I didn’t realize I was in an emotionally abusive marriage. But I was. Married at 23-years-old to a man chasing the dream of success as a medical physician, I was along for the ride.
But all too soon, the ride got very bumpy.
Arguments turned into character-attacking rants. Nights of alcoholic rage became the norm.
Convinced it was my fault, I tried harder to be a better wife. Nothing changed. My self-esteem plummeted under the weight of shame.
I wish I could tell you I recognized the dysfunction in my marriage and sought help. But I didn’t. At least, not until far-reaching damage had been done to me emotionally.
Eleven years after saying “I do,” I finally gathered the courage to walk away. With two young daughters to raise, I refused to subject them to the emotional (and sometimes physical) abuse I was experiencing. Al-Anon—an organization dedicated to families of alcoholics—gave me the tools I needed to set healthy boundaries that enabled me to start a new life.
Unfortunately, boundaries couldn’t save my alcoholic marriage that included a history of relapse and destructive patterns. But I learned life-changing lessons on how boundaries impact relationships.
As a result, I’m sensitive to others in emotionally or physically abusive relationships. I quickly recognize fuzzy or negligent boundary setting. And I see it often in stepfamily relationships.
Sitting across the table from a stepmom in tears, I suspected a boundary problem. As the conversation continued, I listened to her describe her stepson’s fits of rage and disrespectful language toward her and her husband. At 17-years-old, he was controlling their home with his behavior. But she didn’t know how to change it.
“How does your husband respond to his son’s actions?” I asked.
“It becomes a yelling match to see who can get in the last word,” the stepmom responded. “I often leave the house and take our daughter with me. I can’t stand to watch it unravel. But the real problem exists when my husband isn’t home and the behavior gets directed at me. His outbursts are becoming increasingly more violent and I’m scared to confront his anger—he’s bigger and stronger than I am.”