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Cancer Survivor Living With Explosive Husband

by Anonymous

I've been married now about 16 years. Over the years, my husband has had an explosive anger problem. Oftentimes, I would feel that his anger came out of nowhere, triggered by something small.

He has high expectations, and I cannot live up to these. My issues are that I have difficulty with managing my schedule and keeping track of the finances. I've been going to school, we have a son, and I am now working part time. He has never hit me or my son.

In 2010, I was diagnosed with stage 2B breast cancer, and I underwent aggressive treatment. So far everything has been good; however, I worry that the cancer will return partially due to his volatile moods, causing a great deal of distress in our home.
After going through all the medical treatment, I am thinking that I need to do what is best for me. I've been going back and forth on the decision to divorce him.

However, there are some reasons that keep me staying, which are: 1) I may not be able to afford living in our current neighborhood due to my very low income and my son will be attending one of the best high schools in the country; 2) I am worried that if the cancer returns, what would happen to my son if I have custody and how will this ultimately affect him; 3) how will I afford health insurance.

On the other hand, I think it is unhealthy for my son to be yelled at over small, and big, issues. His self esteem has taken a beating over the years. Furthermore, I know it is really unhealthy for him to witness his father abusively speaking/hollering/belittling me when he gets triggered.

We have been in therapy, and the therapist has suggested he take antidepressants. However, while he has taken them, he will not take more than the child-dosage amount. (He's complying, but at the bare minimum.)

My husband has good qualities, but they are getting overrun by these bad experiences.

What do you think I need to do?

Response from Dr. DeFoore

Hello, and thanks for telling your story here. You are in a tough spot, to be sure. The two choices you face, either staying with your husband, knowing that he will most likely continue hurting both you and your son, or ending your marriage and facing all of the difficult challenges that are involved with that decision. I will try to help.

Ultimately, no one can advise you in this type of situation. From what you've written here, this sounds like an almost fifty-fifty scenario, where the gains and losses equal out with both of your choices. You may feel differently, but that's the way it sounds to me, and that's why you're having trouble deciding what to do.

I know there is much more to your situation than you've described here, and to advise you I would need to know much more and perhaps even be counseling you. What I would try to lead you toward is trusting yourself. You have to be the one to make the decision, because it's your marriage, your family, and your future. The only thing that makes these situations more clear is some type of extreme abuse and/or addiction. I don't mean to minimize the destructiveness of verbal/emotional can be extremely damaging. But again, I would need more information to determine the extent of the abuse and the damage.

And of course, your health is a serious consideration in how you look at your marriage and its impact. Again, you're the only person who can know the extent of this impact. Trust your own intuition and gut feeling.

As long as you choose to stay in the marriage, I suggest that you try these two approaches:

1) Tell your husband very clearly and directly what is acceptable and unacceptable to you. Do this in a calm, loving way. You may even want to put it in writing, so that he knows for sure. You can do this in the presence of a therapist, if you choose.

2) Make up your mind to create a positive life for yourself and your son. Begin focusing on the positive things in your life, including the positive aspects of your yourself, your husband and your son. Focus on the good man that you once believed him to be, and imagine him becoming more and more that man. If he continues to be abusive, that will only help you in making your decision. This positive focus is just to keep you from becoming part of the problem with your own negative reactions to his behavior.

I hope this makes sense to you, and you find it to be helpful. For more guidance on this subject, read about dealing with marital problems.

Believe in yourself and your ability to make a good decision regarding your marriage and your family. You have what it takes, and you're the right person to make this decision.

My very best to you,

Dr. DeFoore

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