My husband (he / him / his) is extremely smart and good in his job, has a close relationship with his sister, and good at figuring out mechanical challenges (e.g., setting up a new type of tent) patiently and thoroughly.
But I can’t bear the constant criticism. He’s always miffed about something. It is many, simultaneous small things: being hot, not reading for fun anymore, allergies, my refusal to go surfing, my lack of passion for running, that I don’t plan trips/activities, that we don’t share hobbies, that we don’t spend enough time together, that he has to constantly alter his schedule for me, that I interrupt him to serve dinner when he is putting away laundry, that I asked him to hang out when he was clearly doing something, that I can’t travel with him for > one month each year, that I work too much (I have a 9-5), that I joined a support group for depression that meets too often, that I have anxiety, that I’m doing a spiritual retreat, that I got off of work early and asked him out to dinner, that everything house-related is his responsibility. Our worst fights seem to happen I am busy at work. All of these annoyances contribute to big blow-ups with 2-3 hours of fighting every other week. He’s miserable a lot – physically ill or annoyed at me, coworkers, management, our HOA, the driver in front of him. He doesn’t praise or enjoy. He manages his emotions through running or eating.
I’ve done much of what he’s asked – get a non-demanding job; buy a house; plan trips; ask him to spend time together, but the negativity doesn’t abate.
I bring up my challenges gently, but I can’t get a dialogue flowing. If I bring up an issue, he’ll deflect and change the subject. If I ask him a question, he’ll critique the premise of the question. If I persist and bring us back to the question, he’ll start criticizing me.
I am trying to be better (therapy, meditation, support group, reading, self-care) and take advantage of every resource I can find (podcasts, EAP talks about wellbeing, gym). What am I doing wrong (what’s wrong with me?)? How can I do better?
-What’s wrong with me?
Dear What’s Wrong With Me?
What if nothing is wrong with you and the problem is you’re married to an asshole?
That’s it, that’s my whole answer. What if there is nothing left for you to work on, what if your husband is the one who needs to change? What if he has choices about how he behaves and he’s making bad ones and there’s no amount of accommodating and reasonable and nice you can be that will fix this, he’s got to be the one to do the work? What if you need more in a marriage than “good at his job and mechanical stuff” and “has a sister who doesn’t hate his guts” and it’s time to stop catering to his demanding behavior and mean words? “Smart” means jack shit without kindness and love. He is not behaving like someone kind who loves you.
Oh hey, what if your husband who hates his life and always feels ill and in a bad mood *did* happen to have diagnosable stuff going on, and, get this, what if it were his job to get a medical checkup and a therapist and a support group and do meditation and self-care and listen to podcasts and read books called “How To Be Nicer To Your Spouse So The Whole Internet Won’t Read About How You Suck So Bad” and “Yo, Bro, Did You Know They Make Feelings Besides The Anger You Vomit All Over Your Loved Ones?” and otherwise SORT OUT HIS OWN BULLSHIT so that his behavior isn’t toxic and mean to the people in his life?
None of what’s happening is your fault, you aren’t alone, lots of people find themselves here and have to backtrack from the hopes and dreams they had for what marriage would be like.There’s a book called Why Does He Do That? by Lundy Bancroft that you may find informative, there’s a guide to emotional abuse at Love Is Respect, which is overall a great, gender-neutral resource), here’s a guide on choosing a divorce lawyer, we’ve got a jillion past posts on the site on how and why and when to leave a relationship where someone is constantly mean to you that can hopefully get you on your way to a happier place where nobody interrupts your workday and gets mad when you spend time taking care of yourself because he thinks that’s time you should be spending with him (so he can be mean to you? Why would you want to do that?).
There’s a lot to read through at the links that I won’t repeat, though there are a few things I’ll amplify here:
1) People often balk at the word ‘abuse’ to describe their partner’s nasty and controlling behaviors at first, so it’s normal if your first reaction to reading this post is “Well it’s not THAT bad” or “I wouldn’t call it THAT” or “Those services are for people in Real Trouble, my husband is just a little cranky sometimes!” In my opinion the way he resents the things you do away from him PLUS the overly-critical behavior crosses the line, and the fact that your question was framed as “how is this my fault/how do I change myself because someone else is being horrible to me” is the textbook indicator, but you can still call places like The Hotline and get help even if you’re not sure, it doesn’t have to be life-or-death yet, you can still invoke all the help in the world to get away from an “unhealthy” situation or one that is making you unhappy and stressed, ok? You’re the boss of you and how you feel and what you do and the words you use about it. I want to give you tools, not rules.
2) Once it gets to the point you’re describing, it’s probably not fixable from inside the relationship. Your husband might get happier, healthier, and less mean eventually, but most people do not do this while still inside the relationship where they are behaving with this degree of contempt and control. Probably don’t bet your happiness and safety on another person’s promise to change. I’m so sorry, the research (by people like Mr. Bancroft) is very pessimistic about this. It’s a bad idea to go to couples’ counseling with someone who is mean to you, they tend to use it as one more avenue for abuse and manipulation.
3) Once you’re ready to leave a relationship, people often escalate their abusive behaviors, so while you are probably a kind and forthright person who would normally operate with a lot of transparency and reasonable discussions around money and the state of the relationship, you might have to go into Stealth Mode for a while. Don’t share your thoughts or plans with your husband right now. If you consult a lawyer, don’t tell him. Hide your digital history if you’re reading resources on abuse and setting up a new life. Start working quietly working on your safety plan, tell your therapist and support group the truth about what’s going on at home to the extent you feel safe to do so, start looking around for who you can trust to help you imagine and plan and dream your way to someplace much better than here.
We want this to be overkill, an overreaction. I want to be wrong. That’s a best-case scenario, honestly, that things are Not That Bad, but that you’ll be ready in case they get there.
I’m glad you wrote in, and so very sorry for the circumstances. Sending you love and hope and a reminder that you deserve to be treated only with respect and kindness.