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Dr. Anne-Renee Testa
The book by Dr. Anne-Renee Testa, The Bully In Your Relationship: Stop Emotional Abuse and Get the Love You Deserve

Ask Dr. T

I would love to be able to answer your questions about bullying. Please submit a question to this website about bullying. Iíll be answering one question a week below.

Q. I'm very confused about the future of my marriage. Throughout our marriage and relationship growing up, my husband has had a temper and is extremely demeaning. I thought it was a maturity issue (we were high school sweethearts), but as the years went on I realized it wasn't. The problem is this: Although now after 28 years of marriage he is trying to be nicer (he relapes at least once a week), I find it difficult to trust him and enjoy his company. I always have my guard up and take everything with a grain of salt because in the back of my mind I feel this kindness is only temporary and it's only a matter of time until his temper erupts. Sure enough, it does. I feel terrible about this. I care about him, but no longer am "in love with him". He threatens me and says he will no longer take this "loveless" marriage and if I don't straighten up he's gone. (He's threatened this many times, but never leaves... though secretly I wish he would). He also tells me that one day I'll be alone and regret all of this. All I'm trying to do is stand up for myself for the first time in my life! But after seeing several counselors (who tend to think he'll never change and that I should leave him), I feel I don't have many options. My eldest son is getting married next summer and I don't want a breakup in my marriage to ruin his day. Just today my husband yelled at me at two separate occasions because I had a different opinion on how to set up for the garage sale! He said to shut the F___ up and that he's not taking my mouth anymore (I said nothing). If I tried to talk, he just shouted louder and continued to swear at me. Is this normal? Is this what marriages are made of? Is this enough of a reason to leave someone? My sisters think I'm crazy because they've never seen this side of him because I've always kept it to myself. Is my husband a bully? So much more has happened in our relationship, it would take hours of writing. Pushing, shoving, leaving, name calling, threats, etc. Please help.

A. While I understand how hard it is to leave a marriage after 28 years, the sooner you do the sooner you can start your new life. Youíve had several counselors tell you to leave him and that heíll never change, and theyíre probably right. You ask if heís a bully, but if he gets physical, then this is beyond bullying, which is emotional abuse, but is domestic violence. Donít worry about your sonís wedding. If heís old enough and mature enough to get married, heís old enough to handle the separation of his parents.

Q. I think that I just eliminated the bully in my life (boyfriend). Since this was our second go-round, how do I keep him away? He uses guilt to get to me (like, You're abandoning me when I need you the most").

A. He may use guilt but that doesnít mean that you have to fall for it. If you had the courage to get him out of your life, and good for you, then you definitely have the will to keep him out. You just have to be strong. As more time goes by, youíll see that it will be easier and easier to do.

Q. My husband has called me swear words for the past 22 years. He says I am a nag, and deserve these names. He has had over 24 jobs and we've had to move 20 times. I've managed to raise four nice boys. Why do I allow myself to be bullied? I am tired of it. Help!

A. No one said itís easy to leave a bully; certainly not me. It takes guts and will-power, but no matter how scared you are, when itís over, youíll feel so much better. If someone offered you a million dollars, that would change your life but youíd take it, wouldnít you? Getting rid of a bully in your life is worth at least a million dollars, so gather up your courage and leave him as soon as possible.

Q. My husband bullies me on a daily basis, and accuses me of sleeping with people that I wouldn't even concider giving a cheek kiss too. This is daily, in front of our now grown children and grandchildren. I'm not lucky at winning, I am at my end to options, married 25 years, this is how it ends, bullied when I was young, to being beaten weekly by my dad. I'm 43 now, but often go back in time with these feeling rearing up everytime my husband opens his mouth. I love him, but he makes it so much easier to hate him more. Please consider sending me a copy of your book, I am going to crawl into a bookstore's corner and sit and read. Thank you for caring about us, who don't have it so good.

A. Most bullies, not all, will stop their bullying if you tell them to. In other words if you stand up to them, quietly, not by shouting, and say to them, if you donít stop yelling at me, or belittling me, or whatever it is, Iím going to leave you. Of course you have to mean it. You have to have made up your mind that youíre not going to allow yourself to be bullied any more. And you know what, the bully will probably feel your inner strength and stop bullying you. But if he doesnít, you have to leave. Donít make excuses. Donít say itís too hard or where will I go. Have plans ready and if your husband doesnít change his ways, then leave. That action may make him change, or it might not. But you have more than half your life ahead of you, so donít allow one more day to go by living this way. Make some calls today in order to find where you would go, and then take a stand. I hope your husband will accept the new you, but even if he doesnít, youíll be much better off alone, looking for a new partner, then spending the rest of your life as a doormat.

