Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Counseling, change, etc., are all moot when the love is gone
Anonymous: I have realized that I made a terrible mistake in marrying the person I married. We've been married six years and, thank goodness, do not have children. He is overbearing, controlling and can be verbally abusive when he is under stress. (These traits were present before we were married, and I was dumb enough to ignore them; they've become much worse over the years.)
By "verbally abusive," I mean that he will yell at me, tell me I'm too sensitive if I become upset with him, and also will sometimes make "jokes" about me that aren't really jokes at all.
I know many people would suggest counseling, but my heart isn't in it — my love has evaporated; he has alienated me. I feel as if he would need a complete personality transplant for me to want to stay married to him. I am just so down on myself for marrying him in the first place. I was stupid. Now I want out, and I feel selfish for not wanting to try counseling. Do you have any advice?
Carolyn: Talk to a counselor on your own, because you have everything you need to make a decision and you're not making a decision. Why? Guilt? Fear? Self-esteem erosion? Find a safe place to say these things out loud, regain your emotional footing, then act on what your best judgment tells you.
You'll know you're thinking clearly when your decision is based not just on your feelings now, but also on insights into your emotional makeup, and why you chose this man in the first place.
Anonymous 2: Re: Marital Mistake: So, Carolyn, do you believe that people are who they are, and that the poster's husband has no hope of changing even if he was willing to undergo counseling and do the work?
And while I realize that people can — and do — just end marriages without doing everything available to them to try and work it out, do you think that's the right way to go?
Carolyn: I don't believe outsiders are in any position to say, "You need to try harder to fix your marriage." This person isn't interested in counseling because the love is gone and all that's left is resentment (and marriage counseling for verbal abuse often means the abuser just takes a 50-minute break). Who are we to say, "Sorry, you have to turn over every last rock to make sure there isn't a grain of affection hiding somewhere"?
And if we could say that, what then? What if the husband has an epiphany, starts saying kind things, stops himself from micromanaging her, and accepts blame when he does something wrong? Let's say that's even possible. Would that fix it? What if she recoils at his touch, even after he changes? What if seeing how nice he can be only intensifies her resentment of the years of unkindness?
Again, this is assuming such change is possible. Most likely he's still going to have some controlling tendencies, some episodes of reflexive blame, some not-at-all-funny "jokes," some sense of entitlement to indulge bad moods at her expense.
People who feel they've reached their marital limit usually have darn good reasons for that. When they don't, that's for their conscience to handle.