This is has not been an easy post to write, and it might not be easy to read either. And it’s long, which means it’ll be tl;dr (too long, didn’t read) for most of you. But I’m posting it anyway. I’ve been open about KP and I having marriage troubles in this blog several times before, but I decided to finally publicly share this part of our struggles because it felt like the right time to, because people need to know how things like this happen, and because I hope it can help someone out there know that they are not alone…and that things can get better.
I’m going to talk about:
1) how emotional abuse in marriage starts, and
2) the reason behind why The Screenwriter’s Wife blog came to be.
However, because I recognize that marriage issues are extremely complex and rarely one-sided, and because I think that it would be unfair of me to present only my side of the story here, I’ve opened this post for KP to share his response as well. You’ll find his words at the end of the post in green.
I started The Screenwriter’s Wife 2 years ago exactly, perhaps ironically, on Valentine’s Day, the supposed day of romantic love.
None of you reading this know this, but when I originally created this blog, I wasn’t sure if I’d be “allowed” to keep it. I’m humble for and thankful for the journey that this blog and our marriage have taken over the past two years.
While KP and I were friends, dating, engaged, and even in the early days of marriage – I thought I was prepared for any challenge that married life might throw at me. I thought I was a strong, logical, independent woman. I never thought I would’ve been the kind of girl to end up in the convoluted mess I ended up in.
It’s easier now in hindsight to see the slow beginnings of how it all happened:
Early on in our marriage, because I wasn’t as passionate about a particular career path as KP was of his writing dreams, it seemed a natural choice for me to leave behind my unsteady entertainment industry job for the steady income of a teaching position. After a year in a brick and mortar school, I further transitioned to a work-from-home online teaching position, a position that I enjoyed.
However, I’m already a bit of a homebody and so my social outlets gradually dwindled down only to KP’s circle of friends. I had no local friends of my own. I was ok with this though. Had it bothered me, I certainly could have made more of an effort to develop friendships. I’m fully to blame for this part.
Alienating myself from others definitely didn’t help what was to come, but in and out of itself was not a huge issue. But about a year after our first child was born, everything changed…
KP’s company unexpectedly lost their financial backing and KP was suddenly out of a job. As month after month of unemployment passed, KP found himself struggling with purpose. His morale and self-esteem were low. He questioned himself, his writing, his dreams. He didn’t tell me any of this, but I’m his wife, and of course I knew.
Though he was often grumpy and short with me, I knew that these actions were likely a passing phase and I wanted to be a good, supportive wife in this difficult time for him. So I put up with his moods. I tried to be extra kind and sympathetic and strong for him by willingly accepting his cranky criticisms. I figured I was giving him time to work through things, and by not putting up a fight to these early criticisms, I thought was “helping” him to come out of his funk and showing him that I’d always be by his side no matter what life brought us.
.But that’s not what happened.
Instead of seeing my sympathy as a lifeline drawing us closer together, he instead capitalized on the opportunity I didn’t realize I’d given him: the opportunity to use me as an emotional whipping board.
It was all very gradual though. Marriage troubles almost always seep in slowly and unnoticed until it’s too late.
We fought a lot. At least a couple times a week. We fought so much because every fight was just a continuation of the last fight; nothing was every truly resolved. In-between fights we could work together on a functional level, so we’d act just fine in public, and no one outside of our marriage knew what was going on.
No matter how our fights started, they always included KP telling me some or all of the following:
- That my memory was faulty and unless I could “prove” what I thought was said in a previous conversation, that I was wrong and had no clue what I was talking about.
- That everything I said was really a subtle attack against him. No matter what I tried to discuss, it was always turned around into how I was victimizing him. If I did not recognize how I was attacking him, it was because my memory and interpretation of situations were inaccurate.
- That I did not keep the house clean, and never did the dishes or vacuumed or laundry, and this showed how irresponsible and lazy I was and how I didn’t care about our family.
- That talking to me was like talking to a child and until I could grow up and accept responsibility for my actions (i.e. the state of the house and my attacks on him), that nothing I said was worth listening to.
