Dear Dr. Yael,
My wife thinks she is always right – and I give into her in order to keep the peace. I can’t really fault her. She is only copying what she saw at home. Her father was a tzaddik who always gave in.
I am writing to you because even my giving in does not seem to help anymore. When my wife gets upset, she doesn’t know how to stop and she doesn’t want to go for help.
Dr. Respler, I believe that you can be objective and do not have a bias towards women. Can you help us?
If you have read my columns, you know I believe that although it is best for couples to work in therapy together, when one spouse refuses therapy the other can go and learn effective countermoves.
Countermoves in your case are the things you do in response to your wife’s anger. You already give in, so she has no motivation to change.
What I would suggest is your taking a stand. I admit that this will be difficult, because she may throw a tantrum like a child does when she sees she is not getting her way. She has been programmed to use her anger to terrorize you. It is a pattern that has existed for many years, and it will take work to change it.
One of your therapeutic goals should be building up your self-esteem so you can stand up to her. You need to learn how to take control and not allow her anger to rule the house. In therapy you will learn to change your responses to her and feel empowered.
Many times changing your countermove will change the other person’s reaction or at least help him or her realize that the old standbys are not working anymore. This does not mean that your wife will not get angry or to try to get her way. She will. However, the more of a change she sees in you, the more she will understand that her anger is no longer an effective tool. You will need a great deal of patience and perseverance to make this work.
Marriage is a dance that can be beautiful or turbulent depending on your moves – when you change your steps, your partner will have to change as well.
Here is a suggestion. You mentioned that when wife gets angry you give in so she will calm down. Now, you should calmly and quietly state why the answer is no. Do not get rattled or upset, no matter how she reacts. She will test you and keep pushing, but if she sees that you are not backing down, she will eventually stop.
You will also need to talk to your wife when she is calm and explain that you are unhappy with the way things are. Tell her that you love her and want to work on making your marriage more harmonious. Make sure you are not using an accusing voice or words and keep the conversation loving and calm.
If your wife wants to get the help she seems to need, things will definitely get better, but even if she refuses to get help, your going for therapy will make all the difference in your life. Hatzlocha!