While I'm away, readers give the advice.
Light entertainment provides respite from horrific work
K.H.: On judging people's lowbrow tastes in entertainment: I have a friend who will watch or read only light romantic comedy — nothing serious, or deep, or painful. The reason? She works in Child Protective Services. She sees the worst of the worst — horrific physical and sexual abuse. She avoids burnout, and keeps her sanity, by enjoying light, happy things in her time away from work. And she knows more about what really happens in the world than any art snob. Just because your tastes differ doesn't mean that one person is more serious, or intellectual, than anyone else.
Verbal abuse in parents' marriage scars children for life
Anonymous: On what children learn from their parents' abusive marriage, Part 1: My mother was a wonderful, intelligent, amazingly caring woman, spouse and mother who was constantly being criticized by my father. Anything and everything would send him into a foul mood: not enough salt in the soup, her outfit, being late, being early, misplacing a document . . . you get the idea. The complaints often escalated from the petty problems into accusations of her being stupid, inadequate, uncaring, selfish, lazy and clueless.
My mother suffered a lot but never left; she had a strong feeling that this was her "burden" to carry, and at the time divorce was taboo. In her generation and culture, also, if your husband didn't cheat, hit you, drink or gamble, you were seen as lucky. Plus, my dad was devoted to me and my brother. I was daddy's little girl.
I can't begin to describe how insidious and traumatic our upbringing was for me and my brother. It's hard for a child to gauge the level of harm their mother is faced with, and they may feel responsible for the protection of their mother, as well as conflicted because they love their father. In some ways it is worse than physical abuse, because it is harder to pinpoint and fight.
Of course I forgive my mother, but wish she had found help. It might have saved me some of the many decades of counseling and medications I needed to get a grip on life.
H: Part 2: Within the past year or so I finally figured out that I had been married to an emotional abuser, that my mother was married to an emotional abuser, that my grandmother was married to an emotional abuser, and that, most likely, my mother's sisters were married to emotional abusers. How did this happen? All of these women were bright, well-educated and, in the case of my mother and her sisters, career women in an age when that wasn't very common.
But it was never a matter of not admitting to the abuse. It was not knowing what a good marriage should be like.
When you grow up in a household with an emotional abuser, you accept the snide remarks, the constant criticisms and all the rest as normal. My husband talked to me the way my stepfather talked to me and my mother. Usually there was some remote basis for the criticism, and, being human and not perfect, I always figured I should be doing better. It was only after my husband was in a nursing home that I realized how much calmer my life was.