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Monday, February 10, 2014

SL Letter of the Day: Unhappy Valentines Day

Posted by on Mon, Feb 10, 2014 at 5:43 PM

I'm pretty lost here and hoping you can help. My wife and I are going through an extremely rough patch. I won't bore you with the details, but we're sleeping in separate bedrooms, going to couple's counseling, and neither of us is sure if we want to stay together. Well, she's 90% sure she does and I'm 90% sure I don't. We still have a great friendship, our partnership is just a mess. SO ... WTF do I do about Valentine's day? Normally I would get flowers and we would go get dinner somewhere, etc. We don't ever do gifts. I don't want to be a dick, but I also don't want to send the wrong signals. Any ideas?

Fuck This Holiday

My response—and FTH's response to mine, and mine to his—after the jump...

•••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••

Can I ask why you want out?—Dan

The root of most of our problems is my longstanding tradition of not speaking up when I am unhappy about things and living with things that make me unhappy rather than making an effort to change them. I've taken responsibility for letting things get this bad and stay this bad for years. But regardless, here we are. We started dating when we were 18 and now we're 35. We've both changed a lot, but at the same time the way we relate to each other never changed much. Hence the couple's counseling. I started seeing a therapist to deal with my own depression and other issues and in the process of learning how to make myself happy, I discovered that my relationship was really unhealthy. My wife's emotional needs always take precedence over my own. If she's got something stressing her out I'll take over her share of housework, etc. I don't get the same treatment. If I'm busy and stressed, she gets lonely and basically becomes just another thing I have to devote energy to. And no, I'm not shutting myself in a room working for days, we're talking about 4-6 hours where I need to be left alone. This pattern where her emotional needs are the focus of the relationship manifests itself in other areas as well. This can be worked on, and we're working on it. But then there's the anger and the negativity. We both grew up in angry households, I became the kind of person who shies away from any conflict and she became an easily-angered, highly-confrontational person. It's a terrible combination. And while I can work on being ok with other people not being happy (because that shit happens), I can't make her into something she isn't/doesn't want to be. We don't have kids, we're both still young, and in my mind if I'm going to leave, now's the time.

Yikes, that was a lot. Sorry.—FTH

Thanks for the background info, FTH.

Birthdays, anniversaries, Christmas, and Valentine's Day can be challenges for someone—particularly a considerate and kind someone—who is certain he's going to end a relationship or, as in your case, is fairly certain he's going to end a relationship but is currently going through the couples counseling motions. Ignoring the holiday seems cruel, as your partner will take that as a sure sign that the relationship is doomed (and that you're wasting her time in counseling), which it might not be. But presenting your partner with gifts of the same caliber as those given in happier years is also problematic, FTH, as your partner will interpret those gifts as an assurance that all will be well. The first option is cruel, the second is potentially misleading—and will be upgraded to cruel if, indeed, you do end the relationship.

My advice: get her something that acknowledges your years together without making any implicit promises about years to come. If you've given flowers in the past, get the same flowers but a smaller arrangement. If you've given her chocolates in the past, get the same ones but a smaller box.

Since the last place you're going to want to be on Valentine's Day is in restaurant full of couples who are all blissfully in love—or grimly going through the motions—say this to your wife right now: "I think we should keep things low-key this year. Let's do something we both enjoy because, you know, whatever else comes, we are still and we always will be friends." Then on Friday give her those small gifts before you go snowboarding or biking or parasailing or whatever two enjoy doing together—but ideally pick an activity that you enjoy doing together but that doesn't require you to sit in chairs across from each other, staring into each other's eyes, downing glass after glass of wine.—Dan

 

Comments (81) RSS

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1
Bowling. This LW isn't the young variety of 35.
Posted by vennominon on February 10, 2014 at 6:00 PM · Report this
Rotten666 2
Valentines day is for suckers with diminished expectations.
Posted by Rotten666 on February 10, 2014 at 6:10 PM · Report this
Mahtli69 3
Buy her weekly housecleaning service, and buy yourself a pair of noise canceling headphones. Marriage saved. You're welcome!
Posted by Mahtli69 on February 10, 2014 at 6:24 PM · Report this
4
I remember one Valentine's Day when our marriage was teetering on the toilet seat, just about ready to be flushed. I got him a card - a very neutral card, had a picture of a forest or something like that on it - and after much thought, the best I could come up with to write in it was "You have always been important to me".

And, y'know, I think until that moment he didn't realize how close to done I was - that that was the closest thing to a loving gesture I had in me. He spent the next couple of months cleaning up his act, and we eventually managed to salvage something that actually looked like a marriage out of the wreck, but, man, that was a bad year.....
Posted by agony on February 10, 2014 at 6:33 PM · Report this
Dougsf 5
@4 - thank you for sharing this story. I hope all is well now, but that card is an absolutely brilliant moment in dark (very dark) comedy.
Posted by Dougsf on February 10, 2014 at 6:41 PM · Report this
6
@3 Made me laugh.
Posted by Amanda on February 10, 2014 at 6:50 PM · Report this
7
Ugh, Valentines Day when you're not feeling it is very hard indeed. I got plenty of sympathy but not much advice.

