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“My Marriage is Falling Apart. Should I MOA?”

No satisfaction

I have been with my now husband for 15 years. When we first met, he didn’t want to get married; I did. So we did. In the last few years we have started our own business that is doing well. For the most part , we’ve been happy with the usual problems, until the last 12-15 months or so.

My family can be a mess. I work very hard to not be one, mostly successfully, I guess. His family is not a mess – high school sweethearts and picket fences all the way – and it drives him a bit nuts when he sees my family’s issues upsetting me. For that reason, I try to keep him away from their drama, but in the last few years, it has spilled over onto us. I wrote you earlier about my father and some of the sister stuff I alluded to has reared it’s head again recently. I’ve been worried about it, but trying not to bring it into my home. They can take care of themselves – and have thus far. But it weighs on me still. I also bore the burden of taking care of my mother during an illness a few months ago, alone. It didn’t go all that smoothly with my husband, and I have some real resentment and anger about it.

Also, in the last few months, my husband has admittedly been taking his stress about our business out on me, in fairly nasty personal attacks he later says he does not mean. I’ve tried to get him to delegate, hire someone else or let me help to ease the stress. I’ve encouraged him to exercise, do his hobbies, etc. to relax. He acknowledges the problem, but refuses all offers of help or suggestions on how to relieve his stress in a healthy manner. Instead, he explodes, then “buys” me things out of guilt, with money I helped earn, as a way to “make up” for it.

These issues have infected our marriage in all respects, including physically. We are intimate, but my heart isn’t in it and I don’t often get anything out of it. Sex is an emotional thing for me. When I’m being yelled at and nitpicked all day, it’s hard to get in the mood. We have recently been to two counselors to discuss these issues. He repeatedly says he doesn’t want a divorce, yet, he doesn’t change regardless of the advice given to him. I’m tired of being the stress target, of feeling disrespected and of feeling alone in my marriage. (I do have friends and a social life; I don’t expect him to be my everything). I also feel like I’m failing somehow because we can’t get past this. Marriages have ups and downs, and this is definitely a “down” period. But, I am not sure what to do. Wait it out? MOA? Try something new? You and your readers were excellent help the last time I wrote in. I value and advice or insight you have. — Lonely in Marriage

In your whole letter, I didn’t read one sentence about how you are helping your husband. You say he’s stressed out and you have suggested a bunch of stuff, and you say your marriage is a mess and that counseling hasn’t helped and that your husband hasn’t done anything to make things better. But what are YOU doing (beyond giving your husband suggestions and encouraging him to relax)? How are you trying to make his life easier/better? Have you asked him what his needs are and what you can do to help meet them? I’d start there first.

The simple fact is that you cannot control other people’s actions or behavior or the way they interpret things. The only thing you can control is your own behavior. So focus on what you can do to change your situation. You know that your current set-up isn’t working, so what steps can you take to change the set-up? (“Waiting it out” doesn’t count as a step!!).

Without knowing the details of your marriage or your business, my inclination is to suggest finding additional help with work. You say you’ve tried to get your husband to delegate or to hire someone else, which he hasn’t done, but you also say you are a partner in the business, so… can YOU delegate or hire someone else (with your husband’s OK, of course)? And what can you do at home to ease your husband’s stress or workload? Is there work your husband does at home that you could either help with or hire someone else to do (I’m thinking along the lines of lawn work, household repairs, cleaning, cooking, and accounting)?

You’ve invested a LOT of time and energy in your family — your parents and sister — and I wonder if your husband simply resents that you haven’t invested as much time and energy into him or your marriage lately. I’m not excusing his nasty behavior to you, but if he feels less like a husband to you and more like a business partner and/or roommate, I can understand why your marriage is suffering. Your heart may not be in it, but if you want to save your marriage, you HAVE to make your husband and his happiness your top priority. If that means saying no to your family or to your friends more often, do it. If it means being nice to your husband when you think he’s being a jerk, do it. If it means doing more work than you feel like doing, do it. If it means taking on more responsibility than you have in the past, do it. If it means putting your husband’s needs before your own, do it.

I am not suggesting you become a martyr for life, but if you give 100% to your husband for 3-6 months and nothing improves, then you can leave your marriage knowing you tried really hard. But try hard first. Don’t just passively wait around for things to get better, and don’t just MOA from a 15-year relationship without making some effort to get over the hump. Try really hard and, if it’s still not working out or if your husband is doing all the taking and none of the giving, THEN think about cutting your losses and moving on. But from where I sit, it seems to me like moving on now would be super premature. I say change your behavior — since your behavior is all you can control — and see what impact that has on your husband and your marriage.

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If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at wendy@dearwendy.com.

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{ 89 comments… add one }

  • avatar TECH November 21, 2013, 9:23 am

    I think Wendy gives good advice, and I really feel for this LW — it sounds like a tough situation. I’ll admit, the advice of “make your husband’s happiness a priority over your own, even when he’s being an asshole” is a little hard to swallow. But at this point, I’m not sure if the LW has any other option. I think giving it your all for the next 3-6 months, even when your instinct might be to pull away, is your best shot at saving the marriage.

    “How to Improve Your Marriage Without Talking About It” is a book that might be very helpful for you, LW. Wendy’s advice reminds me a little bit of the principles talked about in that book.

    http://www.amazon.com/Improve-Marriage-Without-Talking-About/dp/0767923189

    But the thing that really bothered me about the letter is I did not hear one ounce of kindness, empathy, or understanding on the husband’s part. I understand that the LW’s family has strained the marriage, but it’s not entirely under her control. It’s not okay for him to disrespect her. It’s not okay for him to explode at her in anger. It’s not okay for him to take all his stress out on her. And I find it hard to believe that her being a perfect angel will magically make him a more caring and connected partner. I hope I’m wrong.

    I agree with Wendy’s advice that if all possible, try hiring someone to you can delegate responsibilities to for your business. I cannot imagine starting and running a business with a significant other. It’s not for everyone. Maybe even you two should consider not working together period. It’s not a situation many marriages could survive.

    Lastly, the fact that the LW’s husband was unwilling to work on issues with two different counselors is, in my mind, the most worrisome and problematic part of this letter. To me, it does sound like the LW is really trying, and he’s not. You can’t make some do something they don’t want to do.

