Seeing himself as failure, man gets angry at wife Scripts: They wanted to be Ozzie and Harriet, but life requires different roles.


January 07, 1996|By Los Angeles Times Syndicate FROM LADIES' HOME JOURNAL

"If Robert yells at me just one more time -- about anything -- our marriage is over," announces Gloria, 33, mother of two and an accountant with a brokerage firm.

All Gloria did this time, she reports, was ask Robert if he wanted her to help him fix up the new photography studio he plans to open in their garage. "He's been complaining that my work obligations have been holding him up. Now I found the time, and he's furious that I'm telling him what to do!"

Robert, who until recently worked in the photo services department of the local university, has a history of unemployment -- and it's wreaking havoc with their lives. "Each time he's been laid off, it has not been his fault," Gloria emphasizes. What she can't understand, however, is why he refuses to even look for part-time positions.

Robert, 34, feels horrible about the way he blows up at Gloria. "My wife and daughters mean more to me than anything in the world," he says slowly, "and there's no excuse for the way I lose control." But Robert feels his life is out of control.

When he proposed to Gloria, Rob says, he felt like a knight in shining armor. "The early years of our marriage were so happy. I think we both pictured ourselves straight out of an episode of Ozzie and Harriet, with me working hard and Gloria staying home to raise our children."

"Maybe one of the reasons I'm critical of Gloria's success is because I'm such a loser myself," Rob says. Starting his own business is his last hope. "But I can't look for a part-time job at the same time," he says. "What client would put up with a photographer who said he couldn't take on an assignment because today was his day to work at the gas station?"

Staying in the game

"This couple's problems are less a result of differences between the two of them than of the pressures each feels to conform to society's expectations," notes Martin Gilbert, a counselor in Albuquerque, N.M. Gloria and Rob believed that if they played by the rules they would be rewarded. In their minds, that meant Rob should be the breadwinner and Gloria the happy homemaker. When circumstances dictated otherwise, they both felt like failures.

When change becomes necessary, how can you learn to embrace it?

* Rewrite the script. Gloria and Robert are seeing themselves as roles rather than individuals. They need to redefine their definition of success. Nowhere is it written in stone that the husband must always earn more money than the wife or that a good wife must stay home with her children all day. You have to examine whether you're responding to old messages or orders from the past that are no longer true or applicable.

* Challenge negative thinking. When you experience a setback of any kind, instead of thinking automatically, "I'm a failure," try to see the episode as an isolated or temporary event. Tell yourself: "I didn't get the job this time, but that doesn't mean I won't ever get one."

* Stop thinking of reasons why you can't change and start concentrating on how you can.

* Break down change into doable tasks. As Gloria and Robert discovered, learning to change course when you are forced to is process of reviewing your perspective as you gradually find your compass. In time, they both learned to concentrate on the positive qualities each contributes to the marriage. By the time Robert found a job in the photo department of the local newspaper, they felt confident in their ability to work together as a team.

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