I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy.

posted by Ginesthoi at 5:30 AM on September 19, 2020 [59 favorites]

Can you leave? Like, pack a bag and go stay with a friend or family member while you find a divorce attorney and figure out your next steps?

If not, please sort out how you can leave as soon as possible. In the meantime, carefully avoid getting pregnant. If he treats his new wife in this way, imagine how he would treat a child.
posted by bunderful at 5:31 AM on September 19, 2020 [13 favorites]

His behaviours are aggressive and he only gets away with it because they are constant and low-level. He's a wasp you used to love.

You could both do counseling and he could do therapy. It might not work. You could support him throughout all of this and it might get better, he might learn to listen. But this hand-holding may well be your life's work. You might still have to ignore the stings. Not too long ago this would have been your 'best option'. But it isn't now.

I don't know how old you are but until I turned about 40 I thought there would always be time to live life and that it would come to me. About that age though, I realised that some things weren't ever going to come. I made peace with their loss. But I also realised that some things could happen if I took actions and brought them into my life.

That's the one thing that I wish I'd known earlier: that our lives aren't going to last forever.
posted by einekleine at 5:38 AM on September 19, 2020 [8 favorites]

I didn't even finish reading before I started screaming internally, "RUN!"

Seriously, leave him. No one deserves to be treated like that. Also, why isn't he responsible for any of the stuff he's complaining about? What a jerk.

Throw the whole man out.
posted by poppunkcat at 5:42 AM on September 19, 2020 [18 favorites]

I couldn't even get past your sink rust ring description, I was so disgusted at how abusive this man is. This is NOT a normal relationship. I know it will be hard, but get away from him. I would give this advice to anyone, close friend or stranger.
posted by tiny frying pan at 5:58 AM on September 19, 2020 [13 favorites]

And besides being abusive, his attitude is sexist and demeaning. Yuck.
posted by tiny frying pan at 5:59 AM on September 19, 2020 [16 favorites]

This is painful even just to read.

I know you've already had plenty of very consistent responses, but I just wanted to chime in on the specific personality traits you mentioned. They don't excuse his behaviour, they really don't. You can be an anxious Eeyoreish perfectionist and still be kind, still show empathy, still treat others with respect, still be someone who would be mortified to think they'd upset anyone.
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 6:01 AM on September 19, 2020 [28 favorites]

You're in an abusive relationship and you need to get out as soon as you can. Please read the Lundy Bancroft book that has already been recommended. Don't get pregnant with him. Keep in mind that leaving is a dangerous time for someone to leave their abuser. Bancroft's book covers this.

He's doing this because he can and because he wants to. Now that you're married it's harder for you to get out, why he didn't show his true colours before this. If abusers were abusive 100% of the time from the start no one would be in a relationship with them.

Please start developing an exit plan to get out safely. This is serious. It will only get worse and could become physical. Call a domestic violence hotline or local women's shelter for advice; make sure he doesn't know. Also reach out to friends and family because isolation is another abusive tactic.

Please save yourself from years and years of abuse and get out as soon as you can. We're rooting for you, OP.

PS. He's not struggling in this dynamic, only you.
posted by foxjacket at 6:25 AM on September 19, 2020 [41 favorites]

Ouch. I'm sorry. If you're not going to leave, I advise individual therapy to help you keep your own self-image bright and shiny. You're clearly bright, articulated, empathetic, and motivated.

He needs help - individual or couples therapy. He's not attentive to your needs, and can't 'hear' your concerns. And he's mean to you.

Primarily though, an individual therapist can provide you an ally whose seen and heard everything and can offer guidance.

If ultimately you will exit, hold this: it's never to early to leave the wrong partner.
posted by j_curiouser at 6:26 AM on September 19, 2020 [5 favorites]

One of my friends who has seen us interact many times told me that she would feel so upset if her husband spoke to her as mine does to me, and that she has noticed how "sharp" his tone often is with me.

This is major. This should be interpreted as your friend shouting to you with all her might, because it takes a lot to make most people overcome concerns about privacy, being perceived as meddlesome, etc. The situation looks so bad to her that she's willing to risk losing you as a friend (because many people would be outraged to be told something like that about a partner, however carefully she phrased it) to maybe hopefully help you see that this isn't right or good. She's distilling a lot of observations down to the minimal that's factually defensible, i.e. how she'd feel and that his tone is inarguably "sharp," but I'd bet anything that there's so much more sadness and concern she feels for you about what she's seen, to say nothing of how she'd feel about what happens when she's not around. If she felt she could, if you gave her permission, I think she'd be tearing your husband's behavior apart and telling you over and over that you're worth so much more. If you don't believe all of the Internet strangers telling you this is a bad situation, please trust your friend who has gone so far out on a limb to extend her hand to you.
posted by teremala at 6:44 AM on September 19, 2020 [117 favorites]

Reading this made me sad and furious on your behalf.

You only recently got married and already it's this bad?

People quit jobs over bosses treating them this way. This man is supposed to be your primary ally and support in the world.

It will not get easier to leave him, from a practical standpoint. I would encourage you to do so. This kind of behavior doesn't meaningfully improve, in my experience.

If you aren't ready to leave him, please get into personal therapy and take good care of your personal friendships, so that they can support you.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 6:50 AM on September 19, 2020 [6 favorites]

This is not what I expected to read when I came in here.

You are not describing a person who is negative and pessimistic and is bringing you down because of that negativity and pessimism. You are describing a disturbing and extensive pattern of verbal abuse and manipulation. This is not normal, it's not OK, and it's 100% not a problem with you.

Everyone is telling you to leave, for good reason. I know that you may be very resistant to hearing this advice. I know that divorce is a Big Deal compared to breaking up with someone you aren't married to. I know that even breaking up with someone you're not married to is a Big Deal, and I know from personal experience how incredibly difficult it can be to see this as the right thing to do, or even an option, from the inside of a relationship that you're invested in. But please, please listen to this advice and at least think about it. There's a reason that so many internet strangers read what you wrote and immediately came to the exact same conclusion.
posted by confluency at 7:16 AM on September 19, 2020 [29 favorites]

I'm married to someone who could be described as "intense perfectionist with discriminating taste." I'm also a bit of a disaster in the neatness department. So on the surface we have a similar dynamic.

