QUESTION: Early this year, my husband of 11 years announced he didn't love me anymore. Joe told me he would be leaving, though by begging and pleading with him he agreed to stay for a while. Then one night he became cruel and said many mean things before walking out.
Every time I see him I humiliate myself. I beg him to call the kids and me, but he only says, "I don't want to talk to you." I tell him how much I love him, and he'll reply, "I have no love for you! I don't hate you, but I don't love you either."
I was recently told by my doctor that I must have surgery on my eyes next week and that I might possibly lose my vision. Out of fear and panic, I broke down and called my husband, but he responded with indifference to the news. I asked if he would take me to the hospital and stay in the waiting room while I had the surgery. Joe hesitated and then said, "Well, I guess so."
Why is Joe acting this way to me? Is there something I am doing wrong?
DOBSON: I'm going to speak very directly to you, although I understand the pain you're going through. There is no greater heartache in life than to be rejected by the one you love. But by courage and determination, you will survive the crisis that has beset your home.
With that, let me say the compulsion that is driving you to plead for Joe's attention and love is systematically destroying your last glimmer of hope for reconciliation. By groveling before him, you are stripping yourself of all dignity and respect. Those two attitudes are critical ingredients in any stable and fulfilling relationship, and you are systematically destroying them.
This is the message you are conveying inadvertently: "Oh, Joe, I need you so badly. I can't make it without you. I spend my days waiting for you to call and am crushed when the phone doesn't ring. Won't you please, please let me talk to you occasionally? I'll take you any way I can have you -- even if you want to walk all over me. I am desperate here without you."
This is a classic panic reaction, and it is leading you to appease your husband. Appeasement is virtually never successful in human relationships. In fact, it often leads directly to war, whether between husbands and wives or between antagonistic nations. Attempts by one side to "buy off" an aggressor or offender may seem like proposals of peace, but in most cases they merely precipitate further insult and conflict.
Nothing destroys a romantic relationship more quickly than for a person to throw herself, weeping and clinging, on the back of the cool partner to beg for mercy. That makes the wayward spouse even more eager to escape from the leech that threatens to suck his life's blood. He may pity the wounded partner and wish that things were different, but he can rarely bring himself to love again under those circumstances.
You need to understand that Joe's withdrawal from the relationship is directly linked to his quest for freedom. He is feeling suffocated and wants to escape from the marriage. By humiliating yourself and clinging to his ankles each time you meet, you increase his desire to get away. The more he struggles to gain his freedom, the more he feels your clutches around him. It becomes a vicious cycle.
QUESTION: Are all forms of child abuse illegal?
DOBSON: Not in any practical sense. Within certain limits it is not illegal to ignore a child or raise him or her without love. Nor is it against the law to ridicule and humiliate a boy or girl. Those forms of rejection may be more harmful even than some forms of physical abuse, but they are tougher to prove and are usually not prosecutable.
(James Dobson is president of the nonprofit organization Focus on the Family, P.O. Box 444, Colorado Springs, Colo. 80903; or www.family.org. Questions and answers are excerpted from "Solid Answers," published by Tyndale House.)
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