Hi Carolyn:

Do you think it's ever worth it to try to reason with an abusive spouse? Somehow I only just realized that what my husband does is abusive and it has been going on for the full four years we have been married. He is controlling and overbearing, watches my every move, goes through my purse when I'm not looking and accuses me of cheating even though I have never cheated. Do you think it's worth it to say to him, "HELLO. Do you know that what you are doing to me is abusive and it must stop?" Do you think counseling would help or are abusive men just abusive forever? My gut is telling me to get the hell out fast.


Of course it can be worth it. An abusive person is still a human being, and if he is the way he is because he was taught to be this way, and if he has never been made aware of the damage done to him that he's now inflicting on you, and if there is still love between you and you're not afraid of him, then giving him a chance could be the compassionate thing to do.

It could also be dangerous, even lethal, which easily (and unfortunately) trumps compassion and a bunch of "ifs." That's why I'm never going to advise against anyone's gut in a situation like this, even with a partner who hasn't been violent. If your impulse is to "get the hell out fast," then trust it, please.

But act on it with care. The safest approach is to enlist ongoing, one-on-one help from an expert (call 1-800-799-SAFE for advice and a local referral), and in the meantime to become an expert yourself, quickly; for that I recommend "The Gift of Fear" by Gavin de Becker.

Even if your gut finds the book so reassuring that it reverses itself and tells you to go the "HELLO" route, I urge you (and anyone with any questions) to talk to an expert anyway. Make the call. By hearing the full version of your story, assessing your risk, helping you understand how you might have been vulnerable to an abuser, discussing your options and talking you through whatever remedy you choose, this expert can help you anticipate things you might not see on your own. That improves your chances of a happy outcome, no matter which outcome you seek.

Dear Carolyn:

I broke up with a boyfriend about five years ago. He was extremely emotionally abusive. I sought counseling, moved on, and am now very happily married. The ex and I have friends in common, so I still see him from time to time. It's extremely uncomfortable for me, and almost always brings up a lot of emotions. It's been so long that I feel ridiculous responding this strongly. Any suggestions about how to finally leave all this behind me?


For debilitating emotions, it's worth a trip back to counseling. Why mess with it?

But if you're really just "extremely uncomfortable," and then quickly back to your new self, then consider relaxing your definition of "moving on." It doesn't mean you expunge all pain. It just means you can feel it, on occasion, and not get completely derailed.

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