My feelings of inadequacy began early in my marriage. I had barely landed in a foreign country when the quiet “Get a Job” (GAJ) campaign began.
At the time, I was taking 12 hours of language class per week, caring for my son during after school hours, cleaning and maintaining our home, planning and cooking all meals from scratch, running all errands, and orienting myself to our new city without the aid of a car.
The GAJ campaign started with subtle hints about jobs I might be qualified to do. Mind you, I had never even hinted, much less asked, for help finding a job. First, I had just made a blind move to a foreign country; second, no other expat spouse at Hyde’s company worked; third, I did not have a work visa and obtaining one was an expensive bureaucratic process conducted in the local language; fourth, I was happy being a homemaker/stay-at-home mom; fifth, our net income was over $140k (a fact hidden from me until legal negotiations commenced).
It was like nothing I expressed about working mattered.
Hyde: “So-and-so said there was an opening for a web design teacher at the community college.”
Me: “I don’t feel remotely qualified for that. I have only had one class in web design, I don’t have a work permit, and I can’t speak the language.”
Me: “My language teacher said you have to have a mid-level language certificate to apply for a work visa.”
Hyde: “Are you sure that’s what she said? That’s not what people at work say.”
Hyde: “You are depressed. You need friends. If you got a job, you would make friends and feel accomplished.”
Me: “Thanks for thinking of me, but I don’t get huge feelings of satisfaction from a paying job. I love taking care of my family and the house because it allows you guys to relax when you come home. Plus, my work friendships never seem to cross over into my personal life. I need friends with whom I don’t need to censor myself.”
Then the triangulation started.
Friend of Hyde: “You should find a job. You are a smart woman, you have a degree. I promise you will find a job quickly.” (I had said nothing about finding work)
Relative of Hyde: “Say…Hyde says you do web design. I want you to design this website for me. When you guys come home for Christmas, I’ll take you out to dinner and we can talk about it.” (Never materialized because he never followed up to my responses.)
Though it may seem really obvious seeing all of this written down, it was hard to detect because these things were said over a period of three years. Hyde never looked at me and said, “I want you to work.”
Three months after moving back to the U.S. in a new state and a week before he left me, Hyde wrote a demand letter to me. In that letter he expressed how I was messed up and needed to seek help…and work. This excerpt contains my notes in underlined text.
“…I also feel a lot of pressure knowing that I am the sole source of income for this family. (I am sure that you must be trembling in fear with us having over $100k in your bank account.) This is one reason I take my job so seriously. (Justifying his late hours and stress, which he consistently claimed to be the reason behind his diminishing affection.) I know we are in a transitory state, but we should not allow that to stop you from finding something. (Patronizing. This is how a child gets addressed, not a wife. “Now Tommy, we mustn’t eat paste–it’s not good for you.”) …I believe you need to get back in the work force, even if it is just part-time. (This is the first time he had ever been direct in the GAJ campaign. The “just part-time” bit infuriates me–“just part-time” meant I would be committed to working outside the home AND expected to continue all the cleaning and cooking duties.) I think it would be good for your motivation to have some regular routine (that makes money) and more interaction with other people (because I am preparing to desert you). If transportation is a limitation, then we can look at getting a second car. (There is 3 feet of snow on the ground, subzero wind chill, I have foot problems, and there is no public transportation–of course I will need a car! Thanks for the reassurance that we will look at that possibility–if I get a job.) That will not solve all (your) problems, but I’m sure it will help improve things. (Who gives a flying turd what you think, Ida. After all I am the one in charge here.)
The ability to look at this evil letter and decode his real meaning is a huge step for me.
Now the subject of this post is unspoken expectations. At this point you may be thinking, well, it sure sounds like he made it known that he wanted you to work. Actually, no, he never did.
Countless times I asked him directly what he would like me to do to make life better at home. Hyde never answered “get a job”. Why? Because that is what covert abusers do. They create an environment of discomfort and uncertainty to keep you off-balance. With covert abuse, the goal post is invisible and always moving.
If Hyde had been honest and said, “I treat you so poorly because you aren’t meeting my expectation that you should work,” then I would have seen that his love was conditional and cried foul. If Hyde had said, “I would feel better if you had a job,” and I got a job, but his poor treatment remained, then I would have seen that he was dishonest, and that would have revealed a crack in the mask. However, because Hyde never voiced his expectation, but only hinted at it, he created feelings of uncertainty and inadequacy in me. The feeling that you are somehow not enough is a powerful tactic in abuse.
Unspoken expectations are a huge red flag in recognizing covert abuse. When a spouse refuses to disclose a reason for hinting around at something, you can bet he/she is manipulating you and trying to diminish your power in the relationship. Furthermore, unspoken expectations also protect the good person image the abuser is desperate to portray. It would not reflect well on him/her if you told a friend or family member that you are expected to do x when the situation does not logically call for you to do x.
Have you recognized unspoken expectations in your relationship? Share in the comments below.
Disclosure: When evaluating your relationship for abuse, it is important to look at the overall trends of the relationship. If there is no overt abusive behavior this is especially important. A pervading sense of wrongness, cyclical arguments, stonewalling, and withholding information/access are all indications that the balance of power is tilted and abuse may be occurring. I am not a professional in this field, I am sharing my experiences in the hope that it may provide a glimpse of the truth from within the fog. Like me, you may not realize that abuse can be a covert phenomenon. Abuse is not gender-defined–both men and women can be abusers.
If you suspect you are being abused, please contact your local domestic abuse shelter. If someone you know is being abused, please do not make accusations in front of the abuser–it could cause the abuse to escalate.
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