Thursday, July 5, 2018

The Case of the Assertive Wife

It’s the 5th of July, so why not begin with the case of the assertive wife. A man writes to therapist Lori Gottlieb to ask how he should handle his obnoxious wife. The man is 64, but we do not know how old the wife is. We will assume that she is age appropriate, thus not a teenager.

The issue is: she berates him constantly because he does not express his feelings often enough or well enough… for her satisfaction. Apparently, she craves affection and is very insecure. But, she shows it by constantly nagging, and therefore making it impossible for him to respond. When you try forcing someone to do something, you make it impossible for him to do it. Even if they follow your imperious commands to the letter, their gestures will never seem sincere.

Anyway, Michael from Detroit writes this:

My wife has given up on me and is threatening to leave. She has given me six months to find treatment for the lack of emotion I am displaying towards her. I am 64 years old and love her very much. We have only been married for a couple of years. (I was previously happily married but my first wife died of ovarian cancer.)

My wife says that I just don't display affection to the degree she craves. I get frustrated because this is all we argue about—she says I don't kiss enough, have sex enough, hug enough, etc. All the pressure on me just pushes me further away. So what do I do?

Pressure always pushes people away. Unless they push back…in which case they get accused of being hostile and aggressive.

We do not know whether this woman was married before. We do not know how old she is. We do not know whether she or her husband have children. As always happens, we know next to nothing about the situation.

Worse yet, if I may be allowed a speculation, we do not know how much work she has had done. Anyone in New York will know that I am referring to cosmetic surgery and especially to Botox. 

Don’t you know, when your face has been numbed with Botox, it becomes far more difficult to pick up emotional cues. Why is this so? Well, we receive emotional communication by mimicking the facial expression of our interlocutor. If we see someone’s face contorted in grief or in rage, we mimic the expression and then feel something of what he is feeling.

So, she might be suffering from Botox syndrome.

If not, she is simply a witch. Therapist Gottlieb recommends therapy and suggests that he try to placate her. I take a slightly different approach. I believe that he should call the bluff and walk out. Why does he believe that he should suffer the indignity of being constantly harassed by his wife?

In truth, the problem is hers. She should get over herself, and learn that leaning in and asserting oneself is a bad way to get along with another person. If she persists, he is better off without her.


Dan Patterson said...

Very good summary by you. Witch.
My statement to an ex with similar qualities: "I am doing the best that I can. If that's not enough I can help you pack.".
There is a reason the MGTOW movement has gotten traction.

Ares Olympus said...

I don't like name-calling. Certainly she's suffering in some way and looking for someone else to fix her pain. Still being only married a couple years seems to make the problem easy. She's the one threatening to leave, so all he has to do is let that happen. Since he still loves her, it would seem easy (on the ego) to say "I'm sorry I can't be who you need. I hope you can find someone else." If there's a "witch" part to the story, I imagine it comes in how she'll talk about him to others trying to gain sympathy, but better sooner than later if it must happen.

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

Yes, it sounds like she is a witch.

That said, we have a 64-year-old widower who’s now been married to this new woman for a couple years. Three points of reference I’d like to know...

I’d like to ask Michael if she acted this way before they got married. I realize this is looking backwards, but it would be insightful in the evaluation of calling her bluff. I’d like to ask her a similar question: “If Michael’s behavior has been consistent, thusly evident before you got married, why’d you marry him in the first place? Did you think he would magically change?”

If she was always this way, he made a mistake in choosing her, and he’s responsible for his choice. He can also choose to exit, having exhausted his patience.

But if she was a gem of a gal before they got married, and became this full-time nag, then he shouldn’t give her a choice. That’s a confidence game, a fraud. He should just leave. No explanation necessary.

Anyone wanna bet this guy didn’t get a prenup?

How about whether she proposed to him?

That’s why he’s writing to a therapist at The Atlantic. Boy, has THAT magazine come a long way or what?

Ares Olympus said...

Stuart's title made me think more - Is being demanding the same as being assertive? Here's a helpful page:
Assertive people state their opinions, while still being respectful of others.
Aggressive people attack or ignore others' opinions in favor of their own.
Passive people don't state their opinions at all.
I think we can conclude name-calling is aggressive, not assertive, but we probably can also conclude the husband has been too gentle so far, i.e. passive.

Gringo said...

The mother of a high school peer died, leaving his professional father a widower in his late 50s. Several years later, the father remarried, to a 40-something professional who was marrying for the first time. The remarried father told me that his new wife was the one who had pushed the marriage.

The marriage did not last. Reading between the lines, his new wife had too high expectations for what he should do in the marriage. He, on the other hand, was set in his ways and disinclined to make a lot of changes for his new wife. It wasn't a case of his not getting along with women. He had been married to his first wife for 30 years. After the divorce from the second wife, he had a constant female companion during his 3 decades of retirement.

It is often said of newlyweds that the husband wishes the wife won't change, and the wife has a plan for how she wants the husband to change. Those conflicting goals sometimes clash.