    • avatar kerrycontrary November 21, 2013, 9:26 am

      I also find the husband’s behavior worrisome. He is behaving horribly to the LW but then buying gifts to “make it up to her”. If this occured ONCE in a blue moon I wouldn’t find it worrisome, but it’s happening all the time. You know who else does this? Men who beat their wives and then buy them jewelry to make it up for it. While it would be…uncommon for emotional abuse to begin 15 years into a marriage, they are getting into that territory fast.

      • theattack theattack November 21, 2013, 9:29 am

        I just wondered if that was a love language problem. Some people use gifts to genuinely show love or to apologize. If the LW isn’t that type of person, it makes sense for her to feel like he’s trying to buy her affections, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that he is.

        • avatar TECH November 21, 2013, 9:56 am

          While it’s true that people have different love languages, I also think the LW is allowed to say “It’s not okay for you to buy me a gift as a resolution to this issue.” And I say that because it’s a recurrent pattern. And buying a gift doesn’t come close to fixing what’s broken here.

          • theattack theattack November 21, 2013, 10:01 am

            I agree completely, but I don’t like painting him like an abuser because of it.

            • avatar kerrycontrary November 21, 2013, 10:02 am

              I wasn’t painting him an abuser cause he buys her gifts, I was saying it sounded like emotional abuse because of the way he’s treating her. Nitpicking and belittling her and freaking out on her for stuff that isn’t related to her at all. But then the gift-buying adds to that abuse impression I’m getting.

        • avatar shanshantastic November 21, 2013, 10:14 am

          I’m glad you mentioned love languages – my husband and I took a marriage class based on one of Dr. Chapman’s other books, and even though our marriage is good (hell, we’ve been married less than 18 months!) it still helped us identify ways to communicate better with one another and to take ownership of our own behavior. He actually advocates the same behavior that Wendy is suggesting, and gives great examples of it working very well.

          LW, in case you’re interested, it’s called “The Marriage You’ve Always Wanted”. It’s Christian-oriented but I didn’t find it to be too heavy-handed. Good luck, whatever you decide.

    • Kate B. Kate B. November 21, 2013, 10:37 am

      That bit bothered me too initially, but then I remembered that we always tell people here to make sure their partner makes them a priority. I wonder if the husband was the one who wrote in and said he felf neglected by his wife what our advice would be. I am not saying she should tolerate his bad behavior forever (and it is bad) but 15 years is a big investment. I do like the idea of giving herself a deadline of 3-6 months. If she’s going to end this marriage, she really does need to walk away knowing she did everything she could.

      • meadowphoenix meadowphoenix November 21, 2013, 11:06 am

        If the husband wrote in and told us that he was feeling neglected and so he nit-picked and made personal attacks on his wife because of it, we would probably tell him to get help and ask his wife for what he needs instead of hoping she’ll read his mind and then punishing her when she doesn’t.

  • avatar bethany November 21, 2013, 9:35 am

    I think Wendy’s advice was pretty solid- this in particular stood out to me “Your heart may not be in it, but if you want to save your marriage, you HAVE to make your husband and his happiness your top priority.”

    It was something that I personally needed to be reminded of today (If you read my forum post, you’ll know what I’m talking about).

  • avatar SasLinna November 21, 2013, 9:37 am

    The LW mentions “nasty personal attacks”, yelling and nitpicking. The husband’s behavior sounds worrisome to me. And the problem is, if he’s like that, it’s unlikely the LW’s situation will get better if she tries to be nicer to him. I’m getting the vibe that she’s already trying to be supportive and sort of feeling guilty for things that aren’t even her fault. In my opinion, if someone – even if it’s your husband – goes on tirades and yells, you need to enforce boundaries, not be nicer.

    • Fabelle Fabelle November 21, 2013, 9:41 am

      Yeah, I agree. I mean, it’s hard to say because there’s a lot to unpack in this letter, but the description of the husband’s behavior alone sort of makes me think that it’s past the point where “trying hard” should be the go-to option. I’m thinking more like, therapy (couples counseling?) or at the very least a “come to Jesus” (to use Katie’s expression, ha) talk.

      • avatar SasLinna November 21, 2013, 10:02 am

        Yeah, it’s hard to tell, but from the description, but telling him that she won’t take his shit anymore could be just as good for the marriage as trying even harder to please him. Sometimes a bit of bluntness about how one actually feels is way better than trying to smooth things over.

        • Fabelle Fabelle November 21, 2013, 10:25 am

          Yeah, that’s how I would approach it, too. Almost ultimatum-y, even, like “if ______ & _______ doesn’t improve by _______ time, I cannot live this way anymore.” I get Wendy was approaching from the angle of “try your best so you can say that you did all you can before MOA-ing, you can only control your own actions” but it could be soul-sucking for her to act in that manner if it’s not going to improve the relationship, anyway.

          And I know it’s harmful to look at it as a “tit-for-tat” thing, but how has the husband worked to make HER happy? I’m also curious as to how he made things run “not smoothly” while she was caring for her ill mother?

    • avatar kerrycontrary November 21, 2013, 9:43 am

      yeh…I feel like the LW trying to be nicer is a woman walking on eggshells trying not to piss her husband off. And it seems like she’s not doing anything wrong, he just comes home and attacks her. Or nitpicks on her all day at work cause he’s stressed out. I really think maybe they shouldn’t work together anymore.

      • avatar TECH November 21, 2013, 9:54 am

        Yeah, it does seem like she would be walking on eggshells if she acts like the nice, quiet, kind wife when he explodes on her. To me, it’s no way to live. Submission doesn’t seem like an appropriate response when someone is being nasty or disrespectful to you.
        I’m in agreement that if they stop working together, things might improve.

    • rosie posie rosie posie November 21, 2013, 10:22 am

      I agree with Wendy. Also, I read this differently. To me it sounded like this was a recent issue, she says “…in the last few months my husband has admittedly been taking his stress about our business out on me..”

      Also, I found it very important that in the previous paragraph the LW indicated that a few months ago she took sole responsibility for caring for her sick mother and that she and her husband had some issues regarding that. She flat out admits she holds resentment and anger towards him about that.

