Tell Me About It

I find my wife’s behaviour utterly frustrating

Tell Me About It: ‘How can I distance myself from my wife on a day-to-day basis’

PROBLEM: I spend far too much time wondering about my relationship with my wife. It’s a terrible arrangement and is now fundamentally different to what it was at the beginning.

It started brave and gregarious and joyful, and now it is depressing and oppressive with continual disagreements and unresolved issues. I find her behaviour and methods utterly frustrating and her futility of reasoning has been proven many times. I just need to know now, how to distance myself from her on a day to day basis as interacting with her has become insane.

Our kids are almost adults. Our relationship affects me deeply and I react with frustration to her behaviour when I know I shouldn’t. Her behaviour has become a joke with our kids, and she knows this – she is aware of how she goes on. Not a clinician myself, but I feel she has ADD (attention deficit disorder) or ODD (oppositional deficit disorder). It affects my health and my general well-being. I cope really well. But I’m truly done for! My family value system is so well established from formative years that the prospect of a family break-up may not be an option.

I need to know is there a plan “C”?

Please.

ADVICE: On the one hand, your relationship has a very negative pattern and it seems that your wife has not had a diagnosis or treatment (if she needs it), but on the positive side she is aware of her behaviour and you show no desire to leave her or break up the family. The current pattern is probably creating defensiveness on both sides so it is unlikely she will be willing to listen to your concerns or be open to getting help if your approach is confrontational.

At the very least, you can do something about this and when you have managed to modify your own behaviour, you can tackle the relationship or encourage your wife to get some support for herself.

There is no guarantee that your wife will take the advice or love you offer her, but at least you will have tried to salvage your relationship

You sound sad at the loss of such a promising beginning and I wonder if your partner ever sees how affected or full of grief you are? You ask how you might distance yourself from her, but I wonder what this teaches your children about relationships and what example it sets for them as a model for intimacy. It may well be that you will need to create a crisis in order for your wife to seek help but in the meantime setting an aim for estrangement in the house is hardly the way to live.

Attitude

Check your own attitude and then look at what effect it has: Stephen Covey, the international author and speaker, argues that 90 per cent of our interactions are determined by our attitude. It is likely at this stage that your attitude at home is one of disappointment, contempt and dismissal – think for a moment what this would do to you (or one of your children) if you were on the receiving end of it.

If you want your wife to get help, you must find an attitude within yourself that might allow her to trust you and your advice – this might include compassion, determination and hope. If you carry the belief that there is no hope for any change for her, then you have consigned her (and you) to the treadmill of the familiar pattern and you will both suffer endlessly for it. Of course, there is no guarantee that your wife will take the advice or love you offer her, but at least you will have tried to salvage your relationship and you will have done it in a way that you can stand over.

A starting point can be many faceted: you can start with your GP by asking for advice about diagnosis and support, you can both go with your adult children to see a family therapist as it will provide a safe environment with which to have the hard conversations, or you can offer your wife her own pathway by allowing her to chose her own medical and psychological support.

There is a lot holding your relationship together: past love, family and community – yet, we cannot make a relationship work by sheer willpower alone

If parents demonstrate to their children that they can not only be aware of their limitations and foibles, but that they are also able to take responsibility for the change that is needed, they are offering the best learning possible. You are not outside of this as you too need to take responsibility for your own well-being and if all your attempts at remedying the situation fail, you may need to face a decision about what is best for you in the long run.

This may include considering separation in the future, but this should be when you have exhausted all other routes. There is a lot holding your relationship together: past love, family and community – yet, we cannot make a relationship work by sheer willpower alone so use your current unhappiness and frustration to create a small crisis so that the relationship can be pushed out of it’s stagnation into some possibility for change.