Verbal Abuse: The Cornerstone of a Healthy Relationship

by Janelle Hanchett

In keeping with the general trajectory of my life, wherein I do everything in precisely the wrong way, my husband and I have, since the beginning, made practically every mistake available to humans.

We met too young: he was 19; I was 21. I got pregnant about 47 seconds later (okay fine it was 3 months, but it felt like seconds).

And, just like any Meg Ryan movie, we got married in front of a courthouse on a cold December day, wearing all black, and our baby in a sling.

After reproducing and marrying, we decided to get to know each other, and realized to our great dismay that we only vaguely enjoyed one another’s company. We broke up like 9 times a week, often wishing homicide didn’t carry quite such a heavy sentence.

We drank too much whiskey in too many dive bars while attempting the dubious task of living a “grown up” life with no money, maturity or discernible future.

The recipe for success, as you can see.

And yet somehow, we’re still here.

Despite some really solid efforts to eradicate our relationship (burn it down, in fact, TO THE GROUND), we are still, 12 years later, a unit.

And I’ll be damned if we aren’t the happiest unit you ever did see.

By some miracle (of what must be a really twisted love god), we have a damn good marriage. I mean it. We’re like happy. We flirt, laugh, hang out, send gushy texts, don’t have affairs.

Friends have told me it’s “refreshing” to see a marriage actually working. [Um, yeah, it’s “refreshing” to BE in a marriage that’s actually working.] Occasionally they ask us how we do it. “How does your marriage work so well?”

And since it’s generally people who are just starting out in a serious relationship or recently married, I feel a little awkward explaining that ‘what we did’ was everything wrong and ‘what we’re currently doing’ is apparently, everything wrong.

You see they always say the most important feature of a lasting marriage is “good communication.” They say it’s the cornerstone of a healthy relationship. As if patience and understanding, “I” statements instead of “you” statements, no sweeping generalizations, no attacks or criticisms or name-calling form the HOLY GRAIL of marital bliss.

All of this came to mind the other day when I was tutoring a student in the writing center who’s taking a communications class, and I read the following in her textbook:

“Marriage counselors have long emphasized the importance of communication for healthy, enduring relationships. A primary distinction between relationships that endure and those that collapse is the presence of effective communication. Couples who learn how to discuss their thoughts and feelings, adapt to each other, and manage conflict constructively tend to sustain intimacy over time.”

And then it gave the results of a poll in America, in which they found “a lack of effective communication to be the primary cause for divorce.”

If this is true, what the hell are Mac and I still doing together? And why are we so happy?

Our “conflict-resolution” goes something like this:

Me, in a horrid, critical tone: “Why do you [insert behavior that’s only annoying me because I’m overtired]? I mean how does that make sense to you? I don’t fucking get it. You make me insane. I can’t take this shit anymore.”

Him: “Whatever, Janelle. Go to bed.”

Me: “No, this isn’t because I’m tired. This is because you’ve got something wrong with you and I’m sick of it.”

Him:  “Then LEAVE.”

Me: “I would if we didn’t have these kids. Where the hell am I going to go now?”

Him, looking like he’s about the break my face: “I don’t know. Go anywhere. I can’t fucking stand being around you.”

Me: “I can’t stand you either! You have NO IDEA HOW MUCH IT SUCKS TO BE MARRIED TO YOU.”

Him: “I want to hit you in the face.”

Me: “Go ahead. Fuck you.”

And then he walks away and I chase him down because I don’t want to miss the opportunity to converse in this constructive manner.

Him: “Get away from me. I mean it.”

Me: “I can’t believe I have to deal with this shit for rest of my life.”

And with death glares, clinched fists and dark thoughts, we stomp off in different directions and slam a door or whatever. We go about our business, really fucking pissed, thinking we should probably divorce. About 8 to 12 minutes later one of us (usually whoever instigated the whole thing (WHAT? Why are you all looking at ME?) comes back around and says something totally unrelated, such as “How was Rocket’s parent-teacher conference?” or “Did you pay the Expedition payment?”

