Artwork: Tess Emily Rodriguez
She’s made all the mistakes, so you don’t have to… Ask Erin is a weekly advice column, in which Erin answers your burning questions about anything at all.
Am I in an emotionally abusive marriage?
My husband and I have been together for 14 years, and we have three children together.
Recently, we got into a really silly fight in regards to the color of my hair. He has been pressuring me for years to go super blonde, but my hair is very dark, and it just doesn't go the shade that he wants. I ended up dyeing my hair again, over the failure that was my attempt to go blonde, and went back to my natural hair color.
He had a massive meltdown about it. He told me I was selfish, that I never let him have anything he wants etc. We ended up sitting down and talking the next day, and I told him that him asking me to change my appearance all the time (dye my hair blonde, get Brazilian waxes) makes me feel very insecure like I'm not good enough for him, and he apologized.
A few days later, he left a pornographic video up on the computer for me to find that had hot blonde in the subject bar. He also left the "used towel" behind for me to pick up.
This isn't the first time he's done something like this.
Every time he does it, I'm the one who ends up crying and apologizing to him for not being a "proper wife" and taking care of his needs the way I should.
I'm just so confused right now. It's really messing with my head, and I don't know what to do. I think I want to leave but I can't. Honestly, I don't think I have the strength to leave him.
I'm not the same person I was before I met him. I have no family or friends that I can go to, nobody I can talk to about this. I don't drive and financially, I rely on him for everything.
I just feel... so broken right now.
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I want to get straight to the answer here.
Your husband’s behavior is emotionally abusive.
Emotional abuse can be defined as "any act including confinement, isolation, verbal assault, humiliation, intimidation, infantilization, or any other treatment which may diminish the sense of identity, dignity, and self-worth.”
There is no universe in which it is okay for a partner to berate you and continuously be demanding or pressuring you to change your physical appearance. Further, you have recognized that this a pattern with him. That he does things that make you feel horrible, like leaving the porn and used towel for you to find, and then turns it back on you.
Please know that saying and doing harmful things and then making you feel like it’s your fault is textbook gaslighting.
He is gaslighting you.
That you feel confused is a byproduct of all that gaslighting. I was once in a relationship with a man who lied and cheated repeatedly, and every time my suspicions were aroused, he would twist things around and make me doubt my intuition, made me think I was “crazy.”
I understand that getting out of this situation feels impossible, but it is not.
Approach this one step at a time. I am not sure where you live, but there are resources available locally in many places. In the United States, the resources page on the National Domestic Violence Hotline site is a good place to start. There are a variety of resources available in the UK as well. If you email me, I can point you in the right direction to start.
Start getting a safety plan in order. A safety plan is a strategy for you to exit an abusive relationship safely. This may sound dramatic, but even in relationships where the abuse is strictly emotional/psychological/financial, an abuser can make things worse if they discover you are trying to leave.
There’s another critical point I want to make. Seeing as you have children, I feel it is even more imperative that you start making a plan to get out.
We model relationships for our children, and I am sure that you don’t want your children to grow up and be in relationships like this one — as either the victim or abuser.
I know this is scary, but you can get out. There is a path to finding some financial independence for yourself. You are not broken. But you will need to reach out for help — from an organization like the ones I linked above — and you will need to start creating a support system for yourself. I know you mentioned you had no family or friends to turn to. Attempt to deepen a more casual friendship with someone who you believe is trustworthy and seek some guidance in a local support group.
And please, do email me again for some region-specific resources.
The information within Ask Erin should in no way be interpreted as medical advice because I’m not a medical professional. But I am here to help — to share with you the wisdom I’ve gained after years of making mistakes. If you have a question for me about relationships, addiction, dating, friendships, depression, parenting, sex, consent, what I’m watching, what I’m reading, Blue Calcite, or anything at all, use the contact form below or email me: firstname.lastname@example.org. As always, your anonymity is golden. Lastly, I’m so excited to share with you my Ask Erin Self-Care Guide, free when you sign up for my weekly newsletter. xoxo