That sarcastic comment about cleaning products? My husband would never speak to me like that. He would say "hey, try using multi purpose cleaner." We are also a sarcastic couple, so we tease each other sometimes, and we never even get close to that kind of comment.

Why would commentary on your experience with cleaners be necessary? It's not. More to the point, people have different experiences, so who cares if you hadn't needed to clean something like that before? Your husband wasn't making a suggestion, he was using it as an opportunity to insult you.

If my husband wants something done a certain way, he either does it himself (like laundry) or asks if we can do something a specific way. If he wants to make sure milk is on hand, he keeps an eye on it and replaces it when he runs out. If my husband couldn't run to the store for any reason, he would ask me to grab some and be grateful if I did.

When we first got married and I pointed out my husband tended to vocalize negative things but not positive, he worked to change that. Perfectionist doesn't mean unable to communicate in a positive way. And it wasn't even an intense conversation! It wasn't an overnight change or a complete 180, he is who he is. But he remembers to vocalize the positives first more often than not now and has never complained about walking on eggshells.

Your friend who took you aside and remarked about his tone and how hurt they would be? Hold on to that conversation. If you ever start to doubt that you're being overly sensitive, remember you have outside confirmation that it's not you, it's him.

You are not married to a perfectionist. You are married to a jerk.
posted by ghost phoneme at 7:26 AM on September 19, 2020 [43 favorites]

My husband is a "maximizer" (wants the best) and I am a "satisfizer" (wants what's good enough) so I was coming into this question ready with some tips on direct talk.

However, what you are describing is not complaints/criticism. It is contempt. Your husband has contempt for you. You need to leave.
posted by CMcG at 7:26 AM on September 19, 2020 [35 favorites]

Like everyone else, I think you should leave. But if you won't, I recommend pointing out to him how he can resolve most of the complaints he has, which revolve around you not serving him the way he would like. "You can reheat your food." "The store is two miles away if you want to get something." "If you'd prefer, I will stop doing your laundry." Refusing to be corrected may help your self-esteem, may help him recognize how awful he's being, or his reactions may help you see that it's time to move on.

Regarding his complaints about your appearance etc., perhaps respond with, "It hurts my feelings when you say that. I am not interested in changing this thing. Please do not bring it up again." Again, that's a way to reject how he's hurting you, an opportunity for him to change, and a chance for you to observe his reaction.

If you are afraid to do these things because you think he might hurt you... then you already know you need to get out.
posted by metasarah at 7:39 AM on September 19, 2020 [29 favorites]

Your husband is slowly wrapping you in a toxic web of abuse. By dulling your shine and causing you to question your own worth, he is attempting to assuage his own depression/insecurity/lack of confidence.

As replies above have reiterated, there is nothing normal or remotely okay with his behavior. You are asking for something very reasonable: to be partnered with someone who treats you with love, care, and respect. It’s okay to desire and require that in a marriage - you are not asking for too much. Watch very carefully for any kind of slide into acceptance of this behavior - do not allow yourself to normalize his egregious actions.

(Also, on a very personal note, I wish we were sisters. I would drive over this afternoon, kick your husband in the balls, then take you out for drinks.)
posted by WaspEnterprises at 7:51 AM on September 19, 2020 [18 favorites]

I was with someone who got much more negative after we were married. I think my assumption had been that he would get better when he was sure of our relationship, but it was the opposite. This pattern is not going to change fundamentally. If he's worried you will leave, he may make a show of acknowledging the problem and take some steps to improve things and-- this to me is crucial-- in the mean time, your own self-esteem will deteriorate because you will think you are failing at dealing with this. As a result, it gets harder and harder to leave. I was in individual therapy for the last few years of that marriage. My therapist suggested I might not be able to see that relationship for what it was until I was out of it, and that turned out to be true.

Make mental space for the idea that you may leave, and meanwhile get your ducks in a row, financially and every other way. Get a bank account he does not have access to. If it turns out you need to leave, you will have those things ready. If you decide to stay, it will be no problems to have taken those steps. And yes, avoid having a child no matter what.
posted by BibiRose at 8:16 AM on September 19, 2020 [16 favorites]

I was with someone exactly like this for way too long (20 yrs). I left late last year and cannot believe how i had allowed him ever to treat me so badly for so long.

What you experience is abuse.

Please do leave as soon as you and definitely do not have a child with this person, it makes leaving harder .
Hugs and strength,
posted by 15L06 at 8:42 AM on September 19, 2020 [18 favorites]

I'm so sorry. Just to add to the people saying "do not have a child with him"; men who are emotionally abusive often actively encourage their wife/partner to get pregnant, because they know it will make it harder to leave and easier to exert control. Do not let him talk you in to having a child. Whatever argument he provides "it'll bring us closer together/you'll have something special that is yours," or just normal reasons, it is false. It is a deliberate method of control.

Again, I am so sorry. Sending you strength and love.
posted by Lotto at 8:49 AM on September 19, 2020 [12 favorites]

For me, the question that illuminated my situation was, “I wouldn’t trust this person with my children. Why am I trusting them with myself?”
posted by sixswitch at 8:50 AM on September 19, 2020 [12 favorites]

From an anonymous Mefite:
I want to respond anonymously. I used to be the critical, perfectionistic partner to an untidy "type B" personality. It CAN get better but the person acting like that has to realize how wrong it is. In my case, medication for both anxiety AND depression was also necessary. I also recommend to OP to not have kids with this person unless/until they change enough for you and the change sticks over time (6 months plus). And if you are not working then please get a job, so you have more autonomy, so you can more easily leave if you decide to, and so you can rebalance the distribution of power if that is a factor here.
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:54 AM on September 19, 2020 [11 favorites]

I can't remember the last time I saw 100% agreement in AskMe even as we get to ~40 responses. Please take that as yet further data that yes, the way your husband is choosing to treat you really is that bad.

And I'm glad that you are flabbergasted at your husband's claim that he is "walking on eggshells," because that is a crock of Grade-A shit. Someone who loved you and wanted the best for you might be initially upset to learn they were doing something that hurt you, but would quickly turn to gratitude that you told them so they could change how they treated you. They wouldn't dig in and choose to continue acting in the same way even though they knew - because you told them - that they were hurting you.

