Resentment puts plugs in couple's ears when it comes to communicating

CAN THIS MARRIAGE BE SAVED?

June 19, 1994|By From Ladies' Home Journal Los Angeles Times Syndicate

Betty is fed up. "Dave gives more affection to the dog than he does to me," says the 38-year-old mother of three, who recently went back to work as a teacher. His indifference is driving her crazy: He doesn't listen when she talks, refuses to respond when she needs to discuss a problem, and never does anything around the house that he's promised to do.

Betty hates nagging. "But Dave won't do anything unless I ask him a dozen times. He thinks his only responsibility is to bring home a paycheck," she says, fuming.

For the 18 years they've been married, Betty says, they never fought -- but that was only because she kept her complaints to herself. But recently her doctor has warned that her chronic headaches and stomachaches are most likely triggered by stress, so she's vowed to speak up. Her words, however, fall on deaf ears.

Dave, 39, is fed up, too. "She always plans everything the way she wants, then maneuvers me to fit her plans. I usually go along so she won't yell. I can't compete with Betty in an argument. But this time, I'd had enough."

Dave is sick of being ordered around: "If I don't adhere to her routines or meet her expectations, boy, do I hear about it." As a result, he's learned to treat his wife the same way he treated his overbearing mother: Whenever she criticized him, he simply nodded -- and did exactly as he pleased.

Though Dave has agreed to shoulder more domestic responsibilities now that his wife is working, he's not thrilled about it. "My parents were very traditional, and I can't help thinking a woman's place is in the home," he says.

Unresolved resentment

"The all-too-common pattern that Betty and Dave have fallen into is an indication that under-the-surface resentments and anger are not being communicated directly," says Jane Greer, a New York marriage therapist. Betty and Dave need to recognize this pattern, notice when it is occurring and work to change it.

If you find yourself in a situation like Betty's, you must first learn to talk to your partner in a noncritical, nondemanding way. Calmly tell your spouse what you want and include a reasonable time frame.

At the same time, listen to your partner's response with an open mind and allow him to express an opinion.

Your partner, on the other hand, must carefully consider his own needs and wishes and clearly express them to you.

After practicing these techniques, Betty has learned to express herself in a positive way. Dave feels less henpecked and more willing to hear her out. Because he is no longer afraid to speak up, they have been able to negotiate compromises instead of waging war.

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