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Carolyn Hax: Tell angry wife criticisms hurt

Washington Post

Dear Carolyn: I am in my 30s, married five years, and have been with my wife for almost 10. We have no kids. I am thinking of divorce.

My wife and I used to get along, she was so great – but in the last three years she has completely changed.

Her temper has worsened and I get berated for any slip-up I make.

The yelling and put-downs have happened so often in the last three years (daily) that I have become callused, and I’m not sure I even love my wife anymore. When I look at her I can’t see the woman I married, and I have lost any attraction I ever had. When I’m around her, I feel my blood pressure rise; when I’m away from her, or when she is traveling for work, I feel much better, happier. – Hopeless in Minneapolis

“Hopeless” is when your spouse knows how much you’re hurting, and doesn’t care.

“Grim” is when your spouse knows how much you’re hurting and does care, but either can’t or won’t change.

Hopeless is when you talk to your attorney. Grim is when you talk to a really good marriage counselor.

“Mentally and emotionally checked out” – what I see here – is when you talk to your wife.

Maybe I got the wrong impression, but you come across as the shut-down spouse, yelled into silence, into a corner, into doing his own things on his own time and charting courses through your home that are least likely to intersect with hers.

Certainly, she should be able to grasp your suffering. But think anyway of the ways you’ve tried to tell her so far: defending yourself against specific charges, lobbing countercharges, slamming doors, closing yourself off, bonding with the TV?

These are common ways people respond to ritual criticism, and I suspect many apply here. That’s because what’s missing from your letter is her defense of her behavior – in other words, the thing someone says when confronted with the following by a spouse:

You yell at me on a daily basis.

When I’m around you now, I feel my blood pressure rise.

We used to get along, you were so good to me.

And: I can’t see the woman I married anymore.

And then: What happened?

These are your words, from your letter, and you need to say all of them to your wife (at a well-chosen moment). Be as plain and calm and steadfast as you can.

Hope she’ll be disarmed, expect she’ll get defensive, know you won’t get your full answer immediately – but demand nothing except the truth. If she won’t grant you even that, then “hopeless” is probably right. But if you still miss the woman you married, give her a chance to come back.

E-mail Carolyn at tellme@washpost.com.
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