Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

“My Fiancé and I got Into a Fight and Now I Don’t Know If I Want to Marry Him Anymore”

My fiancé, “Jim,” and I have been together for about three years now, and we just got engaged a month ago. Since our engagement, we’ve been as happy as ever and have started to look at venues. Everything has been pretty much perfect.

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 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.

37 comments… add one
  • Cleopatra Jones

    Cleopatra Jones October 3, 2017, 9:33 am

    WWS.
    I kinda think that she wanted Jim to tell her that she could quit her job & he would take care of her. He didn’t do that so she wanted to keep talking about it to ‘solve’ it. After all, she only makes 1/5 of what he does so she should be able to quit working and concentrate on school.
    At any rate, you and Jim should not get married because you have a LOT of things to work on before y’all take that step.

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      dinoceros October 3, 2017, 9:41 am

      I didn’t really see it that way. Only because she said her self-worth is tied to her school/work. If that’s true, I can’t imagine she’d be very happy if she wasn’t able to do 50% of that.

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      RedroverRedrover October 3, 2017, 1:09 pm

      I read it as she was trying to solve the problem of being left feeling abandoned and small. Because she told him about the initial problem, he responded like a jerk, she felt hurt, and suddenly she had two problems on her hands (her work problem, plus the fact that now he’d hurt her and made her feel like crap). He shut her out on that, and she wanted to talk about it, so he took off to the couch.

      I can’t even understand what he was doing, dragging out of her what the core of her issue was, and then just turning around and going to sleep. Like, if he didn’t want to hear it, why was he forcing it out of her? If he’d just listened and commiserated with her initial problem, there would have been no argument at all. If I were her, I would seriously rethink marrying him. He’d have to go to counseling with me to even make it a possibility.

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      • avatar

        Bittergaymark October 3, 2017, 3:31 pm

        Eh, no. To cause all this needless silly vapid drama RIGHT before you are going to bed IS ridiculous. The LW was being ridiculous. And by penning THIS letter — even more so.

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        Rava October 4, 2017, 12:14 am

        I read it like this too and I totally agree with what you (RedRover) said.

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    dinoceros October 3, 2017, 9:40 am

    I don’t think she did a 180 after one fight. She said that they’ve had this situation happen before. I don’t think either of them is entirely at fault, and neither person is blameless. LW, I think you and your fiance need to sit down at a time when you’re not fighting to discuss how you want to discuss things in the future. For example, maybe you can discuss with him what you are looking for when you complain (aka, him not saying your concerns are stupid and ridiculous), and maybe he’ll say that it’s important to him that if it’s something that can wait, you won’t prevent him from sleeping in order to listen to you talk about it longer.

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    Leslie Joan October 3, 2017, 10:09 am

    The problem is you, Up All Night. You are tying your self worth to something that is entirely out of your control, then you are obsessing about it. Your beef is with your boss who is scheduling you for shifts when she knows you have school. So instead of taking it up with your boss or through whatever formal channels may exist at work (union, perhaps? ), you come home and get neurotic on your fiance. You agreed to marry him – you plan on a future together; you’ve been living together with an inequality in your earnings and it’s okay with him – but you are making your insecurities about a temporary blip in your income that is not of his doing into something that you need to hammer at obsessively and keep the guy up all friggen night. I understand the desire to contribute to the best of your ability, I really do. But this is worrying about a single tree when you are in the middle of a forest. He’s not worried about the drop in income, and though he could have said so more sensitively, I can imagine that if he’s tired and wants to get to sleep while you’re obsessing, his sensitivity is at a low point.

    You will finish with your schooling and earn more money. This is a small bump in the road, yet you are treating it like a major crisis in identity. If you’re going to marry someone, you need to feel you have each other’s back. Because he has yours financially and is looking to the future, you’ve basically insulted him by implying that your participation is subject to a level of financial contribution. Don’t make your insecurity his problem. Talk with your boss about your schedule, and get counseling if you need for your insecurity. Let the poor man sleep at night.

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    • avatar

      carolann October 3, 2017, 2:07 pm

      ^^^^^This
      I think his bad response was from his being sleepy. She is probably draining to be around on a regular basis.

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      MMR October 4, 2017, 8:11 am

      Agreed!!!!!
      My husband has a bedtime that is pretty rigid, and he would definitely be grumpy if I tried to force a long conversation just as he was getting into bed. He wouldn’t call my problem ‘stupid’ or ‘ridiculous’, but I kind of get the ‘I love you. I’m going to sleep.’
      This letter is ENTIRELY about the LW’s needs. We can talk about his lack of compassion and empathy, and but it’s pretty clear that she isn’t exhibiting any herself. What if he had a bad day? What if he had a big meeting in the morning? He tried to get out of this conversation because he needed sleep, but the LW KEPT PUSHING. So finally he left the room because that’s what HE needed.
      I agree that this LW needs to be able to manage her own emotions. It’s not your partner’s job to solve your problems at the expense of a good night’s sleep. He could definitely improve his communication, but LW needs to grow up.

