Couples' counseling and verbal abuse??
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Old 11-17-2012, 04:13 PM   #1 (permalink)
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Default Couples' counseling and verbal abuse??

Hi all,

I'm new here, just looking for some perspectives/ advice on this. I've been in a relationship with my boyfriend for nearly four years now and we have a 2 year old son. For the past two years he's been verbally abusive toward me and has refused or has been unable to acknowledge it. Usually when I bring it up, I'm "imagining it" or I'm "being too sensitive" or "can't take a joke." It ranges from criticisms of how I parent our child, how I do housework, how many hours I work, etc. to full on screaming or yelling and calling me names or stupid, sometimes in front of our son or in public. I know that this has been a pattern for him, in past relationships. He's finally in the past few days been able to admit that this isn't right and asked me flat out if he's abusive. I was thinking, like, welcome to the party I just recently started going to counseling with the intention that we would go together and work on this, as we have a family. What I'm wondering is, would couples' counseling even be productive for us in this situation? I feel like he at least would benefit more from individual therapy, but that's not something he's willing to do. I'm at a point where I don't feel that I can or should continue this relationship unless there is a significant change as the quiet times between outbursts are just not worth it to me anymore and this is not what I want for my son. Any thoughts or experiences on this? Thanks much in advance...
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Old 11-17-2012, 04:29 PM   #2 (permalink)
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Default Re: Couples' counseling and verbal abuse??

Couples therapy should be treatment of choice, at least for starters.
A trained marital therapist can help identify patterns in a relationship,
as well as understand individual contributions. Start with couples therapy and see how it goes. The couples therapist may also recommend individual therapy.
David Olsen, PHD,LMFT
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Old 11-18-2012, 09:13 AM   #3 (permalink)
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Default Re: Couples' counseling and verbal abuse??

While therapy is helpful, I think he would benefit from attending a support group for men who abuse women. All abuse falls into the catorgory of domestic violence, and unless the man acknowledges that he does this and is willing to change, there is not much home. It's a tough pattern to break. Sometimes we, as women accept this behavior and have not set proper boundaries, and so it will continue. Sometimes it's damn scarry and we don't know what to do. Read some literature, it helps.

good luck, and if you think that you're child is too young to be affected, not true, there is a lot of research showing how domestic violence affects kids, and in fact they are being abused as well.
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Old 11-18-2012, 04:30 PM   #4 (permalink)
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Default Re: Couples' counseling and verbal abuse??

Thanks so much to you both. This week he is coming to a therapy session with me for the first time, which hopefully will be a good start, and I will definitely be doing some reading on my own. That is a good point, regarding how young our son is...I know that this is affecting him, but I do wonder to what degree it could be affecting him. I know that I'm raising a future man and I do not want what he sees in our relationship to inform how he will treat women someday.

Thanks again
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Old 11-18-2012, 06:41 PM   #5 (permalink)
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Default Re: Couples' counseling and verbal abuse??

*raises hand*

Experienced with this.......it will get worse & he will verbally abuse your son also.

Your son will become terrified of his father & could continue the cycle of abuse with his own family.

Unless he agrees to anger management, individual counseling & has a serious desire to change, you may want to consider leaving this relationship.
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Old 11-19-2012, 12:23 PM   #6 (permalink)
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Default Re: Couples' counseling and verbal abuse??

Thank you - that is something that I'm worried about as well, that this will escalate and/or be directed toward our son. I also worry that this could turn physical, as he's smashed things around the house, including his own computer screen, and has started making threatening gestures from time to time, though he has never actually hit either of us. I agree, Id very much like to see him go to anger management. So far he is not willing to do anything individually, though at least it is a start that he is willing to start coming to sessions with me.
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Old 11-19-2012, 06:52 PM   #7 (permalink)
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Default Re: Couples' counseling and verbal abuse??

Msinger, one important issue is whether your BF is emotionally stable or unstable. I therefore ask whether his abusiveness is fairly consistent and predictable or, rather, alternates with periods of treating you very lovingly and affectionately.

A second important issue -- if you believe his abusive behavior is unstable -- is whether it comes and goes in waves that typically take a week or two to develop or, instead, occur unpredictably in less than a minute. If the latter is true, you are describing unstable behavior that is "event triggered." If that is the case, you would have the feeling you are nearly always walking on eggshells to avoid triggering his rage because you never know what minor thing will set him off.

I ask because this distinction between event-triggered abuse and gradual mood swings has important implications on how difficult it would be for him to modify his dysfunctional behavior.
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Old 11-19-2012, 07:29 PM   #8 (permalink)
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Default Re: Couples' counseling and verbal abuse??