Then, at some point in the argument, usually when it was at its’ highest convoluted peak, he’d tell me that talking to me was pointless since I was never going to change or grow up. Then he’d leave the room (and sometimes the house) and refuse to talk to me until I apologized. Which I usually did, hours or days later. Occasionally he’d apologize first, but it was usually me.
This is not to say that we never had good times during these years though, and in fact, I remember a particular trip to his parent’s house in Michigan, where he was surprisingly affectionate and I happily ate up every minute of it, not knowing when it’d happen again. But in looking back, I see that these good times were largely on his terms only.
Overall, I felt so lost, so confused, as though I had no leg to stand on in our relationship. I didn’t understand what had happened to us and I couldn’t figure out how to make things better. I’m a very logical person, and KP knew this, and the one thing I’ve always relied on to sort things out – my mind – was the one thing he discredited the most. I questioned my own thinking, was I really misremembering situations? Was I really subtly attacking him with everything I said? I live far away from family and I had no local friends to be a sounding board to help me gauge the accuracy of my thoughts. I felt like who I was, and my personality had slowly diminished away.
At the time, I didn’t know that all of these things were warning signs of emotional abuse. I hadn’t even considered that as a possibility – I thought I was too strong of a person to succumb to such things. All I knew was how stuck I was. How convoluted our relationship had become. How trapped I felt. I didn’t want to give up on our marriage and I knew that deep down my husband was still a good guy. But I had no idea where to begin to make things better or even what the main issue that we needed to work on was. Communication skills? Some way to legitimize and record our conversations so that we could adequately reflect on them and our problems? Something else?
In looking back on that time period, I’m sure that had I gone to a counselor or therapist and shared what was happening in our marriage – and had I previously decided that divorce was an option for me – I probably could have been persuaded that:
a) I was being emotionally abused,
b) KP would never change, and
c) I should get out of my unhealthy marriage for my own well-being.
But instead, I chose to do two different things:
1) I convinced KP to do a free online counseling program and though that made only a small chink in our issues and didn’t magically fix things overnight, it was at least enough to take the next step:
2) I stepped out on a limb several months later and started this very blog you’re reading, even though I knew KP might not like the idea.
Feb. 14, 2014:
I’d spent the majority of the day setting up my blog. I’d titled it, created the main banner, written the first post, and was waiting for the right moment to show KP. He’d just come home from writing at a coffee shop and asked what I was so busy working on. He seemed to be in a good mood and I didn’t want to risk us getting into a fight and showing it to him later when he might be in a bad mood. It was now or never. “It’s something I’ve been really wanting to do for awhile”, I told him. “Try to read it with an open mind and please don’t automatically just tell me no, ok?” I smiled cutely, hoping I’d prefaced the idea appropriately so that he’d be open to it. He looked at me inquisitively and I handed him my laptop.
A few minutes later, he looked up at me. “I’m impressed that you even used the right font in your banner”, he chuckled. As I predicted, he didn’t love the idea of the blog, but as long as I didn’t expose anything about him personally, then he was ok with it. I told him I wasn’t going to use his name, just the initials KP so that no one could google his name and end up associating him with my blog, which seemed satisfactory to him.
And that’s how this blog got here.
During that time when our marriage was really tough and I felt so lost – I could have given up on it. A lot of other people in my shoes probably would have. But I knew my husband deep down, and I knew that he wasn’t always like this, and I knew that the good guy that I married was still in there somewhere. I didn’t want to give up on him and I didn’t want to give up on my marriage.
I knew he could be a better man than he was showing me at that time.
But I also finally realized that I did not just have to sit there and take what he was throwing at me. I did not have to submit to his frustrations with his own life. I didn’t have to give up on him or on our marriage – but I also didn’t have to remain under his emotional control anymore either. Even though KP may have been 85% of the problem, it wasn’t until I accepted responsibility for my 15% and stopped giving in to his emotional manipulations were we able to move toward true reconciliation as a couple.
The rest of 2014:
Our marriage did not start getting wonderful just because I’d started this blog. In fact, there was still a lot going on between us in the early months that I carefully hid behind my posts. I was thankful for my blog outlet, but I still felt a bit unsure as to what I was ‘allowed’ to write about.