Q. Is bullying in a marriage a way to feel in total control of one's spouse?

A. Bullying usually comes from childhood. It can be as simple as a learned behavior. If a man has watched his father bully his mother for twenty years, he could just assume thatís how it should be and begin bullying his wife. On the other hand, if someone has been bullied, then in order to gain control, they may become a bully themselves. But itís never about the spouse but instead bullying comes from inside the person doing the bullying.

Q. My husband of 40 years just passed on last year. As soon as we were married, he changed into a tyrant. He never physically abused me but emotionally he was very controlling. I'm afraid to date because I don't trust my judgment. What are the warning signs?

A. One warning sign is if a potential partner reveals that in his childhood either he was bullied or witnessed bullying. So if you can explore the childhood of someone youíre dating, getting him to reveal what his life was like, that might give you a clue. But there are no guarantees. Some bullies learn to hide their bullying for a while. On the other hand, if you are a bully ďmagnetĒ then youíre not doing a good job of assessing other peopleís personalities. In that case, I would ask your friends and family members. If you go out on a date with another couple, ask them what they think of your date. If they tell you that thereís something wrong with him, then maybe you should trust their judgement. But donít be too hard on yourself because you only chose one bully, so hopefully the odds are in your favor the next time around.

Q. My best friend's boyfriend yells at her if other men speak to her in public and starts a huge fight with her when she wants to go out with the girls, he also tells her what to wear and accuses her of not being attracted to him or loving him if she does not want sex that night... he calls her names and publicly humiliates her. Then he never apologizes and says she made him do it and expects and apology from her and ignores and hangs up on her until she does so... what is this? It is okay for him to go out with guys and do all of things he does not want her doing... he can talk with women in public and it is okay? He also promised to engage her this fall and every time a fight occurs he tells her that they are not getting along well enough to get engaged and puts the blame back on her and so they never seem to get engaged??

A. It sounds to me that heís doing her a big favor by not buying her an engagement ring because why would she want to marry someone who calls her names and humiliates her in public? Since she still has her freedom, she should put it to good use and tell him that she never wants to see him again.

Q. I did not grow up with emotional abuse in my household, no "parents" were ever critical of me. I grew up with my mom and there was virtually no fighting at home. But for some reason, I have married a guy who has increasingly let his colors show. He grew up with abuse and knows it, and won't do anything about it. I wonder why I am in this situation, I've never been drawn to emotionally abusive relationships before. How would someone without any background get pulled into this?

A. Since he is only now letting his colors show, obviously he was good at hiding this side of his personality. You neednít feel that this is in any way your fault. You were duped. But now that you know what kind of man he is, you either have to get him to change or leave. I donít believe anyone should remain in an abusive relationship. I donít believe there are any excuses you can make to yourself, such as ďIíll stay for the kidsĒ or ďI need to stay in this marriage for financial reasons.Ē Itís much better for any kids for them to get away from an abuser, and you can find a way to both earn a living and have a life. Millions of women do it. Iím not saying itís ideal, but itís better than living with someone who is abusing you. Plus, once you leave, thereís always the option of finding someone else. But if you stay, youíre stuck. So tell him in no uncertain terms what his choices are, and then act accordingly.

Q. My husband has always been intimidating to others, but over the past 6 months, he has allowed his frustrations from work come home with him. I thought it was male menopause at first, but his personality can flip on a dime and now our ten-year marriage is going out the door. How can I decipher whether this is an honest to goodness biological situation going on or just a bullying situation with me now being his target? We have been seeing a counselor, but the counselor told me (one to one) that he sees no effort on my husband's part to change or make nice. I do not want to discard our relationship if this is something that he can get help for, but approaching him is frightening.

A. First of all, there is no such thing as male menopause. Yes, men do change as they age, but from a physiological point of view, there is no drastic reduction in the production of hormones similar to what women undergo. So with regards to your husband, itís not biological, itís psychological, and if he wants to change, he could make the effort. But if heís not willing to change, then you have no choice, it seems to me, but to walk away from this marriage. Putting up with behavior that you describe as ďfrighteningĒ is just not an option. You have to let him know in no uncertain terms that you wonít put up with it. Now this situation doesnít seem hopeless because he has been willing to go for counseling. That means he recognizes that he has a problem. Maybe he has to be pushed to the edge in order to change. My last point is that perhaps he needs to see a psychiatrist who could prescribe medication to calm him down. A counselor cannot do that, though perhaps his physician would feel comfortable doing that. But it sounds like he has a lot of anger inside of him and might benefit from a prescription drug to calm him down.

Q. My friend is in a bullying relationship. Her boyfriend calls her names and insults her like it's just a joke. How can I confront my friend about facing his bullying without compromising our friendship?

