Posted by fxckfeelings on September 10, 2012Share This Post
If you feel persistently mistreated by your spouse, sharing your emotions is often ineffective; while your feelings meant the world to him at the start of your relationship, like a car, they lose value with every mile that gets put on. Unless your partner sees the light—which, as a partnership gets older, becomes less and less likely—telling one another how you really feel usually leads to nothing but a victim-off that’ll make you both wish you’d never started dating in the first place. Before opening your mouth, learn how to do your own damage assessment, spot the choices over which you have independent control, and put together a plan for making the best of what you’ve got. Who knows, maybe if you do what you think is right about your half of things, you’ll get more miles out of your relationship without having to trade it in.
I have been with my man for seven years, but as time goes on, he is getting more financially controlling and disrespectful. I usually let it slide, but I’m sick of feeling like a pushover. How do I stand up for myself? I need help bringing out “the bitch inside.”
Even when you’ve got good reason to feel badly treated by your partner, releasing “the bitch inside” will just give him a good excuse to dismiss your issues as trivial and over-emotional. In other words, no matter how justified your anger, acting like an angry bitch will only succeed in getting you treated like one.
Yes, you may get him to sit up, listen, and mend his ways, but that’s unusual, particularly with long-term partners with whom a long history can serve to justify whatever they’re doing. The more he annoys you, the more successful he feels.
While unleashing the bitch is tempting, that kind of reaction usually just causes guys to duck, retaliate, and ultimately respond with their own list of complaints. Better, then, to keep your inner bitch in strict lockdown until you figure out how bad your problem is and what you can actually do about it.
Begin by assessing the impact of his bad behavior on your actual control of your own life. I assume, from the fact that you’ve been together for seven years, that your partner isn’t a total asshole who never gives you a cent without strings attached or, worse yet, depends on your money while telling you how to spend it. If he was, I’m sure your inner-bitch would have made an appearance long ago.
On the other hand, if your friends think you’re being used and abused, you need to do the kind of careful mental arithmetic that measures the impact of life decisions that may not be good for you in the long-term. Ask yourself whether your being together makes you richer or poorer/more or less able to work, stronger or weaker in a crisis, and more or less confident in pursuing your most important priorities.
Note I didn’t ask how your boyfriend makes you feel, be it happy or sad; emotions are a factor, but what you need to focus on most carefully is the impact of his actions on your life as a whole.
Then ask yourself whether the behavior you find obnoxious has gotten better in response to criticism from others or your own previous protests. After all, it’s always worth trying once or twice to talk your partner into changing, but, assuming you’re not a shrinking violet and you’ve had a chance to make your point in various ways, remember our adage about what to do when at first you don’t succeed in changing somebody—quit. There’s nothing that causes nastier conflict than trying to change someone who can’t or won’t.
Assuming that bitching gets you nowhere and his personality has to be taken as-is, decide what you want to do with your relationship: end it and leave; tolerate it as is and force yourself and your bitch to suck it up; or, stay under new conditions, like establishing separate finances, defining your expectations for his financial contributions, and shutting down any whining or criticism on the subject.
In any case, don’t let the inner bitch write your script. If you’re leaving, she’ll mess up negotiations and stir up your emotional connection (even if it’s negative), and if you’re staying, she’ll drive him to defend himself and put you down. Instead, present your plans in positive terms without inviting discussion or expressing a need for agreement.
Accept the fact he has a different view of his behavior, while asserting your right to draw the line where you think it’s necessary. While being bitchy is bad, staying calm and cool while doing damage control isn’t just good, it also makes you the baddest bitch of all.
“My partner’s behavior often feels demeaning, but I don’t want to get drawn into a fight I can’t win. I will decide whether or not his behavior requires me to draw a protective line and whether that line includes continuing our relationship. I know shit when I see it and I don’t need anyone else’s permission to draw the line when and where I think it’s necessary.”
My husband is distant with our boys. He’s a wonderful man and works hard all day, but he has little tolerance for their horsing around and retreats after dinner to his den, where he watches TV behind a closed door. I know he’s a kind, loving man, but the kids don’t see that side of him, and they react to his grumpiness by being irritable and provocative, which just pushes him further away. If I try to get him to participate more, he complains that he’s tired and they’re difficult. My goal is to get him to see that he needs to improve his relationship with his sons.
Trying to change your husband’s behavior with insight and understanding can be as self-defeating as using anger and confrontation (see above). It’s true, no one will call you a bitch, inside or out; indeed, they’ll admire your saintliness, but you’ll despair for its lack of results.
Your technique, however, hasn’t stopped your husband from avoiding his fatherly responsibilities or set boundaries on what they should be. You’ve also put no limits on your own job and given your kids no guidance on how to manage theirs. It’s no coincidence that many shrinks owe their start to being kids in a family like yours. So instead of repeatedly trying sweet persuasion, decide what you can and need to do to protect yourself.
Look for ways that you can compensate yourself for the extra work of having to do your husband’s parenting for him; to the degree that you control a portion of family income and/or transportation, give yourself extra rewards and/or limit his. Participate fully in family events that you believe are good for the family while reducing your presence in events that are mainly for his benefit.
Prepare a positive statement of your purpose that excludes anger, blame, or punishment. You might cut him slack if he agreed that he wasn’t doing his share and asked forgiveness while he tried to get himself going, but no good will come from your picking up his work while he continues to feel sorry for himself. Instead, right the balance as much as you can while standing by your vision of a good partnership.
Urge him to do more as a parent, regardless of how he feels at night, and warn him that, if he does not do his share, you will do more with the kids, but you will also have to reduce your contribution in less essential areas and seek more compensation when possible. Then end the conversation and leave him to his DVR.
Your actions will show the kids how to make the best of things without compromising their views, starting a fight, or taking unnecessary shit. If you’re lucky, you may even succeed in driving your husband out of his cave.
In any case, you won’t let yourself be his victim, saint, or really anything but a determined partner with a job to do.
“I hate to see my husband tired, depressed, and alienated from our sons, but I also think his avoidant behavior makes it impossible for him to overcome his parenting problems and doing his share. I will accept the fact of his behavior and pick up the parenting slack while protecting myself as much as possible from overload. I will show the kids how you can do what’s necessary without liking it or feeling it’s fair.”
More advice from Dr. Lastname