Why Am I So Terrified to Leave…?

Reader’s Question

I was married to Steve for twelve years. When we got married we agreed that if we had any problems we would get counseling. I owned my own home when I met Steve and after we got married he moved in with me. I thought we had a good marriage, and I loved him. Steve worked all the time doing construction work on the side, besides having a regular job. We didn’t talk much and I realized he was very secretive. We still don’t talk much and he is still very secretive.

He brought his son, who had been kicked out of school and out of his mom’s house, into our home and that caused a lot of problems. He spray painted swastikas on the bedroom walls, and shaved swastikas into the fur of the dog. He shaved all the cats’ hair off. He dealt drugs out of the house and strangers were turning up at all hours. On one occasion he brought an underage girl into the house and I told Steve she needed to leave before we went to bed. I found out some time later that instead of asking the girl go home, Steve had taken his son and the girl to a hotel for the night so they could have sex. Steve paid for the room. His two sons are in their thirties now and have hardly ever worked. One is in jail and has two children. The other has five children, doesn’t work and lives with his mother.

Steve is very irresponsible with money. He ran up $40,000 in credit card debt about eight years ago. I took out a second mortgage on my house to help him pay off his debt. He told me he wouldn’t use charge cards anymore.

Steve would say things that he knew hurt my feelings, even though I begged him to stop. One time when Steve’s brother was staying at my house I asked them about dinner. In front of his brother Steve said “I’ve got your dinner hanging between my legs!” I was so hurt and embarrassed.

Steve has had three extra-marital infidelities that I know of. In 2001 he had an affair with a woman named Regina who was a married church going lady with three small children. When I became suspicious, I told Steve to pack his things and leave. He started crying, sobbing and begging me to forgive him. He promised me that he would change and that he would never do it again if he lived to be 80 years old. I tried to forgive and forget and tried to repair the marriage. It was very painful and difficult and took a long time before I felt any better.

In 2004 I noticed that he started behaving strangely again. He told me he didn’t know if he wanted to be married anymore. He said he didn’t know if he loved me. I begged him to go to marriage counseling with me. I begged him to go to Church with me. He would just tell me that he “is not going!” I would call him and he wouldn’t answer his cell phone or pager which before he would always answer. I noticed he wasn’t at the jobs he was supposed to be at. I caught him in a lot of lies. He took off on a trip to London. He only told me four days before he left with no explanation other than he was going to visit one of his sons.

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In those days we drove to work together everyday. One day he dropped me off at work and surprised me when he told me he had to go to a vendor and that I had to find my own way home. When I came home he had left a post-it note in the kitchen saying “I’m sorry about leaving like this but there is no good way, Steve.” He hadn’t gone to see a vendor. He had gone home, packed up all his stuff and left. He didn’t tell me where he moved and he didn’t answer his phone. When I did find him I begged him to tell me what was wrong. It just about killed me. I have never gone through anything like that in my life. I begged him to come back and try one more time for a month and if it didn’t work we could file for a divorce. After three months he finally agreed to try one more time and moved back in. He was still very distant.

Then after six months he left me once again, never telling me he was leaving. He was just gone.

Again I tried and tried to talk to him but he refused to talk to me or answer my phone calls. And once again I didn’t know where he had gone to. In the end I spent two years of Thanksgivings and Christmases alone and in pain because he had deserted me twice.

Then I found out that he was having another affair with a woman we both work with named Cathy. Some people at work told me that he had taken off his wedding ring. I had suspected something like this was the problem. I was broken hearted all over again. And so ashamed because everyone at work knows what he was doing and I still have to see this woman at work sometimes.

Then I started looking through his things and I found out he had had run up another $80,000 in credit card debt again. He told me that they were his bills and none of my business. He said he would take care of it.