He knows he is hurting you and does not care. Let him fold his own damn shirts, do not have kids with this person, and please get out.
posted by DingoMutt at 8:58 AM on September 19, 2020 [21 favorites]

I imagine the intensity of the feedback you are receiving here may feel shocking. Based on how you wrote and framed this question, I doubt you considered that his behavior was this extreme. My heart goes out to you - I can only imagine what a blunt force trauma it is to have a hoard of faceless strangers urging you to leave your husband when you were hoping for some interpersonal relational strategy advice. It must be shocking!

However, I do hope you will take the advice you are receiving seriously, even if your instincts are fighting it on any level. Maybe they aren't and this all feels like a revelation, but if it doesn't and your tendency is to think "oh these dramatic people! They are overreacting/don't know my husband/I was dramatic..." etc etc etc - please resist that urge and give it some real consideration. Everyone is giving you extreme advice because the way your husband is treating you is truly abusive, and it's not inconceivable to think it could escalate into other forms of abuse. Even if he never hits you physically, the damage of this kind of treatment long term to you psychologically is huge. If you feel this way now, imagine yourself in 6 months, a year, 2 years...frankly, I don't want to imagine it, because it's bleak.

This is not normal. This isn't an acceptable way to treat a housekeeper, let alone your wife. Anyone who will belittle someone over routinely menial junk like this, OVER MILK!, is not well emotionally or psychologically, and needs far more help than a strategic conversational strategy to change. He needs to change ASAP or you need to leave. Subjecting yourself to this kind of treatment for an extended period of time will have permanent consequences on your well-being, and the sooner it changes, the better your outcome will be.
posted by amycup at 9:06 AM on September 19, 2020 [28 favorites]

One of my friends who has seen us interact many times told me that she would feel so upset if her husband spoke to her as mine does to me, and that she has noticed how "sharp" his tone often is with me.

This is major. This should be interpreted as your friend shouting to you with all her might, because it takes a lot to make most people overcome concerns about privacy, being perceived as meddlesome, etc.

I came to say this. You are the frog in the pan of water and it's hard for you to gauge how bad it really is, but your friend is seeing it and she is worried about you.

The last time I saw friends intervene this way in a similar situation, the woman did not heed the advice and the marriage lasted another two years. It ended with her death at the hands of her abusive spouse, who is now in prison for her murder. During the trial, we learned that this man, who had been so charming right up until their wedding day, had subjected her to escalating abuse starting from their honeymoon.

Don't let that be you. You will never please this man because he does not view you as a full human being, and he does not want the kind of marriage you do. Get out while you still can.
posted by rpfields at 9:13 AM on September 19, 2020 [36 favorites]

I’ve been thinking about your post all morning and am popping back in to add some more thoughts. If you REALLY want to try some strategies, the only thing I can think of is something I do with my toddler. Here’s how it works:
Toddler starts yelling at me/saying mean things.
I say, “I can’t let you speak to me that way. If you’re asking for help, you can say “mom, could you help me please?” and match my tone and volume when you say it.” If she can’t do it, I say, “I can’t let you speak to me that way. I am going to walk away now.”

things of note:
- I hope it gives you pause that my advice centers around how to parent a toddler. Toddlers have not develop sufficient empathy or manners and so we teach them. We are under no obligation to teach adults like this.
- this is 100% about stating my own boundaries clearly. I am not going to allow X Behavior. Full stop.
- please consider that if it frightens you to state you boundaries clearly, as a matter of immovable fact and not some personal preference or the result of “being spoiled,” that tells you something really serious about your relationship
posted by CMcG at 9:19 AM on September 19, 2020 [24 favorites]

I have an acquaintance who could have written this exact question. She eventually divorced but the she's only 10% as vibrant as the woman she once was.

He is emotionally abusing you and it's only going to slooowwwwly escalate. There are no strategies that can fix a husband like yours. The way he treats you is not acceptable on his worst day, let alone on a regular day. You deserve better. You deserve a partner, not to spend your days internally waiting for the criticism that comes. Please strongly consider leaving him and do not have children with him.
posted by kimberussell at 9:24 AM on September 19, 2020 [12 favorites]

I'm so sorry. This is abuse. I haven't got any great fixit advice for you because I know how hard it is to leave when the whole world is NOT in chaos. But please, whatever you do, work in some way to get an objective view on this behavior as often as you can. You need to see an individual counselor or join a support network of people whom you can talk these things out with so that you can keep an objective view of his treatment of you. Maybe even just keep a log. Every day write these moments of criticism down and how they made you feel. Spend less time defending yourself (your long detailed explanation of why there was a ring in the sink or an open envelope on the counter broke my heart. WE ALL HAVE RINGS IN OUR SINKS AND OPEN ENVELOPES ON THE COUNTER). Spend more time examing what he really said and how it made you feel. You are doing great. Do not do his abusive criticism work for him in your own head.
posted by pazazygeek at 9:55 AM on September 19, 2020 [20 favorites]

There are no strategies that can fix a husband like yours.

I really want to emphasize this piece. So often women are socialized to believe that with enough love and effort, the Unpleasant Misunderstood Guy will magically transform into Amazing Guy. We’re socialized to believe that love conquers all and that if everyone just works hard enough and compromises enough, bad relationships will transform into good ones.

It took me a long time to learn that not every problem can be fixed with effort. This is one of those problems. I am genuinely sorry that you are dealing with this.
posted by corey flood at 10:01 AM on September 19, 2020 [37 favorites]

Echoing everyone else: this is classic emotional abuse. You deserve a partner who make you feel safe and happy, and who brings out the best in you. Don't waste your life, please.

I'd like to recommend two more books besides Lundy Bancroft's (which is excellent):
- Women who love to much by Robin Norwood
- Men who hate women and the women who love them by Susan Forward and Joan Torres
posted by Stoof at 10:03 AM on September 19, 2020 [5 favorites]

Being constantly attacked and denigrated by your most trusted, most beloved intimate partner will break you down from within, leaving you incapable of respecting yourself, unable to rely on your own feelings, substituting his judgement of any situation (and of you!) for your own.

Zora Neale Hurston said: “If you are silent about your pain, they’ll kill you and say you enjoyed it.”