The other person answers. A couple minutes after that, the bigger asshole (no seriously, stop looking at me. You don’t know. You don’t LIVE HERE.) occasionally mumbles some sorry excuse for an apology, like  “Um, sorry for being a dick.”

And then, “I love you.”

And that’s it. That’s how it goes. We just drop it, until it happens again, AND IT ALWAYS HAPPENS AGAIN. Because seriously, after 12 years with somebody, the crap that still annoys you ain’t ever going away. You can talk about it “constructively” until you’re actually out of air, and every word on the topic has been uttered, and every approach has been tried, but seriously, if it hasn’t changed yet, it ain’t never changing. (Yes, I believe that sentence called for a double negative.)

For example, I will always be better at multi-tasking, at looking at a situation and seeing what needs to be done, at taking care of the twenty-seven thousand things that must be addressed in our day-to-day lives.

Mac will always be better at not being an overbearing asshole.

To each his own I suppose.

So basically they’ve lied to us again. They lied about adulthood (it really isn’t that fun). They lied about motherhood (one word: Babycenter). And now, they’ve lied about marriage, telling us that unless we sit down in a perfectly calm manner, thoughtfully “adapting” to one another, listening with the attention of a thousand Zen monks, our marriage will fail.


As far as I can see it, marriage is messy. It’s ugly. It’s disheveled and weird and clunky. It’s a whole lot a of tenacity thrown in with bit of romance.

You know what it is? IT’S FUCKING WORK.

I am absolutely convinced that the only reason Mac and I are still together is because we stuck with one another with an insane, [irrational] bulldog vengeance. We gritted our teeth and dug them in and JUST WOULD NOT LET GO. We weren’t happy. We were so far from happy we made Misery look like a love story.

And we were dragged through the mud. We were towed across the coals. There were times so dark I thought I wouldn’t survive.

And there are still times I’d like to bust his gorgeous face across my knee.

But there’s never a time I regret standing in front of that courthouse 12 years ago, marrying a man I felt in the depth of my soul was the one for me, devoting myself to him without knowing how to do so, trusting something, something that told me it would be alright. And I’ve never regretted holding on, even when the only thing keeping me there was the fact that we had already started this life together, and our kids were just so beautiful, our family just so dear.

And as it turns out, we were just babies, trying to find our places in the world.

And when we finally did, it turns out they were right beside each other. I know that’s not everybody’s story. But it’s mine, so I’m telling it.

So screw those damn chick flicks. Screw the 50-year honeymoon bullshit. As far as I can tell, marriage is lived in the trenches, on the ground, in the mud. It’s built on the ruins of mistakes and struggle. But when it finds its footing, when it’s withstood all that crap, when it stands like the mightiest brick house you’ve ever seen, my god it’s lovely.

But they don’t tell us that shit in movies. It’s either 50-years of wild sex and unbridled joy — or it’s divorce.

I don’t buy it. I don’t buy any of it. I think there’s more to the story. At least there has been in mine.

So to my friends who’ve asked “How do you do it?”, I’ll tell ya all that I know (though let’s be honest, it isn’t much):

Marry somebody you love, then hang on like hell, with everything you’ve got, until one day you let go and to your surprise, you find you’re carrying him, and he’s carrying you – with big, easy open arms, and the most fucked-up perfect marriage you’ve ever seen.

And relax, you can do it all wrong…

until it’s all right.

32 Comments | Posted in cohabitating with a man. | November 29, 2012
  • Mom of 5

    YES! AGREED!! It is so much more than just “good communication.” Is that even a thing….good communication. I have no idea. The husband and I talk about shit…sometimes it’s good, and sometimes it’s not. I was 14 yrs. old when we met, he was 17. We were babies, and had our first baby when I was 17 and here we still are 25 yrs. later still Climbing this mountain together. I believe the most important component is Love. …and the fact that his mullett is gone helps too! 😉 Only kidding….okay, not really kidding, but he definitely has more hair everywhere else but his head these days. *shrug…probably TMI hu? It’s about the love. <3 As long as you keep loving each other then all the other stuff has no meaning anyway. You become stronger the more times you make it through and pick up and go again. 🙂

  • Mom of 5

    oh and just to clarify…he had the mullet back in 88! So it wasn’t like a recent hairdo choice. 😉 I actually have a picture of our first dance and between his mullet and my super big wings, it was basically ALL hair! 😉 anyway…you guys rock!

