The Fearful Spouse

Before I even start: I’m no saint. I know I’m a jerk to live with half the time. But what I’m going through now is insanity. My wife’s dad left her mom and she’s always hated him because of it. Her mom didn’t help by saying nasty stuff about her dad. He’s more diplomatic and doesn’t run her mom down. Now he’s in a really good marriage and his new wife says he’s great. Meanwhile her mom is angry and alone and depressed and probably drunk too (if I’m going to be completely honest). Now my wife believes men are worthless and dishonest and she thinks I’ll desert her like happened to her mom. She gets so mad she physically attacks me and I’m afraid some time she might lose it and actually seriously hurt me. I told her I love her and that her dad didn’t desert her he escaped her mom. But she says I don’t respect women and that I’ll leave so she’s always trying to push me away first to prove to herself that she’s right. The worst part about it is that the better I do the worse she gets to the point where now things are actually crazy. Please tell me there’s some answer for this. I love my wife more than anything in the world but at this rate she’ll destroy us.

signed,
Troubled by Love

Dear Troubled,

I realize this is your perspective on this but it is a common pattern so while I have no idea about the details, I fully accept that the above is true. That being the case, you have my sincere sympathies. Regardless of which spouse it is, with a near-50% divorce rate there are a lot of children growing up with primarily one parent and if that person 355 Relax and Succeed - The people who get angryisn’t emotionally healthy or if the divorce itself is bitter it’s hard for the kids to grow up with healthy views of the opposite sex. The best thing the kids of divorce can have going for them is two parents who genuinely respect each other. If your wife didn’t have that then you’re unfortunately in a fairly large group of people.

The trick here is that there’s very little you can do. This isn’t you misbehaving, this is her creating scenarios for you to fail in. It’s like she’s emotionally teetering until you fail, at which point she becomes wise for predicting that you would. It’s as though she sees the Sword of Damocles hanging over your relationship. She can’t relax and enjoy it because she’s too busy anticipating it ending. She must be treating you quite badly because her emotions would be huge. If you think about it from her perspective, whenever her behaviour is the worst, in her world she’s breaking up with you every single moment. Ouch.

You can’t meet her intensity with intensity. You must meet it with softness. Absorb her excess energy rather than reflecting it back. Model the loving, caring, supportive and steady behaviour of a responsible man. Rewire her brain to write you—and men in general—into a healthier head-space. I know this will feel counter-intuitive—to be loving when she’s vicious. Which is why you can’t try, you have to understand. If you can see it from the perspective of her anger being based in fear then it’s easy to see that gentleness is in order, not force. You’re better to coax a cat than capture it.

It’s likely that your grandmother also modelled this behaviour to her daughter (your wife’s mother). If your wife can become conscious of it and change she will have altered a behaviour that would otherwise have been unconsciously mimicked by successive generations. Yes this is a challenge. But like all challenges it is also an opportunity.

355 Relax and Succeed - So I guess we are who we areBe like a Love Ninja. Use your mind to overcome her fears. Remember, anger comes from fear. You can’t argue that you won’t leave. The tone is wrong. Be as truthful as you have been here: it breaks your heart to see her suffering like that and it terrifies you that she’s going to overreact and prematurely end an otherwise excellent marriage.

Seek her comfort. Need her. Be scared. She doesn’t have to defend herself from someone who is scared of her. Be authentic. Let her spirit react to that. And it certainly wouldn’t hurt to give her healthy relationship-affirming compliments on qualities in her that are likely to grow, expand and improve over time. If she’s scared then you want to be the safest place in her world.

Good luck with it. That’s a tough one—experiencing a degree of abuse precisely because you love someone so much. But I understand where you’re coming from and it’s very patient, loving, brave and understanding of you to participate in a solution so earnestly. If we can get your wife to see even 10% of your love for her we will have succeeded in proving to her that she is worthy of your voluntary dedication. Here’s to her future comfort, peace and sense of belonging. Namaste.

peace. s

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