While he was married to me he tried to have sex with his ex-wife Becky but she told him to leave. He behaved the same way when he was married to Becky, multiple infidelities and abandonments. He left her on Easter Day. He told her she’d been a good wife and a good mom but he didn’t want to be married anymore so he filed for a divorce from her. Becky told me these things when she learned that Steve had left me. She said she could have told me earlier but didn’t want to cause any problems.

When he left me the second time he told me he wasn’t filing for a divorce but that he didn’t know what he wanted to do; he said he needed space. He said it could be a year, or it could be five years before he decided what he wanted to do. He had rented a home for him and his 33-year-old son to live in but his son didn’t work. He slept all day with his druggie friends coming in and out at all hours day and night. He said he hated his life.

Last year he told me we only got back $300 from our joint tax returns. I found out that we really got back more than $4000 and he was trying to keep it all for himself and transferred it to a private account. When I asked him about it he finally confessed. He told me that I would have just “spent the money”.

About six or seven months after Steve left me the second time I decided to try and move on with my life. I went out on a few dates but nothing developed. Then I met a wonderful man, David. He was everything I had ever wanted. Caring, responsible, trustful and very loving and very honest. We started slowly, but after awhile we developed a strong friendship and I fell deeply in love with him. And he fell in love with me.

I hired an attorney and I filed for divorce. When Steve was served with the divorce papers he finally phoned (he had been ignoring me up to that point), screaming and cussing at me over the phone. He called me a f**king b**ch and said he was going to take half my house away from me in the divorce settlement.

After I had been with David for around four months I knew our relationship was close to perfect and we had a wonderful life ahead of us. We thought alike and had the same values and interests. We were doing everything together and I was so happy. I slowly started feeling much better. I had started to heal from all the suffering Steve had caused. I guess because David was always kind and tried to help me feel better. I know David would never hurt me.

After I had been with David about six months, Steve somehow found out. His son told his mother (Steve’s first wife Becky) that “Dad found out Karen has a new man in her life and it’s driving him crazy.”

Suddenly, Steve started to phone me all the time. He told me he wanted us to get back together. He told me he would never do any of the bad things he had done to me before. He said he had found God and was going to church now. He said that he was willing to go counseling now. He said that now he wanted to turn his life around. He said I was still his wife and to please give him another chance to prove he had changed.

I told David that I was having real problems feeling guilty with the situation. I told David and my church counselor, Corado, that if Steve really has changed then I thought I should give him another chance. Corado said God can heal your marriage but we needed to work together and I needed to forgive Steve and try again.

David was very upset and told me I was not thinking straight. He told me I had been emotionally abused through both my marriages and that Steve was manipulating me. David said that my marriage to Steve was over the minute he abandoned me and committed all those adulteries. He said that I suffered from low self-esteem, and that the only reason Steve came back and is doing all this stuff now is because he is controlling me. I still felt guilty.

I felt such pressure and told David I needed some space to figure this out. He left me alone. Meanwhile Steve kept calling and following me. I finally agreed to go see Corado with Steve. Corado said that we couldn’t rebuild our marriage if we lived apart. So I allowed Steve to move back in. That was a mistake. I know that now. It has been so hard and I just don’t feel the same. I have a hard time if he even touches my leg in the car. We started going to church together and he would cry and sob and plead with me telling me he had really changed this time. Just like he did after his affair in 2001. I felt so upset. I felt so guilty.

Sometimes I feel like I’d be safer with a total stranger than to be with Steve who has done all these awful things to me. I always thought he was so sweet until I found out what he was really doing to me and our marriage. I know now what he is really capable of doing.