Every day that you don't leave him is a day that he continues to believe he is being a wonderful, loving, caring partner to you. Leave now, heal, get therapy, allow yourself to be loved by friends and family, rediscover your strengths ... and then, if you like, there will be all the time in the world to reconcile with him from a healthier footing. I've been where you are, feeling like the dynamic between me and my abusive partner was the issue, that he was not a monster, etc. The thing to realize is that there is no way to reset your toxic dynamic from within, by still staying with him. Leave. Get strong. Heal. Then reset.
posted by MiraK at 10:04 AM on September 19, 2020 [16 favorites]

Can you leave for a few days today, right now?

As you read these responses and feel some validation that you are not imagining your pain, and perhaps even feel some anger and hurt that your beloved would cause you this much pain, allow these feelings to move you.

Don't defend yourself against these feelings. Don't mentally defend your partner against the accusations being made against him in this thread (what he doesn't know won't affect him, he's fine!). Don't dismiss us as internet strangers who don't know you... So many of us have been exactly in your shoes, we have walked the path you are on, we have asked these same questions in these same forums, we have toyed with the idea of ending the relationship in our minds. Hell I used to toy with the idea of ending myself. We have been right here with you, in another place and in another time. We know how good you are on the inside, we know how hard you are trying to get him to see your goodness. We know how it feels to plead with someone who can't hear you, who only knows how to hurt you.

Feel this validation. Accept that you have a right to feel angry, upset, and abused. Allow these feelings to move you into action. THIS IS OKAY. You can pack a bag right now and leave for a few days. People go away for a few days all the time. Normal people take a few days off to think about whether to be in their relationship. This would not be an overreaction in any way, it's just a break for a few days. It's not the end of the world, or even necessarily the end of your relationship, if you take a few days away to think about what you want to do next.

posted by MiraK at 10:24 AM on September 19, 2020 [32 favorites]

First of all, it’s good that you recognize your husband’s behaviour is wrong, so much so that you wrote this question. It means he hasn’t been successful in completely grinding you down—yet. In case having more people tell you this will help: your husband is abusing you. His behaviour is a completely unacceptable way for one human to treat another, no matter what kind of relationship they’re in.

There is so much good advice above, but I wanted to add one more thing: your friend who had the guts to actually tell you your husband is not treating you right? When you are ready to leave him, please reach out to her. She knows you’re being abused and she thinks it’s wrong. I think she would be willing to help you leave him, even if he’s trying to cut you off from your family and friends. Even if you can’t think of anyone else you could go to, please remember her and reach out to her for help. You will need the support. And the likelihood is, she isn’t the only one of your friends who is worried about you and knows you’re being abused; as someone else said above, she’s the only one who took the great risk of actually saying it to you, knowing it might alienate you from her.

Please leave this man. I don’t even know you and I’m deeply concerned about you. No one deserves to be treated like this! I can only imagine how worried your family and friends are about you. Please seek their help in getting out. We are all rooting for you!
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 10:43 AM on September 19, 2020 [32 favorites]

"he owns you in his head and so now he doesn't have to pretend to be a good human being."

Yeah, this. He sold you a false bill of goods and now that you are trapped, he can feel free to be his shitty evil self.

This didn't bother me because he was never negative about me,

Yeah, well, if the person has that potential in them, they can easily dish it at you. It's like being attracted to a guy because he treats you nicely but not anyone else. Eventually he will treat you badly too because he can't or won't keep up the facade forever.

The last time I saw friends intervene this way in a similar situation, the woman did not heed the advice and the marriage lasted another two years. It ended with her death at the hands of her abusive spouse, who is now in prison for her murder. During the trial, we learned that this man, who had been so charming right up until their wedding day, had subjected her to escalating abuse starting from their honeymoon.

So far none of my friends in abusive relationships have died yet, but it never gets better. I know there's nothing quite like everyone saying "Leave!" to make sure that you don't leave, and I'm sure there's plenty of Reasons not to that you can tell us all, plus pandemic makes it even harder to leave safely. But please don't be my friend who's been married to a shitty dude for over 30 years, putting up with his shit for decades. That guy's ex-wife literally fled from him while he was at work and disappeared with their kid until the kid was 18. Even if you don't/can't/won't leave now, try to start secretly making plans so that you can have the option, at least.

You're never going to please him because the fun for him is making you feel like shit. No matter what you do, you are bad and wrong in his eyes and that's what gives him secret joy in his heart.
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:55 AM on September 19, 2020 [13 favorites]

Coming back as I've also been thinking about this over and over. Wanted to add - it's a HUGE RED FLAG that you have brought this up and his response was to turn it around on you and make himself the aggrieved party. That's a signal that he feels shame and discomfort when you express your pain, but instead of trying to alleviate that shame by changing himself, he is trying to alleviate it by staying the same and making you stop bringing it up.

A healthy person will not react like this when you bring up a problem. Healthy people may get defensive or hurt, but when they feel ashamed of their behavior, they address that shame by changing their behavior because they don't want to be a crappy person. They don't stuff the shame and tell the person they are hurting to stop complaining because it makes them feel bad about being a jerk.

Please also be prepared that if you make a big gesture to remove yourself, he will start apologizing and want you to return quickly. Do not let that get into your head. He's not apologizing because he suddenly understands your grievances. He is apologizing because he wants you to return. It's still about what he wants, not what is right.
posted by amycup at 10:56 AM on September 19, 2020 [29 favorites]

oh my gosh, I'm so sorry.

As someone who can sometimes BE the critical spouse, I was ready to lay down some tips on how to start breaking down this dynamic!

But this isn't a critical/negative spouse, this is emotional abuse.

I'm so sorry that you only got to see who he really was after you got married. It's a classic trap, and I hope you can still get away quickly.
posted by euphoria066 at 11:32 AM on September 19, 2020 [10 favorites]

I know it's very hard to make a decision to leave a marriage. So consider going away for a week to stay with family, a friend or at a hotel somewhere. See how it feels to not have someone treating you this way for a week. I think you'll have your answer then.
posted by Toddles at 11:52 AM on September 19, 2020 [11 favorites]

I keep coming back to this question, I can’t stop thinking about you. You don’t deserve to be treated this way. No one does. Please think about getting out, this doesn’t get better and usually/always gets worse. Mine did.
posted by stellaluna at 12:06 PM on September 19, 2020 [14 favorites]

This makes me so sad. Please get a therapist if nothing else. This must be really scary, to see all these unanimous answers, and I can see you reflexively trying to shield the marriage from them. But a therapist will be solidly on Team You and will help you sort through your feelings and your needs and they're paid to care about you, not your husband's feelings. So please please go. My insurance is offering virtual sessions through the end of the year. It's a perfect time, weirdly enough.