I'm pretty sure the last few with the ex were minimal bordering on sad.

I hope he let's the wife down easy.
Posted by phuni44 on February 10, 2014 at 6:56 PM · Report this
sirkowski 8
Give her the D, but no boner.
Posted by sirkowski http://www.missdynamite.com on February 10, 2014 at 7:23 PM · Report this
9
Great answer. Flowers but not specifically a Valentine's Day arrangement.

@4 Wow. Here's to the good kind of toughing it out.
Posted by DRF on February 10, 2014 at 7:45 PM · Report this
10
@4 that's a beautiful story. Thank you for sharing.

I hope they get the most out of therapy. My guy and I had a little bit of their dynamic -- he's more mellow than I am and sometimes I don't see the way he feels. I have done CBT to manage my anxiety/depression (angry household -- nice phrase). Getting a handle on that was pretty transformative for us as a couple. If the wife isn't seeing her own therapist, she should be.
Posted by wxPDX on February 10, 2014 at 8:36 PM · Report this
undead ayn rand 11
It doesn't sound like he's a great friend if he's trying to sabotage things at every opportunity. I suppose it's better if he's cognizant of this, but has anything really changed?
Posted by undead ayn rand on February 10, 2014 at 9:05 PM · Report this
12
@11:
Sabotage things at every opportunity?

Which things? Which opportunities?
Posted by migrationist on February 10, 2014 at 9:37 PM · Report this
undead ayn rand 13
@12: According to his statements-

"The root of most of our problems is my longstanding tradition of not speaking up when I am unhappy about things and living with things that make me unhappy rather than making an effort to change them. I've taken responsibility for letting things get this bad and stay this bad for years. But regardless, here we are. We started dating when we were 18 and now we're 35. We've both changed a lot, but at the same time the way we relate to each other never changed much."
Posted by undead ayn rand on February 10, 2014 at 9:44 PM · Report this
undead ayn rand 14
I don't know, do you find festering in your own personal misery and inflicting it upon your partner and never, ever changing anything even after you recognize that there's a problem a positive contribution to a relationship? There's really no way he can make her happy with all this impotent self-loathing.
Posted by undead ayn rand on February 10, 2014 at 9:47 PM · Report this
15
@10 CBT must mean something other than what I'm thinking. (I feel like Dan at the playoff game tweeting about yellow in the hanky code.)
Posted by Brashion on February 10, 2014 at 10:11 PM · Report this
16
But he's not sabotaging, he's working on his issues:

"I started seeing a therapist to deal with my own depression and other issues and in the process of learning how to make myself happy, I discovered that my relationship was really unhealthy."
Posted by migrationist on February 10, 2014 at 10:17 PM · Report this
undead ayn rand 17
@16: Is he proceeding to address and work towards resolving them or doing exactly nothing like he's always done?

I mean, he says "in my mind if I'm going to leave, now's the time." but he appears to want to prolong this as long as humanly possible. How many holidays are going to go by because he wants to avoid further "conflict"?
Posted by undead ayn rand on February 10, 2014 at 10:27 PM · Report this
seandr 18
@8: That is pure gold.

LW - if you're still in couples therapy, and you're the stoic sort who doesn't bitch and complain and self advocate, she may not yet realize how close she is to losing you. Take this opportunity to open her eyes so she can envision a life without you, perhaps along the lines of @4. If you're going to change her, you need to be further along in separating than 90%. If she isn't going to change, you need to be further along in separating than 90%.
Posted by seandr on February 10, 2014 at 10:30 PM · Report this
undead ayn rand 19
I really don't understand what his "emotional needs" are that aren't being met from the description, though. He doesn't want to be around her at home for 4-6 hours at a time, but what does he want from her when he's needy? Sure, he's realized what makes him unhappy, but I can't grasp what he wants from anyone (including himself) that would make him happy. These damn letters always make me read so much in.
Posted by undead ayn rand on February 10, 2014 at 10:41 PM · Report this
seandr 21
@undead ayn rand: Wow, you're really kicking the shit out this poor guy.
Posted by seandr on February 10, 2014 at 10:48 PM · Report this
22
@15 cognitive behavioral therapy
Posted by wxPDX on February 10, 2014 at 11:20 PM · Report this
Sandiai 23
Google "CBT urban" for the joke that @15 and @20 are referring to.

Usually I agree with UAR's assessment of these sorts of letters, but to me it's the wife who sounds selfish and self-centered. He's had to meet her needs for years while not getting what he wants.

