Friday 15 November 2019

Dear Mary: My husband verbally abuses me regularly

Illustration: Tom Halliday
Illustration: Tom Halliday

Mary O'Connor

Relationship counsellor and psychosexual therapist Mary O'Conor offers relationship advice in her weekly column.

Question: I Don't know where to begin, as I've told nobody about this. We will be 30 years married next year, but in some ways I feel I have no reason to celebrate. My husband  regularly verbally abuses me, and the things he says are disgusting and demeaning. It is so hard for me to accept it when he apologises. He screams abuse at me in front of our children, but whispers an apology. I feel that he is chipping away at me all the time, chipping away at my love and respect for him. My grown-up son sometimes intervenes, then they end up arguing, and my daughter rarely speaks to him. He says I turned them against him.

He blames pressure at work, but he has always had a short fuse. We were happy for many years when the kids were smaller and we would still have good times now, but the abuse has become more regular. He goes to work early, finishes early, and goes to the pub almost every day. He expects me to collect him from the pub but he is never ready and if I say anything I'll get abuse all the way home. I'm not talking to him at the moment, so I won't collect him. He regularly threatens to kill himself, which sometimes I wish he would so it would be an end to this. I know that's an awful thing to say.

I visit my elderly mother in the evening at the weekend, unless we are going out, and I get abuse for this. I started an exercise class recently, which I love, I also get abuse for this. I know I am not perfect but I do my best. I dread the kids leaving home - one has already gone abroad for work and my husband blames me for this. His father died when he was young, I think this is where his problem started. Sometimes he scares me but I like to push him - I tell him to hit me, then I'll have a physical injury. I feel so stupid putting up with this all these years, I've let everyone down, especially myself. I could go on and on writing, but it feels so good to share it with someone, so thank you.

Mary replies: this is one of a number of letters that I got on this topic - verbal abuse - so, if it is any small consolation, you are not alone in your situation. One lady told me that the man she once loved she now hates, and you are not too upset by the prospect of your husband killing himself. So people can get an idea as to how this purely verbal abuse with no physical component can wear one down to such an extent.

It is unfortunate that you allowed this to go on for as long as it has, because it seems that the more he is allowed to abuse you the worse it gets. However, you must assure yourself that none of this is your fault, and you have now taken the first step in changing things by writing to me. If that feels good, then imagine how good it would be to be able to share this with somebody else. What I have in mind is a family member whom you trust (but not your children) or a close friend in whom you can confide. Ask if you can meet up with them and explain that there is something serious that you want to discuss. You might be able to spend an overnight with them. I realise that it might be difficult to begin with, but it will get easier when you start telling your story and feel their concern. Tell them how things have been for you and ask their help and support as you try to change things.

If you don't have a supportive family member or close friend, then you should seek professional support to help you deal with it. A good place to start is the ADAPT Domestic Abuse Services website,, and their helpline is 1800 200 504. By doing what he does, your husband is crossing all sorts of boundaries - the image of him whispering an apology after screaming abuse at you is heartbreaking. As things stand, your husband is holding most of the power in the relationship, instead of it being equal, and you have to now ensure that you take back that power.

Apart from writing to me you have already taken a stand by refusing to pick him up from the pub and this should continue. Why should you do him a favour in order to be abused? So now continue as you have started off, and refuse to take any more of the abuse. Ask him, for instance, in a quiet voice, if he would repeat what he has just said to you in order that you can be sure of what he has said. Or tell him that what he has said is totally unacceptable and he needs to apologise. The more that you hand back the awful things that he is saying to you, the better you will feel.

Then seek help as I have suggested so that you are not alone in dealing with all this.

My demanding mother is just impossible

Question: I have to write to you about my mother. She was not a great mother when we were growing up. She basically fed us, cleaned the house and shut down, reading as many as 10 Mills & Boons a day. She never attended a sports event and never made friends locally. She told us on getting married that if we had children it was nothing to do with her and to find childminders ourselves. She had reared her own kids and wasn’t rearing more. The funny thing is, we raised each other, as we often had to help around the house, mind younger kids, etc. My Dad drank a lot and they fought all the time. He also was not involved in our childhood and was a very selfish and immature person.

Now that we are grown up, moved into our own homes, had our families,  she wants all the attention and focus  to be on her. She will ring at any time,  complaining about minor ailments, complaining about her neighbours, telling personal details about my brothers and sisters to me, and about me to them. She will  ring one sibling asking for something, then ring the others saying the first one wouldn’t help her. Or if someone does something nice, she’ll ring up all the others rubbing their noses in it and comparing one  against another. She will ring my mobile and if I don’t answer will immediately  ring my home phone. If that’s not answered in five rings she’ll ring my partner’s phone, make a big drama saying, “Oh, I couldn’t  get her, is everything all right?” Then he will be worried and ring me from work to see if I’m ok and ask why I didn’t answer the phone.

She will tell neighbours that she is left all alone and that she could die and no one would know (she is a hypochondriac).

The thing is, she was never there for us as kids or growing up. She was like a minder who came in, worked, cleaned, and then left. Except she was a mother. We were always in bed by eight no matter what was going on. She never got up to us at night as babies either.

My father died and we were very shaken as it was very sudden. She called me aside one day and said ‘you all seem to want to  talk about this and are upset, but I’m in a happy place now and don’t want to talk about it so you can all talk among yourselves’!

My best friend died suddenly and I was upset. Again, she called me aside and said

I was making too much of grieving and I was to get anti-depressants and ‘end this nonsense’.

We all try to be loving and affectionate to our own kids as we know what it’s like not to get any affection, but she laughs and says we’re killing ourselves for nothing. I’ve tried showing her how to be nicer or more caring, including her in things, taking her on holidays, etc., but she always makes some little dig and never ever returns the favour or asks us to anything.

She has a new car, four holidays a year, no mortgage, and is in good health, but  she still manages to complain about things. She talks behind everyone’s back and is just nasty. I can’t find it in myself to even like her.

It’s so hard and she won’t change. All of this has been pointed out to her but she ignores what we say and continues ringing, harassing, and talking about us behind our backs. I read the term ‘energy vampire’ recently and it’s very fitting. What do we do? It’s exhausting. She demands the time and care from us that we never got from her.

Mary replies: I can hear your frustration as you tell me about your life with your parents, and now particularly with your mother. It must have been awful to grow up without any affection, but what comes shining through your letter  is the certainty of how things should be  and the equal certainty that you and  your siblings are giving your own children  as much love and attention as you possibly can.

There is no law that says you must like your mother and from all that you say you are doing everything you can to be a good daughter to her. In order to fully understand her lack of love as a mother to her children, I would need to know her history, so I cannot explain it to you. But I can sympathise and admire you for your tenacity in doing the right thing by her. I’m so sorry that you lost your best friend at what was no doubt an early age. Best friends are our rocks and it is sad that you didn’t get to grow old together.

I know it is very difficult for you to  keep going with no thanks or acknowledgement from your mother but she isn’t going to  change at this stage of her life. All I can do is reassure you that you will ultimately be glad that you did all that you could in helping her have a happy life. I have no doubt that your children will have a different story to tell when their time comes to look out for you in your old age.

I applaud you, and indeed your siblings, for continuing to deal with your mother as best you can. Well done, even if you would prefer to hear those words from your mother.

You can contact Mary O’Conor anonymously by visiting or email her at or write c/o 27-32 Talbot Street, Dublin 1. All correspondence will be treated in confidence. Mary O’Conor regrets that she is unable to answer any questions privately.

Sunday Indo Living

Editors Choice

Also in this section