But also: just. Think about how much you thought about milk when you were single. Or when you were with your ex. It was probably more like a fleeting occasional grocery list thought. You wrote so much about a ring in the sink! That's not silly or weird: your husband is making you have all these complex feelings of shame around simple everyday things. But man, wouldn't it be nice to go back to not having shame around milk? Even if you had cheated or something that is agreed upon as Bad I would say your husband was handling this poorly and was being abusive and you probably should just end the marriage. But over a ring in the sink??? Milk???

Please take care of yourself. I am thinking of you.
posted by clarinet at 12:56 PM on September 19, 2020 [23 favorites]

I'm so sorry that you only got to see who he really was after you got married. It's a classic trap.


People who wonder how someone winds up in an abusive relationship/marriage fail to realize that abusers don't show their hand early on.

Imagine that it's one of the first times that you went out with this guy (obviously, in the pre-social distancing era), and he'd said a lot of things like "Why can't you sit up straight? I hate the food at this place. That sweater doesn't look good on you at all. You've got to say something more interesting if you want to hold my attention."

You rightly would have jumped up and run out the door. Or gone into the bathroom and texted a friend to call you regarding a staged "emergency" so you could walk out. In any case, you'd have recognized that this dude was emotionally abusive and hypercritical and that he was to be avoided like a radioactive waste dump.

Instead, he waited until it was much more difficult, legally and emotionally, for you to leave and then started the nonstop criticism. The goal is to make you feel so incapable that you don't dare step away from him.

My father is an "intense perfectionist with discriminating taste and an Eeyore-like glum/negative streak." I work in a two-person department with another man like this. Both of them recognize their own shortcomings and have a sense of humor about themselves. And both of them will change their behavior after being called on it.

You are a good person, and you don't deserve to be treated the way that your husband is treating you. Please take care not to get pregnant, take a few days and go somewhere without him, and think about this question: "If he doesn't change, what will my life be like?"
posted by virago at 1:07 PM on September 19, 2020 [13 favorites]

jesus christ. I haven't read the thread, but I'm assuming I'm the fiftieth person to say: KICK HIM INTO THE SUN.

Everyone above probably explained why already, but just in case: this is not normal, it won't get better, and it will kill not only your soul but the soul of any of his children you might, horribly, bring into the world.

Jettison this trash today, and in a year you'll be shaking your head in astonishment that your standards were ever, ever so low as to let a man talk to you this way for one second.
posted by fingersandtoes at 1:09 PM on September 19, 2020 [13 favorites]

My husband is also a bit naggy/critical and when I saw the title of your ask I read it out to him and said "this will be a good one for me to read" and we laughed.

But as I read it, I realised that your situation is dire and not in the least bit amusing. This isn't about a spouse who is a bit critical. This is not normal or healthy. You are suffering through a campaign of emotional abuse. I'm so sorry that you are going through this. I sincerely hope that you consider leaving your awful, abusive husband.
posted by thereader at 1:21 PM on September 19, 2020 [13 favorites]

This question has haunted me all day.

What sticks out to me is how much explaining you include, as if you need to justify yourself. This is concerning because you don’t trust your feelings and instincts. For example, the sink cleaning—that you asked him for advice on cleaning the sink is odd to me. Why involve him at all? Are you seeking approval? I am sure you are not an idiot and would eventually try another cleaning product, so what is this whole “he has good insight”---about cleaning a sink? It sounds like you have internalized his criticisms of you --hopeless at house cleaning and life in general.

In no way is it your fault you are being treated this way, but you need to stick up for yourself. If you know for sure that telling him “fold your own clothes” is going to be an untenable option, then leave sooner rather than later. If he claims he wants to change, there are a few responses here that speak to that.

You say before you married, you knew he had these tendencies. So, it was okay for him to be a jerk to others, but somehow you felt it would be different for you. Take that as a valuable lesson learned and you will not be fooled again.

You are not the first wife to have dived into marriage without the full picture of your husband’s issues, but don’t be one of the many who stayed. Future you needs you to fix this. Be strong, safe, and smart.
posted by rhonzo at 1:22 PM on September 19, 2020 [21 favorites]

I keep thinking about you as well. I know it must be so hard to read all these comments saying that he's abusive. That's a hard realization to come to. Please realize this is not your fault AT ALL that you married someone like this. You got sold a false bill of goods, got the bait and switch. You married in good faith. He didn't.

In reaching out to friends and family, please ignore all the "just try harder." "Men are like that." "He's just like that." "Then why did you marry him? You can't get a divorce now. It's too soon" Ignore anything where you don't feel listened to and supported. Don't let them add to the criticism that you're already experiencing. It's always so easy to blame the victim, rather than the person causing harm. Why doesn't HE stop criticizing and being abusive? Because no one can control him, and that's the point. That's what he wants.

I hope you don't have outside forces pressuring you/requiring you to stay in this marriage (e.g. culture, religion, family, immigration status, financial) and the only things holding you back are coming to the realization that you had the wool pulled over your eyes and you taking your vows seriously. Btw, re: vows, he is not upholding them at all, unless he said at the ceremony "I promise to criticize everything you do, make you feel like crap, and believe that everything I say goes. Anything you say will be a criticism of me and I'll say I'm feeling like I'm walking on eggshells to manipulate you to stop." Because if he DID say that, you wouldn't have married him. Or if he truly believes that this is his way of showing "I promise to love you and cherish you for the rest of my days" - that's just all sorts of wrong that you can't fix. Again, save yourself and please get out.
posted by foxjacket at 1:30 PM on September 19, 2020 [13 favorites]

One of the most shocking realizations about discovering you are in an unfixable abusive relationship is seeing the patterns replicated by nearly every abuser as they were applied to you, as a systemic thing rather than a tailored-to-you thing. That comment about the kitchen on the television? Practically point-perfect to what my ex said to me less than 6 months into moving in together. The comment about how "most people would try x but I guess you somehow made it to Y age withought learning that"? Again, almost word for word. That relationship turned me into a shaking mess, trying constantly to do better but somehow always failing at everything, and 8 years later (after only 2 years of this treatment!) I can still hear his voice in my head.

