The Rational Basis® of Happiness Podcast

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Divorce - Should I?

My wife is mentally and physically abusive.

(this is raw unedited text transcribed directly from the audio)


Dr. Kenner:      Pete, you’re dealing with difficulty with your wife. She’s cruel to you?


Pete:                Oh yeah.


Dr. Kenner:      What’s going on?


Pete:                If I say something to her, like it’s a sunny day and we’re sitting outside, she’ll say, “No, it’s not.” And she’ll repeat “It’s a sunny day,” but she’ll discount anything I say. No matter what it is. So we’re driving down the road. I tell her there’s a gas station three miles away. She’ll say, “No, there’s not a gas station. You don’t know anything. You’re stupid. You’re crazy. Dumb.” All these other things. And then we’ll go around the corner and there’s the gas station. Anything. I mean, simple little things, anything from doing simple math or figuring out the balance on a checkbook or the tip that is 15%. She basically is abusive. We’re walking through a parking lot and I’m holding her hand and she lets go. We just had a nice meal and I don’t know what happened, but she just comes up from behind me and literally body-checks me, like a hockey player, and sends me sailing into a pickup truck where my knee hit the bumper hitch.


Dr. Kenner:      So she’s crossed the line. She’s not just verbally abusive, but she’s physically abusive to you.


Pete:                Oh yeah. She slammed the car door on my hand and I had to get stitches and all of that. And just denies it. She says, “Get up, you’re embarrassing me.”


Dr. Kenner:      The question is, how long have you been married? I’ve got a few questions.


Pete:                About 10 years.


Dr. Kenner:      And has it been this way all the way along, or was there more of a honeymoon period earlier on?


Pete:                Yeah, there was a part where she was a little angel, a great friend and a confidant. And then I found out later on that everything I was telling her in confidence, nothing really important, but little private things that I would confide into her, she would spill that onto her coworkers and friends.


Dr. Kenner:      So she would broadcast what should have been an intimate relationship between the two of you, where you feel free to let down your hair and talk about what’s privately on your mind and you don’t want it broadcast elsewhere. I guess the question is, you’ve been married 10 years and it soured. Even when she was an angel, you discovered that the angel had devil underpinnings and that she was basically betraying you and she didn’t know how to appreciate you or run a good relationship. Do you think you played any role in this, Pete?


Pete:                Well, I don’t know. Because I knew her from college and I loved her then, so I don’t know, maybe I was trying to make up for when we separated, I don’t know. She got me to quit my job. I was making really good money and go to some other job and she said, “Oh, I’ll show you how to do this job.” She never did. She was just getting angry with me when I’d ask her for assistance.


Dr. Kenner:      It sounds like she’s envious of you. She’s trying to take away very top values of yours, such as your career. How close have you come to leaving her?    


Pete:                Oh, quite a few times. Actually, I quit my job and started doing something where I travel all the time now. But I don’t want to leave but I do want to leave.


Dr. Kenner:      So that’s the state of feeling ambivalent. There are reasons in your mind why you want to stay. There are reasons why you want to leave. You’ve been married 10 years. Do you have kids together?


Pete:                No. It’s a previous marriage but they’re all grown up.


Dr. Kenner:      Thank your lucky stars because … here is what I would recommend doing. There is no reason to stay in a romantic relationship when it is anything but. However, you need to give it some really careful thought, which you know. You need to do what’s called explore your own ambivalence. I’ve written a book with Dr. Ed Locke which is – it’s going to sound crazy because I’m going to sound like I’m on your wife’s side, but I'm not – The Selfish Path to Romance. Your wife would not be in the category of selfish. She would be self-destructive in my book. It’s how to love with passion and reason. But what we have at the end of the book is an appendix, Pete, and I’m going to give you these in order. You can always listen to the podcast again at if you can’t get them down right away. First, you want to get in a private area, maybe go to a coffee shop or someplace where you are far away from her. You say you travel. Identify the reasons on paper why you are considering a divorce. You want to make sure she never finds this paper – you can shred it after. But get out all, you just let it fly, uncensored. Nobody else is going to see this but you, so you don’t have to be tactful. You just name all the reasons why you’re considering a divorce. It may include a lot of examples of her, slamming your hand in a door and telling you to shut up, the examples you’ve been giving me. Calling you names. Discounting you. Body-checking you. I mean, she sounds like a nightmare to live with. And then the hard part is the next part. Which is you want to identify what’s keeping you there. What are the barriers keeping you in an unsatisfactory relationship? Now, those barriers are fascinating to look at. And we have different categories at the end of my book. One of them is nostalgia. You once had a good relationship and you can remember the warmer moments, the sexy moments, the friendly moments, the confidant moments. And if you think of those moments out of context, you’re going to be forever questioning yourself. Another reason is feeling like you had marriage vows “till death do us part” and you feel guilty breaking your marriage vows, but nobody has a right to keep you in a relationship that is abusive. Another may be fear of being alone, worrying about financial partners, or fear of hurting the abusing partner in your case. Fear of upsetting your family and friends. So that is, you just look at any barrier. What’s keeping me here?


Pete:                I’m shaking my head yes.


Dr. Kenner:      I wish I could see you. So you identify the reasons you’re considering leaving, a divorce. You’re considering the barriers keeping you in a bad relationship, and then the third thing you do is put all of that evidence together. The reasons why you want to leave and the reasons that keep you stuck there. And make a decision. And then after that, you want to figure out how to safely break the news to a partner. You definitely need a good strategy. You may even want to find a therapist for yourself to figure out how to break the news in a safe way and you try to set up a respectful atmosphere. That is not always possible when you’ve got an abusive and maybe narcissistic partner, the way you’re describing her, she sounds very abusive. Then you go public with family and friends. You make an action plan. And there’s a lot of good information in the book. And then we have how do you start over again? How do you take new steps toward your own genuine romantic happiness and don’t make the same mistake again? Listen, I hope that helps you. You can go to my website, I wrote it with Dr. Ed Locke. And thank you for your call Pete.


Pete:                Thank you. I appreciate your time and your information. And that’s one of the things I was thinking about.