A. Reading your question, what stands out is the word ďconfront.Ē Of course if you confront your friend, sheís going to resent it. But if you donít adopt a confrontational attitude, then maybe sheíd be more likely to accept your advise. Sometimes when Iím on a television program I come on strong, but television is what is called a ďcoolĒ medium and in order for the audience to get your message, you have to exaggerate a bit. But when youíre talking to a friend over a cup of coffee about what is a hot subject, you have to be a bit ďcoolĒ in your approach. Especially in a situation such as you describe, Iím certain that she feels badly when her boyfriend calls her name. So what she needs from you is not confrontation, but support. She needs to hear from you that no matter what, youíll be there for her. With that support, maybe she will feel strong enough to stand up to this guy. But if she feels that you might abandon her, then sheíll feel more insecure and more likely to stay with this guy. So yes, do try to talk to her, but donít hit her with a ton of bricks but instead see if you can get her to take some baby-steps, all while letting her know that youíll be her friend no matter what.

Q. Recently met a sweet girl through the Internet. My parents say they like her very much but the rest of the family which is a younger brother by two years and an older sister that is older by four years seem to persuade my parents that sheís controlling me, which is not the case at all. Previously I went to work for my sisterís husband business for a year. Unfortunately it never worked out due to promises he made to me about learning the business but he never gave me the time to follow through on his promises. Could this be the result; that she is trying very hard to derail my relationship because of the fact that I left his business on my own behalf? As the year progressed as I was working there, all the employees always made difficult sarcastic remarks to the point where I had no choice but to leave that unpleasant environment.

A. You say both your siblings donít like this girl, yet your brother had nothing to do with your sisterís husbandís business. Maybe you should talk to him some more to see why he feels this way. I canít tell you what to do because I donít know enough about this situation, but if two people say that sheís controlling, then maybe you should at least listen to them and take a careful look at the relationship. If after that you then decide to stick with her, at least youíll have done your due diligence.

Let me add one more thing. You say that the other employees were, effectively, bullying you. And now it seems this woman may be bossing you around. Itís possible that you donít stand up for yourself. If you think thatís true, then you should be careful with regards to this ďsweet girl.Ē Even if you do decide to stay together, you may need to improve your ability to stick up for yourself.

Q. My sister and I are the products of an abusive father. Two years ago we decided that the abuse was going to continue and trickle down to our own children. We decided to discontinue our relationship with our father due to the fact he does not believe he has ever abused us. Our question has to do with our mother. She has chosen to stay in this relationship even though she has admitted to the abuse that has occurred over the years. My sister and I are unsure of what kind of relationship we can have with her since she has decided to continue to be with him. Can you advise us on how to proceed with our relationship with our mother without continuing to be abused and manipulated by our father? Thank you for your time and consideration.

A. This is a very sad situation, though Iím glad that youíve decided to stand up for yourselves and are protecting your children. As to your mother, I think you have to try to see her as much as possible, and not abandon her, but you do have to be careful that your father doesnít use your desire to be with her to try to bully the two of you again. You know, when you stand up to bullies, they usually back down. So itís possible to see your mother and still stand up to your father. Of course what may happen is that heíll try to force her to stop seeing you. Whether or not you can get around that is another story. But your mother needs and deserves as much support as you can give her. As long as you two remain strong, your father canít hurt you so at this point, so donít be overly concerned about this and try to maintain contact with your mother.

Q. I am pregnant and I think he will change once the baby is born, is that possible???

A. If youíre saying that heís been bullying you in one way or another and will he stop just because you have a baby, Iím sorry the answer is that he wonít. In fact, if he has more of a hold on you because you need him to support that baby, he may increase the degree to which he bullies you. I hope you didnít get pregnant with that hope, because youíre going to be sorely disappointed. If you stand up to him, if you make him respect you, that might work. Bullies are usually cowards and they will back down if they see that their victim is no longer willing to play that role. But if you wonít change your attitude, then having a baby is not going to be the solution.

Q. What if one does not come from a home where abuse was evident. Why then would one choose a partner who exhibits forms of verbal bullying, and just how does one take the sting out of the "impersonal" rages? We are not talking a newly-wed situation. More like 40 years.

A. Lots of people donít recognize bullying for what it is. Thatís why I wrote my book. If someone hit them, theyíd know it was wrong, and hopefully get themselves out of the situation. But if it never rises to that level, people just donít react that strongly. They put up with it. And thatís probably what you did. And itís very hard to accept it because you shouldnít have to. It may seem to you that after putting up with this for 40 years that thereís nothing you can do, but I disagree. Itís never too late to stop a source of pain. So Iíd recommend that you stop allowing yourself to be bullied and take action.

Q. Iíve got teenage children that have been raised by a bullying father. Is it too late to repair the damage that has already been done to? How can I, or can I, help to prevent my kids from growing up and either repeating this behavior or being in relationships with bullies?

