Dr. Deb would love to answer your burning relationship questions.

Today’s Advice Highlights

  • A sweet and kind fiance turns into a cruel and extremely critical husband right after marriage — is this normal
  • Discussing gaslighting and other tell-tale tactics of an emotional abuser.
  • Dr. Deb dishes out the one advice for a textbook case of abusive behavior (before it escalates). 

Dear Dr. Deb,

I grew up in a pretty dysfunctional family: an abusive father and a passive, co-dependent mother. Witnessing this toxic situation growing up, I felt determined to escape and break the pattern in my own relationships. 

Ten months ago, I married my boyfriend who had been the kindest, funniest, and sweetest soul. I remember how romantic he had been when he proposed to me, and I felt like so fortunate that I met someone like him.

I’m using the past tense here for good reason. Since the wedding, his personality has changed – a lot. I know that marriage is a life-changing event, but he’s done a complete 180.

From being a soft-spoken gentleman, he’s turned into a nasty, demanding creature who constantly says cruel things and inflicting emotional harm on me.

When we go out with friends these days, he’ll provoke an argument and blame me for it. I know that I did nothing wrong, but he’ll wear me down with the way he berates and tears me down. He would tell me, “Everyone knows how you are. No one likes you. People don’t want to be around you, just ask them.”

I’m not someone who needs constant validation, but he makes me question my sanity at every turn. He’s quick to blame me and my mental health issues as the root cause of our problems. Then I end up thinking that it’s all my fault, so I constantly apologize.

It’s gotten so bad that I’m walking on eggshells in my own home. I’m afraid of how he’ll react to even a simple question. On any given day, I’ll hear his snide comments: “You’re so dramatic and emotional.” “It’s not that bad.” “Get over it.” 

I still love my husband, but I don’t love the way he treats me. I also don’t love that I feel worthless and incompetent whenever I’m with him. He justifies it all by saying he only wants to help me become a better person.

I feel like I’ve been lured and tricked into marrying someone exactly like my father. Something that I never imagined would happen to me. Dr. Deb, what can I do in this situation? How do I even begin to fix this?

Baited and Switched

Dear Baited,

I don’t typically tell people what to do, but in this case, it sounds like such a textbook case that I have one piece of advice for you: Leave. My next advice: Leave. And…you already know what my next advice would be.

You’re in the first stages of an abusive marriage that’s putting your mental health and well-being at stake. The next stage is something you don’t want to stay on for. Get away from it now.

Your husband’s constant gaslighting is a sneaky tactic to make you vulnerable to manipulation. He’s working on turning you into someone who is too preoccupied and worn down with self-doubt to figure out what’s really happening.

This kind of extreme gaslighting is a major feature of emotionally abusive relationships, like your marriage. Your husband has succeeded in making you question your reality, your judgment, and your sanity. You’ve become unrecognizable, even to yourself.

Let me give you a reality check and turn the lens on your husband.

Your husband may seem like he “changed.” The truth is he’s experienced. This probably isn’t his first rodeo. His true self is egocentric, manipulative, and coercive. His goal is to dominate and control you. Like most abusers, he’s oblivious to the damage and devastation he’s causing you. He’s only concerned about how it affects him.

Here’s another important reality check for you: odds are, he’s never going to change.

He’ll keep doing this until you can’t take it anymore – or worse. I know you’ve seen the true crime shows and the women who fell under the “or worse” category. There are different psychological theories to explain how or why someone like your husband becomes a manipulative abuser. One thing I can tell you is that it’s not your fault.

And so the question is what do you do? You say you still love him. But you can love someone and still decide to leave them. Your biggest priority now is and must be to love yourself. You deserve to thrive in a healthy, loving relationship. 

My advice, unequivocally, is to leave your husband and get a divorce or annulment as quickly as possible.

Wishing You the Best,
Dr. Deb

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