Get out. You deserve to be treated like a partner, not a malfunctioning machine. These repetitions of negative reinforcement will affect you and your self worth for so long, but leaving is what you can always point to as the proof that you are strong, worthy of self love, and are a whole capable person who gets to make rational decisions about a ring in her sink, who can see a beautiful kitchen on TV and think about how much fun it would be to cook in there instead of how much smaller you can possibly make yourself, instead of trying to become invisible. Nobody deserves to be invisible.

Also, this pattern of behavior is deeper than just you, just this relationship, the actions or events that you've seen. This is unfortunate for him, but maybe a relief for you. You didn't cause this, and it's far, far too big for you to fix. That's not failure on your part, it's just that this pattern of abuse has nothing to do with you. Leave that mess for the rest of the universe to clean up, and ensure you have a future where you can take loving care of yourself and someone else who can see how valuable your loving care actually is. Don't end up like us, who stayed too long and have to flinch for years. You can be free in a matter of weeks. Call your friend and be strong.
posted by zinful at 1:32 PM on September 19, 2020 [42 favorites]

He's a cruel person. The way he's treating you would be cruel and abusive if you were his housekeeper. It's shocking behavior from someone who is supposed to be your partner, equal, and support.
posted by Mavri at 1:32 PM on September 19, 2020 [13 favorites]

I began reading this because I am a month into a new dating situation (roughly a month old) where I was criticized, commanded, talked down to sarcastically, and insulted over the pettiest things during a stay at their place last weekend and I am already completely thrown off balance, confused and depressed. I'll be fine in no time, however, because I won't be seeing them ever again. I can 100% see myself writing this in a year if I did stick around.

You're asking us this question because your mind is defending you with what you know is inappropriate and abusive. If you want validation for what your mind is telling you, then add me as one more to the data points.

So, in other words, fuck him, you don't deserve this, please leave.
posted by Young Kullervo at 1:44 PM on September 19, 2020 [26 favorites]

Let me make a guess. You dated this man for a relatively short period of time before you got married? Like a year and a half tops? He brought the idea of marriage up, and maybe it surprised you that he was ready to commit so quickly? He says he's very traditional? I mean, he must be to expect you to do all the housekeeping, cooking, shopping etc.

This guy is seriously no good. It's extremely likely that he will escalate to physically abusing you at some point, but that probably won't happen until he wears down your self esteem a bit more, and isolates you from your friends and family.

You should leave this guy, and you should be very careful when you do it. Get all your ducks in a row and then leave all at once. Don't tell him why. It might be tempting to think you can get him to see the error of his ways or at least see that you tried, that it wasn't your fault. Don't bother with that shit. There's no need to explain anything to him, and it's dangerous to even attempt it. Just get a plan together and go. Once you're out, get a lawyer. The lawyer will be the one to contact him from then on.

Be very careful. Love yourself and protect yourself. This guy is shit.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 2:30 PM on September 19, 2020 [19 favorites]

Leaving a relationship is very hard and sad, especially because no partner is ever entirely garbage, and I’m sure you are very in love with the good parts of this partner. However, leaving and missing this person (and missing your hopes for the relationship you thought you would have) will be nowhere near as hard or as bad for you as staying in this relationship. If you think he can change, then leave him so that he can understand that he absolutely must change. But do not go back to him, because that kind of change takes years at best, and he will not treat you any better except when he is manipulating you to get you to stay, or return to him. Please know that your life will be unnecessarily sad and hard with him, and try to be strong enough to go through the acute stress of a breakup now, rather than accepting the chronic misery this relationship will become. Best of luck to you!
posted by Edna Million at 2:33 PM on September 19, 2020 [12 favorites]

You're describing emotional abuse. He's abusing you.

He's not going to change. He doesn't understand or care that how he treats you is wrong. You know this because when you try to talk to him about it, he blames you for being oversensitive. You're not being oversensitive, you're reacting normally to abuse.

It might be harder to identify this as emotional abuse because he's not screaming insults at you, but it still is abuse. Instead of taking a hatchet to your mental health, he's taking sandpaper to it and rubbing, rubbing away. You won't be able to ignore or power through it, any more than you could ignore or power through someone taking literal sandpaper to you. Please listen to your own description of how this has affected you just in this short time, and listen to the others who describe how similar relationships affected them.

Also, if you want children, consider what it's like to grow up in a home where your father doesn't respect your mother or treat her kindly.

You're asking for help - the best possible help you can get right now is help leaving him. You deserve much more than this.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 3:05 PM on September 19, 2020 [13 favorites]

My close friend’s husband was like this. No physical violence but this kind of horrid corrosion and separating her from her friends. She finally was getting ready to leave him. The night before they were due in court, he murdered her and killed himself.

Please, please, please leave. And don’t tell him you’re leaving or getting a divorce until you are gone, and safe elsewhere. Call a domestic violence agency for help. Message me if you need help finding one.
posted by john_snow at 3:46 PM on September 19, 2020 [16 favorites]

But his tone is abrasive and sarcastic when he's being critical. It's happening multiple times a day, and each time leaves me upset for hours. It feels like a tsunami of negative energy directed at me. As just a few examples: he doesn't like how I fold his clothing after I launder it, he doesn't like how untidy I keep the kitchen, he's complained a few times that dinner isn't always hot enough when I serve it, he's upset that we're not always stocked with milk for him to drink (maybe once every month I misgauge and we're out of milk for a day), he thinks I don't do a good enough job keeping the drinks fridge stocked with a variety of cold drinks
Your husband isn't treating you like an equal partner, he is treating you like a subordinate. And the thing is, even if you were his subordinate, which you are not, this kind of behavior is still unacceptable. If I treated people who report to me at work like this I would expect to be firmly counseled about it and then maybe demoted or fired if I kept it up, because this kind of dynamic is poisonous to the whole team.