A. The problem is that children who are raised in a home where there is bullying can think that this is normal behavior, and either they repeat it by bullying others or expect to be bullied themselves. So itís vital that you explain to them that this is not normal and that they are not doomed to have bullying in their families as long as they do everything they can to prevent it. Theyíve seen bullying first hand, so they know how bad it can be. That should give them an incentive to try to stop this vicious cycle from continuing. What they need from you is the information that they can do it if they work at it.

Q. Why do people stay in abusive relationships for years? How does this affect children who witness the abuse? What can a person do on a day to day basis to end the cycle of abuse to heal themselves and their children?

A. For the most part, the reason people stay in an abusive relationship for years is that they come from a home where there was abuse and so they expect to find abuse when they grow up and believe that itís part of just about any relationship. If someone didnít grow up with abuse, as soon as a partner tried to abuse them, that man or woman would be out the door. But if you grow up seeing your father abusing your mother regularly, for example, you donít find it strange if your spouse abuses you. And since this is a cycle, if your kids are witnessing abuse at home, then theyíll find it normal when they grow up and the cycle will continue.

How do you stop the cycle? By acknowledging that abuse is not normal and is not to be tolerated. Once you see the abuse for what it is, unacceptable behavior, then you can begin to take action. At that point you can find the courage to stand up to the abuser, or if itís physical abuse, to find a safe haven.

I know itís hard for people whoíve never experienced abuse to understand how people remain in such relationships, but everyone has to made aware that itís not an accident, but a learned behavior that starts during childhood and that only when the victim reaches the conclusion that abuse is not to be tolerated that the cycle can be broken.

Q. I think I am bullying myself -- constantly hurting myself for not being good enough. This can lead to self destructive behavior. How do you get rid of this?

A. I call this the bully in your mind. Basically the negative parental voices that you might have heard from your childhood now live in your mind and while your parents may have been good people and there might have been a lot of warm and fuzzies in your childhood, itís the things that hurt you that you remember most of all and itís the warmth that you take for granted. So some of the things you might remember in some way indicated, either directly or indirectly, that youíre incompetent, clumsy, lazy, that your ideas and opinions are wrong, especially compared to those of your parents an basically who and what you are were unacceptable.

The solution is really for you to stand up to your inner bully, and though you may not believe it, you can do it. Thatís the very first step, without feeling angry and disappointed because thatís a waste of energy, and understanding that itís not going to happen overnight, but it can and will happen.

Since youíre the first person to pose a question on this site, let me say congratulations weíre going to send you a copy of my book. Youíll read a lot more of what to do about an inner bully in the book. But until your book arrives, one piece of advice I can give you is that you can talk back to your inner bully, just as you can to all the bullies in your life. Thatís the first step in ridding yourself of bullies. So when you hear those negative messages inside your head, answer back with positive ones. Theyíll absolutely start you on the road to building your confidence and self esteem and make it easier to stand up to your inner bully partner. Always do it with ďIĒ messages rather than ďyouĒ messages because pointing your is never a good way to solve a problem.

Let me know if you have any other questions.

Q. My husband pesters me for sex with lines like he needs it, do it for him etc. I do not want it many of these times and finally give in after listening to his whining enough. I tend to lay there with my eyes closed and hope it's over soon. Yet if the role is reversed and I am the one wanting well if he is willing I get it otherwise I am told I am too wild and he just can't keep up, he's tired. Am I just a fool or is he a bully?

A. Your sexual relationship with your partner might also be a reliable barometer for your relationship as a whole. Being bullied sexually can sometimes feel more frightening and upsetting and overwhelming than any other type of bullying and the reason is that youíre at your most vulnerable when youíre lying naked in a bed. If your partner is not caring and kind, and you get a sick, sinking feeling when your partner is approaching because heís not going to honor you or be sensual, and he might even hurt you physically and not listen to any of you want to have done, and if you do things like fake orgasms, and find yourself wishing it was over, and it leaves you empty, then itís time for you to understand that you deserve to be treated with love and respect by your partner in the bedroom and out of the bedroom. You have to say what you want and speak up for it. Donít whine about it but say it in an adult way where the two of you sit and talk with each other about your needs, at another time rather than when youíre having sex, perhaps over a glass of wine. Tell him, ďI want to be with you, but this is what Iíd really love you to do.Ē Say this in a sensual way. You need to read the chapter in my book on this, and more than once in order to make it your own and take charge in a way that is user friendly. Donít walk on eggshells, just say Iíd really love it if you did this, if we spoke to each other like this, and talked to each other and looked into each otherís eyes, and connected emotionally because thatís like foreplay for me. Thatís when I really would want you. Iím not sure what kind of guy he is but thereís always a way to figure it out. Let me know how you make out.

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