      I find it very difficult to believe there isn’t a correlation between her harboring resentment towards her husband and his recent nitpicking and taking his work stress out on her. Come on. Nothing in this letter indicates to me that the LW is walking around on egg shells. It seems more likely that she is being passive aggressive with her husband. I would be curious to know if when they have met with a counselor if the LW was honest about her feelings of a lack of support from him and how that could be affecting the relationship or if there was more one sided blame going on. They BOTH need to be honest with each other before they can move forward.

      Oh, and if I were in the LW shoes I would find a part-time job elsewhere and hire someone part-time to work at my business. People need space.

      • avatar lets_be_honest November 21, 2013, 10:27 am

        I think I would hold resentment too though. If I were the sole caregiver to a sick family member, I’d expect my partner to do everything he could to help out with the other stuff I usually do. What issues could he have had while she was taking care of her sick mom that might trump supporting her doing that?

        I also don’t think I’d be able to be super nice while someone is being a jerk to me. Maybe I am not cut out for relationships, because all the advice I’m reading, I’m thinking, damn, I don’t think I could deal with that so well. If you come home and take your stress out on me, I’m going to say you’re being a dick, chill out. And I’d be glad if someone said the same to me. Call me out on it, it usually works!

        • rosie posie rosie posie November 21, 2013, 10:34 am

          I’m not saying she has to be super nice while she is upset with him. Being direct and honest is much better then faking it and being passive agressive. I do think that in relationships you have to recognize that you are going to unintentionally hurt each other at times. Being in a committed relationship/marriage means that you need to acknowledge to each other when that has happened and work it out together. The LW has not given any indication that she has communicated this with her husband. Perhaps she has. I’m from the school of “I can’t read your mind so I don’t expect you to read mine.” when it comes to relationships.

          • avatar SasLinna November 21, 2013, 10:51 am

            I agree with you about the part on her resentment of him. She should be honest about that. But that’s quite different from trying to be selfless.

          • avatar lets_be_honest November 21, 2013, 10:57 am

            Yea, I agree.

        • avatar mmcg November 21, 2013, 2:09 pm

          It could have been the final straw tho… her previous letter made it seem like her family probs dominated the entire marriage, and after providing the support her husband did for a year with her dad – to the tune of 20k – he might just be harboring too much resentment for the marriage to work anymore. It seems like an endless stream of her family taking priority. He’s not handling it well, but given the prior letter and issues I don’t see LW doing anything positive to put her marriage first either.

          WWS all the way tho I fear this is doomed.

          • avatar lets_be_honest November 21, 2013, 2:11 pm

            Good call mmcg. Although I can sympathize with it being hard to prioritize families. At the same time though, they’ve had 15 years to figure that out.

            • avatar mmcg November 21, 2013, 3:17 pm

              Im wondering what the latest issues with sister are… technically they’ve been married 15 yrs but the LW was only starting to draw boundaries with her family fairly recently, and while I agree that the husband has a lot of work to do I don’t think its fair to call him out for not doing what the therapist wants when there is no info about what she’s doing in response to counseling. No good marriage counseling involves only telling one spouse what to do. Plus even in the best of circumstances therapy takes time to really practice new routines or behaviors… its not a switch that gets flipped.

  • GatorGirl GatorGirl November 21, 2013, 9:56 am

    Yikes, I didn’t even get through the first paragraph and there are two huge red flags to me- never talk someone into marrying you. I’ve never heard of it going well. And, family businesses will drain the life out of your relationship. Seriously, it’s a recipe for hating your spouse.

    • avatar kerrycontrary November 21, 2013, 10:04 am

      Family business–so in my boyfriend’s company a lot of the wives work as admins since they move around a lot, so the wives don’t have to find a new job in every new town/city. I asked my boyfriend about this and he was like “I would never wanna work with you! I don’t want to be around you ALL day every day!”. I didn’t take offense cause I know what he means, but yeh, working together is HARD

      • GatorGirl GatorGirl November 21, 2013, 10:08 am

        Yup. My family owns a business, it can be BRUTAL. GGuy and I both work from home (in totally unrelated jobs) and that is even really challenging!

      • avatar lets_be_honest November 21, 2013, 10:09 am

        One of my bosses and his wife both work at my job. They come in together every day, go to lunch together every day, go home together every day. I think the only time they are not together is when she gets manicures. Its pretty amazing. I know I couldn’t do it. She seems extremely patient though, which is not a trait I have.

        • avatar Banana November 21, 2013, 10:20 am

          Oh man, just reading that made me feel a little ill. Kudos to them, but I would NEVER be able to handle that much time with my bf! I love him to pieces, but space is GOOD. We actually worked together when we started going out, and then (totally unrelated coincidence) I accepted a job offer elsewhere two weeks later. We thought it was the best of both worlds, because we got of month of sneaking around the office feeling smug about meeting up for a quick kiss, but then I started working somewhere else before we got sick of each other!

          • avatar lets_be_honest November 21, 2013, 10:24 am

            Right? I have no clue how they do it, and they’ve been doing it for over 20 years! And my boss isn’t the easiest person to get along with and can be very childish sometimes. She must be a saint. haha

        • GatorGirl GatorGirl November 21, 2013, 10:22 am

          Yikes. I’m the most codependent person I’ve ever heard of, until them. Even I need like 12 hours a week alone/without GGuy.

          • avatar lets_be_honest November 21, 2013, 10:24 am

            haha!

          • Fabelle Fabelle November 21, 2013, 10:30 am

            Yeah, my bf & I are together A LOT, & we like to do shit like run errands together, but I still like separating my work time & play time. I got weirded out the few times he’s come into my building, even, because it was like, “Whoaa you’re in my WORK PLACE AHH”

            • KKZ KKZ November 21, 2013, 10:47 am

              Bear has resolutely refused to set foot in my workplace. ANY of my workplaces. The closest he’ll get is the parking lot. He feels really, really strongly about the division between personal & professional.

              • avatar lets_be_honest November 21, 2013, 10:59 am

                I know not everyone works that way, but I’m the same way as him. If my boyfriend has to come to my job, I meet him outside. I’ve never met his employees. I always thought we were weirdos, haha.

