Posted by fxckfeelings on October 3, 2011Share This Post
When people are overbearing, the natural response is to overreact, either by submitting entirely to their will or coming back with the same level of aggression. While our instincts tell us to “fight or flight,” we have to overcome our core lizard brain, take a step back, and figure out our own plan and our own moral and ethical priorities. Then we can state opinions, invite rational discussion, and evolve past conflict altogether.
I appreciate my husband, I really do; he’s a hard-working, reliable partner and father. The problem is, he’s also a reliable pain in the ass. He’s so controlling about whether the kids are polite, or the living room is clean, or the food tastes good…he’s always giving us dirty looks or telling us how we should act, and then does everything himself, anyway, so it will turn out the way he wants. If I criticize him, he acts like an underappreciated martyr and won’t talk to us until I apologize, but I hate apologizing; it doesn’t fool him, and it makes me feel unfairly humiliated, dishonest, and angry. How do I manage his overbearing behavior without wanting to kill him?
In many ways, telling someone you’re sorry is more taxing than telling someone you love them. An apology might get you some peace and reduces tension in the family, but, unlike expressing love, it’s all give and no take. And in this case, you’re saying sorry when you really don’t give a shit.
So, on the one hand, you’re showing him you appreciate his hard work and understand his intentions are good (even if they drive him to be a jerk, thus avoiding a pointless fight, which is good for everyone involved.
The negative side, however, is that you force yourself to lie, reinforce his feeling of being a righteous martyr, and perpetuate the controlling behavior that drives everyone crazy in the first place. Essentially, the more you tell him “I’m sorry,” the sorrier you’re going to be in the long run.
In the end, it’s not good for you or the kids, or even your husband, to submit to emotional blackmail. He may feel responsible for running the world, but that doesn’t mean you need to accept responsibility for his bad behavior.
The opposite of blackmail, however, isn’t winning fights with your husband. It’s figuring out how to pay proper attention to his complaints while continuing to go about your business.
Respect his complaints by investigating them; ask yourself whether you and the kids are doing your share, by your own standards, and own up to whatever crimes you uncover. Don’t let resentment cause you to do less than your share, or, again, the cycle never ends. Instead, do what’s right so you’ve got nothing to apologize for, and then prepare to draw the line.
After all, you care as much as he does about everyone’s doing their share, but you believe good enough is good enough, perfect is too much, and higher standards will just drive people crazy. At that point, the discussion about standards ends, and, in all likelihood, an angry silent treatment will begin, but don’t feel you need to apologize in order to end it. That will just kick start the cycle all over again.
You can’t control or manage his behavior, but you can draw a line on your own responsibility that will help the kids feel defended and, maybe, help your husband draw the line himself. Then love, or this marriage at least, will mean never having to say you’re sorry.
“My husband’s anger, after I know he’s knocked himself out with work and worry, always makes me feel guilty, but I can meet my own standards easily enough with my usual hard work. It’s better, at that point, to let my husband know I disagree with his expectations, find his anger unjustified, and reject his right to receive an apology. I believe we’ll all be better off if he stops that crap and, if not, I’ll shield myself and the kids from accepting blame.”
I’m grateful that my son is starting to have second thoughts about marrying his high-school sweetheart. It’s not that she’s a bad kid, but she never really had much in common with him and lacks his ambition and education. I kept my mouth shut, but by son knew I wasn’t thrilled (me and his mom are divorced, and he knows I don’t want him to go through the same thing). Now that he’s less enthusiastic, I don’t know how to feel. I got used to his girlfriend, so I’m shocked, and at the same time I don’t want to look too happy. I assume your advice is to keep my feelings to myself and shut the fuck up, right?
It’s often better, as a parent, to be under- rather than overbearing, because you don’t want your feelings to influence your son’s partnership choice, particularly if he’s into rebellion. The opposite of overbearing isn’t necessarily to shut up, however; it’s just to keep your feelings to yourself.
What you’ve got left, after putting your feelings on the shelf, is a wealth of experience and good ideas. From your own marriage, you know that divorce is horrible and partnership requires more than love; you’ve got good thoughts to share and you’re genuinely interested in your son’s ideas on this topic. Stick to thoughts, and you may have a good discussion. Share your feelings, and you’ve got a backlash.
Talk among yourselves about the nuts and bolts of his possible marriage; nothing subjective or emotional, just the basics, like how he sees their future, how to predict a candidate’s strengths when it comes to being steady with relationships, managing money, etc. Don’t be shy about what you’ve learned from your mistakes/close calls, just don’t get emotional about it.
As the parent, you know about partnership and commitment (probably more from relationships that went bad than from those that worked) and you can listen to and discuss your son’s views, as long as you aren’t too intent on controlling them.
You don’t need to be underbearing in order to avoid fighting or triggering rebellion. Keep your feelings out of it, and bring your experience in.
“I don’t like to tell my son what to do, because, whether he listens or does the opposite, I’ll feel responsible. Nevertheless, I know a lot about relationships and can teach him if I do what any good teacher does: keep the discussion thoughtful, encourage input, and keep my personal feelings out of it.”
More advice from Dr. Lastname