Sunday, May 20, 2018

The Case of the Abusive Wife

We are all on the lookout for the least smidgen of toxic masculinity. We are hard at work ridding the nation and its culture of any reference to manly virtue. After all, there is no such thing as manly virtue. We are all surrounded by manly vice.

And naturally, if men are devils, then women must be angels. Any time a man and women get into a fight or an argument, we know that the man is at fault. It’s the default position. If you do not agree you are in serious trouble.

Today, Carolyn Hax offers a slightly different perspective in the Washington Post. True enough, this is one among a multitude of marriages, but I suspect that it is not as rare as we would like. It’s yet another example of a wife who appears to be an untamed shrew. One sympathizes with the man who married this woman. And we can ask ourselves what he was thinking when he married her and why he stays married to her. And we can also ask why, if she harbors such raw hostility to him, she stays in the marriage.

From what we can tell the couple is childless, but has an egalitarian marriage, with both spouses having good jobs. As often happens in these letters, we do not know who does what for a living, who supports the family lifestyle, whose job has more prestige than the other’s. We would want to have some idea about what the woman is complaining about before dooming the marriage. And yet, we will go with what we have.

It shows, as Hax wants us to see, that women can be abusive too. I am sure it comes as news. So here is the letter:

My wife and I have what looks on paper like a great relationship, with good jobs and a good house and similar interests. My problem is I hate the way my wife treats me.

I say something she disagrees with, and she rolls her eyes. I ask her to please just tell me what she's thinking instead of eye-rolling and she says if I'm "too stupid" to figure out what she's upset about, that's my fault. We go out with friends and she acts like she's having a good time, then she spends the ride home berating me about how I embarrassed her with some social faux pas that only she seemed to notice. I suggested marriage counseling so we could talk about what it is that I'm doing to cause her eye-rolling and embarrassment, and she said she thinks it's "hilarious" that I'm "not man enough" to stand up to her without a counselor present.

I'm closing in on the conclusion that divorce is the only option. Can you think of a better option?

Doesn’t this sound like nonstop contempt? It sounds like it to me and it sounds like it to Hax. She advises this sad sack to divorce his harridan of a wife, as soon as is humanly possible.

One understands that prefers in all situations to try to save marriages, not to cause their termination. And yet, all rules have exceptions, and in extreme cases, like that one, divorce seems to be the only way that this man can regain his sanity and his dignity.

Hax replies:

No. Divorce sounds like bliss.

What you describe is emotional abuse. Inexcusable.

Some think the word “abuse” is thrown around too lightly, so I’ll cross my T’s: Your wife also sounds like a terrible person.

But I’m only getting one side of the story here, so I’ll dot my I’s, too: Living with her sounds like misery.

The last one is really all you need, and you know it better than I ever could: You’re unhappy in this marriage, and your efforts to change it have failed. Please talk to an excellent divorce attorney and a family therapist — solo. Just given what you’ve shared, this is not a divorce you want to initiate unprepared.

Fair and balanced, it seems to me. True, the wife is a horror. True, he should exit the situation post haste. True, he should find an excellent divorce attorney—because divorcing a shrew is not going to be fun. Forewarned is forearmed.


Sam L. said...

"And naturally, if men are devils, then women must be angels. Any time a man and women get into a fight or an argument, we know that the man is at fault. It’s the default position."

It's ALWAYS de fault of de MAN. Though not in this case.

Ares Olympus said...

The easy answer is to bail out, but if he can partially avoid taking her contempt personally, he can experiment. One thought is a "spirited person" is more trainable than a passive one, like a river that is overflowing and needs some direction.

One thing we might want to know is how she reacts when he expresses direct anger. People joke about "mommy and daddy issues", and I'm sure there's real truth there, and so seeing how her parents interact might give some clues what inner programs she's acting out.

And a problem is crazy-making is contagious, and our crazy always wants to bring other people down to our level, and vice versa. So we have to be aware how we're pulled in, and how we defend ourselves possibly in equally dysfunctional ways.

I've used role playing with friends, and they helped me see things I didn't see myself. Like claiming the right to shut down a conversation after I've said some uncomfortable truth and not needing the other's immediate good will. You can be "mean" in one moment by saying what needs to be said, and check in later when hurt feelings have maybe faded, or at least your own.

And if you eventually have kids, or enter any position of authority, you'll have a starting point to learn all that all over again.