                • KKZ KKZ November 21, 2013, 11:51 am

                  Bear did meet a small group of them – we had a summer company outing to the Reds game and went down to the adjacent brewhouse afterwards, and Bear met us there for a beer, so he’s met my boss and a handful of my coworkers. He even tried to brew a special beer just for our company, but the whole batch ended up going sour. (It was a ginger wheat and his first time doing that recipe.) But he’s been put off before by how my workplaces have tended to be very friendly, and I do befriend my coworkers pretty readily. And he is very very uncomfortable with displays of emotion at the office, or people sharing a lot about their personal lives, while that’s been a little more normal in my history.

                  We’ve always said we could probably work at the same company, as long as we were in different departments and never on the same project. LOL Just ask me about 1,000-piece puzzles and death threats over miniblinds.

                  • avatar lets_be_honest November 21, 2013, 12:25 pm

                    Haha, my mom just told me never to hang curtains or blinds with your partner because it might end in divorce. Apparently that is a thing?

            • avatar lets_be_honest November 21, 2013, 11:00 am

              Reading this makes me feel like I do nothing with mine, haha. If we’re home or out to eat, we’re together, but that’s pretty much it. I run errands alone, and so does he. Is that bad?

    • Skyblossom Skyblossom November 21, 2013, 11:14 am

      I grew up in a rural, farming community and all of the farms were owned jointly by husband and wife and they worked together off and on throughout the day. Most couples got along very well and worked well together.

      • GatorGirl GatorGirl November 21, 2013, 11:19 am

        I do think that is VERY different than starting say an accounting firm. Farming is more so a way of life, in addition to what pays the bills, rather than a JOB.

      • avatar AliceInDairyland November 21, 2013, 11:20 am

        Division of labor is KEY.

        • Skyblossom Skyblossom November 21, 2013, 11:47 am

          Yes, division of labor. Also mutual respect and making all major decisions together. It isn’t very different. It is a couple running a family business, a very expensive family business. One with a massive overhead (can be millions of dollars) and no guarantee of any income, where things like weather that have a drastic effect on profit is beyond your control and where the price you receive is set by other people. A situation that is guaranteed to create stress from time to time. Any family business is a way of life. One that usually includes multiple family members in various ways.

          In this situation the LW doesn’t sound like she is an equal and respected partner in the family business. She is more of an employee who can be shouted at and treated with contempt, someone who has to take it just because she has to take it. I don’t think her husband would treat any other business partner in this way but since it is his wife he thinks he can treat her any way he wants.

          • avatar lets_be_honest November 21, 2013, 12:24 pm

            I guess I imagined working with your spouse on a farm to be a little easier only because you aren’t crammed into one small office together. So while its at the same job, I assume (?) people are spread out across the land so you get some space apart.

            • avatar AliceInDairyland November 21, 2013, 12:45 pm

              Well, it completely, COMPLETELY depends on the time of year/what time of farm you have. Like, in the early spring at our house you basically spend all day crammed in a hot greenhouse trying to put teeny tiny seeds onto teeny tiny soil blocks. And then you have to PUT ALL THE BABY PLANTS IN THE GROUND AS FAST AS HUMANLY POSSIBLE. Other times one person has to be on a tractor for 12 hours. I think I get the most frustrated when we are picking up hay bales because he always forgets that I’m 115 pounds and can’t lug around 50lb bales over my head. So now I drive the truck most of the time.

              Skyblossom is right on, there has to be respect of the other partner’s opinion in a business. I mean, I’m not even a full partner in the farm but Benjamin still runs all his plans by me and consults me on stuff that he think I have a better grip on (I do all the website stuff, the blog/newsletter, the recipes, and the facebook advertising). When I thought he was working too much and it stressed our relationship out he listened and we got more help for this season.

              A good balance for me would be to work part time somewhere and part time on the farm/with the family. But you gotta do whatever works best. I’ve seen lots of successful CSA farms where a couple runs it. I’ve also seen successful CSA farms where one partner does everything and the other one has a completely unrelated job. I’ve also seen divorces that were probably directly related to running a farm together and being a mismatch.

              • avatar lets_be_honest November 21, 2013, 1:08 pm

                I love hearing about your life on the farm!

                • avatar AliceInDairyland November 21, 2013, 4:55 pm

                  Workin’ on the memoir… Buy it on Amazon through Wendy’s affiliate link someday. ;)

  • avatar AliceInDairyland November 21, 2013, 10:02 am

    Maybe you guys need to institute a safe word or safe phrase that you can use when he starts getting overly nitpicking or starts to attack you personally. I am with you, LW in the fact that no amount of gifts (especially bought with our shared income) can make up for or make me forget a personal attack on my character. And so I think maybe the best thing to do is try to effectively shut the behavior down and redirect whenever it starts getting uncomfortable. No one should have to feel disrespected by someone they truly love and respect.

    “This makes me feel uncomfortable and truly hurts my feelings.” Say that, or something similarly simple and honest the SECOND he starts straying into personal attack territory. Look at him, and say it as calmly as you can. If that doesn’t snap him out of it, then you may very well have to say that exact thing again, in the same calm manner. Once you think he’s stopped, I would maybe then suggest some sort of a regrouping technique for the two of you. “Lets go for a short walk, and then try and talk about this again.” or “I’m going to take a shower, lets try again after that.” Something that gives you both a little bit of time to settle down, direct your attention elsewhere, and then approach again.

    Wendy’s advice is good, try to empathize and put a real focus on your marriage. But I also think that you have no obligation to allow the personal attacks and disrespect to continue. I think if you use the above technique, and don’t let his nit picking produce any sort of reaction from you except the above it will eventually get better. And if it doesn’t, then you know you can MOA I guess?

    • avatar AliceInDairyland November 21, 2013, 10:09 am

      PS, I think you have been doing a whole lot of things right and I commend you for it. Quiet strength should not be confused with walking on eggshells and you seem aware enough to know the difference. Don’t tolerate things that make you uncomfortable, but “calling him out on his shit” may not be your style. If it’s not your style, that’s totally okay even if it may be effective. I know you must feel drained from giving a whole lot of yourself to your family, and then find yourself criticized for trying your best.