Anyone would get tired of that. I mean, to be left alone for a few hours, (truly alone, without having to worry about her in the next room, angry and stewing the whole time)? Being left alone for a while is too much to ask? Seems like a pretty normal need for most guys. I'm a chick and even I need that sometimes.
She sounds like she expects him to meet all her emotional needs without even being asked, but will not do the same for him. Plus, if you've ever lived with an angry, confrontational person, it really inhibits your ability to bring up even minor problems, because: SCAREY constantly-needy person, yikes!.

"My wife's emotional needs always take precedence over my own. If she's got something stressing her out I'll take over her share of housework, etc. I don't get the same treatment."



That's just how I read it. I've been with plenty of guys who won't/can't talk about their needs and feelings. But you can usually get an answer out of them by asking very pointed specific questions, or by just learning their body language and other similar cues. The fact that the wife is so uncompromising and so needy that he has to always be "on" and receptive, and nothing else will do, tells me that she is the one not taking care of HIM properly.

I admire this couple's efforts to stay together, but personality-wise they don't seem that compatible.

Posted by Sandiai on February 11, 2014 at 12:52 AM · Report this
MythicFox 24
UAR - I think you're reading this as being a lot more deliberate than it is. I've been where this guy is emotionally, although thankfully not in a relationship at a time.

But I don't think these folks are going to make it work. This guy's got legitimate, sadly-common problems and if those problems result in her getting a lot of what she really wants out of this relationship, then at best he feels like he's being taken for granted and taken advantage of.

And sadly, if this relationship is making this guy this miserable, then part of him moving past his own issues is going to involve working up the nerve to break one of what is likely many self-defeating cycles in his own life.
Posted by MythicFox on February 11, 2014 at 1:58 AM · Report this
25
Oh dear. If it's any help, I am that type of wife and my husband is the LW's type of husband. It took me forever to work out what was happening, because I'd been taught that it's on everyone to speak up for what they want; and if you don't do that you're not playing your part. The more he withdrew the more I would fill the space with my needs.

It's taken a long time of me asking questions as in @23, and learning to process the answers instead of coming back with Why You Are Wrong. Now he's starting to put what he wants out there much earlier, and I'm finally starting to think about what he might want in advance, because there's enough of a pattern of his wants being visible.

tl;dr - someone is going to have to tell her that she needs to change almost everything about being with her husband, or it's over.
Posted by misspiggy on February 11, 2014 at 3:07 AM · Report this
26
Thanks for the advice Dan.

@1 - We decided to go bowling after talking things over last night, Seriously.

@19 etc. Well, gee, yeah there's a lot not said in those 2 little paragraphs, because I wasn't trying to tell my life story, I was just looking for some advice about a particular situation. The 4-6 hours is time I'm spending working, trying to actually get time to myself to relax is another struggle altogether. As for sabotaging my relationship at every opportunity ... that's quite the blanket statement. Maybe "not being a very good and open communicator most of the time"? And yeah, I know that's a problem, hence the therapy. We started couple's counseling a week ago. I don't think giving my marriage a chance, even if I don;t believe right now tat it will work, is "dragging things out."
Posted by This_is_FTH on February 11, 2014 at 3:29 AM · Report this
27
Mr FTH - Ah, the psychic vibrations are in good form today.
Posted by vennominon on February 11, 2014 at 4:04 AM · Report this
Dr. Z 28
This sounds uncannily familiar, I could have been this LW if this SLLOTD was a rerun from 21 years ago and the LW was gay. Apart from that the dynamics were pretty similar.

When the time came to sit down and sign the VD card, I found I just couldn't write the usual I-love-you message. I just sat and stared at that card, drawing a blank on what else to write. For many reasons I did not want to have a confrontation or another let's-talk-seriously-about-our-relationship chat on this particular VD because his father had just died. I wanted us to just get through this VD somehow and kick the can down the road a week or two to buy a little time for him to grieve. Unfortunately VD forced the issue. I tried the noncommittal middle-ground approach that Dan suggested, but we ended up having a big fight which turned into the let's-call-it-quits event.

Fuck Valentine's Day. I hate that goddam holiday.
Posted by Dr. Z on February 11, 2014 at 4:12 AM · Report this
30
@14 - I just saw this jewel from you. You do realize that describing me as " never, ever changing anything" after reading what little I provided is beyond presumptuous. Seriously, take a look at your comments and count the number of times you resort to hyperbolic language, e.g. "doing exactly nothing like he's always done" and "festering in your own personal misery and inflicting it upon your partner". You sound insane. Which makes me wonder why I'm responding ...

@4 - Thanks for sharing that.
Posted by This_is_FTH on February 11, 2014 at 6:05 AM · Report this
Eudaemonic 31
@ 30 --Ignore undead ayn rand. You're a man, and you're unhappy, so undead ayn rand hates you and believes everything is your fault. Try not to take it personally; he/she just hates you because you were born.