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  • avatar

    Brise October 3, 2017, 10:12 am

    Frankly you sound a bit like a little girl here. His attitude – except the “ridiculous” and “stupid” words – was reasonable. Better to sleep over it and rethink in a quieter state of mind. To pursue both an academic advancement and a family support could be a bit too much at the same time. Focus on one thing and do it well, instead of putting yourself in complicated and frustrating situations.
    And learn to fight: never say “I will remember this in the future”. That is destructive, resentful, passive-aggressive. When you fight, you must still respect each other, then reconcile and move on completely or it can’t work. Say more openly what you expect of him. But accept also sometimes that a partner tells you: you are making circles with your problem, I can’t help you. It might be true and help you to take the situation in an other angle, with more distance. Don’t reconsider your marriage over a fight!

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      csp October 4, 2017, 12:14 pm

      Totally agree. I have to say, I think the biggest lie is “Never go to bed angry”. I think the worst thing is for a couple to fight while exhausted. Give yourself time to sleep and to pause and consider things.

      LW, I never start a fight or argument or discussion with my husband unless I have a goal and know what I want. What did you want from him? If you cannot articulate it then it isn’t fair to ask him for it.

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  • avatar

    Bree October 3, 2017, 10:42 am

    I agree with Wendy about premarital counseling. It sounds like they are having trouble communicating, and that both probably have issues to work through. My husband and I went through a really dicey time during the first year in our marriage where we were fighting a lot and poorly communicating (on both sides). Divorce was even briefly on the table. I insisted on couples counseling, which has helped so much, and I would highly recommend it before throwing in the towel. However, both partners have to be committed to working through their issues. Counseling is hard and brings up stuff you probably don’t want to face, but it can be so beneficial with the right therapist.

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  • avatar

    Ron October 3, 2017, 10:48 am

    It sounds like you brought up a very serious work-related issue .while the two of you were in bed, rather than earlier in the evening. That is very unwise.

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      carolann October 3, 2017, 2:10 pm

      ^^^^ This. I have made this mistake with my own husband. Then we both don’t sleep and the next day gets off to a really bad start.

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      dinoceros October 3, 2017, 4:35 pm

      It’s unwise in the sense that it’s not the best time for it, but it’s also pretty human to talk about something when it’s bothering you and when you have down time rather than scheduling out in your head the time that is best to talk about it. If the LW finds that she only has these communication issues when she brings up stuff at bedtime, then it’s probably the common thread. If she has them at other times, then it’s probably more about their communication habits.

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  • avatar

    Northern Star October 3, 2017, 10:54 am

    I wonder what solution you were looking for your fiance to provide, exactly? He has no power over your work or class schedule. Either find a different job or try and work with your boss week to week to get a better schedule.

    It would be very frustrating to be presented with a problem with an obvious (if not easy) answer, yet have to “discuss” it to death. I just don’t know what you were expecting him to do in the first place.

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      MissDre October 3, 2017, 11:20 am

      Like Miel said, sometimes you just need somebody to sympathize while you vent. You don’t actually need the person to “solve” the problem.

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      • avatar

        Northern Star October 3, 2017, 2:42 pm

        The LW is saying she couldn’t sleep without “solving” the problem. But… as I have just outlined, the problem is solved a couple of different simple (not easy) ways. She wants to keep him awake to gripe and psychoanalyze her life, well, it’s not a reasonable thing to do late at night. Tired people are crabby.

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    JuniorB October 3, 2017, 10:57 am

    Longtime lurker. It’s funny, I spent a few years in my marriage before I finally learned that my spouse was looking for commiseration and validation of her feelings, and not a solution to a particular problem. I also learned that our approaches to settling arguments were different- I would want to get a resolution as quickly as possible, while my spouse would rather cool off and talk about it again at a later time. This doesn’t mean we’re incompatible as spouses- it means we can “agree to disagree” about certain aspects of our communications, and not let that affect our other areas of compatibility.

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      ecwashere October 3, 2017, 12:16 pm

      My spouse and I have similar styles. I want the fight to be done and over with (resolution, apologies stated, etc) before I can even think about going to bed and he needs time to cool off and talk about it later.