Uptown,
I'd say it's more event triggered, that is, I can't really discern a cycle of any sort. It is quite unpredictable because even something that sets him off one day won't set him off the next and it doesn't seem that there's a build-up to it. For example, one day, a dumb mistake or wrong turn I make when driving will be something we laugh about; another day it could set him off to where he's yelling at me in the passenger seat, and I'm an idiot, even if we were having a good day prior. I just never really know and it's like he completely forgets about it afterward.
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Old 11-19-2012, 09:07 PM   #9 (permalink)
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Default Re: Couples' counseling and verbal abuse??

Quote:
Originally Posted by msinger99 View Post
Any thoughts or experiences on this?
Msinger, none of us on this forum can tell you what is wrong with your BF. What we can tell you, however, is -- based on the behaviors you describe -- where we would go to find useful information. There are hundreds of leading hospitals and health centers that provide descriptions of symptoms for dozens of different patterns of dysfunctional behavior.

They do not do this because they believe you are capable of diagnosing your BF's problems. No, they do so because they've found that, when the lay public is educated about spotting symptoms (i.e., red flags), they are far more likely to seek professional help -- and will do so far more quickly. Moreover, when people know what red flags to look for, they are far better positioned to accurately describe to therapists what it is they have been witnessing and experiencing.

I therefore encourage you to continue reading about common behavioral disorders so you are able to spot any and all red flags that are present in your BF's behaviors. And I encourage you to continue seeing your therapist (particularly, if he/she is a psychologist) for IC.
Quote:
Uptown, I'd say it's more event triggered, that is, I can't really discern a cycle of any sort.
Msinger, thank you for clarifying that. I have several more important questions for you:
  • Does your BF exhibit a general inability to trust you?
  • Does he seem to have a fear of abandonment? E.g., does he exhibit irrational jealousy that cannot be reasoned with?
  • Does he have low self esteem or a weak sense of who he is? E.g., does he hate to be alone and tend to behave very differently around different types of people? And do his goals often change despite his showing great initial enthusiasm?
  • Does he complain of having had a bad childhood or having sibling troubles? Does he speak badly of his exGFs?
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Old 11-19-2012, 10:56 PM   #10 (permalink)
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Default Re: Couples' counseling and verbal abuse??

[QUOTE=msinger99;1222099
I also worry that this could turn physical, as he's smashed things around the house, including his own computer screen, and has started making threatening gestures from time to time, though he has never actually hit either of us.
[/QUOTE]

What you are describing here goes beyond verbal abuse. The way couples counseling helped our marriage was that my wife became able to believe that her angry raging would really cause the end of our marriage. This sobered her up a little bit and she was motivated to develop some self control.
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Old 11-20-2012, 05:01 AM   #11 (permalink)
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Default Re: Couples' counseling and verbal abuse??

Thank you for sharing that - that is my hope, partly, that he will be able to recognize that this is a big deal, because as is he is going back and forth between seeming remorseful and wanting this to to what it takes to change, and telling me that I'm wasting time and money on counseling.

@Uptown - In answer to your questions, he does seem to mistrust me in some ways, though he never comes out and says it. If I'm gone at the store too long he questions me, he's tried to go through my cell phone, etc. He has, at times, been quite jealous of a few of my male friends (these are people I've been friends with for 15-20 years, so nearly all my life).
He shows a lot of enthusiasm for certain goals that he'll bring up, like wanting to go back to school, or wanting to buy a house but then he'll change his mind seemingly for nothing. I think that he does have low self esteem - he struggles with his weight and with his credit/ money, especially, and it seems to get him down quite a bit. He gets to where he feels totally hopeless and expresses that he thinks he is not capable of changing those things.
He has expressed that he had a bad childhood and, from what I understand from his family, it was definitely not good. His dad took off when he was born and his mom had a long series of abusive boyfriends, which he witnessed. He ended up moving out at 15.
Also, he does speak horribly about ex GFs. Actually, he has an older child with one, so we have very regular contact with her, and I've heard him call her every name in the book. Not to her face, but after phone calls, he goes on about how she's this and that and complains about how she's so hard to deal with. I think, and his family thinks, that she's very sweet, but not according to him.
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Old 11-20-2012, 08:07 AM   #12 (permalink)
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Default Re: Couples' counseling and verbal abuse??

Msinger, if you are not already seeing a psychologist, I suggest you do so -- for a visit or two by yourself -- to obtain a candid professional opinion on what it is you and your son are dealing with. Again, I don't know what is wrong with your BF. But, if I were you, the very first thing I would start reading about -- while waiting for an appointment -- would be the symptoms of BPD (Borderline Personality Disorder).

