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She’s made all the mistakes, so you don’t have to… Ask Erin is a weekly advice column, in which Erin answers your burning questions about anything at all.
I have been married for eight years, together with my husband for 11. We have two children (ages four and two).
I feel like I am living a roller-coaster life, and am confused on where to go.
My husband is emotionally abusive (he will never admit it). He accuses me of constantly cheating anytime I have to work late or have meetings come up. He constantly tells me how much my family is trying to ruin our lives and how we are better off if they are not around. But then expects my family to help without kids because he is "too busy." Anytime an argument comes up, he turns it around on me, and continues to try and get me to answer ludicrous questions, and causes confusion.
He has even gone so far as being vindictive. I was away on a work trip and told him I would be back at 9 pm. Because I was half an hour late, he then proceeded to come home late one morning after a night shift, purposely making me late for a meeting. He went so far as saying, "now you know better and won't be late again."
I find myself going through moments of knowing I need to leave, but then worrying about breaking our family up, worrying about Christmas, and a trip we had booked in February.
I even find myself trying to find the good—such as he cooked dinner, or he said he loved me. And then I’m asking myself if maybe I made it up.
I need advice. Help!
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Okay, I want to be very clear here.
Your husband is gaslighting you, and this is emotional abuse.
You didn’t mention how long he has been like this, but my guess is that he showed signs of this early on, which worsened after marriage and after kids. When people write to me about the possibility of leaving a marriage, and there are kids involved, I tend to encourage exhausting all avenues of help through therapy before throwing in the towel. In this case, if you came to me as a friend asking for advice, I would tell you to leave.
You certainly could broach the subject of marriage counseling, but he will likely not be too open to that. I do think that seeing a therapist on your own would be extremely beneficial. It would help if you had the guidance to get clear on your feelings and how you want to proceed.
I know that leaving a marriage, even a bad one, is daunting. In my first marriage, I held on longer than necessary because I didn’t want to put our young son through a divorce. But now he doesn’t remember us ever being together. What I saved him from was witnessing the unhealthiest role modeling of what a relationship looks like.
You don’t want your kids growing up thinking that how your husband treats you is okay.
While they may not be privy to the little digs and controlling, abusive commentary, they will, at some point, catch on. Having to re-establish a new version of family is challenging, but it will be worth it. You deserve better. Your kids deserve better.
Everything you have described in your email smacks of classic gaslighting—the accusations, the jealousy, the vindictiveness, the small gestures of cooking a meal, or saying I love you. He is unwilling to acknowledge his behavior. Gaslighting thrives on the normal responses we have to this type of abuse. It doesn’t surprise me that you find yourself questioning your judgment, thinking maybe you made it all up, maybe it’s not that bad.
Gaslighters want you to feel like an unreliable narrator in your own life.
I think you need to get out. And I want you to prepare a bit—emotionally, practically, and financially. I am concerned that someone like him may lash out in unpredictable ways if you tell him you are leaving. Please turn to trusted friends and family members. Ask for help in setting up your plan to leave. If you can do so, I would contact a lawyer as well. The National Domestic Violence Hotline also has resources should you need some outside support.
The information within Ask Erin should in no way be interpreted as medical advice because I’m not a medical professional. But I am here to help — to share with you the wisdom I’ve gained after years of making mistakes. If you have a question for me about relationships, addiction, dating, friendships, depression, parenting, sex, consent, what I’m watching, what I’m reading, Boji Stone, or anything at all, use the contact form below or email me: firstname.lastname@example.org. As always, your anonymity is golden. Lastly, I’m so excited to share with you my Ask Erin Self-Care Guide, free when you sign up for my newsletter, which contains a behind-the-scenes look at STRUNG OUT and the publishing process, exclusive extras and book giveaways only for newsletter subscribers, recommendations to get you through the week, extra Ask Erin content, and more… XOXO