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  • Miel

    Miel October 3, 2017, 11:05 am

    I feel like some of the comments are a little harsh on the LW. I have been in the situation of crying for an hour at 11pm on a weekday because of something that happened at work. What does my boyfriend do? 1) He empathizes with me (“wow, yeah that sucks”). 2) He lets me vent (“You want to tell me more about this?”) 3) Then when it looks like I got the venting out of the way, or worst, if I’m starting to go around in circles, he asks “What do you think you can do about this?”. Then I start telling him what options I have, even if none of those options are actually good, or are going to solve the problem entirely. He then tell me “So you know what you’re going to do?” and I say yes, and then we might talk about something light hearted a little bit before going to sleep (“So what’s that funny video you were watching earlier, I heard you laugh”).

    LW, would you be happy with that sort of conversation with your boyfriend? Do you just want to vent and have someone to listen to you? Someone who can help you calm down and eventually go to sleep?

    You should sit down with your fiancé at a neutral moment, and tell him how you didn’t like the conversation you had recently, and how you want to change the way you two discuss those issues. If this is how you feel, I would say things like:

    “When I’m telling you about something that upsets me, it would made me feel better if you could just acknowledge “yeah that sucks” or “yeah I understand why that makes you angry”. This makes me feel more validated, and like we’re on the same team.”

    “When I’m telling you about a problem I’m facing at work, most of the time I’m not asking you to solve this problem, I just want someone to listen to me vent.”

    “When I’m facing a problem at work, I usually don’t want you to find the solution for me. But it helps when you listen to the different solutions I have thought of.”

    “Sometimes there are no good solutions, and I know I’ll have to just suck it up and get over it. The sort of thing that would help me in those moments is “So you know what you’re going to do?” and “we’ll get through this together”, and “maybe it’s hard to think about this right now, but we can sleep on it, and we can talk about it more tomorrow or in the next few days. We’re going to figure this out together ok?””

    Sometimes our partner just want to solve the problem, and we just want to vent. That leads to conflict when there was no need for it in the first place.

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      MissDre October 3, 2017, 11:18 am

      This 100%. It’s important to communicate with him and just tell him what you need from him in those moments.

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    • Pheebers

      Phoebe October 3, 2017, 12:40 pm

      Yes, yes, yes. And it’s okay if your needs are different at different times, and you’re confused. Tell your partner it’s okay to ask if you’re looking for help solving a problem or just a sympathetic ear.

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    • avatar

      Bittergaymark October 3, 2017, 4:07 pm

      Oh good grief! Crying for hours OVER work? Seriously?

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        Kate October 3, 2017, 4:14 pm

        Yeah, I’m with you on that one, BGM, if you’re crying for an hour about work at 11pm on any kind of regular basis, you need to be looking for another job. And have a good bedtime routine, maybe do breathing exercises or meditation, get Xanax if you have to. I reeeaaallly don’t think that’s fair to a partner or healthy for you. I was in an insane work scenario for most of 2016, then got laid off and was out of work for a few months, and I probably cried 3 or 4 times that entire period, and never at bedtime. Your bf is being really sweet, but I think this is a lot to put on him.

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        Kate October 3, 2017, 4:43 pm

        Another thing you can do is actively decide not to care about certain things at work. You really can, I’m not kidding.

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      • Miel

        Miel October 3, 2017, 5:08 pm

        To Kate (sorry, not sure why I can’t find the link to respond to you directly):
        -I’m in the final 6 months of my PhD in a field where about 54% of people drop out before graduating. I think it’s ok for me to be upset and cry a bit if a week-long experiment fails for no reason.

        -My boyfriend and I Skype every night before going to bed. So if I tell him about the week-long experiment who just failed, it is at night before going to bed. That schedules just works best for us.

        -This “crying for an hour” thing happens to me 2-3 times a year. I think that’s great compared to my fellow PhD students who drop out, burn out, or cry while at work. I think it’s ok to be overwhelmed from time to time.

        -My boyfriend is fine with it, supports me, and doesn’t feel like I’m putting a lot on him. He also has his own problems at work sometimes and I’m there to listen to him.

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        Kate October 3, 2017, 5:17 pm

        Ok, 2-3 times a year…

        I’m just really in the camp of not-ok-to-lay-your-problems-on-someone-at-night. Around dinner sounds right to me.

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        Leslie Joan October 3, 2017, 7:02 pm

        I still agree with BGM. If you already know what your sweetie is going to say, then why can’t you walk through the steps yourself? My first husband would listen to me vent, once, and then say, “So, what’re you going to do about it? ” Initially it felt like a tray of ice cubes down the back, but yanno, it sure cured me of coming to him looking to vent about a problem and got me thinking in terms of either solutions, or dealing with it. Which may be what Kate was saying about learning not to let things bother you. It really works. And you don’t need to keep your loved ones awake half the night.

