Western Producer March 18, 1993
Q: I married young, 40 years ago. My husband’s much older. He’s very negative. When first married, I thought everything he said was the truth. When I began to work away from home 20 years ago, I broadened my knowledge, became more independent and found out that much of what he says is prejudiced.
He criticizes everything and anything, whether it’s people, organizations, churches, professionals or politicians. The minute anyone says anything he doesn’t like, they are “rotten”. This affects our social life. He’s so arrogant and rude to people that we never go out now. I get embarrassed when he puts people down. I also don’t like his crude, off-color stories. He has no close friends. He drove them away with his critical, negative attitude. He’s paranoid and jealous. He mistrusts everyone. Anything he can’t find right away has been "stolen". He locks up everything. If I mention I talked to another man, at work or while shopping, he brings it up constantly.
Right now, work is my lifesaver. I can get away and be with reasonable people. I don’t know what I’ll do when I retire. I can’t ask friends over for coffee anymore. He monopolizes the conversation with his criticism.He’s not close to our grown-up children. When they visit, he talks on and on about the things he can’t stand. He doesn’t discuss personal things with them. But, after they leave, he asks me how things are going with them. I’m close to our children, but I enjoy them more when I’m with them by myself, which is sad.
I would never leave my husband. He’d be devastated. He depends on me a lot. Also, it would be too painful for the kids. Would counseling help me? I doubt if he’d go. He doesn’t think he has a problem. I care for him. I don’t want him to be hurt, but I don’t desire intimacy much anymore. I’m sure it’s because of my resentment that’s built up over the years. He has good qualities. He doesn’t drink. He’s never been physically abusive. If he thinks someone is in trouble, and likes them, he’ll help all he can. He also helps our children any time they ask. But, I don’t know how much longer I can put up with his attitude.
A: I appreciate your honesty. Your husband seems to have cut himself off from everyone in the world. I believe people can change at any age, but the older they are, the harder it is to get them to become aware of their need to change. First, accept that you can’t change your husband. He has to want to change. Is there anyone in your community your husband will listen to? Do any of his friends, those that he has left, recognize his problem? Is there a business or professional person that he deals with who might try to make contact with him? Will any of your children take Dad off to one side and tell him firmly, but kindly, exactly how he comes across to them? You can try these things, but of course, there’s no guarantee that any of these people will get through to him.
The only thing you can change is yourself. You have the right and the responsibility to take care of yourself. Challenge his jealousy and distrust. By this, I don’t mean trying to reason or argue him out of his emotions. That would be a waste of energy and only make him more rigid. You can’t. But you can tell him that you’re going to ignore his jealousy or distrusting behaviors. And, you have the right to get angry with him, something I suspect you haven’t done very much. You don’t have to leave him to have a life of your own. Neither do you have to be confined to “jail” after you retire.
Decide on those things that you are going to do for yourself. Inform him, out of courtesy, but don’t ask for his permission. You don’t need it, and you likely won’t get it. Then, go ahead and do those things, which are meaningful and rewarding for you in your community. I realize you may be lonely while doing them, wishing he was involved with you in a positive way. But, which is better, to feel lonely, or to allow yourself to be cooped up by someone who can’t or won’t enjoy life positively? Taking care of yourself may be the best way of taking care of your marriage!
Your husband has some good qualities. Let him know you appreciate it when he shows these. Equally, clearly, briefly and without lecturing, tell him when you don’t appreciate and thus are going to ignore behaviors that you don’t appreciate. In both cases, be very specific, not general.