You've been treated terribly by your wife, for years and years. It's okay to be unhappy with that. It's also okay to leave, and yes, better to do it soon. You aren't an indentured servant; "I give you what you need, and you accept it and demand more" isn't a relationship.
Posted by Eudaemonic on February 11, 2014 at 6:28 AM · Report this
AmyC 32
@25 - Are you me? Cuz you just described my life - EXACTLY. Not only was I taught to speak up with my needs and wants, but it is deeply important for me to do so. Playing the shy little violet out of some overgrown desire to not inconvenience anyone with the fact that you happen to have a need or want is inconcievable to me. And, yet, that's my husband. We're working through it. It's frustrating and difficult and there are often hurt feelings, but we both agree that the relationship is worth the work. Hang in there, FTH. Even if you decide to go, you will be glad you gave it your all in order to avoid second-guessing down the line. Good luck.
Posted by AmyC on February 11, 2014 at 7:36 AM · Report this
undead ayn rand 33
@14: I really have nothing to go on about your ~actual~ self not described here, just that there's been a bit, but not a lot of talk, but you haven't really mentioned what you've changed about yourself (except "needing more"), and there's been a ton about what you need your wife to change about herself, but not really specifics other than she needs to leave you alone, and that you "need more" when you're needy. Your communication skills still need some workin', pal.

Yeah, relationships are complicated, and yeah, SPECIFIC details aren't necessary. But whether you stay in this relationship or not, that self-expression still comes off like you don't know what you want from yourself or her. If you don't know what needs she's not fulfilling, how can she ever fill them?

@21: Yeah, probably.

@31: The best thing about this nick is that douchebags fixate on it and state that I hate men, indicating nothing more than how terrible they are.
Posted by undead ayn rand on February 11, 2014 at 7:51 AM · Report this
undead ayn rand 34
@23: Just to describe my skew here, his complete lack of ability to describe his wife's desires and interests combined with his continued statements of poor communicative ability lead me to think him a less reliable narrator towards the relationship as a whole and his influence on her behavior.
Posted by undead ayn rand on February 11, 2014 at 7:56 AM · Report this
seandr 35
@34: a less reliable narrator towards the relationship

Your failure to take in anything LW has said is pretty remarkable, and your attacks seem completely arbitrary. Are you having some sort of manic episode?

douchebags fixate on it and state that I hate men

Eudaemonic certainly isn't a douchebag. Given the bizarre performance you are putting on here, it's obvious you've got some demons to work out. Good luck.
Posted by seandr on February 11, 2014 at 8:15 AM · Report this
Eudaemonic 36
@ undead ayn rand: Can you direct us to a time when a man was unhappy about something, anything, and you didn't immediately go ballistic on him?

This seems to be kind of a pattern with you. Maybe you should get that checked? Ranting on the internet isn't as effective a therapeutic technique as people like you seem to think.
Posted by Eudaemonic on February 11, 2014 at 8:23 AM · Report this
Eudaemonic 37
@35: Eudaemonic certainly isn't a douchebag.

Man, now I feel all kinds of pressure not to be a douchebag. Dammit.
Posted by Eudaemonic on February 11, 2014 at 8:25 AM · Report this
undead ayn rand 38
@35: I have taken in both what he's stated and what he's intentionally left out, that's why my post was targeted as such.

@36: I don't have a "tally", but generally I fault on the party I see as bullshitting (any combination of themselves or the other) the most. In their collective defense, I imagine if they were better at explaining their situation in their head and outward, they wouldn't be ringing up an advice column.
Posted by undead ayn rand on February 11, 2014 at 8:32 AM · Report this
39
If "the root" of their problems is that he doesn't speak up when he's unhappy and communicate his needs, it seems like this VD is the PERFECT occasion to PRACTICE DOING THE OPPOSITE--just speak up and tell her "this all seems really weird and I feel trapped by a sense that I don't know what to do." That's what the goal of counseling is anyway, right? And even if practicing this new way of interacting is not enough to save the marriage, surely it'll come in handy in the next relationship?
Posted by lulubelle on February 11, 2014 at 8:34 AM · Report this
40
@25,32: me too. I'm seeing a pattern here.
@33 Yes. "I feel X and need you to do Y" is surprisingly effective. "I feel X." isn't helpful and can leave the other person confused and defensive. My husband didn't learn how to communicate his needs spontaneously but I kept asking him "How do you feel? What do you need?" I'm not sure how the voodoo works but it did for us.
Posted by wxPDX on February 11, 2014 at 8:39 AM · Report this
Eudaemonic 41
@ 40: I'm not sure how the voodoo works but it did for us.

I think it's relevant that you wanted it to work, and were willing to do the work necessary to make it work--and because your husband was too. It doesn't sound like LW and his wife are in the same situation, sadly. I'm not knocking communication skills--they're great to have, and worth developing--but if both parties don't want it to work out for both parties, it's probably better to get the divorce over with.
Posted by Eudaemonic on February 11, 2014 at 8:53 AM · Report this
seandr 42
@wxPDX: My husband didn't learn how to communicate his needs spontaneously

Definite pattern. Many men aren't comfortable with idea of themselves as being needy. They prefer to think of themselves as strong and independent and giving. This can make it very hard to ask for things.