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    Essie October 3, 2017, 11:28 am

    I think counseling would be of great help to you both. To put it simply, you need to learn how to fight. Well, how to handle a disagreement.

    Your biggest mistake in this was to keep picking at him after he rolled over and said he wanted to talk about it tomorrow. Some people just need time to process things during a disagreement. You didn’t give him that space, instead insisting that he had to do what made YOU comfortable. That’s never going to end well.

    Couples counseling will help you learn about each other’s communication and problem-solving styles. Then you need to see if you can put that into practice, and resolve disputes in a mature, effective way.

    Put the wedding planning on hold, because if the two of you can’t learn how to problem-solve without getting into a huge fight, the wedding is going to be a waste of a whole lot of money. Because no relationship is perfect. LIFE isn’t perfect, and every couple deals with scary, difficult stuff in their lives. If you can’t get through a discussion about how your boss is being a big meanie, how will you talk about what to do when he’s lost his job and can’t find another one and the mortgage is due? Or, when someone’s dad passes away and you need to decide whether to have the mom come live with you?

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    Ashley October 3, 2017, 12:11 pm

    This is a problem for your boss, not your boyfriend. I’d be upset too if someone was keeping me up with a problem that had an obvious answer. (Aka talk to your boss). It sounds like your bf is an action person, and you like to dwell on things. Not saying you two aren’t compatible, but you at least need to see things from each other’s perspectives, and may over time, balance each other out.

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    ecwashere October 3, 2017, 12:14 pm

    Sounds like you haven’t figured out how to fight fairly with each other. I would recommend sitting down when you’ve both had time to cool off and discuss it calmly. Couples fight from time to time, but if this has been a reoccurring issue between the two of you, you need to figure it out before you start making wedding plans. Everyone has their own style of fighting and if you don’t have a plan in place, it can escalate quickly and become a bigger problem between the two of you. I know what sets my spouse off and he knows what sets me off. It took awhile to learn cues for when to back off and take time to calm down. I hate going to bed angry with each other, but he needs space after we’ve had a fight. We learned to comprise with each other and take the others feelings into consideration.

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    Fyodor October 3, 2017, 12:14 pm

    You both sound kind of insufferable.

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    Anonymousse October 3, 2017, 12:29 pm

    Time and place. Time AND place. At night, in your cozy bed, right before sleep is NOT the time or place to bring up work drama that you need to solve immediately.

    Also, as Ron Swanson says, “don’t half ass two things, whole ass ONE thing.”

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    Smalls October 3, 2017, 12:55 pm

    I think asking yourself what you wanted out of this conversation with your fiance is a good idea.

    Did you want to just vent? Did you want him to solve your problem? Did you just need compassion and love while you worried?

    If you wanted him to solve your problem, or to help you solve it, that isn’t a great set up. You said yourself that there wasn’t an easy solution to the problem.

    However, the point you made about him “pushing” to see what else was wrong, and your reaction of saying that your self worth was tied up in your ability to advance yourself and contribute, makes me wonder if what you really wanted from him was some compassion and tenderness. The self-worth comment is kind of out of left field for me, honestly – you’re talking about a logistical problem, and then to veer into self-worth is a drastic turn. If my spouse dropped that in my lap right before bed, I wouldn’t know what to do, either.

    I don’t think his reaction was great – no one wants to get eye-rolls, and have their problems called “ridiculous” – so that needs to be addressed. He could definitely do with some damn compassion for the person that he loves. But is it possible you’ve both had this kind of interaction before, of you looking for some tenderness and compassion and him kind of leaving you in the dust, and the self-worth comment was a way to see if he’d finally give you what you’re looking for/need?

    Dynamics are tricky. If he subconsciously senses that you’re trying to get something out of him, he may be reacting poorly. It’s also fully possible that he just doesn’t want to deal with your anxieties, or doesn’t know how to in a nice way.

    Counseling is a really good piece of advice.

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  • avatar

    jimmyjam October 3, 2017, 5:39 pm

    Miel, humble brag much?!

    You and the original poster need some Valium

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    Kav October 4, 2017, 8:19 am

    Great advice! Frankly, if he’s making 5x more than her, he probably has a job where he needs to be awake and alert in the mornings. Sometimes a non-stop whine fest in the middle of the night is just plain burdensome and she’s failing him more than he’s failing her. What is he supposed to do at that time of day? Or at all? Getting a grip on herself will help her attain her goals of contributing towards growth and stability a lot faster than picking up a few more shifts somewhere.

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