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Loves Her Husband But Can't Trust Him

QUESTION: My husband and I were married only three months when I came home to find he had moved out and taken our furniture. He cleaned out our checking account and left me with his debt. He says he is sorry and wants to move home, and I agreed on the condition that he seek counseling and make changes in his behavior. He gets angry if things don't go his way and keeps me in constant emotional upheaval.

I love this man very much, but his behavior has damaged my career and my self-confidence. He doesn't carry through on his promises. He says that we cannot resolve our differences if I do not let him come home, and I say that I need an example of good behavior before he can come home. My trust in him is shaken to the core. I don't want a divorce, but he will not change his controlling behavior. Please help.

ANSWER: You are right to distrust your husband's "promises," and right, again, that it's unwise to take him back on "his terms." His behavior is damaging to himself, to you and to any marriage. Deep levels of trust have been violated. This kind of abusive behavior requires more than an apology. It requires a safe place to process what has occurred between you, and to create solid reasons to believe that it could be different in the future.

You need an understanding of what triggered his extreme behavior before the two of you can prevent such pain in the future. Couples counseling seems a natural alternative to the current "stand-off " in your relationship. Ultimatums are the result of insecurity. Each of you feels powerless in the marriage. Attempts to "control" the other polarize your relationship and result in a no-win situation. Not that your ultimatum is not also a reasonable response to your husband's bizarre behavior. Quite the contrary!

Consider what is involved in your attraction to such a self-defeating man. Were there patterns in your relationship with your father that conditioned you to the idea that to love a man would mean giving up your own self-respect? What is the connection for you between being hurt and being loved?

Some women are attracted to men they find "passionate" because of serious neglect and coldness in their childhood relationships. Passionate, wild men could be your answer to cool indifference and repressed affection in your own family. It's wise, however, to recognize that you could be choosing a partner exactly like one of your parents, recreating the familiar experience of love in the context of your own devaluation.

Without understanding what attracts you to this man, chances are overwhelming that you will repeat this type of mate selection in subsequent relationships. Books such as Harville Hendrix's "Getting the Love You Want" and Maggie Scarf's "Intimate Partners" may help you understand how to break this destructive cycle.

You are clear on three things:

1. Your husband's behavior was wrong and he is not to be trusted.

2. The relationship has been harmful to your self-esteem and to your career.

3. You love him and do not want a divorce.

It is in your best interest to understand this situation so you do not simply replace this man with another similarly painful choice in the future, should this marriage fail. Marital counseling could provide a safe context to work toward reconciliation.

Set clear boundaries on what is acceptable behavior in your relationship. If agreement is reached, the next step will be to live that agreement, but you will need to assess whether you are working on this together and in the right direction.

Accept the fact that you love him, but lead with your head, not your heart. Keep your eyes open, and guard against excuses for "bad behavior" in your marriage. Do not turn your back on your responsibility to yourself and your future. It will be your job to determine whether or not this marriage is in your best interests. It only takes one to file for divorce, but it takes two to make a good marriage.


Gayle Peterson, MSSW, LCSW, PhD is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She trains professionals in her prenatal counseling model and is the author of An Easier Childbirth, Birthing Normally and her latest book, Making Healthy Families. Her articles on family relationships appear in professional journals and she is an oft-quoted expert in popular magazines such as Woman's Day, Mothering and Parenting. . She also serves on the advisory board for Fit Pregnancy Magazine.

Dr. Gayle Peterson has written family columns for ParentsPlace.com, igrandparents.com, the Bay Area's Parents Press newspaper and the Sierra Foothill's Family Post. She has also hosted a live radio show, "Ask Dr. Gayle" on www.ivillage.com, answering questions on family relationships and parenting. Dr. Peterson has appeared on numerous radio and television interviews including Canadian broadcast as a family and communications expert in the twelve part documentary "Baby's Best Chance". She is former clinical director of the Holistic Health Program at John F. Kennedy University in Northern California and adjunct faculty at the California Institute for Integral Studies in San Francisco. A national public speaker on women's issues and family development, Gayle Peterson practices psychotherapy in Oakland, California and Nevada City, California. She also offers an online certification training program in Prenatal Counseling and Birth Hypnosis. Gayle and is a wife, mother of two adult children and a proud grandmother of three lively boys and one sparkling granddaughter.

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