  • avatar Portia November 21, 2013, 10:14 am

    I get where Wendy is coming from, and I agree that it would probably do a lot for the LW’s marriage for her husband to know he comes first for him, if that is really the issue. If that’s the case, you might need to do things or say things that remind him that he’s coming before your family for a while. I get that.

    I don’t get the prioritizing his needs for the next 3-6 months above your own. Sorry, a relationships is give and take and not one person blowing up at the other constantly while the other one takes it and does everything for the other, even if it’s a short period, because I see that blowing up in her face pretty badly and leading to her blowing up at him.

    I can see changing how she responds to things as a possibility, perhaps make an effort to not escalate fights if that’s what’s happening, or literally just leaving the room if she sees it going in that direction (not sure why, but that’s my impulse, to get some physical space from a fight until I can calm down and return to it more level-headed). If he would follow the LW around the house firing insults at her, I think that’d be a whole different level. And perhaps prioritize the husband over this crazy family of hers for a while and make sure he knows that’s what she’s doing.

    • avatar lets_be_honest November 21, 2013, 11:04 am

      I so admire people who are able to walk away. I get so worked up, and even though I know once I calm down, I’ll be rational again, I just can’t get myself to walk away without voicing what I’m pissed about.

      • avatar Portia November 21, 2013, 12:37 pm

        Thanks! But of course, my boyfriend hates it. We have a lot of home-grown techniques to de-escalate fights, some of which came about I think because he can’t stand the walking away.

  • avatar Banana November 21, 2013, 10:16 am

    I actually kind of disagree with Wendy here. The LW didn’t list all the specifics of how she’s tried to help her husband — but that doesn’t mean we have to disbelieve she’s tried. To me, it sounds like she’s the one putting effort into maintaining their relationship and trying to improve their circumstances, whereas he’s the self-absorbed one rejecting advice, offers of help, and ignoring his wife’s needs.

    Wendy’s right that her first loyalty should be to her husband, and she needs to focus on maintaining that relationship over all the family stuff. But that aside, I really think it sounds like they’re at a breaking point. I can’t see into anyone’s heart and tell them when it’s time to move on or not, but from all the outward signs, you have a husband who has visited several counselors with you, and ignored all their recommendations; who hasn’t made any effort to change his behavior or compromise to make the marriage work; who says hurtful and uncalled for things to you all the time; who no longer pleases you sexually — because if emotions are important for you to enjoy sex, then just going through the motions as you are now is clearly not pleasing you; who scorns your family and opposes your efforts to participate in their lives; and who seems to be totally tone-deaf to your needs.

    Maybe there’s another counselor out there who might be able to convince him that he needs to contribute to this relationship, too. But to me, it sounds like you’ve done enough.

    • avatar Banana November 21, 2013, 10:23 am

      Also, saying he doesn’t want divorce “yet” isn’t exactly reassuring; and if the only assurance of his commitment to the relationship that he’s giving you is telling you he doesn’t want to divorce…that’s not enough. He has to follow it up with words and actions. Doesn’t sound like he’s done either. The brutally honest response I had to that? He probably doesn’t want to divorce because divorce is a huge pain in the ass. Why divorce when you have a browbeaten wife that you’ve so neatly trained to take all your shit?

    • Lyra Lyra November 21, 2013, 12:34 pm

      I agree with you. I’m not sure if it’s time to MOA yet or not, but it sounds like the LW has already tried a lot of different tactics to help him. It sounded to me like there’s a LOT of resentment built up on both sides. ONLY if they’re willing to work through that will they be able to fix things.

  • dabbler dabbler November 21, 2013, 10:18 am

    I don’t know how I feel about this advice. I mean, I get it, and I can’t necessarily disagree with it, but damn. When you give so much and get shit on in return, the last thing I’d want to do is try harder and give more.
    I’m having a similar issue right now. Totally different circumstances, but similar emotions, and I’m to the point that I just want to be like “eff you guys.” To get love, respect and support, you have to give a little. We all have seasons of give and take, and everyone has their shit. Sometimes you just don’t have so much to give. I try to be understanding that people have busy lives, crazy schedules and who knows what stresses in their lives. But right now, I’m tired of being so understanding, and trying to convince myself that my feelings shouldn’t be hurt because my friend did a shitty thing for a legitimate reason. At what point do you get to say this isn’t ok? That my shit is just as valid as your shit, and occasionally I need you to get over yourself and throw me a frickin bone.

  • LadyinPurpleNotRed LadyinPurpleNotRed November 21, 2013, 10:20 am

    Is there any incentive for him to change? Have you attached consequences–realistic ones that you’d be willing to follow through on–to show him how serious you are? Because if it seems like everything can stay the same, which is easier than having to change behavior, then why wouldn’t he chose to do so?

    • avatar rieux November 21, 2013, 11:27 am

      Idk. On the one hand, I agree with a lot of the people saying she should stand up for herself by saying it is not OK when he attacks her personally. But to attach a lot of concrete consequences to his behavior… well, if he changes based on “consequences” but not based on the facts that he’s hurting her feelings and being a jerk, then I feel like all she knows is that he’s treating her right but because he cares about the consequences to herself more than he cares about her feelings. I think your comment sort of reflects that he is coming across in this letter as someone who isn’t going to change just because of a little thing like hurting his wife’s feelings, but if it’s true, it will remain true whether she “gets” him to change his behavior or not.

      • LadyinPurpleNotRed LadyinPurpleNotRed November 21, 2013, 11:29 am

        Well it could seem that in the moment she’s upset, but then things go back to normal and they are fine. So why bother changing then? Maybe he’s acting this way in response to her resentment? They are both acting unfair and if neither of them are willing to show that there are consequences for their actions, then why bother changing?

      • LadyinPurpleNotRed LadyinPurpleNotRed November 21, 2013, 11:29 am

        And it’s not about getting him to change his behavior. It’s showing him that is something that seriously needs to be taken care of and not just in the moment anger.

        • avatar rieux November 21, 2013, 11:33 am

          Ah, I see your point. I guess I thought by “consequences” you meant “I’ll leave if you don’t treat me better,” which shouldn’t be the only way you can get the partner to be kind to you. But if it’s more like “I’m not just going to pretend this didn’t happen,” then I totally agree with you!

