Saturday 27 May 2017

Dear Patricia: My fury over the years at how he behaves with other women is starting to explode

Patricia Redlich

I am a middle-aged woman, married, with five grown-up children. My husband is a good man in many ways, but we have issues.

I am very, very angry at him, but this was suppressed into depression for many years. Recently, I did an intensive, one-week personal transformation course and the result is that all this anger is coming up.

I am so angry and feel so very hurt by his behaviour with other women over all the years of our married life. For example, many years ago, when my best friend visited us, he took her out dancing and held her in a very intimate manner. I felt so humiliated and sick. Yet he said he did nothing wrong!

And last year, at a family wedding, he leaned over and patted my cousin's thigh, in front of me. She's not married, and I still wonder if she considered this a "pass". When she visits now, the conversation is solely with my husband and I am barely acknowledged.

I find this outrageous. My husband says I'm making a big to-do about nothing. I could go on forever with examples, which would get us nowhere.

How do I get him to see the effect his behaviour has on me? I feel he has no respect at all for me. No wonder I've been depressed all these years, not being able to deal with this.

Now I feel I can tackle it. I'm expressing my anger, my hurt and my disappointment. And I'm insisting on being treated with respect in future.

But sometimes I feel my husband doesn't want to hear. It's like he's stuck in some adolescent stage of emotional development, and won't move on. How do I deal with this in a more effective way? Or do I admit that the marriage is over? I mean, I do feel he cares for me at some level. Also, how do I best cope with my cousin's visits -- and the fact that she ignores me?

I feel so humiliated in all these relationships. That friend of mine whom he danced with so intimately all those years ago is also visiting soon and I am dreading it.

When these women call, I feel embarrassed, humiliated and put down. How do I deal better with all of this?

YEARS ago, a very wise therapist told me to be prepared for terrible anger to surface once therapy started. He suggested I take up some vigorous form of exercise, or martial art, or whatever, and build it into my daily routine. It would help to discharge the ensuing distress. He was right.

The point is, being angry is fine. In fact, it's necessary. Angrily attempting to assert yourself, however, is a waste of time. It's worse. It's counter-productive.

You can see that yourself. You are insisting, very vocally, that your husband treat you with respect. You are telling him how angry, hurt and disappointed you are -- and nothing has changed. Yes, depression is, among other things, suppressed rage. And yes, accessing that anger is good. But getting angry of itself doesn't bring about change. You need to use your anger in order to get clarity -- and then coolly go about asserting yourself.

First of all, differentiate. Flirting with other women is one thing. Having a woman regularly visit your home who ignores you is another thing entirely. It's unacceptable. But wilting like a wallflower waiting for your husband to rescue you won't help.

Since she's a cousin -- and obviously a close one at that -- you probably don't want to bar her. So put yourself centre-stage in every conversation during her visits. Open the door when she calls, ask your husband to get the tea and sandwiches while you two women talk. Discuss clothes, hairstyles, make-up, the menopause, engage in gossip, hold a monologue on your kids' latest exploits -- and smile.

Do you understand? Drop the hurt withdrawal. Don't wait for your husband to give you pride of place. Use your anger instead to give you courage and put yourself bang in the middle of all interaction.

I seem to be saying this a lot lately, but marriage is also a question of power-play -- all relationships are. Your husband flirts, wittingly or unwittingly, precisely because you don't like it. It makes him feel strong. Yes, pathetic, I know -- but in truth we're all a bit pathetic. It's the human condition. And yes, it is deeply disappointing. But that's all it is.

He's saying no to your request that he desist. That's not actually lack of respect. It's a limit of love. To which you have several responses.

You can shrug off the disappointment, sadly even, but with resignation rather than rage. You can actively intervene, as in competing, laughingly taking his hand and putting it on your thigh, cutting in on the intimate dance, sitting on his knee when your old friend comes to stay and you're all relaxing with a drink after dinner. Or sometimes just absent yourself from the silliness.

What you don't do is continue to ask, or insist, that he consider your feelings. That, whether you like it or not, is part of the power-play. You have to rescue yourself.

I know it's hard to get your head around, but your husband's silly behaviour doesn't actually humiliate you. It shows him up as a somewhat limited man. And no, it's not humiliating to stay married to a man with limitations. It's wise not to be distracted by the lesser things in life. So you are not diminished in the eyes of your friends. This man isn't abusing you. He's just being somewhat less than perfect. And who isn't?

Don't you see? It's your lack of proper self-esteem, your sense of helplessness, your belief that you can't compete, in an appropriate manner, with anyone who crosses your path, which is leaving you feeling so vulnerable. Your husband's behaviour is truly a sideshow. Take a longer look at why you feel so powerless. And then do something about it.

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