Carolyn Hax: Advice

Wife’s tirades affect kids, too

Carolyn Hax
Carolyn Hax

Hello Carolyn: My wife of nine years has been controlling, possessive, and verbally abusive for years, maybe since the beginning. I have thought a hundred times that it’s time to call it quits but then I think of our kids, all under 11. I suck it up most of the time, bite my tongue and let the hurtful words and false accusations keep coming. Someone else is to blame in every issue we face, in her eyes. She rarely if ever apologizes for the things she says, and there exists a double standard for behavior like you wouldn’t believe.

The worst part isn’t the near-daily arguments or underhanded comments I receive from my wife, but that I have begun to see her treat my kids in the same manner. I try to insert myself and draw her ire onto me but all the same they hear it.

I don’t want a divorce, I just want the arguing to end and for us to actually be the family she insists we should be in public all the time.

What do I do short of divorce? If it came to that I’d feel like I left my kids to deal with her issues (diagnosed anxiety at the minimum) by themselves.

Desperate for Happiness

It’s a difficult and painful situation, I’m sorry.

You are also in way over your head. Just because it’s a marriage as opposed to, say, a medical procedure doesn’t mean you’re equipped to handle it.

Your wife is an abuser and, if I’m reading you correctly, struggling with mental illness. Both of these are best addressed professionally. Please get therapy – for you, alone.

Your kids, meanwhile, are (BEG ITAL)not(END ITAL) the beneficiaries of your emotional sacrifice to stay in your marriage, as you rightly intend them to be; instead, they are as stuck as you are inside the blast radius of your wife’s hostilities.

This problem is complicated, of course, since separating could put your kids in your wife’s care without you around to protect them. That’s an important consideration. However, seeing this as the only possible outcome is premature unless you’ve already explored and exhausted all other options. And if you haven’t yet documented the abuse and consulted discreetly with a family therapist and a divorce attorney, then you haven’t even begun.

Of utmost concern, though, is that you and your kids have no support for living amid chaos. You need strategies and your kids need a safe place to process what they’re witnessing and feeling every day. Otherwise they’re just storing up anger and confusion for later – setting the stage, as I’m sure you’ve already figured, for behavior like their mother’s as they emerge into adulthood themselves.

It all starts with a simple referral, so make the call, please – to your kids’ pediatrician, or to the counselor at their school, or to Childhelp’s hotline, 1-800-4-A-CHILD. Get names, make appointments and get ahead of this before your kids fall too far behind.

Email Carolyn at or chat with her online at 10 a.m. each Friday at