DEAR AMY: My wife and I have been married for more than 30 years and have raised three children. My wife is a controller and often treats me as either a child, a student or an employee, not the equal partner I should be. Push back to my childhood. I was a short, skinny, clumsy kid who was bullied incessantly by my teachers (ahhhh . . . the nuns) and fellow students. My dad was a serious “type A,” alcoholic, verbally abusive and emotionally disconnected. My mom was a wonderful, gentle soul, but mentally unstable. My parents did not protect me from the bullying. I was expected to “tough it out.” I did my best. Despite it all, I’m usually the easy-going guy. I let the little stuff go, but my wife is the polar opposite. We argue far more often than is healthy. I’m constantly monitored for signs of indiscretion and frequently get false accusations of infidelity. I have always been one to roll with the punches for the greater good. Three years ago, she landed a very stiff verbal uppercut, and I responded strongly. I’d had it. I wasn’t going to put up with it any longer and let her know it. The past three years have since been filled with all manner of disagreements great and small. I don’t have a wife anymore; I have a housemate. We tried couples counseling for six months, but all it did was open old wounds and pour salt on the current ones. I am now realizing that this long-ago bullying might be shaping my reactions to her outbursts. I feel I am being bullied all over again, and have been for a huge chunk of our married life. I’m mystified as to why she can’t see the pain she causes when she bullies. I’m far from perfect. I make mistakes. I get that. But I’m a good person, and have been a devoted and reliable provider, supporter, parent and husband all these years. I’m at a loss as to how to “tough this out.”
Not Tough Enough
DEAR NOT TOUGH ENOUGH: Your ability to “roll with the punches” doesn’t mean that people should punch you. You don’t emerge and “win” this bullying contest by toughing it out. The way you describe this dynamic, you and your wife have been locked into it for a long time. Your wife’s behavior hasn’t really changed, but your growing realization of where it fits into your life’s story has made it intolerable.
You learned in childhood how to get along to get by, because this bullying occurred across a power spectrum and was perpetuated by adults who should have protected you. But you should not tolerate bullying now, certainly not from your life-partner.
Please stick with therapy, for yourself. Liberation from this dynamic through leaving the marriage might ultimately be the only path.
DEAR AMY: When my youngest daughter was 7, she gave me a handmade birthday card on folded construction paper that said: “Dear DAD, I did not have any money to buy you a present, so I made you this card. I hope you like it. I Love You, Lauren.” I told her it was one of the best gifts I have ever received, and that is all I will ever want for my birthday. Every year since then, she has made an original card for me. As she has grown the cards have been more creative, and every year, I look forward to receiving one. The other night I sat down and went through a folder that contains 24 cards — I have kept every one. All the socks and ties and shirts are long gone, but these cards will bring a smile to my face for the rest of my life.
DEAR CHUCK: As many of us are still recovering from the shock or material abundance that Christmas has become, I love your story of a little girl who has grown up and continues to give her father all she has, which is her love, time and attention. Good job!
DEAR AMY: Thank you for supporting the instincts of “Overprotective Mama Bear,” whose mother-in-law had married one man who sexually abused his children, and was now bringing another man into the household. My aunt married two men who (the family later learned) were abusing family members. It tore our family to shreds. Mama Bear should be careful with this new man around her children.
DEAR SURVIVOR: Definitely.