Last night, however, we got into a big fight which ended with him leaving our room and sleeping on the couch. The topic of the fight sort of blossomed out of me having a problem at work where my boss put me on shifts when she knew I had school, to which he said that what I was worried about was “stupid” and “ridiculous” and he “didn’t get it,” which hurt my feelings because I felt it was important. I explained that this scheduling issue bothered me because sacrificing those shifts would essentially lower my monthly income by 25%, which is a big deal for me because I want to be able to contribute at least something to our household even though I make a fifth of what he does because I’m in school. He then kept pushing and asking if anything else was wrong, so I eventually told him that my self-worth is directly connected to my ability to use my time and skills to advance myself academically and support my family, both of which are being compromised by this scheduling problem to which there is no easy solution. The moment after I tearfully explained all of this, he rolled over and said “I love you. I’m going to sleep,” which left me feeling abandoned and small. I tried to talk to him about it then, knowing I couldn’t sleep without solving it, but he just kept complaining that he was tired and “why can’t [I] just talk to [him] about it in the morning?!” Which really hurt my feelings. And then he just up and left because he felt that I had threatened him by saying I was upset and he was going to remember this in the future, and he didn’t even let me finish my sentence. The end of it was going to be “So I know to just tell you we can talk about it tomorrow.”
This isn’t the first time that he has forced open the can of worms and then left it on the table, so to speak. He does this kind of thing often, and then he just leaves me alone in my emotional state to sort through whatever I feel on my own, claiming he shouldn’t have to help because he “didn’t know how long this would take” and he “doesn’t get it.”
Is it me? Am I doing something wrong? To be honest, after today I don’t know if I want to marry him anymore. I can’t deal with a life of being left in the cold. — Up all night
Woah — you went from “everything has been pretty much perfect,” to “I don’t know if I want to marry him anymore” over one fight? And then you want to know if you’re doing something wrong? Yes! Yes, you’re doing something wrong. First of all, I sense a lot of blame unfairly put on Jim. He didn’t “force open a can of worms” — you started discussing an issue at work, which he said he didn’t really understand. Could he have responded in a much better way? Oh, absolutely! Calling your issue “stupid” and “ridiculous” was pretty fucked up and, believe me, if he were writing to me for advice, I’d have some choice words for him. But he’s not — you are, and you aren’t without fault here. Jim did not force open a can of worms — he merely reacted to you in a less than ideal way.
When you say that Jim does this a lot, I have to wonder if one of the reasons — maybe in addition to lacking empathy and compassion — is the expectation you put on him to help you find a solution. You say that after you told Jim about the issue with your work schedule, you “couldn’t sleep without solving it.” Maybe I’m misinterpreting you here, but it sounds as though you wanted Jim to help you come to a solution about your work issue before he could go to sleep. This isn’t fair. It’s one thing to want your partner to listen to you and commiserate and to offer some words of advice, but to expect a solution to a problem — and within a short window of time — is, to borrow a word from Jim, “ridiculous.” If this is how you normally operate, or what the dynamic normally is between you, I can understand how Jim might emotionally shut-down upon hearing a grievance from you. When you have impossible expectations, you’re always, 100% going to get disappointing responses. Adjust your expectations, and you’ll not only have a better chance of getting a response that satisfies you, but also you’ll open the the lines of communication instead of immediately shutting them down.
All couples fights — all relationships have challenges, and everyone says things they later regret. It’s HOW you work through these episodes, and how you communicate your needs and how you respond to your partner’s expression of his needs, that determines the strength of your relationship. If you two are regularly shutting each other down — he’s calling your problems stupid and telling you he doesn’t want to listen to you and you’re blaming him for not solving your problems — then, yeah, maybe you aren’t an ideal match and shouldn’t get married. I can’t answer that for you, but I can say that you better make damn sure you can answer for yourself before you proceed with more wedding plans (and definitely before you say “I do”). If you’re struggling with communication issues and with feeling heard and understood, you would benefit from pre-marital/couples counseling. And if you’re struggling with feeling of low self-worth, you would benefit from individual counseling.
You say that your “self-worth is directly connected to you ability to use your time and skills to advance yourself academically and to support your family,” which is great, but I think you have a pretty narrow idea of what that looks like. There are lots of ways to support your family beyond a financial contribution, and in life and in a long marriage, there are going to be times when your contribution is more heavily an emotional one and less so a financial one. And there are going to be times that your career doesn’t have the upward trajectory you seem to tie to your self-worth. “Advancement” doesn’t always happen in a linear way and it doesn’t always happen quickly, especially when there are so many factors — some totally of out of one’s control — that can have a big impact on the linear development of a person’s career (such s becoming ill, getting laid off, having children, taking care of a sick family member, dealing with a natural disaster, making a move to support a partner’s job opportunity, which are just a few of the many examples!). You need to learn how to take these transitions, some of which may feel like major set-backs, in stride. You need to learn to lean on a partner for support but not expect him to help you solve everything. Life isn’t always “perfect”, and it isn’t always tidy, and it doesn’t always lend itself to easy solutions. Sometimes, the answer is simply to shift your perspective, create a Plan B, or just fucking suck it up and deal like a grown-up.
So, there you go: Before you get married, before you even talk anymore about venues and other details like that, you’ve got some work you need to do on yourself, and you and Jim have some work you need to do on your relationship. I can’t say whether he’s the right one for you or not, but I can say that you aren’t ready for marriage yet.
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If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at wendy(AT)dearwendy.com.