Hounded by a control freak

Dear Jim: I’m 34 and have been married two years. My husband and I separated last month because all we ever did was fight. I’m not sure I want to get back together but right now I can’t even think straight. He contacts me at least ten times a day begging me to take him back. He texts me, emails me, he calls me at work and shows up at my work, he even calls my mother to tell her how much he misses me.

Just today, he told her he may do something to himself if the separation goes on much longer. I don’t want to be responsible if something happens, but I don’t want to be pressured into a bad decision, either. What should I do? By the way, we don’t have any kids---fortunately!

(“Ms. X”)

Dear Ms. X: You need to lay down the law to your husband: no more threats, no more calling your mother, no more bothering you at work. You have to tell him what kinds of communication you want and how often you want them. If, for example, you’d like to meet every Saturday morning for coffee, tell him that. Or if you prefer communicating by email, tell him that, too, but set a strict limit on how often he can send emails.

Explain to him why you need the separation and what you’re hoping to accomplish. My guess is you’re trying to get some breathing room in order to reflect on what went wrong and what can be done to make it right. And you’re hoping he’ll do some reflection, too. But, as you point out, you can’t think clearly when you’re being bombarded ten times a day with desperate pleas and even suicidal threats.

I have to warn you, though, that communicating with your husband won’t be easy. He sounds like a classic control freak. He’ll do anything to break you down and get his way. He’s trying to make you forget why you decided to separate. He’s trying to pressure you into making a hasty decision. He’s trying to give the impression that things will be different if you take him back, but without offering any evidence that he’s changed.

Dealing with someone like that often requires outside help. If you and your husband can sit down with a marriage counselor, you’ll have an orderly process for hashing out your issues. A good counselor will allow only one person at a time to speak, and won’t tolerate threats, manipulation, or intimidation. Because men often resist marriage counseling, especially if the counselor is a woman, a male counselor may be your best bet. Your husband at least wouldn’t have the excuse that “you women are ganging up on me.”

There’s no guarantee that counseling will work, but if you don’t give it a try you’re probably doomed to an endless cycle of separation-reconciliation-separation. I’ve seen that before, and it’s no way to live.

One last thought: if your husband resists counseling and continues to harass you, you may need to seek a restraining order.

Good luck, and please let me know how it turns out.


Jim Duzak, the “Attorney at Love”, has spent his entire adult life dealing with issues of marriage, divorce, single-parenting, post-divorce dating, and remarriage. By age twenty, he was a husband and father. By thirty, he was divorced and raising his daughter by himself. He met his second wife through a personal ad, and, at one time, owned and operated a dating service specializing in mid-life matchups. As an attorney, Jim represented hundreds of clients in divorce and custody cases, and later served as a full-time divorce mediator for one of the busiest family courts in the country. Jim has also written and lectured about personal ads and online dating, and for many years has done one-on-one relationship coaching. As he says in his book, he has pretty much seen it all, heard it all, or done it all, including making a lot of the mistakes that he tries to keep his readers and clients from making. Despite his qualifications, Jim prefers that people think of him not as an “expert” but as a coach, counselor and trusted friend.  A native New Englander, Jim is a graduate of Central Connecticut State University and Boston College Law School. He now lives in southeastern Arizona. Mid-Life Divorce and the Rebirth of Commitment (Cold Tree Press, 2007) is his first book.

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