Husband Says Insulting Me is Fun

By Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

My husband has very low self esteem, and he takes that out on me through a nearly constant barrage of insults, name calling, and accusations. I know it is verbal abuse, but I am committed to helping him through this. His treatment of me is an extension of behavior that started as a child, his sister being the previous target. He did “recover” for a few years and was happy and very kind (at that time, I met him and we married) Just weeks after we married, he fell back into his old ways.
He always feels guilty after a bad session of insults and wants to make up. It is hard for him to apologize, but he does sometimes, and he is sincere about it. When I ask him why he is so mean, he says it is fun. I believe it is a classic case of the playground bully who feels better when he is putting others down. My question is: What can I do to help him overcome this problem? It is really hard on our marriage, and we have a 1 year old little boy who I worry will soon start understanding what his daddy is saying about his mommy.

A: You are absolutely right to be concerned. You don’t deserve this treatment. Your son shouldn’t grow up watching this. He will think it’s the normal way to behave toward a woman he loves and will repeat the behavior. Your husband is very lucky that you are so understanding. My concern is that your “understanding” is helping him continue abusive behavior.

Being guilty isn’t solving the problem. Apologizing doesn’t make the hurt go away or make for a good model for your son. Sincerity after the fact doesn’t make up for his callousness during it. It’s time for him to do something about controlling his impulse to be mean to the person who loves him best.

I think your analysis is right. Often people who are bullied as children grow up to think there are only two roles in life: the bully or the victim. When your husband bullies, he feels strong. But then he is horrified that he made someone else feel as he once did when he was a target. So then he apologizes, but his inner self starts to feel vulnerable, like it did when he was a target. His only solution for that helpless feeling is to be a bully. So the cycle starts again. Your husband is still a “victim” in that he is echoing childhood issues.

The work of therapy in cases like this is to help people feel empowered without having to be a bully. Experienced therapists work with this issue all the time. Treatment does work.

I hope your husband loves you and his son enough to get himself into treatment. I hope he loves himself enough to really engage in therapy so he can be the man he could be. I hope you care enough for all three of you that you insist on him getting help now before he does more psychological damage to everyone, including himself.

I wish you well.
Dr. Marie

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 10 Nov 2012

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2012). Husband Says Insulting Me is Fun. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 26, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2012/11/10/husband-says-insulting-me-is-fun/