Dear Neil: My wife, as a child, was invalidated a lot and was made to chronically feel inadequate and not good enough. As an adult, she is verbally abusive and critical of me, and I have withdrawn from her. It has gotten to the point where I just don’t want to be around her, for fear of what kind of mood she may be in, or how she might turn on me for doing or saying the “wrong” thing.
I want to be a better husband, father and overall leader. I need her to see herself the way I see her. Any advice?
— Unhappy but Committed
Dear Unhappy: You could try asking your wife a few questions after she has vented for a bit: What are you angry about? What are you hurt about? What would you like different? What are you hoping to accomplish by being upset? What is so frustrating about this? What would you like me to do differently? What could you do that would be more constructive or would solve the problem? What could I do right now that would help you to feel better?
That being said, your wife is the only person in charge of her reactivity, and she is the person who is ultimately responsible for gaining control over her temper, volatility and tendency to be excessively critical. If she is open to exploring a different way of feeling heard without being caustic or wounding, then that would be very positive and encouraging. If she blames you for her emotional reactivity, or claims she can’t control it, then she is most likely going to continue these behaviors indefinitely.
This is something she has to fix. You can’t. But you can let her know she’s hurting you and possibly threatening your marriage.
Dear Neil: I am 45 years old. I have been in a committed, loving relationship for the past four years, and we were engaged until recently. I have broken off the engagement because my children (21, 19 and 16) do not like him. Both my kids and my parents are critical of his personality, and my youngest got depressed when we got engaged.
So I am sacrificing my love and happiness for my children and parents. My fiance is heartbroken, but I don’t know how to move forward knowing that my family does not approve. My kids have been my sole focus since I divorced 10 years ago. Am I making a sound decision?
— Needing my Kids Approval in Calgary, Alberta
Dear Calgary: Probably not. I don’t know the nature of your fiance’s “unacceptable” personality, and whether your family is seeing something important that you’re not. But I do know that you have been with him for four years, and I trust you know him pretty well, and if you think he’s someone you would like to live with and create a future with, then you would know better than anyone else.
In the end, your parents have their life, and your kids are about to spring from the nest and create their own lives, or they have already done so. But you are the role model for your kids, and that means it is important for you to serve as an example of how to have a great intimate relationship, how to be a healthy mother who also has her own life and pursues her own interests, and how to be a wise mother who assists her children in growing up and functioning independently.
I am not saying to ignore your kids and your parents, but rather to put them as advisers and not as the decision makers for your future. It sounds like your fiance and your family may need to do some repair work with each other, but it is likely that they will come to accept him over time. The only thing required is for you to accept him — and make it clear that you have tied your future with his.
Neil Rosenthal is a licensed marriage and family therapist in Westminster and Boulder. His column is in its 21st year of publication and is syndicated around the world. You can reach him at 303-758-8777, or email him through his website, www.heartrelationships.com. He is not able to respond individually to queries.