It's poisonous to your marriage too. You do not deserve to be treated like this. Your husband is not acting in good faith towards you and his behavior is unlikely to improve on anything more than a temporary basis. For your own health and sanity, I urge you to plot an exit path. Do it quietly and do it soon.
posted by 4rtemis at 4:08 PM on September 19, 2020 [13 favorites]

What sticks out to me is how much explaining you include, as if you need to justify yourself.
Ditto, that and the gentle, even tone. There is no anger or resentment in your beautiful and kind post. You're working hard and carefully to see both sides of something that we all can clearly see has only one side. That side is YOUR side, and you should BE on your side, the way we all are.

It probably feels selfish to think of leaving him alone, but it's really not. It's not a kindness to stay with him because he's unable to improve his behavior and stop committing these heinous acts that appall all witnesses. This is a thing I tried to explain to my father once. I'm an atheist, but I weirdly found it impossible to say what I meant without recourse to religious yack like this:

Whether or not you believe in a literal soul is immaterial; it's wrong to allow someone to rack up sin upon sin upon sin that, if they had a soul, would plunge it fathoms down in filth and obliterate it. We should make one another better: that's the point of a family, to be good to each other, to support each other, to ease each other's suffering, to bring each other joy, to help each other be great people. Is staying with him making him better? It appears to be making him monstrous. (The way your teeth look? This would crush me were I in your position. Why does how your teeth look matter to him more than not hurting you matters to him?)

Leaving may feel like failure, but it's the opposite. The only way to be successful when you're in a bad match is to end it and get out of it. The pain and loneliness you feel as you leave both fade remarkably quickly with the drop in stress hormones and resultant improvement in sleep. Before you know it you're trying to remember details you used to obsess over. You run across some trinket that used to mean the world and you shrug and toss it into the goodwill pile, not with triumph, not with wistfulness, just with a kind of "Oh, yeah... that. What even was all that" kind of feeling. Get to the part where it's hard to remember just as soon as you possibly can. Don't spend decades of slowly worsening suffering for you and increasingly criminal misbehavior by him. This is just a bad match. It's not your fault; you couldn't have known. Right now staying in it is harming both of you, so hop off this subpar lilypad as soon as you can and start having the sort of life you deserve, where you can revel in gorgeous TV kitchens without a shred of concern about your own kitchen.

P.S. Your teeth are fine. I don't even need to see a single one of them to know this. They're fine. You're fine.
posted by Don Pepino at 4:46 PM on September 19, 2020 [22 favorites]

He said he feels like I'm trying to micromanage his tone and he feels like he's walking on eggshells, and he thinks he's made progress and I don't see it.

Another thing... he's gaslighting you and defining the outcome of your efforts to secure better treatment as yet another example of your supposed inadequacy: wonderful him is making progress but ignorant you can't see it.

If you're in the US, your situation reminds me of the current dynamics around naming a replacement for Justice Ginsburg. The GOP, who will always do whatever it takes to amass power, rely on the fact that the Democrats value norms and the rule of law and thus won't stop the power grab. Meanwhile, earnest Democrats decry the Republicans' hypocrisy, thinking that the GOP can be shamed into better behavior. But they can't, because the GOP leaders don't care; they only want power.

One has to care about something to feel shame... and the fact that your husband doesn't feel shame (as evidenced by his failure to attempt to honor your request that he be kind to you), is evidence that you're not a real person worthy of care to him. He only wants power... over you.

Your question brought tears to my eyes, so I closed my computer and came back to it hours later... and the tears welled up again. Life is short and you deserve so much better. DTMFA.
posted by carmicha at 4:47 PM on September 19, 2020 [21 favorites]

This thread is full of great information. I wanted to emphasize that he intentionally didn’t start treating you like this until you were married. He knows that the threshold for you leaving is much higher now and he’ll also be able to frame this as your failure, your lack of commitment, your lack of loyalty, and your cruelty in order to coerce you to stay. This is by design and is hallmark for an abuser.

Make a secret plan to get legal advice and keep everything secret until you leave and file. Do NOT go to marital counseling with him. Never go to couples counseling with an abuser. I’m sorry this is happening, but please know that he intentionally waited to start targeting you after you were married. You didn’t miss the worst of he red flags, he intentionally hid them from you.
posted by quince at 6:25 PM on September 19, 2020 [19 favorites]

I lived with someone (total of 12 years dating/engagement/married) who was super critical, and let me tell you, it does not get worse. And the longer you are in it, the more it fucks you up because eventually you can't get his voice out of your head. A lot of people have given you more nuanced and specific advice above, but my advice is to get out because honey it is just going to get worse.
posted by radioamy at 6:56 PM on September 19, 2020 [3 favorites]

Whoa whoa whoa spontaneous praise is not 'being spoiled'!

My little anecdote here is that my dad always said that my mom (and their children, so, me and my sibling) were all smarter than he was. And he was a very smart guy! Maybe it wasn't even true! But who cares about that part? The point is that my mom was not somehow 'spoiled' by this. Spontaneous praise is fine!

Oh and please ditch this guy. Ugh what an asshole.
posted by inexorably_forward at 7:34 PM on September 19, 2020 [10 favorites]

"Once they get it in ink they start to tell you what to think" -Todd Rundgren, 'Property'
posted by inexorably_forward at 7:39 PM on September 19, 2020 [2 favorites]

I'm another person who wants to see you get the hell out of this situation--I won't call it a relationship because it isn't. It's you being forced into being a handmaiden he gets to bang and then complain about how you do it. And the thing is, I AM a critical perfectionist with an Eyore disposition and I would never, ever, ever talk to a partner that way. Ever.

The thing I kept wondering about is if you were religious in any way, because most organized religions are highly patriarchal and expect women to stay with men regardless of the men's fitness as partners. And that might be the thing making you react to all these strangers telling you to leave, to dig in your heels because that's not something you've been taught to do. Some people would tell you to get counseling with your spiritual leader, and I would tell you to please reconsider that, if it applies. Like so many in this thread, I lost a friend to a situation like this, and she had been advised to bring him in for couples therapy, and her church leader basically demanded she stay because that was a wife's job. Clued in by the events, the husband went on the offensive.