    • renegademama

      A good mullet may be the cornerstone of a healthy marriage. One can never be sure. Well, that, and love.

  • Vicki

    Having already been through one nasty divorce, I can say that communication is definitely not key. My ex and I could always talk. Hell, we still talk (kinda have to until the kid is grown, ya know). I’m now with the man I’m pretty sure I’ll be with for the rest of my life…cause we still haven’t managed to get rid of each other yet despite the attempts at breakups and separations and move outs. You and Mac sound so much like us …you know, using “fuck you”, “I hope you burn in hell”, “God, I hate even looking at you”, and other various verbal hatred vomit that emits after dealing with someone’s bullshit for 7 years. Looking at you and Mac, I’d say we’re well on our way. =) Congrats for digging in and hanging on for 12 years. That’s awesome, Janelle!

  • Elaine

    Hi Janelle and all.

    For me I’ve learned a lot of it is about acceptance. And quite a bit of persistence. It has taken me 3 marriages to get it right on my 4th. We will be also celebrating out anniversary in December, our first! But those two things were sorely lacking in the 1st 3 of them. But I am persistent, eh? 🙂

    • renegademama

      yes! persistence is key! And I’m impressed that you’re still trying. Honestly, that’s awesome!

  • Mommy Rotten

    Meh. Communication’s over-rated. We talk if I can’t stand whatever he’s doing anymore but I’d say the key to success in my particular marriage is that while my husband is indeed a huge asshole, I am also an asshole and he never complains about it so maybe I should STFU.

    • renegademama

      Wow. I totally feel you on this one. It occurred to me a few years ago that Mac pretty much never bitches about my assholeness, and yet I’m always on his case. All the sudden I liked him WAY MORE.


  • Marisa

    “As far as I can tell, marriage is lived in the trenches, on the ground, in the mud. It’s built on the ruins of mistakes and struggle.”


  • Ronnie

    I need to leave a comment for this post. I’m relatively new to ready your blog, and it has been really refreshing, especially this post. I thought I was the only one who had these sorts of arguments with her husband. I was really thinking we needed to see a counselor to teach us how to communicate better. But, you’re right. There is no counseling out there that is going to make you “ok” with the entire BS that is not ever going to change. I guess, I’ve got to take the good with the bad. I recently visited a couple who were celebrating their 45th anniversary. The first thought that came to my mind was “Ugh, that’s A LOT of shit they’ve been through!”

    • renegademama

      Hi Ronnie! Welcome! For the sake of honesty, however, we have seen a counselor and it did help us at one point. We were on the brink of separation and I really think it pulled us through for a few months until the time passed. So give it a shot! I don’t think counseling will ever “fix” the really annoying day-to-day shit, but I do think it can provide a sort of neutral forum where you can talk to your husband and he can talk to you. You know, third party moderator and such. 🙂

  • Samantha

    Yes! I also have a fun amazing marriage that started with a baby and nasty fights. Looking back your like what the hell? But 5 years later we dry hump eachother while making supper and say horrible things to eachother. 🙂 and it works…

    • renegademama

      I actually thought of you (well, this comment) the other day when Mac came home from work and dry-humped me in the kitchen. IT WAS SO ROMANTIC.

  • Renee'

    You people are just young’ins! We are going on 39 years of yelling and swearing at each other! We have always been that way and always will be! But neither of could picture ourselves without the other. We just seem muddle through life with the same love that we had for each other when we were 15 years old, just in a older more civilized way! Congrats for making it 12 years. Most people would have given up a long time ago! You and Mac are strong ones!

