Carolyn Hax advises a woman whose husband blames her for their issues but isn’t that bad when he isn’t angry.
Adapted from a recent online discussion.
DEAR CAROLYN: My husband wants to separate/divorce because of many issues that we have. He feels they are mostly my fault.
I’m not perfect but usually I only react badly if he gets angry at something I didn’t even register, or if he insists he knows what I mean or how I feel, etc., when I’m saying something else and trying to explain.
Anyway, I already apologized and took all the blame for the sake of the marriage, but he still wants to separate. I think we have communication issues and have begged for years to go to therapy. He refuses.
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How hard do I try? Do I throw myself on the floor at his feet (figuratively), shower him with kindness, even if he doesn’t give me the same? Or do I accept what he has decided and move on and try to heal myself?
We don’t have any children, so it’s not that complicated, and also I’m tired of being berated for being “disrespectful.” But when he’s not angry things are good, I think!
– When Is It Trying Too Hard?
DEAR WHEN IS IT TRYING TOO HARD? It’s common for people to think separateanddivorce, all one thing, but they’re two different things. Separate (think), divorce (let go).
Why not agree to the separation — since it seems to be coming anyway, whether you want it or not — and see how you feel after you adjust to it?
Who knows, after a few weeks of breathing air with the anger and criticism filtered out, you might find yourself more enthusiastic about a divorce than he is. You just said he “doesn’t give me” kindness. Game over, no?
If your marriage isn’t as unhealthy as you made it out to be here, then the solitude, focus and clarity permitted by your separation will help you repair your communication from your two different homes.
Either way, trying to heal is something you fully control, so start taking good care of you. A dynamic where one spouse pushes all blame onto the other is a textbook formula for your abuse. Drop your plea for couple’s therapy, please, and start going just for you.
DEAR CAROLYN: It escapes me how to point out that someone has just said something bullying. So I just end up taking it and dealing with the emotional turmoil later. How do I head off these situations without causing a scene?
DEAR ANONYMOUS: When someone is openly hostile, then scene away. Demonstrate that cruel words have consequences.
You don’t want to shame someone, though, who just hasn’t had the 2 + 2 moment of understanding the full weight of his or her words.
Since the difference is the relative innocence of the speakers, and since that’s not always clear, say something to the effect of, “I’m not sure you realize what you’ve just said.” As needed, then briefly point out an offending comment. The presumption of innocence gives the person an oops or wow-I-never-thought-of-that opportunity, after which you can all carry on as before.
This works best if your outrage meters are all set to minimum sensitivity. As long as you can reasonably divine that people mean well, letting things go that you feel you can morally let go is a gift to yourself as much as it is to others.