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Trapped in a Marriage with a Manipulative Woman

Hi Dr. Matt,
I am a 29 year old male and have been unhappily married for 3 years. My name is Will and I live in Walla Walla, Washington.

I was basically forced into the marriage by given an ultimatum that if I didn’t marry my wife by the time she graduated college then she was moving on to another man. I am very passive by nature with not a lot of confidence and she is the aggressor, very domineering. She also has a history of depression, suicide attempts, and self mutilation. She has cut herself on occasions when she has been extremely upset (the most recent being this past New Year’s Eve).
Another problem is that I have been with another woman. I have feelings for her and she feels the same, but I can’t expect her to keep waiting for me as she has been far more patient than she should be. I have not been married to my wife long before this affair took place and I just don’t know how to tell her I want a divorce. I can’t seem to build up the nerve to do it. I keep giving her false hope since we are in marriage counseling and still remaining intimate.

I guess it’s a lot of emotions rolled into one for me. I think I’ve stayed with her for these past years because of my passiveness and the fear of being alone (even though I have someone waiting).

I don’t want my wife to end up hurting herself or even dying as a result of the pain that will accompany a divorce, or to have all my possessions destroyed due to irrational behavior (which is another part of her problems). I know something needs to be soon because it’s taking a toll on me physically and mentally. I take my frustrations out on the wrong people like friends/co-workers and family. I’m not myself anymore. Please help. I feel so trapped and helpless. Is there a way to build the confidence to do this? Overcome my fears?

Thanks and I apologize for the length of this letter,

Related Articles: Living with Honor Begins with a Change of Heart

Dear Will:

The reason you've "lost yourself" is because . . . You create your "self" within relationships: There is no "me" without the associated context of "we" "they" and "us." So when you are stuck in a bad relationship, You will NOT be your "self" anymore. This phenomenon is detailed in the 2nd Chapter of my book, Changing Your Stripes.

The best way to Change this situation (whether you stay or whether you leave), is to Change You. As you focus upon Changing You, then you will naturally have the inner strength to do all you need to further your best growth. And you will respond to your wife in a way that is best for her as well.

Truth is, even if you leave your wife, your relationship with the other woman who is "waiting" may not work out. Strangely, some people prefer to have relationships with people who are legally unavailable; thus, they intentionally seek relationships with people who are married.

If you do eventually become single, the "other woman" may not follow through with what you expect. This means, you need to do . . . what you will do, because it is the best thing for you AND for your wife.

Also, here's a Reality Check: You also need to swallow hard and face some facts:

       ** What kind of man cheats on his spouse? And what kind of woman chooses to be
             the "other woman" and help a man cheat on his wife?

       ** What kind of man marries a manipulative woman? Remember, you are the one
              who chose to marry this woman, so what does that say about you?

       ** The reason why your wife is able to manipulate you with threats, tantrums, and
              cutting . . . is because You are Manipulate-Able. You call yourself "passive"
              and indeed this is one aspect of being "Manipulate-Able."

The kind of person who is willing to cheat and enable cheating, manipulate and enable manipulation, is a person who is NOT being true — a person who is betraying their own inner intuitions to do good. What other people do, is beyond your direct control, so you need to focus on, and own, your side of the Division of Response-Ability.

I remember a woman that I worked with, who was being held hostage in a bad, abusive marriage. Her husband would regularly threaten suicide saying: "If you leave me, I'll kill myself."

Once I helped this woman discover true principles that govern a genuine Change from her Core, she naturally came to understand that it was NOT her Response-Ability to make sure her husband did not kill himself. On the day she finally left her controlling husband, he literally held a gun to his head and made his usual manipulative threat "If you leave, I'll kill myself."

She had prepared well for the day, all her possessions were moved out and she had a new place to live; all she needed to do what get herself out. She said to her husband on the way out the door, "if you choose to kill yourself, do it is the kitchen where people can more easily clean up the mess."

It may sound cruel but with this blunt statement, she communicated to her soon-to-be ex-husband that it was NOT her Response-Ability to make sure he didn't do self-destructive things.

The same self-destructive potential exists in your situation: As you fail to do what your wife is manipulating you to do, she may threaten to break things, cut herself, get depressed, or commit suicide — and she may even follow through with her threats. Committing suicide is every person's prerogative; it's absolutely the wrong thing to do and is only done by wrong-minded people.

Again, the best way to deal with your situation is this: You need to Change You . . . and not merely a superficial "head" change sufficient to develop the "nerve" to stand up to manipulative threats; better, you need to experience a fundamental change of "heart" and become a man of integrity and honor.

Living with Honor and Integrity does not necessarily require that you stay married to a manipulative woman; instead, integrity and honor means that you will no longer "enable" your wife in her manipulative and self-destructive behavior.

Currently, as you give into her manipulations, and accommodate them, you are reinforcing her bad behavior. You are like the person who continues pouring drinks for an alcoholic. As you continue to be manipulate-able and passive, you are an accomplice in crime with your wife—enabling her Crime of Manipulation.

I have much more to say about living with honor, and experiencing a fundamental change from the heart — too much to say in a single email. I invite you to read my book. Every principle you need to know, to become who you need to be . . . is thoroughly explained in my book, Changing Your Stripes.

If you leave your wife, you must do so because your wife will not join you in living with Honor and Integrity; this means, she refuses to give up her life of manipulation, cutting, depression, and suicide threats — she refuses to join you in becoming emotionally and spiritually healthy.

If you leave your manipulative wife so you can have a relationship with the "other woman," this does not demonstrate Integrity and Honor on your part. And of course, your "cheating" showed a lack of character in you in the first place. This is precisely why Changing You needs to be your primary focus.


Matt Moody, Ph.D.
Social Psychologist

* * * * * * *

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