Now Steve follows me everywhere. He calls me on the cell phone constantly to make sure where I am. He times everything so if I am home late he wants to know why. He intercepts my mail and steals what he doesn’t want me to have. He went through my drawers and took pictures of David and me. These pictures had been taken long after Steve had left me. I keep telling Steve that David and I would have never met if he had been an honest husband. He found out my email password and stole all of my email he could before I deleted it. He has taken my self-help books and CD’s. He goes to my parent’s house and searches it. He checks their caller ID. He has blocked my phone so that even my son couldn’t call me. I had to phone the operator to find out how to unblock the phone. He checks the caller ID all day long and checks all the outgoing calls. He monitors every call I make. He put a GPS tracking device on my car. I had to go to Reseda and pay someone $40 to take it off. Before he put the tracking device on my car he followed me to work each morning, and home again at night. I think he might have put another tracking device on my car. I had another cell phone and he fixed it so that all the calls I received went to his cell phone. Then he destroyed that cell phone so that I would have to use one he gave me on from his account. Now he checks my cell phone calls on the Internet everyday and asks me about them. He drives to my workplace everyday to check on me and my car. He calls constantly. He checks my time card at work everyday to make sure I don’t leave early without him knowing. He searches my car and takes things he doesn’t want me to have. He won’t leave the house and follows me from room to room. Whenever I go out he insists on coming with me. Even to the store. And then he just sits in the parking lot waiting. He invades everything I have and it drives me crazy.

He is still very secretive and I never know what he is thinking or what he is up to. I catch him in lots of little lies almost every day. He secretly unplugged my phone when he went out. When I finally figured out what was wrong, I knew it was because he didn’t want me to make any phone calls. When I asked him about it he said it was just an accident, but I know he’s lying. And then I think how selfish of him, what if I had an emergency and needed to call the fire department? What if my elderly mother got sick and tried to call me for help?

He left the house he was renting owing a lot of money. He told me that he had taken care of everything. Then the landlord started turning up at my house demanding the money Steve owed for overdue rent and damages. Steve kept trying to get away with not paying the landlord but I told him that was wrong. I told Steve he should pay the man what he owed him. So finally Steve put another $5000 on his credit cards to pay the landlord.

I don’t know why Steve is so far in debt. He makes nearly twice what I make. He lives in my house for free. He just pays the utility bill and he’s even been late paying that. He started a side job remodeling a woman’s kitchen last spring. She paid him $5000 up front. He’s gone for months at a time without working on it. He lied to her and said he was sick and made up other excuses for not doing the work. It still isn’t done to this day. I don’t think that’s fair to the lady.

We sleep together but he knows I don’t like him to touch me. I can’t stand the thought of him kissing me, or being intimate with me. Just looking at him sometimes makes me ill. Just to know how much love I gave him and he still did all of those awful things.

Steve keeps telling me over and over that he’s been forgiven by God. He says that he has repented and that now I’m the problem. He says I’m an adulteress. He said that he just made a few poor choices. He said he didn’t really abandon me; he just wanted a little space. He said that he has read the entire Bible 1 1/2 times. He tells people in the Church that I’m an adulteress and I feel so embarrassed. He kept asking me why I want to be with David. He asks me “Is it because he makes more money than me? Is it because his d**k is bigger than mine?” Steve makes me feel so cheap. He wrote an email to David and told him that I keep asking Steve for sex. That is so mean and hurtful and it is a lie.

I have been seeking both religious and psychological counseling for my situation. I have had consultations with some very famous psychotherapists and authors like Susan Forward and Beverly Engle. They all tell me that Steve displays all the characteristics of a psychopath. They have told me that his behavior is extremely controlling and he just wants to keep me from leaving a sick relationship. They say it is very unlikely that a man with 50 years of dysfunctional behavior will change. I went to one therapist named Monica Sloan who said that she spent years in the prison system dealing with murderers and child molesters and she said they all do the same thing as Steve: cry their eyes out and say that they have found Jesus. Steve gets upset when he learns that I’ve been to see counselors. (He has taken their books and CD’s from me. Now he says he can’t remember where he put them) He says that there is nothing wrong with him. He says that he doesn’t know why he’s done all the things he’s done but he will never do them again. Just like he said in 2001 when he had the affair with Regina.

