Dear Dr. Glick,
When my wife and I married 15 years ago, everything seemed wonderful. My wife was an amazing person who was funny, fun to be with, and great even with my friends. We got along beautifully together. We decided to get married less than two months after we met. She was very much a detail person, but I thought that was a good thing because I look at the larger picture and pay attention far less to the specifics along the way. We married less than four months later to much excitement and happiness. When we started to set up our home, things were wonderful, though I did get concerned upon noticing that she was much too focused on little things. It took us a long time to get our home to the point that we could function in it. She spent weeks choosing the blinds for the bedroom windows, and countless trips to stores everywhere picking out glasses and other sundry items that we didn’t yet have. I barely noticed these and many other things, and didn’t pay much attention to them until the tension in our marriage began to build up to the point where I began spending less and less time at home.
It bothers me terribly, because I love my children so much, but whenever I am with them and she’s nearby, she seems to be yelling at me constantly about making sure they not touch things that are not clean or that they do not go near anything that she considers to be dangerous. She freaks out over the possibility of one of the children using a glass that has been standing on the counter, worrying that it had not been washed properly and never lets them go to a playground where she might decide that the swings and slides are not similar to the ones that she has been accustomed to. We still love each other, but I am finding it more and more difficult to just look away and keep quiet when she is driving me and our children crazy. We almost never can work things out when we talk; everything quickly turns into a fight.I don’t how much longer I can continue. I feel terrible to admit that I am starting to think about speaking to a divorce lawyer. Something has to change! Can you help?
A Control Freak’s Husband
Dear Control Freak’s Husband:
Are you surprised that marrying someone you met after less than 6 months turns out to be someone completely different from the person you thought you married? Are you surprised that things that you noticed, but didn’t pay attention to, turned in to the focus of terrible conflicts? Are you surprised that two generally “normal” people can’t find a way to resolve conflict and learn to live together? Well, welcome to marriage.
The truth is that how long or how well people know each other before marriage is not that crucial. What is critical is making a commitment that you will be together and support each other and do whatever you need to make it work. If that commitment is there, you’re almost certain to make it the best it can be. If it’s not, your chances aren’t great, even if the differences are minimal.
It is normal that people who are attracted to one another just overlook things that might be troublesome. And furthermore, even if they notice some of these things, they’re sure that they will be able to get the other person to change.
But the reality is that people generally don’t change, even if THEY want to. No two people are the same and unless they BOTH have an easygoing way to tolerate differences, it is extremely difficult for them to live together! It takes time and a very strong determination to overcome these hurdles. In fact, the most powerful determination of whether a marriage will work out is not what problems, or what kind of problems they have, but whether they are willing to work out, or simply accept, differences.
You and your wife are two individuals, and the only way to build a marriage is to accept that you are not the same. That means that even if your wife were 100 percent wrong, she doesn’t believe that. She “knows” that she’s right. And that means that you have to be more understanding. Instead of telling her she’s wrong, try to get her to allow small changes that she’s sure are wrong, but can nevertheless tolerate. Do it slowly and reassuringly and hopefully get to the point where you can become a true confidant, someone who is very supportive and accepting and easygoing. Reward her each time you see these slight changes coming about. Be sure to make note of them, and a night out definitely doesn’t hurt. If it ever reaches the point where she accepts that her concerns are possibly too strong, then begin to slowly and gently suggest that perhaps she could discuss it with someone who might be able to help.
Whatever turns out, the bottom line is that she is your wife and you are her husband, and despite the fact that things sometimes are very difficult, you are in it together. And that fact alone makes marriage an unimaginable treasure.
Good luck, keep trying and if you seem unable to get even small changes, give me a call.