    • renegademama

      39 years of yelling and swearing at each other. YAY!

  • Katie Vyktoriah

    There must be something in the air, as I’ve just written a big ol’ post about marriage today. Granted, I’m NOT married (anymore), as I was one who tried to do it all “right.” The church wedding, big reception and hanging on for 6 years to a guy that I loved immensely but was never going to live happily ever after with. Then BAM – I met the guy who drives me insane every day but who I couldn’t imagine my life without. We had our first baby in the first year together and are due with our second in a matter of weeks, and though we’re not yet married, I have no doubt we’ll be together the rest of our lives. Today would have been my 9th wedding anniversary with my ex-husband, and while it saddens me a little bit that we couldn’t stick it out, I know we’re both so much happier now.

    I love that you have found such happiness with your husband. My parents were married within 5 months of meeting and had five kids, and they just celebrated their 34th wedding anniversary despite constant fighting and no one ever believing they would make it. Maybe the trick is finding someone you CAN fight with and be mean to, and you both still are able to forgive and love each other through it?

    I guess the bottom line is that when it works, it works. As long as it does, it doesn’t matter what the rest of the world thinks.

    • renegademama

      This comment made me happy on multiple levels. Congrats on your upcoming baby! and your parents are my idols…

  • Working Momma with a Baby

    Great post! When I married my husband, I was scared as hell. I wanted to run except that something kept me there. I knew that I was meant to be with this man. 6 years later, sometimes communication works and sometimes it doesn’t. But I usually end a fight/yell session/annoyance talk with something along the lines of, “well, it’s too damn bad you feel like that cuz you are are stuck with me forever, asshole!” And really, that persistence that you posted about is what keeps us going. Digging in and working hard together. Loved this.

  • Penny

    Yup. That’s how it goes in my house, except it usually ends with some mundane personal slap like “well if you had the higher IQ you would see I’m right” or “why did I marry for love and not money?” One person smiles and that’s it. You giggle at the stupid joke offered, and you lost. It’s over, water under the bridge, and life moves on.

    I think most normal marriages work this way. Mines been going for 20 years, so something must be right. Love him to death, couldn’t picture myself with anyone else. But honestly, most days, I’m fighting the urge to run away and reclaim my freedom. When marriage works, IT IS work.

  • Julie

    Janelle, this post is the awesomest. It reminded me of why I enjoy listening to you so much. Because you’re REAL. This is life. And while we all experience it a little differently, it’s really pretty much the same for everyone–at least for every woman who’s a wife/significant other and a mother. You always remind me that I’m not screwed up. I’m normal. And you can make me laugh so hard I cry. Thank you. And God Bless you and your beautiful family.

    • renegademama

      Julie, thank you. People like you are the reason why I write. Mean that.

  • Kathy

    We’ve been married 20 years to life so far and sometimes the glue was the fact he traveled a lot, we worked opposite shifts and I manage to just roll my eyes when he says incredibly stupid obnoxious shit…. that and sex. We had one kid too early and decided no more kids because we were so broke. We don’t fight a lot–nothing like that — instead we resort to muttering passive aggressive comments just loud enough that the other can just hear it and sigh and roll our eyes a lot punctuated by me yelling and calling him a dickh*d or fucking asshole etc. Once I even left the house and freaked him out when he was being a particularly obnoxious drunk. Mostly, we know each other really well and are patient with each other. I know whatever cockeyed crazy thing he is doing and obsessing over will pass eventually. He knows I never to stick to anything for very long without getting bored so it just works out and we talk about normal stuff. We both came from divorced homes and quickly learned how fast a kid can convert from being an investment for the future to another monthly bill to deal with so we entered in with an agreement that divorce was not an option. The offspring is in college now so when he does eventually leave the nest and start his own life we will see how things jell between us without the buffer or common focus. I think we will be fine though.