And, I'd say that these are attributes that women generally find attractive in men, even expect of them. Obviously, in certain relationships, they can also cause problems.
Posted by seandr on February 11, 2014 at 8:59 AM · Report this
Eudaemonic 43
@ 38: I don't have a "tally", but generally I fault on the party I see as bullshitting (any combination of themselves or the other) the most.

Maybe you should start keeping a tally? It might help you notice that you flip out when they might be bullshitting, and when they aren't bullshitting you pretend that they are, and then flip out. I get that you only flip out on people you see as bullshitting, but I also notice that those people are invariably male, and when there isn't any evidence to support your hostile reading, you make some up.
That time you invented an imaginary line about unsolicited dick pics, and then spent a whole day ranting about imaginary dick pics, should have been a wakeup call for you, but it doesn't look like it was. Maybe turn down the anger, and turn up the reading?

Ordinarily I wouldn't say anything, but it doesn't sound like you're having fun the way things are.
Posted by Eudaemonic on February 11, 2014 at 9:01 AM · Report this
Eudaemonic 44
@ 42: And, I'd say that these are attributes that women generally find attractive in men, even expect of them. Obviously, in certain relationships, they can also cause problems.

Absolutely. Most men are told, constantly--both by men and by women--that their job is to shut the fuck up about their feelings. After a couple decades of reinforcing this message, it's not easy to get those same guys to open the fuck up about their feelings.
Posted by Eudaemonic on February 11, 2014 at 9:06 AM · Report this
45
@ undedad ayn rand

You seem determined to paint him as this horrible person based on nothing more than your imagination.
Posted by Buffy on February 11, 2014 at 9:08 AM · Report this
46
@41 Agreed. It does sound like LW's wife is still really wanting to save the marriage-- I wish she was reading these comments. It's a sad situation but not an intractable one. I want to think LW hasn't given up because he wrote to Dan and is talking to us.
Posted by wxPDX on February 11, 2014 at 9:14 AM · Report this
47
@33 - Not sure why I'm bothering, but here we go ... I don't owe you a detailed list of what I have done or what I want from my wife. Read the correspondence with Dan. Actually fucking read it. Read what was asked of me and how I responded. I was looking for advice about Friday, I wasn't trying to use Dan as a substitute marriage counselor and I certainly didn't think Dan wanted to read all the little details about my life, nor did I think he needed to know them to answer my question. Also, what you are reading is my correspondence with Dan, so I really don't get your bullshit attitude about me not providing YOU with enough details. I am not whatever person treated you poorly in the past. I'm just a guy with marriage problems trying to figure them out and get some advice about Valentine's day. The fact is, you don't know much about my situation. And I don't want you to know much about my situation - that's not poor communication, it's called having boundaries.

In summary: fuck off you crazy asshole.
Posted by This_is_FTH on February 11, 2014 at 9:20 AM · Report this
48
I think communication styles are more personality based than male/female dynamic oriented. My marriage is the opposite - my husband has a think/feel/want/need in his brain and it comes directly out his mouth with not much in the way of a filter. I can mull things over for days before I spit it out, making sure it comes out exactly as I mean it too and taking as many factors into consideration as I can think of. As a result, I often take what he says too seriously, assuming he has put the amount of thought into it as I might have, when really he doesn't even remember half the time the shit that comes out his mouth five minutes later. And I don't say immediately when my feelings are hurt because I have to process just how much it bugs me so I can tell him in just the right way that conveys what it means to me. So we've worked on that and do much better as we've come to understand each other more and how we communicate. Basically his filter has gotten a little thicker and mine has thinned out a bit. But we still are fundamentally the same in how we operate
Posted by Zbot on February 11, 2014 at 9:26 AM · Report this
49
Ayn Rand - last comment from me. This is a quote from you: "These damn letters always make me read so much in." The letters don't make you do anything. You choose to. Think about it.

Sorry I cursed at you, that was childish.
Posted by This_is_FTH on February 11, 2014 at 9:32 AM · Report this
Eudaemonic 50
@ 49: Don't take it personally; that's how undead ayn rand acts in every thread. Good luck with the marriage situation, and don't feel bad about having to leave--because you probably have to.

I'm assuming your wife knows everything you've told us here, right? If not, it's worth doing it. Nothing to lose.
Posted by Eudaemonic on February 11, 2014 at 9:36 AM · Report this
51
@48 I'm the same. Sometimes I wake up in the morning and realize that something said last night really hurt me. Talking about it is only half the problem because for the other person it's on a completely different scale of importance.

