QUESTION: This month is my one-year
anniversary. This year has been the most difficult of my life. I knew
my husband for four years before we got married, and we dated for
three. We have accomplished many amazing things together. However,
the marriage has been difficult. We have very passionate, emotional
fights. We often rationalize these battles by saying that we are both
stubborn, opinionated people. But enough is enough!
He is convinced that his way of doing things
-- cooking, cleaning, managing finances -- is absolutely the best
way. My ideas are different and therefore, he believes, wrong. No
matter how hard I try to convince him that there are alternatives,
I rarely succeed. In the end, I feel that I make more concessions
in order to end the fighting. Obviously, this is very frustrating
Lately, the fights are even worse. I am at the
point now where I realize that if we weren't married, I would have
left him. I don't want this constant battering of my self-esteem.
I told him this once -- which I thought would be a real wake-up call
for him -- but nothing has changed. I feel that I am a good communicator,
but my words are falling on deaf ears.
I would never describe my husband as an unloving
person. Besides being stubborn, he is also kind and generous. I feel
our relationship is a roller coaster. When we are getting along, things
couldn't be better. When we fight, I feel like I've made the biggest
mistake of my life. I don't feel comfortable discussing any of these
issues with friends or family. On the outside, we are the perfect
image of a happy, newly married couple. I'm really at the end of my
rope. I've thought seriously about marriage counseling (after only
11 months of marriage -- how sad), but I don't know if I want to take
such a drastic step. Sometimes I seriously wonder if I even love him
... but I know that I do. I just can't handle this situation on my
own anymore. He is responsive when we finally calm down and talk things
out, but the peace never lasts very long.
I am desperately confused.
ANSWER: It is human nature to attempt
to imprint your individual ways of doing things on your new family
unit. Our family patterns run deep, because they reflect our loyalties
to how things were done in our childhoods. The late Carl Whitaker,
father of family therapy, described this struggle as an attempt by
one spouse to reassert his or her family patterns on the other. In
your case, you are losing the battle. No wonder you are upset!
By all means, go for counseling. It is not too early
or too late. Seeking help is a sign of health. It is neither drastic
nor a failure to do so. You still love your husband, but the battle
for individuality has intensified considerably since the initial honeymoon
phase of your relationship ended. Your dilemma represents a predictable
developmental conflict in marriage. Still, it is possible to incur
damage during this phase if the power struggle is not resolved in
a manner that feels fair to both of you.
Your husband's difficulty lies in his inability to
compromise fairly. He may be more willing to "get his way" than is
beneficial to your marriage. It is important to the health of your
relationship that your spouse become aware of the fact that he is
getting what he wants in the short run while mortgaging the intimacy
in your marriage in the long run.
Talk with your husband about your feelings over what
has happened in your marriage. Let him know that you are feeling steamrollered
in your relationship. He may be winning the battle but losing the
war. Since he has always shown sensitivity, it is likely that he will
respond to your feelings once he can hear them. Asking him to go with
you for marital counseling will no doubt get his attention. But don't
wait for the first appointment to begin expressing yourself.
Let your husband know how much your feelings are suffering
from giving in to him. Use the marital counseling sessions to establish
clear guidelines for listening to one another and learning new coping
skills to resolve differences instead of merely backing down. It is
inevitable that if this pattern continues, your resentment will affect
your ability to give and receive affection in the marriage.
Your marriage represents the beginning of a new family
unit. The task before you is to create a new family culture from the
unique blend that exists between the two of you. Do this consciously
instead of inadvertently. Books on creating the kind of family you
want to have, such as William Doherty's "Intentional Family," can
Take your feelings seriously. You are already questioning
your love for him some of the time. This is a symptom of the communication
gap that currently exists between yourself and your husband. Research
shows that marriages dissolve because of unresolved conflict, not
because partners stop loving one another. However, continuous conflict
does erode affection and tenderness in a marriage, as you have already
Do not wait to fall completely out of love with your
husband before effectively confronting this problem. Seek help to
get your message across. Let him know where your marriage is hurting
before your suffering exceeds your capacity for caring!