I have to be honest, I miss David terribly. I think about him all the time. I have never loved anyone in my whole life more than I love David and I just know in my heart that he would never do anything like what Steve has done to me. In a way I still love Steve but it’s not the same love I had. I feel he has made such a mess of his life, my life, his children’s lives and his ex-wife’s life too. She told me how much she had loved him also. He has been so selfish and I never would have thought he would ever have done what he has. He could have exposed me to so many sexually transmitted diseases and he didn’t care.

Steve’s life is a mess but he’s done everything to himself, so I don’t know why I feel sorry for him. I was always a good and faithful wife to him. I don’t know why I let him do what he is doing now. He has taken over my life. I am very unhappy. I wonder if starting a new life would be better than trying to fix everything Steve destroyed, and having to live with all the pain and the shame. I don’t know why I find it so hard to get him out of my life. And I’m terrified of a future with him. I’m not afraid of him physically, but I am afraid of him. I’m too afraid of him to ask him to leave.

David said that I should forgive Steve when I’m ready. But he said that I should forgive him from a distance. He said forgiveness doesn’t mean that Steve does not pay the consequences for his actions. He said forgiveness doesn’t mean I had to reunite with Steve. David doesn’t believe that Steve has really changed. He said that Steve is distorting Christianity and the Scriptures for his own benefit.

But he said that if Steve had truly changed then he will be a better person in his next relationship and maybe he won’t bring such pain and suffering to the next person. David also said that if Steve truly cared for me, and if he had truly changed then he would not be controlling and manipulating me now.

I just feel so confused and so guilty. When Steve cries all the time I feel sorry for him even though he made this whole mess himself. Then he begs me “Please don’t throw me away.” I know I don’t deserve all this pain and the shame but I just don’t know why I feel I have to stay with Steve when it’s not what I want for my life. I know he’s just using me. I know he’s always used me, but I just can’t help myself. I’m so afraid to do anything. I wish God would just come down from Heaven and fix everything for me.

I feel frozen and afraid and I feel like David is probably right about Steve. I shouldn’t believe him after what he has done. I do trust David and I do feel safe with him and I love him. I don’t trust Steve and I don’t feel safe with him. So why am I so scared to do anything?

Psychologist’s Reply

As you suspect, everyone is right — David, consultants, etc. Based on your description, you are dealing with a narcissistic psychopath…and con-artist. They don’t change, they don’t take responsibility for their behavior, they always blame others for everything they do, they have no truth, they feel entitled to abuse/belittle/manipulate others, and lie/cheat/steal/con as a lifestyle. When they get in a jam — they threaten suicide, get religion, cry/whine, promise anything, attend therapy, etc. Their miracle conversion lasts until you are back under control. Then they quickly return to abusive behavior and actually blame you for their return to the abuse.

Your sense of being frozen with fear is based on years of emotional and social trauma — a form of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). You have been verbally, emotionally, and socially beaten to such a degree that you are now terrified of making a move against him and for your freedom. I mention in my article on Identifying Losers and Controllers that if you return to them after an escape — they intensify their control. Steve has clearly done this. His antisocial behavior hasn’t changed a bit, but he’s trying to keep you under more control now.

Keep in mind, he doesn’t care about your life, future or health. He is using you, as he has in the past, as a “base of operations” for his schemes, affairs, finances, etc. His intention is to always leave you “holding the bag” from a financial and social standpoint. You remain most likely due to a combination of Stockholm Syndrome and fearfulness. My article on Stockholm Syndrome will describe how and why folks remain in abusive relationships.

I’d recommend considering an exit strategy and plan. At this rate, he will emotionally and financially exhaust you — then blame you for dumping you and quickly move on to his next victim. I’d also recommend that you consider psychiatric treatment for your PTSD and depressive symptoms. Counseling will also help you rebuild your strength while you plan your exit. Your situation is difficult but not impossible to solve. You may need the support of several community resources however before you are able to detach from his abuser/controller and return to a normal, healthy life.

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