@47 Ignore them, there seems to be a kind of a gender war here recently along the lines of "all men are rapists" vs. "all women are morons". I'm pretty sure you could be brought to the definition of rapist too by some of them.
Posted by puddles on February 11, 2014 at 9:42 AM · Report this
52
When seandr calls someone a jerk, you know they've gone a little too far.
Posted by clashfan on February 11, 2014 at 10:12 AM · Report this
undead ayn rand 53
@40: Thanks for the perspective.

@47: We wouldn't have an opinion on the rest if you hadn't bothered to try and blame the state of your relationship in your wife. If the details were unnecessary and irrelevant, why did you offer them? You're obviously tying to paint a picture of what's going on to total strangers. Part of communication is framing, you know.
Posted by undead ayn rand on February 11, 2014 at 10:28 AM · Report this
54
@53 I think you've just noticed someone emotionally vulnerable, someone who might just take your crazy accusations to heart, and are using it to make yourself feel better about whatever. I have this opinion based on your inexplicable anger towards this guy with a rather boring commonplace problem that it seems a lot of people have experienced.
Posted by puddles on February 11, 2014 at 10:34 AM · Report this
Eudaemonic 55
@53: The LW seems to be communicating just fine with everyone who isn't undead ayn rand. That means the problem isn't him, even if this wasn't part of a pattern for you.
Posted by Eudaemonic on February 11, 2014 at 10:38 AM · Report this
56
Also to add, sometimes communicating is not enough, not all people can work together. My mother, for example, is most of the time simply unable to tune into the emotions of other people. You can communicate your needs as much as you want, she will not hear you and continue to wallow in her ball of misery, convinced that you only have your own needs because you want to hurt her. In a situation like this you realize over time that communicating is useless and simply hurts both of you, and the most reasonable thing to do is to step away and keep a careful distance.
Posted by puddles on February 11, 2014 at 10:50 AM · Report this
seandr 57
@This_Is_FTH: One last bit of useless equivocation for you.

Wives can make radical changes in how they treat a husband they don't want to lose. I've personally witnessed it happen, and judging from the comments above, others have, too.

Given that yours seems content with the status quo, improvements will only happen in response to the kinds of changes you are making now, and, I'd add, by you creating more distance so that you don't get swept back into the unproductive patterns that inevitably play out in marital conflict.

On the other hand, you were only 18 when you hooked up with her. I guess some people hit the jackpot at that age, but doesn't seem like you did. I know I sure as hell didn't. You don't have kids. Presumably your wife works, so you won't be sentenced to a lifetime of indentured servitude, I mean alimony, to her. It's hard to imagine that there isn't someone out there who's better for you. Probably a whole bunch of someones.
Posted by seandr on February 11, 2014 at 11:00 AM · Report this
aureolaborealis 58
Holy shit, Undead. Is there some way to include a Stored Energy Tag in your avatar? You know, so the newbies and the innocent bystanders know they don't even have to bother responding to you?
I'm sure there are better ones, but perfunctory Googling turns up a decent starting point.
Posted by aureolaborealis on February 11, 2014 at 11:10 AM · Report this
59
@49 There seem to be a small but very vocal minority on this thread who are bringing a bunch of their own baggage into your situation. I guess to some degree this is inevitable, but if I were you I would try to take it less personally. You are right, none of us know your exact situation. Let it go. Now, with regards to actual advice as opposed to judgement. You say that you have started therapy just a week ago. That is almost no time at all. I think that after 17 years together it makes sense to see if this relationship is fixable once everything is truly on the table. 6 months won't really make too much of a difference in the large scheme of your life. On the other hand, if this relationship has any chance of working, you both have to be aware of where you stand (she needs to know that you are very close to just being done) AND at the same time you can't half ass trying to fix it. Because I think that the work you will have to do will be really challenging. And knowing that at any moment you can just use the escape hatch will make it much less likely that you'll commit to doing it. So tell her that you are giving it 6 months. You will fully commit to working on your end of the communication problems and you expect her to do the same for that time. If at any point you feel that she is not trying, you are out. If after this time period you have made significant progress, you will reevaluate. And valentines day is a great time to acknowledge where you are both at. Someone above wisely suggested saying "this is awkward for me, I dont want to give you false hope but I do care about you and we are still married and trying to fix this thing, so what do you say we do x activity that you and I both enjoy that isnt super romantic". As someone with more of the disposition of your wife who tends to attract people like you, also remember that her assertiveness and openness about her wants and needs was probably one of the things that attracted you to her initially. I fully believe that she has behaved in really shitty ways towards you, but if she is 90% committed to staying together, that is a lot of incentive for her to change. But you have GOT to be upfront with what you want and require to stay married. Now. The worst that can happen is your marriage will end. Which if you don't do that is inevitable anyway.
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Posted by olechka on February 11, 2014 at 11:50 AM · Report this
60
Also I recommend therapy just for you alone as well. It will help figure out what it is that you actually want in a space that if free of her influence.
Posted by olechka on February 11, 2014 at 11:52 AM · Report this
nocutename 61
@FTH: You and your wife both know how perilous the marriage is right now. Perhaps the best thing you can do is to say either tonight or Thursday: "You know, given the way we're both questioning our marriage right now, I just didn't think it was right to get you the same kind of Valentine's Day card or flowers that I usually do. Maybe we can kind of pretend that Feb. 14 is just another date on the calendar this year, and let's see where we are next Valentine's Day."