There was one post, a few months in, where I made mention of something about KP’s career. He read the post and was not happy about it at all. He did not like me mentioning anything that could be potentially be construed as a negative about him, and he very clearly told me so and we broke out in a big fight. Had this happened in a previous time in our life, I may had just concluded “fine. He’s probably right; I probably shouldn’t have posted that” and deleted the whole blog right then and there instead of having to deal with him. But I was not the same person anymore. I agreed that in the future I would send him any post I thought he might have issue with beforehand. Not for his “permission” to post – I was going to post whatever I wanted to in my blog because it was MY blog – but as a heads up, so he’d know what’s coming or at the very least, to give him and opportunity to clarify anything he felt to be an inaccurate representation of him.
Eventually, after months of sending him posts to preview, he began trusting me more and he eventually no longer asked to see posts beforehand.
Once I started exerting more independence for myself, an interesting thing happened. KP stopped having control over my emotional state. Because I didn’t allow him to. If he started to criticize, I let the criticism roll right off me. I’d answer rationally and calmly if I needed to, but otherwise, nothing negative he said could penetrate my emotions. I told him I loved him and wanted to stay married to him, but I wasn’t going to do this fighting thing anymore. I was over it. We could figure out a way to come to a solution, but I wasn’t going to do the emotional fight thing anymore. In a way, it seemed like I became more cold with him, but in reality, I was acknowledging that my emotions were not affected by him anymore.
And slowly, but surely, things started changing between us. Once KP realized that he couldn’t get that emotional rise out of me, he had no reason to continue pushing.
Yes, I originally titled this blog “The Screenwriter’s Wife” because it was part of my identify as KP’s wife, but what you don’t know is that I also named it in secret irony of a label I hoped it’d help me overcome for myself. I started this blog so that I could have an outlet of my own, a place where I could be more than the silent identity I’d taken on that had allowed the marriage mess we’d gotten into. I started this blog to re-establish my own independence and identify.
So while I may have begun this blog as a “lowly screenwriter’s wife”, it is through The Screenwriter’s Wife that I’ve been able to re-establish myself as someone who is so much more than just wife of a screenwriter.
As promised, I only felt it was right to allow my husband to write a response from his perspective. From KP:
While I can’t exactly argue with what my wife says, I will say that some of the ways in which I responded back then were taken slightly out of context and I hope it doesn’t paint a picture of me as being some irrational monster or someone with a large list of demands and expectations which could never be met. A lot of how I acted was out of my own frustrations and circumstances we found ourselves in, and sometimes this was exacerbated by interactions with my wife.
BUT, and while it’s no excuse for any kind of abuse, my intent was never to make her feel small or like shit, or make myself powerful in contrast — sure, sometimes one seeks control when many other aspects of your life are out of control — but I never ever wanted to harm her in any way.
A lot of this came down to me not wanting to deal with the real problems, and instead hoping they’d simply go away. I just didn’t want to deal with and discuss certain subjects. This, coupled with outside frustrations simply became overwhelming. So, I say all of this because I want all the men out there to know that it’s so much more helpful (as cliched as it sounds) to communicate.
But what does that mean “to communicate”? As a guy, I really think it is to allow yourself to be vulnerable and and honest with everything that makes you react emotionally. Maybe it’s someone at work you don’t like, maybe it’s being open about what you want intimately, and especially recognizing a problem that you know should be discussed with your spouse. While you might be afraid to discuss what needs discussing, it’s a lot better to do it sooner than later.
As men, we’re always faced with problems and, being the husband and father, we seem to think we can’t let those those problems affect our significant other, and/or children. We need to solve the problem. We have to fix the problem before it becomes a bigger problem, or we hope the problem fixes itself or simply goes away.
The biggest piece of advice I can give is: just face the problem. Talk about it. No matter how hard it is, no matter what you’re faced with, it’s better to get it off your chest than to keep it bottled up and let frustrations build. It’s not fair to you and it’s not fair to your spouse/family. Unfortunately, problems don’t just go away, and your feelings are important. Again, be vocal. Be honest. Don’t be afraid of coming off as weak or like “a loser”. She’ll love you more for it, and your relationship will become that much stronger.