Surviving a maelstrom

Definitions for maelstrom include a situation in which there are a lot of confused activities, emotions, and also a powerful often violent whirlpool sucking in objects within a given radius (taken from

That’s how I felt trying to survive a serious conversation with my passive aggressive husband last night.  Another term I’ve learned in the online support community is the mind-‘f’  (yes, the f word), referring to how you can feel the dizzying, confusing effects of gaslighting while simultaneously feeling your mind is going through a spin cycle. 

I’m no slouch at communication, or being able to hold my own in a conversation, but when my husband is spewing anger, resentment, and accusations in full blown passive aggressive mode, it’s difficult to keep up. 

He’ll always say something particularly upsetting (a vulnerability) to pepper the rapid fire accusations with, and if I try to hit a slow or pause button to respond to it, he’ll glare (in an almost triumphant way) and say something like, “See!  This is why I can never talk to you!  You interrupt me, you never let me finish what I’m trying to say!  I’m sick of your double standards!”

Now I’m darned if I do, and darned if I don’t.  Taking inner note of this hasn’t slowed the pace or intensity of the conversations.  By the time I’m trying to make a mental list of the last few things he’s thrown into the mix, he’s on to more accusations and resentments.  It can feel like he’s waited months or years to tell me just how upset he is, just how awful I am, and just how mistreated, unappreciated, and put upon he is.  By the time he’s finished, I wonder to myself why in the world he ever wanted to be with me, and why he is with me at all. 

But you see, this has been going on forever.  In the early years (and for far too long), it would break me down.  I’d end up in a kind of emotional shock, numb with pain and depression.  Once I was broken down, it was the typical turning point where he’d eventually throw me a crumb, or make an overture.  This would elicit such immense relief within me, and seeing, observing or sensing my relief, he would then turn more kind and attentive behavior on me.  Making up beyond that point required me to behave in such a way that signaled free, clear, and unconditional emotional space that we could ‘be close’ again in.  If I didn’t do that, the cold war would drag on.

He’s been ramping up awhile now.  The withdrawal, self-pity, and resentful hostility have been brewing and escalating.  Why?  As an old farmer friend of my father used to say, “Who knows?  Who cares?  What’s the difference?

Last night was just as confusing as any other time in regards to tracking the conversation, and being able to rationally and coherently respond to it.  It’s impossible… impossible… to respond to specific topics, because there were far too many. 

Some of the things I heard from him were the same old, same old, but there were a few special gems from him. 

I brought up counseling.  I said, “Every time we went for professional help, each and every time you were singled out and focused on as needing help.  If we go to another counselor, and if the new counselor says the same, and says that your behaviors didn’t seem loving or respectful, what would that mean to you?”

He said, “That it would be a misrepresentation. This time, I’d make sure that it wasn’t just your side.  I’d make sure I was able to talk about my feelings and my reasons for things.”

Misrepresentation?  He was not only present for all sessions in past years, but it was him that had the bulk of individual sessions.  Typically we would see a new therapist or psychologist, and after a few sessions as a couple, there would be a request to see him individually. 

Misrepresentation.  That’s how he explains the observations from professionals about his behaviors lacking love and respect?  

I said, “Okay… if you have the first few sessions all alone, and then I come to talk to that counselor, and if the counselor then says the same things other counselors did in past years, then what would that mean to you?”

He said, “I don’t know.  I’d have to think about it.”

When I told him that all I’ve ever wanted from him is love and respect, and also not to lie to me, he responded by saying that he didn’t feel loved by me. 

He says it’s been years since I’ve behaved like I loved him, and that from my behavior, he had a hard time believing that I loved him. 

hmm  How convenient.  The very words I’ve used to try to communicate my hurt are once again used by him towards me.  This has happened too many times to count over the years.  This is a part of the identity vampire dynamic that makes it difficult for me to know what he’s stealing and projecting, and what’s authentically originating from him.

I listened to him saying that he felt like I didn’t love him.  So many visual memories began to flash through my mind; images of real memories that certainly looked like loving behaviors from me towards him.  Apparently, those behaviors and actions must not be worth much.  At the same time, I remembered many of his terrible words and behaviors, and my willingness to forgive him and keep trying.  Listening to him last night made me think he doesn’t value being forgiven, but then perhaps he never felt he had that much to be forgiven for.  In reality, I think he did, but a passive aggressive tends to feel entitled to hurt you, feels justified to hurt you, and that way when he sees the impact of his hurt, the underlying thought is that somehow you deserved to be hurt by him.  Top that off with a lack of empathy and compassion, and you’ll have a man that can see your tears and pain and be seemingly unmoved by it.  It’s no more meaningful to a passive aggressive than some kind of emotional white noise in the room. 