That's what my ex-husband and I did on our last VD together, when it was obvious we were having problems, and it just seemed so wrong to try and pretend that everything was fine or as it had been.

Therapy for you alone, as olechka said @60, sounds like a great idea, too.
Posted by nocutename on February 11, 2014 at 12:05 PM · Report this
Auragasm 62
The "stoic" archetype was my first serious boyfriend, and he kept me around playing guessing-games and feeling unfulfilled for far too long, and that was only for a couple years. He was amazing at denying himself negative reactions, and even learned to hide the consequent anxiety attacks. A couple times he blew up, and I didn't even recognize him. Rip off the bandage, dude, you deserve some healing and solitude. Your wife deserves the passion that you're unable to provide, and you should tell her that.

Interesting to hear that Stranger readers place any importance on Valentine's Day cards. That day is such a non-issue in my love life, not even impending divorce would make me think of it.
Posted by Auragasm on February 11, 2014 at 12:27 PM · Report this
63
@57 My wife is amazing, I think in some sense I did hit the jackpot, and in general she doesn't treat me poorly. We just have some fundamental incompatabilities. I want things to work out. I don't think they will, but I want them to. I'm like a Brown's fan when it comes to our marriage right now.

@58, 59 - I take it as a sign of how out of sorts I am that I even bothered responding to all that nonsense. I might as well have been barking back at the neighbor's dog ...
Posted by This_is_FTH on February 11, 2014 at 12:36 PM · Report this
Eudaemonic 64
If she's got something stressing her out I'll take over her share of housework, etc. I don't get the same treatment.

For whatever it's worth, that meets my personal definition of being treated poorly.

On a different topic, you mentioned your wife wants to stay together--do you know if she means that in the sense of wanting things to go back to the way they were, or in the sense of being willing to do the work necessary to change the relationship to provide what you'd need in order to stay?

I know people who want the former have good reasons to say they want the latter, but it's worth thinking about.
Posted by Eudaemonic on February 11, 2014 at 12:53 PM · Report this
65
Most couples I know, strong and/or doomed, including my own marriage, have these issues at some time or another. Doesn't just about every rough patch in every marriage boil down to: "I'm unhappy. You ask too much. You don't give enough. You're not listening."? We work through these things if the advantages of staying together outweigh the damage of staying together. And the only real requirement is that BOTH parties own what they bring.

Which is maybe why FTH's letter is a bit galling. He's all done-to, no does. So, maybe a strange bit of bowling is a great VD plan : I hope it gets him out of his head and helps them both rediscover their better reality. Because if (introspective) FTH is sure the wife 90% wants to stay with (depressed, angry) him, there's a 50% chance of a forest VD card in his future.

Posted by diorist on February 11, 2014 at 1:00 PM · Report this
undead ayn rand 66
@65: Also a useful perspective, beyond my skepticism/cynicism.
Posted by undead ayn rand on February 11, 2014 at 1:15 PM · Report this
Eudaemonic 67
The root of most of our problems is my longstanding tradition of not speaking up when I am unhappy about things and living with things that make me unhappy rather than making an effort to change them. I've taken responsibility for letting things get this bad and stay this bad for years.

@ 65: Which is maybe why FTH's letter is a bit galling. He's all done-to, no does.

The letters are less galling if you read them than they are if you skip it and just make up galling features and pretend they appear in the letters.
Posted by Eudaemonic on February 11, 2014 at 1:30 PM · Report this
68
Quite frankly, I'm not impressed with Dan's part in this relationship. He's all "you should do this" and "you should do that", and not a single look at maybe his own role in how things have ended up. It's like he wants to be the stereotypical gay middle-aged advice columnist. *eye roll* There is no healthy way forward until he starts accepting his share of the blame.
Posted by LateBloomer on February 11, 2014 at 1:34 PM · Report this
69
Sorry, OP, but in reading your letter and your responses I'm reminded of many men and women I've helped get a divorce. Your wife may be "a" problem in this marriage, but she's not "the" problem. You seem to lay success or failure all on her. Even if you leave her, you will still have your conflict-avoidy b.s.

The thing about people with conflict-avoidance who "want to retreat" for hours on end? They play passive-agressive games with their partners so that the only response the partner can have is over the top. Then they sit back and blame the partner.

I don't know if the wife is or isn't a problem here. I know you are.

I also know you will never really see it.

You will do enough counseling so you can tell yourself you tried, but she just wouldn't cooperate and change.