          • LadyinPurpleNotRed LadyinPurpleNotRed November 21, 2013, 11:34 am

            Yes!

  • avatar lemongrass November 21, 2013, 10:26 am

    This doesn’t sound like a marriage to me. Where is the love, the teamwork, the tenderness? When was the last time you went on a date and didn’t discuss work or other commitments? Do you do any hobbies together or anything else just for fun? Simply playing a board game or going for a drive together can bring back those feelings of love. Start from the beginning, pretend you are dating all over again. There was a reason you fell in love with your husband, and he you, so find that again.

  • avatar Lily in NYC November 21, 2013, 10:33 am

    Hmmm, I’m not so sure I agree with Wendy on this one. I guess it really depends on how obnoxious the guy is and if the LW has already tried the method Wendy suggested – just because she didn’t mention it doesn’t mean she hasn’t tried (I have to assume people leave a lot out of letters so they aren’t too long). IMO, LW should look back to before their troubles started – was the relationship great back then or just better than it is now? Was it ever truly great? I ask because it sounds like LW wanted to get married while DH didn’t. If there are no kids invovled, I think I’d probably MOA (if it were me; I know I probably bail on relationships too quickly because I would rather be alone than be unhappy). I just have a feeling there’s someone out there for LW that is right for her, and that it’s not this guy.

  • avatar Christy November 21, 2013, 10:34 am

    I recently realized (in a conversation with gf) that I always have the instinct of LEAVE. Like, between fight, flight, or freeze, my first instinct is always freeze, and my second instinct is always flight. If gf and I are having an issue, my default is to assume that we can just break up, not that we can just work through it. And I’m stil struggling to remember that we can work through issues even though it seems like that would be harder than just breaking up.

    And so when I read Wendy’s response, I was skeptical until I remembered that you should try to work on your relationship/marriage problems before just leaving and assuming the problems are unsolvable. (Gf called me out on this. I pointed out that lots of bad couples should break up, and she said that yes, they should, but usually they are trying too HARD to make it work, not just leaving without trying first. Because leaving without trying first is my instinct.)

    So LW, you should try first. Fifteen years together deserves at least a try.

    • KKZ KKZ November 21, 2013, 10:50 am

      I’m a “Freeze, then Leave” person too! I’ll only Fight when backed into a corner.

      • avatar Christy November 21, 2013, 11:34 am

        Haha, nope, when backed into a corner (metaphorically of course) I just start crying. Good times.

        • KKZ KKZ November 21, 2013, 11:44 am

          Oh yeah. LOTS of crying here too – often triggered by anger. I don’t think I’ve ever seen someone rage-cry the way I do.

          • avatar Portia November 21, 2013, 12:41 pm

            Not sure if I rage-cry, but when I get really animated or feel very strongly about something, the tears start and it’s the worst! Comes up at super inappropriate times.

            • avatar stickelet November 21, 2013, 3:58 pm

              Agree with everything said here. My first instinct is to freeze, I just shut down. Then I want to leave. And if I am angry/frustrated I rage cry and it is the worst. It undermines what I am trying to say or the message I am trying to get across, especially since I am a woman. Ugh.

          • avatar painted_lady November 21, 2013, 5:54 pm

            I’m sure you’ll find this unsurprising but ME TOO!!!

  • parton_doll parton_doll November 21, 2013, 10:53 am

    LW – it sounds like you are inherently a people pleaser and peace keeper, so although I agree with Wendy’s advice, please proceed with caution. You can easily turn all that energy that you put into “saving” your family into “saving” your husband and you may find that nothing actually changes for your benefit because you’re drained and empty. It may actually get worse as emotional burnout and resentment sets in. Having had similar issues like this myself, I would suggest you see a counselor and discuss with them techniques in which you can learn to make healthy boundaries with EVERYONE and to take care of yourself well. It is important that you do not repeat the savior/peace keeper habits with your husband that you do with your family if you really want it to work out for the both of you. Again I agree with Wendy that you should focus more on your marriage, but I definitely think you need to focus on yourself first.

    I sincerely wish you the best of luck because I know it is not easy to change lifelong habits but you can get through it :)

  • meadowphoenix meadowphoenix November 21, 2013, 10:59 am

    So I gotta say I completely disagree with the Wendy characterizes the LW helping and therefore the advice that follows. The LW does says she tries to help him and he doesn’t want it. Her problem isn’t that she doesn’t try, it’s that when the LW tries, her husband either a) refuses and then continues to complain about whatever he’s stressed about including personal attacks or b) blows up at the mere suggestion and then tries to make up for it gifts. I’m not for helping someone despite their protestations. Honestly they’ve gone through 2 marriage counselors. If someone decides not to make it a priority to take advice to change their behavior, it’s because they feel entitled to the behavior. And actually, if they’re the only partners in the business, then no the LW cannot just hire someone. She probably needs his consent to do so, otherwise she doesn’t have authority. But any corp/partnership lawyers can tell me if I’m wrong.

    I do agree with Wendy, that whatever resentment he has left from you helping your family is coming up now however. And I would ask yourself if your family has ever treated you this way, because it’s quite possible that he feels deep down that since your family treated you this way, and you supported them, then he should get to too. I think Wendy’s right that he doesn’t feel equal to your family. So I would have the big conversation and say that he is making attacks on your character that you don’t appreciate, gifts are NOT going to make anything better and that it needs to stop. Ask him in his best case scenario what would the marriage look like, with specifics. Who would do the chores, what would happen when he comes home, what would be done in the house when he’s there, what part would he take in all this. When he’s feeling upset/sad/happy, how would he like you to react (specifically, does he want a good cup of tea, time alone, what). In the best case senario, what would the business look like. Who would control the financial matters, who would do hiring, who would deal with customer service/people part and what part he would have in all this. Give him a couple days to think about it. His answer is going to tell you how he is looking at the marriage and the business and that might clarify how you look at it.

    If you’re done LW, and you’re just feeling guilty for feeling done, just get a lawyer and leave. Feeling guilty isn’t going to make you happy, and it certainly isn’t going to make you less done.