  • CSmith

    I’ve been married for 18 years, to the same person. It feels like much, much longer, usually in a good way, sometimes not. We often say that we don’t split up because we can’t agree on who gets the kids. Neither of us wants them, haha. Really, I think we’re still together because neither of us ever wanted to be the quitter. I tell my kids that when they get married, they better be commited to the marriage because sometimes you’re going to hate the person you’re married to. Besides, if you wait long enough, it almost always gets better.

  • Jessica

    My ‘almost husband’ is 20 years older than me. This relationship was not supposed to work out…on every level.

    We had a baby before we really knew each other (I wouldn’t recommend this, though) and I am positive this was our stronghold, the one thing we could agree on was her…that baby girl.

    For the first few years, I always held my tongue because I am a “nice” person by nature (LOL) but as I have adapted to his ways over the years I feel like the best thing to do is just say it…to him (especially at inappropriate times) and I always feel better afterwards. Free therapy. Ha!

    But sometimes he annoys me to my core. His chewing, the way he interupts my serious nagging as if I was never even speaking (?!?), and how he spends 45 minutes blowing leaves out of the yard when we all know they will be back tomorrow. MY GOD.

    But he puts up with my shit and he is faithful and devoted to us and he does a damn good job and protecting and providing. And that makes me want to keep him forever.


  • CLG

    F-ing Amazing. You are my hero. And I’m scared of you too.

  • Emily @ Take Me Back to Tennessee

    I’m in tears over this right now. So many people try to portray a perfect marriage so it is OH SO refreshing to read this honest, truly beautiful post. My husband and I have a similar relationship and I’ve (very) often wondered if anyone else’s marriage was so “dys/functional.” We’ve been together for 10 years, married for 5, and things have not been smooth sailing but we just seem to tenaciously cling to each other no matter what because the fact that we love each other is one of the absolute truths in our lives. Thank you, as always, for your honesty. Truly inspiring.

  • JDawg

    I randomly clicked your FB off a comment you made on a page we both like, and somehow found myself here. Feeling like I’m reading MY life. Except the beginning part of your marriage when you would have left if it weren’t for the kiddos. That’s where I am, not 12 years later. Married a guy who got me pregnant after 3 months of dating… And after reading this, it’s nice to see that maybe there’s hope for the bitchy wife who chews her husband out for every insanely annoying thing he does, including breathing too loudly. Maybe some day we shall flirt with eachother once again! Thanks for writing.

    • jessica

      haha im 5 months pregnant now from my 7 year younger boyfriend that i know 1 month longer than i am pregnant and yes he breathes too loud!!

      reading all the stories here gives me hope because sometimes i wonder what the fuck we are doing

  • siobhan

    I have always felt my darling husband of ten years has a metal defect, since he can’t seem to remember things like “dogs need food and water, every single day”. I have a constant list in my head of things that need to get done. So I love the part about “he is better at not being an overbearing asshole”. I need to try to appreciate that more. I’d probably hate being married to a dude who told me what to do all the time.

  • Ann

    I really relate to this wholeheartedly. My parents actually had a really wonderful marriage built on severe respect – like i NEVER heard them disrespect one another. So imagine when these anomalies sent their daughter into the big bad world….i’ve been with someone for 6 years and feel like a weird failure for having such a dysfunctional relationship and yet sometimes i think it’s so hardcore bc our pattern is like the one you describe with your husband…and something makes me think…wait a minute – i have something remarkable bc if we can still feel so deeply for one another after saying (and meaning) all that awful awful stuff and come up with sincere smiles and soft eyes and true care for one another – maybe we have something more….real. then i think that i am just trying to make myself feel better and am kidding myself and having low expectations – but…reading your post…maybe i should realize that there is something truly worthwhile here. maybe bc we vent everything we need to get out and not implode – like being regular instead of constipated…while i know other couples might be all BabyCenter-for-Romance but can’t fully express themselves. By the way – if it makes you laugh- we always say that the movie that (sadly or funnily) best describes our dynamic is “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf”…
    Anyway thanks for your post and your honesty…regardless of my situation – your trenchiness rocks. Happy V Day every day 🙂