Leave her now. It's not worth it for either of you.
Posted by ABW on February 11, 2014 at 1:46 PM · Report this
undead ayn rand 70
Right, saying they "accept your responsibility" isn't necessarily enough when it comes across as if their responsibility involves laying it all at the feet of the wife to resolve.
Posted by undead ayn rand on February 11, 2014 at 1:52 PM · Report this
seandr 71
@This_is_FTH: My wife is amazing, I think in some sense I did hit the jackpot

I should clarify, I meant the "relationship jackpot". It wasn't a judgment about your wife.

Unless one member of the relationship crosses a line, which isn't the case here, judgment and blame are worse than useless when it comes to dealing with marital difficulties. You're just two people in relationship that isn't working for one of you, and you seem to understand that.
Posted by seandr on February 11, 2014 at 2:23 PM · Report this
seandr 72
@ABW: You haven't read the letter, have you? If you did, you'd encounter phrases like:

"our problems"
"I am unhappy"
"it's a terrible combination"

All he's saying is that the relationship isn't working for him, and he mentions some specific dynamics that have made him unhappy. He even goes on to accept responsibility for his contributions.

Yet you blame him of sitting back and blaming her? Where exactly is he doing that? Nowhere. But never mind that, you know his type!

It's pretty common for people to project their own shit into the ambiguities of Savage Love letters, but it's rare to see commenters just make shit up to the extent that you and your undead doppelganger are doing.
Posted by seandr on February 11, 2014 at 3:03 PM · Report this
Alanmt 73
@67 Be my Valentine.

And wear that cobra commander uniform you have on in my daydreaming mind. (Unless you're female, in which the baroness costume is just fine).
Posted by Alanmt on February 11, 2014 at 3:09 PM · Report this
undead ayn rand 74
I do concede that my level of reading-in was unnecessary for this particular letter. It's not from nowhere, but still not the sort of letter I should bother forming an opinion on.
Posted by undead ayn rand on February 11, 2014 at 3:17 PM · Report this
75
On the off chance that FTH is still reading the commentaries, it sounds like my husband & I are your emotional doppelgängers. A really good therapist got us through to the other side. We each had to make one major change in how we dealt with each other: I had to learn to pay attention to his body language and realize when my emotional vomit was overwhelming him, and he needed to be more proactive in saying when he needed space to process, but also learn how to tell the difference between my lack of filter, and when I really needed someone to listen. Lots of practice role playing, but we got there. Started year 6 of our relationship, and took until year 8 to stop needing a therapist but so worth it. 15 years in, we've figured out this communication thing. If you still see her as a jackpot, there is hope.
Posted by Filter on February 11, 2014 at 4:54 PM · Report this
76
I'm with ABW @69. They say it with less baggage than Undead Ayn Rand, but she has a point too, as disagreeably as she makes it. If you don't speak up when you are unhappy, and maybe your stress response is retreat, it is difficult for a partner to know what you want from her. Neediness is a bad reSponse, but being stonewalled like you might be doing can make a person neurotic- what do you want? What can I do? Just something to consider. If this is an accurate reflection of your behavior, then you've already heard it from the therapist. If not, then ignore the crazy people on the internet and carry on. I hope things with you and your wife work out, separately or together.
Posted by AllisonM on February 11, 2014 at 6:10 PM · Report this
77
UAR, I often find your comments amusing and illuminating but take a step back and realize: Everyone in this relationship is hurting, and figuring out who's "the bad guy" and who isn't, isn't your job.
Posted by hurrdahurr on February 11, 2014 at 8:18 PM · Report this
Eudaemonic 78
@73: And wear that cobra commander uniform you have on in my daydreaming mind.

The uniform with the blue hood, or the one with the mirror-visored helmet?
Posted by Eudaemonic on February 12, 2014 at 5:49 AM · Report this
Alanmt 79
Blue hood, definitely.
Posted by Alanmt on February 12, 2014 at 6:19 AM · Report this
80
@UndeadAynRand I've never met you in real life but it's pretty clear that you really don't like men.
Posted by North by Northwest on February 14, 2014 at 4:19 PM · Report this
undead ayn rand 81
@80: Passive-aggressives, perhaps. But there's nothing exclusively "male" about what annoyed me.
Posted by undead ayn rand on February 14, 2014 at 8:31 PM · Report this
undead ayn rand 82
Again, or what I read in, not trying to re-start that.
Posted by undead ayn rand on February 14, 2014 at 8:47 PM · Report this
83
Based on LR’s own description, it sounds like the problems in his marriage are BOTH their faults. (I’m not saying it's a 50/50 split, though!) He and his wife have set up a bad dymanic. It’s not just her emotionally bulldozing him all the time. He has habits that set himself up for failure as well. I think UAR has a point about how he’s done some of the sabotaging himself. Not consciously, just not communicating well or taking responsibility for his own needs. No one can “neediness” you into silence without your consent.

His role in their marital problems might be even more evident if we heard his wife's point of view.
Posted by wellokaythen on February 28, 2014 at 2:00 PM · Report this

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