I feel worn out trying to improve my marriage. We have had good times and done great things together – raised wonderful children, and realized our dream of moving to Israel.
But there have been bad times as well. My husband does not believe in the concept of a married couple making compromises. He believes that both halves of the couple should always do what is "right" to do. At times he is open to hearing my opinion about what is "right," and has changed his mind to agree with my way of thinking. But in the vast majority of cases, he sticks to what he thinks is right, and since he has the stronger personality, we usually do as he thinks.
Before we were married, I resolved (without telling him) to be flexible and go along with most of his ideas – because I thought that would be a good way to get along with a man with strong opinions, and because I genuinely am flexible in most matters. I don't have a problem with what I see as trivial matters. But sometimes an issue will come up with the children that is important to me. Since I am the one doing most of the child-raising, and I know them the best (he's away on business a lot), I have confidence in my methods. Yet he still insists on analyzing the question with “what is the right thing to?”
I have tried for years to do everything he asked of me. And it took me years to realize that the more I tried to act on his requests, the more disrespectful he became toward me.
And woe to anyone who fails to act in the “right way.” He can become irritable, impatient, angry, and contemptuous. In our 22 years of our marriage, he got physically aggressive with me three times (two shoves and a punch). I don't fear he will ever hit me again. But he will blow up when I'm disagreeing (even politely, even calmly) with him, and shout at me nose to nose.
All this has left me in bad shape. I have basically given up on trying not to frustrate him, because I am constantly frustrated on several important matters, and he sees that frustration as being solely my problem.
So here I am. My oldest children are out of the house, but many younger ones are still at home. My youngest need extra help and attention because of some developmental issues. I do at least the minimum for them and I want to do more for them and for me, but where I used to always have another idea to try or some inspiration that kept me going, I'm all tapped out now.
I'm dependent financially on my husband because I've been a stay-at-home mom for years (though I was a professional for several years just after university). We’ve been trying to improve our marriage for years, and there have been improvements, but I am stuck in the reality that I can’t talk to him without him shouting in my face.
I have done counseling at several different points in my life, while my husband despises social sciences and will never go to counseling, preferring to solve his own problems.
He feels that he has been making most of the changes, and that it's my turn to start carrying more of my share. That is the last thing I feel able to do right now. I'm worn out emotionally, and just want to spend mostly empty time in front of the computer. I have had enough.
Any wisdom on your part would be very, very welcome.
The first thought that comes to mind is that the definition of a healthy marriage relationship is a "harmonious" one. The term harmony is borrowed from musical arrangements where the sounds brought forth from the various instruments are not identical, but blend and resonate well with each other. Similarly, in a marriage, husband and wife can have differing opinions and different ways of looking at situations, and an accord can still be struck. As a matter of fact, different perspectives create balance. One spouse can have a more laid back view and the other a more intense orientation, and together they can reach the ideal middle of the road approach.
The critical factor, however, is that there has to be an inherent understanding and implicit contract to agree to disagree respectfully. Marginalizing the thinking or viewpoint of another is never in order. The assumption, of course, is that the issues at hand are not matters that challenge moral statutes or ethical behavior – e.g. murder, theft, gossip or Torah laws should not be up for discussion. Matters, however, of how to best deal with a given situation effectively, that is not written in stone, can be subject to discussion and varying opinions.
Doing the "right thing” does not give him permission to treat you dismissively.
It appears from your account, dear reader, that your husband is adopting an excessively authoritarian and autocratic posture. Even if the "right thing” that he insists on is based on an objective value system, it does not give him permission to treat you dismissively. A civil discussion is always mandated. It is not a question of being right or wrong; discourse should be engaged with a willingness to exchange thinking.
Physical abuse is absolutely and categorically never acceptable.
Respect and real listening are the key ingredients in positive communication. Sadly, we as a culture have lost the ability to listen effectively. Deep listening entails total focus and attention to what the other person is saying. Typically, we are so invested in our own thinking that even as the other is still speaking their mind, and trying to articulate their position, our minds are occupied with formulating our own response. We are not totally present. To divest ourselves momentarily of our personal bias and truly listen is a skill that takes practice, effort, and a true desire to acquire.
I gather from your remarks that if you would feel heard and respected, the final conclusion would not be such an issue for you. Yet when time and again one is treated dismissively, that can crush the spirit and destroy self esteem. All of us get a better sense of self when we sense that our thoughts are of value to others.
Though you refer to yourself as "flexible," you clearly bear a great deal of resentment for your many concessions. Sagely advice tells us that when any issue arises, we assess it on a scale of 1-5, and insist only on that which is highly important to us. It seems, dear reader, that you have done that and more, and alas even in areas the should be your domain – the house, the children, etc.
Practically speaking, I would recommend the following:
(1) Sit down with your husband when there are no burning issues or bad feelings, and you are both in a good mood and kindly disposed to one another. Share your feelings with him. In a context of all the positive qualities that you appreciate about him, tell him that in the area of being heard and listened to he has not done the "right" thing by you. Express your hurt and frustration. Ask him in advance to allow you to say your piece without interruption. Then let him respond without your interrupting him. Speak calmly. Begin your sentences with "I" messages, not "you" – e.g. "I feel such and such when you…," not "You make me feel…"
Remember to go for deep listening and not only for getting things off your chest. The objective is to try to open up lines of communication and to make it safe to share feelings. In the event that you feel a face-to-face discussion will not work, consider putting your feelings in writing.
(2) Recognize, dear reader, that women become accustomed to subtle forms of abuse over time and make excuses for the abuser – i.e. “He is so nice otherwise; he has such a great sense of humor,” etc. Consider the example of the boiled frog. How is it, they ask, that a frog can be boiled in water? We would expect that as soon as a frog senses the very hot or boiling water, it would jump out and boiling it would be impossible. The key, however, is to begin with lukewarm water and slowly increase the flame, imperceptible to the frog, until it is too late and the frog finds itself boiled.
In cases of abuse, overt or subtle, a husband plays on a wife's vulnerabilities. Because the picture is not totally black, the wife tolerates it and at times becomes convinced that she deserves the abuse. Before she knows it, she is "boiled."
Eleanor Roosevelt's wisely commented: "No one can make you feel inferior without your consent." Your task, dear reader, at this point is not to give your consent.
Make it clear that you are not willing to suffer abuse any longer.
If no change occurs, you will have arrived at the point of needing to identify a rabbi, mentor or other person that your husband respects. Offer that he can see anyone he chooses. If he refuses to go, however, perhaps you will need to go speak with that person directly and share your concerns. Mentioning this to your husband might give him the impetus to join you, or at the very least make him aware that consequences will now become part of the picture. It will become clearer to him that you are not willing to suffer even the most subtle of abuse any longer.
(3) Despite the fact that you have tried counseling in the past, I would strongly advise you to find a good objective party to talk to, regardless of whether your husband chooses to join. Divesting yourself of your pain and frustration will be therapeutic. Additionally, the perspective gained will hopefully clear your head and heart and energize you. The affirmation and validation of this process will make you emotionally healthier and far better equipped to handle the heavy load you carry.
(4) Remember that it takes only one person in the relationship to affect the energy in the home. A more confident self will perforce evoke an altered response from your family.
Finally, take care of yourself physically and spiritually. Instead of sitting in front of a computer, take a brisk walk, or better yet get a friend to join you for a consistent daily exercise program. It will boost your body chemistry and ward off depressive thinking. Fill yourself up with learning to whatever extent possible. You will feel more equal to life. And as in all situations that we are confronted or challenged by, pray for heavenly assistance.
May God bless you!