DEAR ABBY: The letter you recently printed from "The Goodbye Wife in California," who listed the reasons to leave her husband, hit home with me. I clipped it, and checked off the reasons with which I identified. It had a profound effect on me.
Before I read that letter, I had been reminiscing about the pleasant moments I had shared with my former husband, and had started once again to blame all our problems on myself. (I had not been understanding enough; I couldn't cook well enough; etc.) I fantasized that we could be united as a family again.
My 15-year-old daughter lives with me, and my 17-year-old son lives with his father. I miss my son and the good things about our family life. However, the letter in your column was a sobering and much-needed reminder of the sometimes subtle, but always devastating effects of being the object of intermittent humiliation, ridicule, name-calling, intimidation and physical abuse.
The writer mentioned that she had not yet left her abuser, and knew it was easier said than done. I know exactly what she's experiencing. She is most likely feeling ambivalent, because abused women usually have thinking patterns that reflect the destructive effect of abuse. We tend to gloss over the bad parts and glorify the good things (there are some good things even in a relationship of this kind, which is one of the most confusing aspects of living with an abuser). She may blame herself. She may be hoping her husband will see the error of his ways by reading her letter in your column and miraculously change.
I want her to know: That is a fantasy. It will never happen. He will not change, nor will he even admit he needs to. Worse yet, her children will learn the same inappropriate patterns of behavior.
She needs to leave that marriage as soon as possible and begin repairing the damage this man has inflicted. She must be prepared to experience the temptation to return to him as if everything would magically be better. She'll probably have difficulty relating in a healthy way to a kind and gentle man, but with therapy to assist in the healing process, she will be able to rebuild her self-esteem and be able to love again.
Now I'll tell you how her letter came to impact me: I left the column (with my check marks on it) in my bathroom. While my daughter and I were out, my former husband and my son came into my home. My ex found the column and observed that I had checked most of the items on the list. Did he recognize himself? Did he suddenly empathize with my feelings? Did he want to talk over the issues? No. He showed the list to my son. The two of them laughed about it and ridiculed me when I returned. My son then derisively described the list to my daughter.
For the first time in the many years I have known this man, I saw him clearly for what he really is. To enter my home, read personal things that pertain only to our relationship and then share them with our son is the most obvious example I will ever need of what emotional abuse is.
I thank your reader for the boost her letter provided me. I hope she will successfully negotiate the road to her personal recovery. It won't be easy, but there's a light at the end of the tunnel. And now, I can finally begin to get on with the rest of my life -- thanks to reading her letter in your column. -- BEEN THERE IN FLORIDA
DEAR BEEN THERE: I am gratified that "Goodbye Wife's" insight enabled you to resist the temptation to return to your abusive marriage.
I'm concerned, however, that your son appears to be following in his father's footsteps. Please insist that he get into counseling to break the pattern that all too often is passed from one generation to another. He will be much happier if he learns a better way to relate -- with kindness and consideration for others.