Ask Amy: Confronting verbal abuse in a marriage after living in fear

Mature couple fighting

Passionless partners. (Getty Images)

Dear Amy: I have been happily married for 17 years to a kind and loving woman. It is a second marriage for us both.

We are retired and living in an upscale over-55 community.

Over the past few months my wife has begun drinking to excess every evening. When drunk she gets very mean. She criticizes me and dredges up any past mistakes in my life.

For instance, when my first wife and I divorced, I made a substantial financial sacrifice in order to continue to live near my daughter. My wife calls my daughter a “fat loser.” (She and her fiancé have good jobs, own a home and are self-sufficient, but yes they are overweight.)

Every time she gets drunk, she attacks me and brings up how much better off she and I would be if I hadn’t spent my savings staying near my “fat loser daughter.”

These drunken episodes are happening at least weekly.

I speak with her the next day, and she sticks to her rationale for drinking and blames me for whatever she can think of. She claims that she drinks because of me.

I do not know what to do.

Her late mother drank every day and behaved in a similar way.

I love my wife, I am not sure how much longer I can take the emotional beatings.

There are times I just wish I would die. Then at least she could get my insurance.

– Devastated

Dear Devastated: It sounds as if attempting to discuss your wife’s drinking with her mainly brings on denial and more verbal abuse, because if she admits to her addiction and abusive behavior, then she may have to stop drinking – and she doesn’t want to stop.

You might consider taking a video of her drunken rage and using it to try to shock your wife into seeking help.

Her behavior reveals her long-standing resentment of choices that seem to convey what a good man you are (sacrificing increased income to stay near your daughter). How unfair of her and dispiriting for you.

Do NOT take these “emotional beatings.” In the shorter term, leave the room or the house when this happens. And, please, seek a counselor for yourself. Talking this through with a rational and compassionate professional will help to ease your own despair. A “friends and family” program such as Al-anon will help you to cope with your wife’s drinking.

Your mutual self-esteem and relationship is on the line. I hope she gets help.

(You can email Amy Dickinson at or send a letter to Ask Amy, P.O. Box 194, Freeville, NY 13068. You can also follow her on Twitter @askingamy or Facebook.)

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