When Trying to Detach from a “Loser”

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Reader’s Question

I left my husband last week. He has not been diagnosed, but he has 18 of the 20 traits described in Dr Joseph Carver’s article Are You Dating a Loser? Identifying Losers, Controllers and Abusers in Relationships.

We have a somewhat complicated situation since, as a foreigner, my husband depends on me for a residency permit in my country. I have agreed not to file for divorce immediately, but I have no intention of ever going back to him.

I am currently on sick leave and not able to lift or carry anything, so that makes moving out even more complicated, but I have made arrangements so as not to depend on him for that. As he is slowly realizing that he is losing control over me, he is getting increasingly upset.

Today he called me and I maintained a friendly yet distanced tone, which in the beginning worked great. Then he asked me out of the blue what I would do if he lost his job — if he could move in with me again. I calmly answered that he had a new girlfriend now (he had already secured my replacement weeks ago), and suggested he move in with her. All hell broke loose over the phone and he accused me of having a hostile attitude and picking fights on purpose. I am trying to follow Dr Carver’s advice for detaching from a Loser but it’s easier said than done.

I cannot completely interrupt contact yet because I still need to get my belongings from our house, and I depend on my husband for financial support, as I will be on sick leave for another two months. In addition, we took out a student loan (which is in my name) that I was to pay all by myself if he had to leave my country because of a sudden divorce. He has already threatened to cut me off from our joint account. I don’t know if he would really do that, but I assume that as a Loser in distress he is pretty much capable of anything.

Do you have any suggestions on how to handle communication in my situation? I am getting legal advice, but I am more interested in the psychological aspect. Is there a recommended strategy for dealing with my husband right now?

Psychologist’s Reply

According to Carver, a “Loser” is a partner who creates a great deal of psychological damage in a relationship. The 20 signs that he lists basically describe an emotional abuser who has anger issues, isolates partners and attempts to destroy their self-esteem. “Losers” feel very entitled and believe that they have the right to treat other people however they want to treat them, even if the treatment is destructive and hurtful. Just to be clear, a “Loser” is not an official psychiatric diagnosis, but more of a layperson’s label for specific behaviors.

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You are most likely correct that as an emotionally unstable person in distress, he is capable of a lot of things. People like him tend to escalate their behavior when they believe their control over their environment is slipping. Some try to control the finances, some contact family and friends in order to talk badly about their partner, or they show up at their partner’s place of work, and sometimes they even become violent. Consequently, the first thing you should do is protect yourself. First and foremost, ensure your physical safety. This generally entails having a safety plan for what to do if your husband becomes violent or even threatens it. This may include talking with the police about your options, keeping a cell phone in an immediately accessible place, changing the locks, getting a dog, or any other thing that will help keep him away from you. Another part of the safety plan is protecting your finances, workplace and other relationships. You may need to talk with the bank, your boss and your friends about the possibility of your husband contacting them. You are wise to already be seeking legal advice.

The best method of dealing with someone who is manipulative and emotionally abusive is to set boundaries and stick to them. Decide the kind of treatment you are willing to accept from him and the consequences for his failure to adhere to this. For example, if you don’t want him coming to your home, let him know that you will leave or call the police if he shows up there. If you want minimal contact with him, tell him that you will only communicate via email or text. Or perhaps you will speak on the phone, but only about factually based topics, like when you’re getting your stuff out, or how your bills are getting paid.

People who are manipulative often try to keep you hooked, and one of the best ways to do that is to get you emotionally involved. Consequently, keeping emotion out of any interactions with your husband is crucial. If he tries to engage you in an argument or asks a manipulative question (like he did with the question about losing his job), you can either change the subject or end the conversation. You do not need to justify your decisions or your behavior, and you do not need to deal with what ifs. As such, every interaction will probably go smoother if it is brief and to the point. You may find it helpful to set goals for what needs to be accomplished in interactions. That way, you can tie your conversation to the goals then, once they’re accomplished, end the interaction.

Once you’ve successfully dealt with your husband, you may want to consider working on yourself. You need to know why you were attracted to someone who was so emotionally abusive and work on that so that your next relationship will be better.

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