Granted, the moodiness and angry outbursts you describe could be caused by a hormone change (as men experience at puberty or in middle age) or by drug abuse. And very very rarely, they could be caused by a brain tumor or a recent brain injury. Yet, because you mention nothing about such events occurring, the two most likely causes of such abusive behavior are bipolar disorder and BPD.

I am not a psychologist. I can only share with you my experiences of living with a BPDer exW for 15 years and taking care of a bipolar foster son for longer than that. Moreover, I took both of them to a long series of psychologists for 15 years. Based on those experiences, I have observed twelve clear differences between the two disorders.

One difference is that the mood swings are on two separate spectra having very different polar extremes. Whereas a bipolar sufferer swings between mania and depression, a BPDer flips back and forth between loving you and hating you. Significantly, you mention nothing about mania. Instead, you describe him as flipping back and forth from loving you and devaluing you.

A second difference is seen in the frequency of mood changes. Bipolar mood swings are very slow because they are caused by gradual changes in body chemistry. They are considered rapid if as many as four occur in a year. In contrast, four BPD mood changes can easily occur in four days. The latter therefore seems consistent with your description of numerous temper tantrums.

A third difference is seen in duration. Whereas bipolar moods typically last a week or two, BPD rages typically last only a few hours (and rarely as long as 36 hours). Again, these short-duration rages seem consistent with with the tantrums you describe.

A fourth difference is seen in the speed with which the mood change develops. Whereas a bipolar change typically will build slowly over two weeks, a BPD change typically occurs in less than a minute -- often in only 10 seconds -- because it is event-triggered by some innocent comment or action. As you say, his outbursts appear to be "event-triggered outbursts." This would explain, then, why you say you "can't really discern a cycle of any sort." That is, there simply is no cycle to observe.

A fifth difference is that, whereas bipolar can be treated very successfully in at least 80% of victims by swallowing a pill, BPD cannot be managed by medication because it arises from childhood damage to the emotional core -- not from a change in body chemistry. Indeed, 70% of BPDers (i.e., those having strong traits) report having been abused or abandoned during early childhood. This seems consistent with what you say about your BF's childhood. His father abandoned him at birth and he was subsequently abused.

A sixth difference is that, whereas bipolar disorder can cause people to be irritable and obnoxious during the manic phase, it does not rise to the level of meanness and vindictiveness you see when a BPDer is splitting you black. That difference is HUGE: while a manic person may regard you as an irritation, a BPDer can perceive you as Hitler and will treat you accordingly. This seems consistent with your description of very hateful, spiteful behavior.

A seventh difference is that, whereas a bipolar sufferer is not usually angry, a BPDer is filled with anger that has been carried inside since early childhood. You only have to say or do some minor thing to trigger a sudden release of that anger -- which seems consistent with your description.

An eight difference is that a bipolar sufferer typically is capable of tolerating intimacy when he is not experiencing strong mania or depression. In contrast, BPDers have such a weak and unstable self image that (except for the brief infatuation period) they cannot tolerate intimacy for long before feeling engulfed and suffocated by your personality.

BPDers therefore will create arguments over nothing as a way to push you away and give them breathing room. Hence, it is not surprising that they tend to create the very WORST arguments immediately following the very BEST of times, i.e., right after an intimate evening or a great weekend spent together. You don't comment on this, however.

A ninth difference is that the thinking and behavior of a BPDer includes more mental departures from reality (called "dissociation") wherein "feelings create facts." That is, BPDers typically do not intellectually challenge their intense feelings. Instead, they accept them as accurately reflecting your intentions and motivations. In contrast, bipolar disorder tends to be more neurotic in that the mood swings tend to be based more on extreme exaggerations of fact, not the creation of "fact" out of thin air based solely on feelings. You don't comment on this.

A tenth difference is that a bipolar sufferer -- whether depressed or manic -- usually is able to trust you if he or she knows you well. Untreated BPDers, however, are unable to trust for an extended period. Before they can trust others, they must first learn how to trust and love themselves. Sadly, this lack of trust means there is no foundation on which to build a relationship. Moreover -- and I learned this the hard way -- when people cannot trust you, you can never trust them because they can turn on you at any time -- and almost certainly will. Significantly, you say that "he does seem to mistrust me." You say he has gone through your phone, questions your whereabouts, and has been jealous of several of your male friends.