On the other hand, I also had to think of my growing unwillingness to mother him, my enforcement of boundaries, and my not backing down when I hold him accountable for some specific thing.   Perhaps to his mind, those are unloving things.

I told him that I was trying to express my sadness and hurt to him.  His response to that was to start telling me how he cries all the time because he’s so sad. 

I was almost flabberghasted.  I asked him, “You know me well enough to know how hearing that would affect me.  When do you cry?  Where do you cry?”

(I’m not blind.  I’m not heartless.  I haven’t seen evidence of this.)

He yelled back that he was sad all the time.  He went on and on about it actually.  Then at one point, he kind of boo-booed.  He said, “I’m sad when I hear my daughter tell me that she feels like no one cares about her because no one was interested in watching Ella Enchanted on netflix with her.”

whoa… whoa nelly

This was a boo boo because of a conversation our daughter just had with me.  Not long ago, I saw that Ella Enchanted was on instant play, and told her we should watch it together sometime soon.  Two nights ago when I watched Fiddler on the Roof with her, her sister and oldest brother, my husband was into sulk-withdraw mode and chose to sit back at his computer and watch a movie alone.  After he did that, she asked her father if we could all three later watch Ella Enchanted, and whether he thought he and I would be willing to sit on the couch together to watch it with her.  Shortly after, she recounted their conversation, puzzled because he told her, “Oh, I don’t think your mom is very interested in watching that movie.  I’m pretty sure that I care more about watching it than she does.”   My daughter asked me if that was true.  I told her that was not correct, and I wouldn’t have suggested watching it with her if I wasn’t interested.  My daughter asked why her father said that then.  I told her that I didn’t know.

So when he made the comment,  “I’m sad when I hear my daughter tell me that she feels like no one cares about her because no one was interested in watching Ella Enchanted on netflix with her,”  I responded by asking him if he remembered the rest of the conversation about that with her.

Instantly, he gave me a knowing and resentful look.  Then I knew he did remember.  He said, “Yes, I told her you weren’t that interested because you said that you weren’t.”

gaslighting alert

I asked him when and in what context he remembered this supposed comment, and of course he couldn’t answer.  He didn’t like being caught out on that movie conversation with our daughter.

His response about lying to me?  “I don’t lie to you as much as you think I do!”  That statement was followed with barely taking a breath by many others, but the first part of it stuck in my head.

I said, “Did you hear what you just said to me?”

He just kept the rapid fire stuff going, but by now he was openly mocking and using sarcasm. 

I repeated my question, “Did you hear what you just said to me?  Even if you don’t lie as much as you say I think you do, you’re still lying, and you’re upset at me because I suspect you of lying?”

I asked him if he would want to try to keep this house if we divorced.  He went on to tell me that he used to feel differently about this property, but not anymore, so probably not.  I asked him if he’d agree to financially supporting me to stay in this house until our youngest graduated from high school, and at that time, I could either buy him out, or we’d sell it and split.  He said, “Maybe… I don’t know… I have to think about what I’m willing or not to do.”

He continued to tell me why he was unhappy being married to me.  I shook my head and said, “Well, if what you say about me and about how you feel is true, then you really will be so much better off without me.”

He replied, “Well, I don’t know about that…”

I had slept on the couch the night before this conversation.

I told him it was his turn, and I was sleeping in the bed.

This morning he started sending tentative sorry puppy signals.

You know what I did?  Exactly what I promised myself last night that I’d do.  I started Algebra with my daughter, and had a great first lesson.  I’ve eaten healthy. 

Now I’m going swimming.

My promise to myself was to love and take care of me.  To give myself a chance…

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27 Responses to Surviving a maelstrom

  1. Zombiewife says:

    I’m so proud of you, PJs! You stood firm in the maelstrom and took everything he threw at you without getting drawn into the drama. You calmly challenged the gaslighting, the lies, the absurd statements passed off as facts, and slept in your own bed. And woke to focus on taking care of yourself the next day. I hope you’re proud of yourself, too.


  2. lonelywife07 says:

    OMGosh!! That drives me crazy just reading about it!! I’ve actually recorded on my Ipad a few conversations between me and PA Man…when I listen to them later I’m amazed at the gaslighting!!
    Good for you for standing up for yourself PJ!


