What Do I Do In This Relationship?

by John
(Polk County, Florida)

Question

I am not very communicative and some people call me a little emotionally slow.

On the other hand my wife is a city girl. She has had a good education while mine is unguided and poor. We married out of loneliness and thought we could love each other and were both willing to give it a go.

But lately, 13 years into our marriage we have suffered the misfortune of loosing an adopted girl back to the agency from where we brought her because of my wife’s strictness. She was too strict and blamed me for being more of a friend to the girl instead of a father. She does have a short temper. That is why the state removed the girl from our home. Since then, my wife and I have not been doing well.

I find it hard to be attracted to that temper of hers! She says I don’t plan my days well – the ways she wants me to plan them. She finds me to be careless and messy and complains about every thing I do and don’t do. She wakes up when I leave the bedroom (when I can’t sleep) and blames me for waking her up even when I try to be quiet.

She keeps telling me to go and get a lawyer. She’s been saying that very often these days. How bad am I and what do you recommend? Besides counseling that is.

Answer

Hi John,

I thought about your problem for some time. Here’s what came to my mind.

The first step is to figure out whether this is how your wife has always behaved or whether this is how she has recently started behaving. You have been married to her for 13 years. Has she been treating you like this since the past 13 years? Honestly ask yourself this question. Or was she more respectful or loving earlier?

In either case, the most important thing to do is to definitely have a conversation with her – a different kind of conversation.

Tell your wife that you want to talk with her for an hour or two. Make sure there are no interruptions during this one hour. Now, honestly tell your wife about the problems you are facing in the relationship. Tell her what hurts and what you would like her to not do. NOW – note, that she will most probably interrupt you as you talk. She will defend and accuse you instead. Here’s where you will do something different. Let her talk when she interrupts you. In fact, when she talks, listen to her with complete attention. Forget about your points for a while, and truly – just listen to her. Really try to understand the situation from her point of view. This will be very difficult because you will feel the urge to interrupt and blame her! Let the urge be, and continue listening. Try your best to be with HER as she talks. She may even behave rudely. Still, try to understand her pain – and the anguish that is making her talk this way. Let her talk even if she talks continuously for 1 hour. Who knows she may be under immense pain herself.

After she has finished, make sure you have understood her point of view. Ask her: “Is this what you mean?” and truly try to get what she is saying. This is very difficult because half the time, you will want to accuse her and defend yourself. As you notice the urge, let it be, and still try to understand her. Once she is done, and once you have truly understood her situation, she will be much more ready to listen to you. Now, tell her about your situation. Tell her how you feel hurt and what actions of her’s hurt you and create problems for you. If you truly listened to her, she will most probably listen to you. The conversation may go on upto 2-3 hours and both of you may get some nice insights as to how the relationship can get better.

Now – I know that the above scenario seems like the ideal one. It is. But honestly, if it works, it is the best solution. It is difficult, but the results it brings can be amazing. What if it doesn’t work? What if you are not able to listen to your wife despite your best attempts? What if your conversation ends up in another fight?

Well, in that case, it is time for you to reconsider whether you want to stay in the relationship or leave. Leaving a relationship is not a bad thing and it does not mean that you are a “bad person” or unfit in anyway. It simply means you and your wife aren’t compatible with each other. Take a piece of paper and write down all your thoughts about your relationship. Ask yourself – what is this relationship really giving me? Also, do you think it is possible to be yourself and still happy in the relationship? Is the relationship restraining your considerably? Is it really worth it? No one else can do this thinking for you. Only you can do it. Some points that may help you in making your stay or leave decision are:

1) How would your ideal relationship look like? How different is this relationship from that one – and can this one ever become that ideal one?

2) Could it be that both you and your wife are replaying childhood patterns in your relationship? In many relationships, both partners play the role of one of their parents or the role of victims sub-consciously and that harms the relationship. For instance – you said you were in some way “inferior” to your wife. Were you treated like that by your parents and are you at some level enacting that same “I am less than her” role in your relationship? Similarly, is she enacting the role of a dominating parent – who always finds faults? How could this be changed?

3) What are you afraid of if you leave? Why do you think being lonely is bad? Till when will you endure a bad relationship just because you are afraid of being lonely?

I know all these are tough questions – but you need to ask them. In any case, go ahead and fix a deadline by when you will “fix” the relationship. It may be one month, 3 months or 6 months, but make sure the deadline is RIGID. This means, try your best till the end of that deadline – but if your relationship is still not working, then quit. Leave. It’s OK to leave if a relationship is killing you and not working. That’s not the end of the world.

Make a list of solutions you can try out before the deadline. For example, if your deadline is 6 months, some solutions you can try out before the end of 6 months are:

1) Try genuinely listening to your wife (in the way I mentioned above), and then express your concerns to her.

2) Try to notice your own patterns (child-parent patterns) and try to see how you may be “feeling inferior” or “blaming yourself” just as you did as a child.

3) Read up atleast 3 good books related to relationships. Here are three very useful ones:

a) The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Families
by Stephen Covey (Read the chapter that talks about Habit 5: Understand and then Seek to be Understood)

b) The Secret of Loving Relationships
by Don and Nicole Nenninger (Talks about childhood victim patterns in relationships)

c) Too Good to Stay, Too Bad to Leave
By Mira Kirshenbaum (Talks about how to decide whether to leave or not when confused)

The point again is to set a deadline. Just because you want to improve your relationship does not mean that you will infinitely continue to suffer if you fail in your efforts. After the deadline, if you still can’t see any changes, then most probably things are way too wrong and trust has been violated considerably. It will hurt. You will feel bad. You will feel wrecked for a while. Leave. In the long run, you will be much happier.

So yes, that is what I suggest. I know you might have loved a “do this, things will be fine” solution, but relationships don’t work that way. There isn’t such an easy solution and you know that. Here’s what I have stated once again, in short:

1) First – have a conversation with your wife in which you truly listen to her. Really, really try to understand her points. Then state yours.

2) If this doesn’t work, journal and ask yourself the most difficult questions about your relationship. Set a deadline by which you can make things work. DO your best during that deadline, after that quit.

In any case, PLEASE note that you will need to take responsibility for your relationship, you CANNOT blame your wife and keep suffering. If the suffering becomes too much, please do know that you have the power to leave. Also note that you deserve to be happy in a relationship and if your relationship leaves you very sad, then it can be a good choice to leave instead of enduring sadness.

Whether you are able to improve your relationship or whether you leave – in the end you can lead a happy life. Your world can be a happy world. It will take time and there will be hiccups, but you will eventually figure it all out.

All the best. Do let me know how it goes. Have a nice day. 🙂