An eleventh difference is that, whereas BPDers are always convinced they are "The Victim," bipolar sufferers usually have a much stronger self image. BPDers therefore have a strong need to validate that false self image by blaming every misfortune on the spouse. This behavior seems consistent with your complaint that he seems to blame you for everything. Specifically, you say "It ranges from criticisms of how I parent our child, how I do housework, how many hours I work, etc. to full on screaming or yelling and calling me names or stupid, sometimes in front of our son or in public. I know that this has been a pattern for him, in past relationships." You also mention that he still seems to feel that his exGFs victimized him too (i.e., "he speaks horribly" about them).

Finally, a twelfth difference is that, although bipolar sufferers are emotionally unstable, they generally are not immature or childlike. BPDers, in contrast, are so immature that their emotional development typically is frozen at about age four. This is why they have a very fragile self image and have difficulty controlling their emotions. Although I started out by asking whether his behavior seems unstable, you did not address that directly -- perhaps because you don't know what I mean by "unstable."

I therefore suggest you read my description of instability and other classical BPD traits in my post in Maybe's thread at My list of hell!. If that description rings a lot of bells, Msinger, I would be glad to discuss it with you and point you to good online resources and books.
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Old 11-20-2012, 10:06 AM   #13 (permalink)
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Default Re: Couples' counseling and verbal abuse??

Thanks so much for that - very helpful. Yes, most of that struck a chord with me and makes a lot of sense. If you have links to share or books you can recommend, Id really appreciate that.
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Old 11-20-2012, 04:12 PM   #14 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by msinger99 View Post
Thank you for sharing that - that is my hope, partly, that he will be able to recognize that this is a big deal, because as is he is going back and forth between seeming remorseful and wanting this to to what it takes to change, and telling me that I'm wasting time and money on counseling.
Under all circumstances, abuse comes from a (perceived) position of entitlement. Entitled people usually think they are better than others and are allowed to do things others aren't. The appearance of an objective counselor can sometimes deflate the entitlement mentality long enough for the person to do a reality check and see that they have a problem. You are on the right track, keep insisting on counseling, contrition and a desire to quit the offending behavior.
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Old 11-20-2012, 06:16 PM   #15 (permalink)
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If you have links to share or books you can recommend, Id really appreciate that.
As an initial matter, Msinger, if you suspect your BF has strong BPD traits, I recommend that you NOT tell him. If he is a BPDer, he almost certainly will project the accusation right back onto you, believing YOU to be the BPDer. Instead, simply encourage him to see a good psychologist (not a MC) and let the psych decide what to tell him.

Second, if you think you may stay with him a while, I suggest you get Stop Walking on Eggshells, the best-selling BPD book targeted to the abused partners. (The second-best-selling BPD book is I Hate You, Don't Leave Me.)

Third, if you believe your BF has strong BPD traits, I suggest you start participating (or at least lurking) at BPDfamily.com -- the largest and most active BPD forum I've found that is devoted fully to the spouses and family members of BPDers. This issue is such an enormous problem that that website is growing by 20 new members every day. The result is that it offers eight separate message boards on various BPD issues. The ones that likely will be most helpful to you are the "Leaving" board and the "Raising a Child when One Parent Has BPD" board.

Fourth, while you are at BPDfamily.com, I suggest you read the excellent articles in their resources section. My favorite is "Surviving a Breakup with Someone with BPD" at T9 Surviving a Break-up with Someone Suffering with Borderline Personality Disorder - Columbia University, New York.

Fifth, I again suggest you see a clinical psychologist -- for a visit or two by yourself -- to obtain a candid professional opinion on what it is you and your son are dealing with. As I've explained in other threads, your best chance of getting a candid opinion regarding a possible BPD diagnosis is to NOT have the BPDer along. Therapists are loath to tell a high functioning BPDer the name of the disorder (for the BPDer's own protection).

Importantly, the issue is not whether your BF has BPD traits. Of course he does. We all do. Every adult on the planet occasionally exhibits all nine of the BPD traits, albeit at a low level if the person is emotionally healthy. This is why BPD traits are said to constitute a "spectrum disorder," i.e., they affect everyone to some degree. These traits become a problem only when they are so strong and persistent that they distort one's perception of other peoples' intentions -- thereby undermining one's ability to sustain close LTRs.

The important issue, then, is whether your BF has these traits at a moderate to strong level -- i.e., strong enough to be undermining your relationship. I don't know the answer to that question but I believe that you are capable of spotting any and all red flags that are present if you take time to read about them. There is nothing subtle about BPD traits such as verbal abuse, temper tantrums, inability to trust, and impulsive behavior.

Finally, please don't forget those of us on this TAM forum. We want to keep trying to answer your questions and providing emotional support as long as you find our shared experiences helpful. Moreover, by sharing your own experiences, you likely are helping many other members and lurkers.
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