    • WritesinPJ's says:

      lonewife07, I’ve been thinking of you. Sometimes when I read your blog posts, it reminds me of me back in a time machine when things were… better… sort of. Better financially, and some of the trauma hadn’t happened yet, so I was stronger and took it for granted. Keep taking good care of yourself. I overestimated myself years ago, and lost so much ground because I didn’t realize… well, I just didn’t know what I hadn’t learned.

      The gaslighting is gross.

      Liked by 1 person

      • lonelywife07 says:

        Thanks PJ! I’m finding that I feel stronger these days…I’m reading so many blogs and books, learning that it’s NOT me who isn’t “good enough”…It’s PA Man, and his sinful, pride filled heart!
        I pray for you and the other ladies who blog with us….That God will reveal himself to us, and protect us daily!


    • Exodus says:

      Lonely, had the same reaction you did while reading PJ’s post!!! These men drive everyone crazy!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Jane D. says:

    These guys. . . you might start off with where to hang a picture, and all of a sudden it’s about them and every grievance in their lives. All that crazy stuff he’s saying – is about him avoiding responsibility for his life.

    I, too, am very careful about topics I bring up – topics that a normal couple would discuss. I only bring them up if I have to, and usually the discussion is awful. . . not unlike the discussion you describe.

    I’m glad you stuck to your plan of taking care of yourself. That will help you tremendously.


    • WritesinPJ's says:

      Thanks, Jane D.! Oh, the energy drain that happens when a passive aggressive starts spinning and everything gets convoluted!

      I had a terrible time falling asleep last night. I read my Bible, prayed, and told myself it was normal to toss and turn after all that. I visualized eating healthy, not giving up on the Algebra I scheduled a week ahead of time, and swimming.

      Usually, I get into the water bit by slow bit to acclimate. I’m one of those. Today, I went in at the best clip my ankle could handle and inside I felt another small victory was achieved!


      • Jane D. says:

        Not related exactly to the topic at hand.. . but are you teaching your daughter Algebra I? My daughter is partially homeschooled – I am teaching her Algebra I – and, based on past experience, I’m anticipating a number of meltdowns. It’s great that your first day went well. We started with the “Algebra Readiness Test” which led to a lot of carrying-on. We haven’t even gotten to “real” algebra yet.


  4. marsocmom says:

    That is so great, PJs! Thank you for sharing, and you kept your cool and confronted him with logic. He sounds so much like a spoiled child who just needs to grow up. Keep it up, lady!

    Liked by 2 people

  5. paescapee says:

    Hi- I feel for you. It sounds exhausting and distressing. My pah managed to cause similar feelings, although the rows seemed to be one-sided, with me getting angrier and angrier and more frustrated and him remaining smugly calm. I haven’t had the ‘abusive sarcasm’ that many people sadly experience, but definitely the gaslighting. I don’t know if it will help, but I was taught a technique to deal with hurtful behavior, of visualising a glass protective screen between you and the aggressor. So his words will issue, and you will hear them, but they will bounce back and you needn’t engage with them. It feels like it’s about you, but it really isn’t- he would be like that whatever you did or said, it’s his own inner rage. So you don’t need to own it or engage in it.

    This helped me, easier said than done, I know. I like Algebra!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. newshoes123 says:

    Reading you this morning is difficult because I had one of the maelstrom episodes last night and YES YES YES, the mind-f….. the flying accusations, the blame game, leaving me a little frazzled and completely frustrated.
    I often wondered too during our marriage why he chose to be with me since he apparently didn’t like the way we discussed anything or even what I stood for for that matter. I’ve given up trying to understand any of it. He’s the victim, I’m the problem. Trying to reasonably deal with him is like pulling a tooth unfrozen. I’m tired of the whole thing. I just want a little peace and quiet in my own mind but I find it hard to come by since I’m stuck with all of the nonsense and remnants of years and years of pa behaviour.
    The mocking…. the f…. mocking. That and the lying is the worst I think. Mimicking me when I’m trying to explain something to him, I call him on it everytime and he just keeps going or gaslights me.
    Right now, I’m mad but I’m going to do what you did PJ, concentrate on myself and care and love me – thank you, I needed to hear your words this am.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Seeing the Light says:

    PJs, way to go! Consider this some more validation sent your way. Ditto as to being proud of the way you handled yourself. I also am so glad that you slept alone and made him take his turn on the couch. I am so glad you didn’t fall for the puppy signals and instead hit the Algebra (love Algebra, too, by the way) and took care of yourself! That is so healthy!

