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Then there was my first marriage. Of course, we all fall into patterns that we don't understand when we are trying to escape the backgroundthat we grew up with. I was subjected to verbal and emotional abuse from my 1st wife whose passive-aggressive quiet and subtle attacks almost destroyed me. Yet her behavior on the surface was so different from that of my family and my brother, I never suspected I was dealing with the same abusive patterns.

Of course it did not begin that way. I feel madly in love with her although she was painfully shy, depressed and impractical. I did not care. Her love gave me an energy that made me feel I could do anything and for about three years I could. We married in 1967.

What I missed from the beginning was that her father was quite abusive. I did know that he was one of the angriest people I have ever been around. Yet she hated her father and loved me because I was so different from him. As a result I never imagined that she would share many of his personalty traits.

I did not realize that she had tried to control me almost from the beginning by not allowing me any personal space (she constantly interrupted me when I needed to work on something alone for a few minutes), by refusing to discuss our problems and instead crying for hours to avoid talking, by being quite jealous of my work and my friends and by being uncooperative about practical details in our marriage. In addition she had no empathy or sense of how I felt. I knew she was moody so I ignored these problems. After two years without realizing it, I had stopped seeing most of my friends at her insistence. I did not realize she was throwing a net around me that she would draw tighter and tighter year after year, until I could not recognize myself.

After being with her for eight years, I had a strong sense that something was wrong but I could not put my finger on it. For example, around my classmates in graduate school I could be expressive but around her I was withdrawn and kept my emotions to myself. She had begun to belittle me at parties; yet when I questioned her she said she was only joking. In addition she had become hostile to my work of getting a graduate degree and my ambitions of being a free lance photographer both of which were quite successful. One night when she had been drinking, she said almost offhandedly and with a sweet smile, "I want all the goodies for myself and none for you." It was such an odd remark that I almost dismissed it, yet it had revealed another side to her personality and perhaps a truer side.

I spent the next four years trying to decide what to do. I thought maybe therapy could fix it. I loved her more than anyone in my life (until I later met my current wife) and did not want to leave. After years of asking her or us to go into therapy, she at last agreed when it looked like our marriage might fail. Of course, by that time it was too late. In front of two marriage counselors I stated that I was ready to end our marriage if we could not work things out and have a full and open discussion of our problems. Yet the therapy made things much worse initially, because the therapists were taken in by her. The face she presented to them was one of a quiet, sweet, fragile person whose husband was controlling. To show that I was willing to work things out, I went along with most of her wishes in the months that followed. As a result she had a free hand in our relationship. And during that time she came close to destroying me with her passive-aggressive remarks ("I don't care if you get your Masters Degree; it's not all that important." "You're not a very interesting person, although you do interesting things.") and her undermining behavior that almost caused me to commit suicide.

One evening I drove into our driveway and parked the car. My wife was not home yet. My old Dodge Lancer belched smoke from its exhaust pipe. I rolled up the window and let the car idle and fill up with fumes, wondering more out of curiosity than anything else, what it would be like to simply drift off into a carbon monoxide dream and not have to come back. I sat there for a while and even dozed for a minute. But something pulled me back and I turned off the ignition and opened the door. My only thought was "You know that would not be all that hard to do," And then I went back into my house, into my life, into my marriage not realizing how close I had come or why or even thinking about it until many years later.

Fortunately she went too far. One weekend it became obvious even to me that she was cruel and not the person I married. Alone together at her parents cabin in the mountains of North Carolina, I asked her if we could talk about some of our problems which were starting to affect our marriage. She flat out refused. When I repeated that we really needed to deal with these and that ignoring them would only make things worse, she suddenly got up, climbed under a table and screamed for over five minutes. When she was done, I was shaken. After that I stopped initiating discussions of problems in our marriage.

Yet the screaming was a blessing in disguise. It made clear that she had changed into someone else who I did not like or want to be around. In moments of crisis she had often reverted to being a sweet, quiet, fragile woman who could usually soothe me and could convince me that underneath that was who she really was. But I was starting to see through her. A few more months passed and by this time I was in group therapy by myself and she was in individual therapy. And the group therapy did help me in this case; it gave me the strength to do something decisive. I insisted that we separate and we did.

Then suddenly she did a 180. She insisted that she could not live without me, that if I left her I would be abandoning her to lie in the gutter (yes, she really said that), that she would be helpless without me and that I was the love of her life. So I gave her one last chance. We agreed on some specific rules during our trial separation. However, after eight months she broke each rule that we had agreed upon, not once but several times. So even though I did not understand why she did what she did and even though I still loved her, I knew I had to leave because she had failed the test. It was obvious she could not make the effort to do what we agreed. And if she could not do that, what kind of marriage could we have? Again, she had done me a favor by making her broken promises obvious even to herself.

Leaving her in 1977 was the hardest thing I have ever done. When I left she was surprised, furious and spiteful. For six months after I ended it, she called me asking for another chance. And even after leaving, I still thought of her as someone I loved who was just mixed up and not someone who had deliberately tried to destroy me.

        I had to do this virtually alone as there was not much understanding about abuse in 1977 and the notion of personality disorders was just being formulated. It was not until 2005 when I began to understand about personality disorders and abuse that I started to put the pieces together. It is clear to me now that she was suffering from a Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Yet I do believe that she was unaware of her destructive patterns. And I think she would be quite surprised to learn that I think of her now as abusive.

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