    I will say this. He is not allowed to make personal attacks to you. Regardless of whatever else you do, if you help him out more or have this talk or wait it out. You can demand that he not do this, and then absent yourself if he doesn’t. You actually have the right to not continue a conversation in which you are personally attacked. Leave, LW. Go visit a friend or go the park or a cafe or the 24 hr store or hang up the phone. If he tries to stop you, then be careful and that will tell you a lot too. But just don’t continue it, and have the conversation when he’s willing to treat you respectfully. Someone’s contempt for you will just grow, so the best thing you can do is protest it.

    • avatar Lily in NYC November 21, 2013, 12:04 pm

      I really like this response.

    • avatar AliceInDairyland November 21, 2013, 12:46 pm

      ON FIRE!!

    • avatar Milla November 21, 2013, 4:18 pm

      Thirding this. The verbal abuse is, to me, almost a separate issue from the marriage (as much as the two CAN be separated). I’m pretty surprised and uncomfortable that Wendy has glossed over it as much as she has. If the LW had said “my husband demonstrates his frustration by locking himself in the garage and smashing things, and this makes me uncomfortable” that’s something to work with. “My husband hurls personal attacks at me and then buys me gifts in an attempt to make up for what he did” is something completely different.

      • Dear Wendy Wendy November 21, 2013, 5:16 pm

        If hurling personal attacks at someone we love is verbal abuse now, then I would guess many, if not most, of us are guilty. I would hope if we’re in relationships 15 years long, in which we have shelled out tens of thousands of dollars to support our partner’s family, our partner might be willing to make an effort to invest at least a few months in trying to save the relationship, unless there is what I would consider *true abuse.* and I realize that we may differ in how we define true abuse, but in my book, a few personal attacks yelled out in frustration after years and years together isn’t worth moving on just yet.

        • avatar Milla November 21, 2013, 5:49 pm

          I guess it depends on what the LW means by personal attacks, and we have no way of knowing that. “God, why do you have to be a jerk sometimes?” is probably part of being human. More than that— slurs, continual raising of the voice throughout the day, attacks on her appearance or behavior that would be considered normal— would probably be abuse. The LW says that her husband yells at her and nitpicks her all day, and that seems like more than a few personal attacks to me. Really, though, it’s true that I have no idea. I think it’s worth mentioning, though, even if it’s just as you say.

          • avatar SasLinna November 22, 2013, 6:20 am

            I agree that it’s good to at least mention the possibility. What sort of got me is how often the LW mentioned this aspect of the problem in the letter. There are like 5-6 references to nitpicking/anger/attacks/exploding, which makes me suspect that this issue is really weighing on LW.

  • avatar lets_be_honest November 21, 2013, 11:07 am

    Next time he gives you a gift, why don’t you just say “this is not the gift I want. I want X, Y, Z.”

  • landygirl landygirl November 21, 2013, 12:00 pm

    I may be the only one here who thinks that the LW thrives on drama after having grown up with it.

    • avatar mmcg November 21, 2013, 2:22 pm

      Not the only one. This letter and the last… the issues and drama seem to be constant.

  • Cleopatra_30 Cleopatra_30 November 21, 2013, 12:21 pm

    God this is so reminiscent of my parents marriage, its frightening. My mom basically did all she could to help try to alleviate the stress in my dads life. It was pretty hairy at times, and i hate that i witnessed some of the worst stuff during my early years of high school. Not fun. They are still together, but the experience of what my dad went through still resonates today, he sometimes uses it as fuel to attack my mom, which is so unwarranted because she did so much to help and my dads pride just gets in the way and he refuses to acknowledge the stuff she did. So yeah, it is hard, not just on you as the parents, but the rest of the family. If you love him enough and know that this is not what he is normally like, and it is just the stress of work, i would try to give it one last ditch effort to maintain the relationship and work through it. Hopefully he will see what you are trying to do and relax a bit. But exercise and other activities are a HUGE factor in getting your husband to de-stress. My dad works out a lot already, so if he needed a break he would go for a 2 hour bike ride or a weight lift. It helps in most cases. Something to take your mind off things. That and exercise tends to help you think better and more clearly. So maybe he can take advantage of that and get some ideas and thoughts flowing.

  • avatar sisisodapop November 21, 2013, 12:25 pm

    I don’t totally agree with Wendy on this one. What he’s doing is included in the definition of emotional abuse . I’m not saying that she should necessarily run away to a DV shelter or anything, but I don’t think Wendy isn’t giving her nearly enough credit for what she has been through in the last year+, or that her husband is not willing to be supportive of HER. It’s a two way street!
    My advice? Stick to the 3 – 6 month timeline that Wendy suggested; being the martyr for any longer than that will suck you dry. Yes, I agree that 15 years is too much of an investment to just walk away without knowing that you gave it your all one last time.
    DO tell him that you realize that you have no control over his actions, but you do have control over yours; and if he doesn’t stop treating you like an emotional punching bag, then you WILL leave sooner than later.
    DO NOT tell him about the deadline. Otherwise, he may very well be on his best behavior until just after the deadline and then go back to his old shit. (I made this mistake a few times before figuring out his game)

    I struggled with my ex for 4 years, living under his tyranny. I tried sooo hard to do everything just right, to prove to him that I was worthy of the respect I was asking for, I tried to lead by example to teach him how to fight fair and treat each other with respect, I’d beg and plead with him to treat me with the respect I deserved. It sucked the life out of me and I was pretty much destroyed until I got into therapy. Then I did the one last shot, give it my all thing. He improved at times, but he didn’t change. Why? Cause you can’t change people.

  • avatar Lucy November 21, 2013, 2:31 pm

    I really don’t get where Wendy is coming from on this one. The husband sounds like he’s being a verbally abusive jerk. Walking on eggshells and trying to cater to the happiness of a verbally abusive jerk just gives him more power. It’s a huge mistake. Along the same lines, I have no doubt the husband is resentful of the time and effort the LW puts into her family, but he sounds like he’s being an intolerant ass about it. Her not putting him first all the time gives him license to have a conversation – not an explosion.
    I don’t have enough information to leap to this conclusion, but I won’t let that stop me. This situation sounds to me like these two can’t be in business together if they want their relationship to survive, and one of them should bow out. It takes a very rare couple (like, unicorn rare) to work together without putting their marriage under enormous strain. The husband in particular sounds like he doesn’t have the emotional maturity and mental discipline to compartmentalize his work and home life effectively. In this LW’s shoes I would first remove myself from the business and see if the relationship improves. If not, I would try a separation and see if that wakes the husband up to where his unacceptable behaviour is leading.