    By the way, I read a terrific article recently about sleeping with abusive husbands. Here is the link if you are interested –

    I am planning to really start today to begin the process of re-wiring my brain when it comes to taking care of myself. Kids are back in school so I have time to rest. I am used up and it is time to be kind to me. The funny thing is I am doing it for the kids, too. They deserve a healthy, whole mom. As far as Gregory is concerned, my goal is for him to start taking up less room in my thoughts, my emotions, and my energy. I have actually gotten to the point that I find his childish manipulations somewhat humorous (if they weren’t so destructive) and I almost laugh in front of him. Yikes.


    • Jane D. says:

      Interesting blog. I’m looking at some of her other articles. There are a lot of us out there, aren’t there?


      • Seeing the Light says:

        There sure are. These men can’t keep us quite as fooled in an Internet age where we can talk to each other.


        • lonelywife07 says:

          Here’s another blog I follow….and she also has a PRIVATE FB page where you can meet other women who are dealing with the same issues….you just have to friend Elizabeth and send her an email asking to join the private FB group..


          • Seeing the Light says:

            Lonely, I started visiting Elizabeth Klein’s site recently when I saw it mentioned – was it by you? – either here or on your blog. She is helpful, too. Her recent post “Mean Boys” was so good! I am reluctant to get more connected in case he is watching my computer use. He has already tried to accuse me of things that could be construed as crimes and I am leery about speaking out about him in any forum where he could accuse me of defamation or anything like that because it’s not completely anonymous. I think I visit about ten different sites/blogs on a regular basis now. They keep me sane in this situation.


            • lonelywife07 says:

              My gosh! That would be it for me Seeing…if I ever catch PA Man spying on me, all he’ll WILL break lose!!
              I have a friend who’s husband recently purchased something from some online spy store…he had it shipped to his office! What a freaking jerk! He’s VERY emotionally abuse to her but she’s trapped for right now, she has 5 kids under 15….he had her arrested last year after she hit him on the arm while she was crying and raging over his emotional affair…He. Is. A. Pig!
              Get strong Seeing….take care of you…and leave that jerk in the dust! You deserve better!


  8. wornout says:

    Pjs way to go! I second what everyone else has said. You handled him awesome! Anytime I forget about the right way to handle the PA man, I am just going to reread this post.:) One of the most difficult things to hear from our PA guys is when they acuse us of being the unkind ones, of not trying in the marriage, of not showing them we love them. (Essentially when they project all the stuff they have done on to us.) It completely discounts the years and years we spent loving our guys, supporting them, and doing everything we could to make the marriage work. I guess all they see and focus on is how we have to be now in order to survive..emotionally detached and unwilling be a part of their PA crazy making antics anymore. Thank goodness we have the experiences and support of one another to remind us that we aren’t crazy! It feels so good to be understood, doesn’t it. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Exodus says:

    I’m so happy that you are feeling strong and taking care of yourself! Keep doing that and don’t look back! I’m so very proud of you and you should be too!
    I haven’t the energy to even try to make sense of what these men say and do. It’s just such a waste of time even talking to them!

    Norman is here working in the office ( it’s raining)….He was listening to youtube videos of 80’s one hit wonder bands full blast and I asked him 8 different times to please turn the music down. I can’t even concentrate! Finally, I got up walked into the office ( just what he wanted no doubt) checked the mail and asked him to please turn the music down. He then ordered me to close the office door ( he got me and I knew it was coming). I said, ” Feel better now?”, shook my head and closed the door.


    • lonelywife07 says:

      Exodus….I’d blast Cher and let it be a battle of the sexes!! LOL! Seriously…Why play his game? He knew it would bother you….I’d stuff toilet paper in my ears before I asked him to turn the music down because he gets off on you “begging” him to turn it down…just my thoughts…


      • Exodus says:

        Lonely, Cher?…. hahahah Have you ever seen Veronic Dicaire do her impersonation of Cher and Celine? TOO FUNNY! If I were going to play the volume game, i’d choose Renee Fleming ..hehehe with the hope of evacuating the entire neighborhood.
        When I must correct or manage Norman’s bad manners ( which is to be expected when living with any juvenile) the goal is to achieve a positive outcome -which I successfully achieved and was then able to complete my work in peace 😀 This was an easy correction. Now, if only there was some way to correct Norman’s bad character!

        Liked by 1 person

  10. Anonymous says:

    This sounds like my life!!!! I have had countless conversations like this. I am still surprised that others are experiencing such similar things… but I am learning a lot about passive aggressive behavior and why my marriage has been so crazy-making. We are currently separated and it feels like a breath of fresh air.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. lonelywife07 says:

    PJ….where are you? I’m not use to you not posting regularly! I hope you’re ok!! Praying for you, my friend!


  12. Pingback: He says this time will be different | my life in pajamas

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