A lot of times, too, women are raised in environments where they're taught they're a failure if they don't have a man in their life, even if they're not religious. You are worth something, you deserve better than this. My god, you deserve so much better, and being alone for a while is not the worst thing that can happen. Staying with this selfish, vicious, cruel piece of shit is the worst that can happen.
posted by kitten kaboodle at 7:48 PM on September 19, 2020 [10 favorites]

My jaw dropped at how shockingly mean he was over the fucking can in the sink. That's just so cruel and unnecessary over NOTHING. You do not deserve this treatment and there is no excuse for it.
posted by Aquifer at 7:55 PM on September 19, 2020 [14 favorites]

Let me make a guess. You dated this man for a relatively short period of time before you got married? Like a year and a half tops? He brought the idea of marriage up, and maybe it surprised you that he was ready to commit so quickly?

Yep, that is exactly what happened with my friends in abusive relationships. The one who's been in it for decades had a weekend fling with him, never expected to see him again, and he decided to MOVE INTO HER HOUSE that Monday.

I'm not saying all relationships that move that fast are abusive, but lovebombing to get you in ASAP and then turning on you....
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:04 PM on September 19, 2020 [6 favorites]

This may be way off base, and if so, I apologize. To me it sounds like this may have been a partially-arranged or at least parent-involved marriage where the duty is to fulfil parental expectations in marrying and starting a family, and where it is presumed that some sort of love will grow with time.

There are many great marriages within this system, for sure, but statistically speaking, there has to be some duds. What happened here is, you got a dud. You do not have to suffer for this for the rest of your life.

Now, if this is the situation, there would be tremendous family and community pressure to deal with. It may seem daunting, but it can be done, as it was by Kamala Harris's mother.

By the way, be careful who you take into confidence. Also, beware the power of cognitive dissonance - those who have submitted to and suffered from this system, will often be vehement enforcers of the system, because that makes their sacrifice seem worthwhile. Some of these may even say - hurry up and have a baby, and he will have be nice to the mother of his child. You are too smart to fall for that.

Plan your exit, make it silent and swift. Later, you can explain to family and community that "he was not the person you thought he was." Leave it at that, and let them fill in the blanks. Don't explain, don't argue. Just thrive.
posted by dum spiro spero at 12:19 AM on September 20, 2020 [5 favorites]

I am in a similar dynamic shift in the relationship I've hovered over for 7 years has finally decided we should live together. It is the worst mistake we could have made.
You try more to be your best NOT FOR YOURSELF and the statement is a blessing but the action Is a curse. The man you married is not a team player. He doesnt even look at the demolition he is creating in your beautiful spirit.i didnt even read all 81 replies before mine as I'm sure you already know what you should do I hope you dont either. Just do for yourself what you know is fair and deserving. You love you. Dont worry about him.
posted by The_imp_inimpossible at 1:58 AM on September 20, 2020 [1 favorite]

Thank you for posting here. Whatever led you to asking for advice is a gift and a blessing. Please, everyone here is begging you, to listen to your inner voice that was guiding you to seek help. You DESERVE more. Kindness, decency, respect, love, adoration, honesty, empathy, compassion, grace. Please don't let this person scar your mind and soul. The longer you tolerate this behavior, the more insidious it will become and the harder it will be to heal. Love yourself enough to remove yourself from this painful situation.

It hurt my heart reading this. My adrenaline surged and my anxiety spiked because I felt memories flooding back because these wounds run deep even years later. We are trying to spare you any more suffering because we know what it's like and we know the cost. This was not the advice you were seeking, but trust us, your friend, yourself. This is the advice you need. Be safe. Be strong. Be smart. Be quick. Act now. You may think it's not that bad, but this is just the beginning. Don't let it be the end of your life. You can be happy without this person. There is no happily ever after with them.
posted by VyanSelei at 3:18 AM on September 20, 2020 [20 favorites]

Let me address another barrier to leaving your husband that you might be feeling as a newlywed: guilt/shame about the cost of your wedding, especially if your family paid for it, and the effort/money your friends and relatives put into attending it, giving presents, throwing showers, standing up as bridesmaids and groomsmen, etc.

Don't worry about it. The ones who love you want you to be happy and safe, as all decent people do. That is their priority, not some notion of "return on investment" for having hosted or attended the wedding. As for the rest of them, they're not worthy of your concern. Forget about it.

PS Only in fiction--or among garbage people in real life--is anyone actually concerned about getting their gifts returned to them if a marriage doesn't work out. If you received heirloom jewelry (or whatever) from your husband's side, leave it behind when you go and don't look back.
posted by carmicha at 10:18 AM on September 20, 2020 [10 favorites]

Didn't read all the replies as my phone is about to die. But. If you're not entirely sure about how to leave this dude, or what the next step might be, you can contact a local women's shelter or the national domestic violence hotline to get some advice.

If anyone I knew told me this, I would let them crash on my couch and let them stay with me for as long as they needed to GTFO of this situation. Love is supposed to make you feel good, safe, happy and ultimately, a stronger version of yourself. Not grind you down. Belittle you. Hurt you. That's not love, even if they claim it is. It's also ok to leave a person you love, but doesn't treat you right. It's hard, but you're 100% allowed to.
posted by speakeasy at 12:28 PM on September 20, 2020 [5 favorites]

OP, if you are in the NYC area, please memail me.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 2:15 PM on September 20, 2020 [4 favorites]

I am from a critical, sarcastic, pessimistic family and am quite sensitive, was gonna give advice how to deal with that but he is not merely "critical pessimistic and sarcastic" and YOU ARE NOT BEING OVERLY SENSITIVE. Your "sensitivity" is your boundaries trying to keep you safe!

Here is a link to an online copy of Why Does He Do That. Bancroft has said he doesn't mind his book being shared online with women who need it. It's a very important read.

Please be careful when leaving, as others mentioned, abusers are most dangerous at that time. After you leave, he will try to get you back - abusers can't stand their possessions leaving. He may do this by reverting to the nice personality he had when he won you over. If that doesn't work he will probably go back to his true colors and try another round of being abusive. Either way, once you leave, please put a plan in place to protect yourself from him going forward.

It is not your fault you were entrapped by this man. You did not do something wrong. Abusive relationships can happen to anyone, and part of the mind screw they entail is making you think there was something you could have done differently. I am sorry this happened to you, please get out, please cherish yourself, and please stay safe. You deserve better.
posted by Cozybee at 10:01 PM on September 20, 2020 [18 favorites]

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