Q My wife has been growing increasingly more dissatisfied and angrier about our relationship since we got married eight years ago. I am willing to address the issues that she complains about; however, I find that I can no longer tolerate her constant anger and insults. At times I feel she attacks without realizing the effect on me, but I don’t know how to respond without her getting more aggressive. I don’t think I have done anything to hurt her so badly that I deserve to be treated this way. I feel that my mellow, laid-back personality is not helping her or our marriage. Yet it’s not my nature to fight back.

A It sounds like years of your wife’s direct aggression and your passivity have now created an intolerable dynamic. As you begin to address this issue, examine closely whether there is anything you have done or aspects of your personality that are evoking her anger and dissatisfaction.

This doesn’t mean that you start by taking all the responsibility or by blaming yourself for her anger and the issues in the marriage. However, your understanding of your struggles and personality traits helps you begin to sort out how you influence her combative personality and what she needs to look at in herself and her background.

The next step is to tell her that you have been reflecting on the issues of your marriage. Name some things that you take responsibility for and would like to work on and change. Describe to her your concerns if things don’t get better and how your relationship could suffer if you don’t work on it. Your self-inquiry will afford you clarity and the confidence to communicate to her how you feel insulted by her words. You need to do this and not retreat. Her response to your pain will give you much information.

When communicating your painful feelings, use a simple and straightforward method. Here are a couple of examples: “When you yell at me and tell me things you don’t like about me, I feel hurt, afraid, and angry.” “When you repeatedly complain about things, I believe you don’t see anything positive in me or our marriage. I end up feeling that I am taken for granted and then withdraw and ultimately get resentful.”

Of course, you would describe the issues and feelings that are part of your unique relationship. In this communication, you are clearly naming her behavior and telling her how it affects you. This is great feedback for her about how you see her and how you interpret her words and behavior.

I recommend you read The Verbally Abusive Relationship: How to Recognize it and How to Respond by Patricia Evans.

Alzak Amlani, Ph.D., is a counseling psychologist in the Bay Area. 650-325-8393. www.wholenesstherapy.com

 

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