  • sobriquet sobriquet November 21, 2013, 4:07 pm

    I’m sure Wendy’s advice was hard for the LW to swallow, but I completely agree with it. Unless this has been going on for a long, long time (and there’s a lot more to the story), I think it’s *way* too soon to pull the plug. He’s not abusing her (unless of course there’s more to the story) and instead apologizes when he screws up! They’ve been together for 15 years. Unless there’s abuse/infidelity/bigger issues at play here, I think it would be quite premature to just give up.

    The husband takes his stress out on her which is a fairly normal and also very confusing thing to experience if you handle stress differently. Stress affects everyone differently and it’s not simply that some people know how to manage it better than others. I tend to pull away and get snippy when I’m stressed (and my fiance’s a physical touch LL, so me pulling away physically is like non-verbally saying I don’t love him). But do you know what my fiance suggests whenever it’s obvious that stress is affecting me? He asks if I want a back rub. He writes me a sweet note. He empties the dishwasher so that I don’t have to. He doesn’t suggest that I go to the gym and he certainly doesn’t tell me to relax, because it wouldn’t help. That’s like saying, “Deal with your stress on your own,” which I think is important for everyone to do, but it’s not very helpful in the moment.

    I also think that in a marriage, you don’t get to say “you’re not meeting my needs” without also addressing whether or not you’re meeting your partner’s needs, too. They often go hand-in-hand.

  • avatar Something random November 21, 2013, 4:18 pm

    Here is what I know about marriage: I know that each person in a marriage wants support from their partners. Each person wants validation for their actions and opinions. When people feel heard and safe they also feel connected. People truly feel accepted and supported.

    When a person feels they aren’t validated they tend to become defensive and shut down. it become more critical and less adaptable. There are less likely to put themselves in the position of vulnerability. They are less likely to offer support.

    There are a few barriers to being vulnerable. It is difficult to be vulnerable when you are angry or scared. There are triggers that everybody experiences. A lot of times partners bring baggage from past relationships. And sometimes baggage happens in the course of a long 15 year relationship.

    Personally I agree with Wendy that this relationship deserves more effort before you break up. You two sound more exhausted by the stress of recent events and defense mechanism triggers than deal breakers but this balance could shift.

    For me deal breakers include abuse and abandonment. This can mean infidelity or violence. It can also be a pattern of emotional put downs or withholding.

    your relationship cannot continue your current trajectory and thrive.

    When you’re both calm I suggest talking openly with your husband. I would start by validating his feelings. This does not mean taking on his anxiety nor does it mean agreeing with all of his opinions. It just means validating that they are legitimate and you consider hearing them worthwhile.

    In your last letter you said that your husband agreed to support your dad and took a $20,000 loss. You even considered asking your husband to support your dad again. I could see this triggering anxiety and resentment. You also said you cared for your sick mother completely alone. Maybe you felt abandoned. But maybe your husband also felt abandoned by you during this time. Validating his feelings doesn’t mean you have to give up your own feelings. It just means you help him feel heard.

    You can explain that you also need to be validated and explain how he can. It will help him to support you and it will help you both to communicate. This is the first step in rebuilding trust. If you find yourself getting worked up and feeling angry and defensive during this process, take a break schedule a time, and start again.

    This means sacrificing time at work. I would be very clear to your husband that you are committed to the relationship but things do need to change or they will become deal breakers.

    Talk about your triggers: what makes you feel abandoned again, what makes you feel scared again, what makes you feel unheard again.

    When you find yourself being triggered, take a break from the moment and try to figure out where the strong feeling is coming from. Make sure you go back and talk about it.

    If your husband tries to say something nasty to you, refuse to engage. Tell him you would love to talk about it in a productive way when you are both calm.

    I know you feel like you have been trying a lot but you may have put your energy in trying the wrong things.

    You don’t say you don’t love your partner. You just sound sad and frustrated. Keep trying counselors and be willing to be vulnerable. Then if things still don’t change you can walk away from a feeling positive that you did what you could do.

  • avatar Something Random November 21, 2013, 4:47 pm

    Sorry for all the spelling and grammar errors on my last post. I’m typing out my responses with one finger on a phone.

  • avatar BreezyAM November 22, 2013, 12:07 am

    OMG. LW, I have to tell you this…. MrAM and I also share a business, and he too can be a nitpicky asshole and no I don’t want to fuck him, and I can totally invest all my energy into other people/projects, and then he gets all pouty and bitchtastic my energy isn’t on him, but because he’s a proud and passive aggressive introvert he just acts like an ASSHOLE instead of talking to me and telling me I’m being an obtuse cow… and yeah, I so totally totally get you… but that’s not my point! My point is we go to therapy for this shit okay? And WWS. Seriously. We have paid our therapist roughly $3K in 2013 to basically fucking walk us through WWS. AND IT WORKS. I swear. It really does. Sure we still bicker and squabble from time to time and we both throw quite the tantrum now and again but I swear it’s SO MUCH BETTER. I had no idea how resentful MrAM was! And I had no ideaa how much he really appreciated me focusing on HIM and US….. until I made a concerted effort to DO IT and stop thinking of him as not needing me. Truth is, he DID need me. A lot. I bet your guy does too. Try it. I bet it will work wonders.

    • avatar BreezyAM November 22, 2013, 12:13 am

      Oh yeah one thing I forgot! Try super hard to NOT take it personally when he starts with his anxiety trips. One big hurdle MrAM and I have is that whenever he gets all Chicken Little fucktardy, I take it like CLEARLY I AM NOT DOING MY JOB SINCE MY FUCKING JOB IS TO MAKE HIS LIFE PLEASANT and then I ramp in to panic attack mode, and it’s just a fun magazing rack of issues here. This is not productive or fun and just exacerbates the situation. So when he starts tripping, just observe it, don’t take it as a personal indictment on your skills as wife/business partner. Let him have his moment. Don’t own it for him.

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