Hara Estroff Marano gives advice to a woman who has let her husband dictate the rules of their marriage.
I've been married for a year, long distance, and my husband has come to visit three times for two to three weeks. Over the six months we got to know each other before marriage, he told me about a former flame of six years so often I was uncomfortable. He said he ended it but also that his family disapproved of the relationship as they are from different cultures. He agreed to stop talking about her, and assured me they remain friends only on Facebook. Over this past year, he has called me names, and told me I will never be intellectual, I am unreliable, I don't take criticism well, and more.
Hara Estroff Marano is the Editor at Large of Psychology Today and writes the magazine's advice column, Unconventional Wisdom. Her newest book, A Nation of Wimps: The High Cost of Invasive Parenting, grew out the groundbreaking Psychology Today article A Nation of Wimps.
Editor: Saad Shaheed
He has given me books to work on myself, and I have tried to do so to make the relationship work. On our recent first anniversary, I gave him gifts but got nothing in return. When he was out with his friends—it was supposed to be time for us together—I went through his phone and found a friendly conversation with his ex. Just before departing, he insisted I tell him what was wrong. I asked if he still kept in touch with his ex. He admitted he does. They even "have coffee" sometimes. He tearfully apologized for the way he has treated me—although not for lying—but insists he is innocent. Secretly seeing his ex and giving more time to her than to me is unacceptable.
No amount of work on yourself will fix your relationship, which can be done only by two people. You have bought into your husband's judgment that you are inferior while he is perfect and free to do as he pleases. No relationship can function with one set of rules for him and another for her. However much power and freedom your husband arrogates for himself—while accusing you of being the spoiler—the imbalance is making you miserable. It's making him miserable, too, and fueling his contempt. You can begin to resolve your problems only if you first take power back. He won't hand it over, since he's bitter about ending his last relationship—and taking it out on you.
Since you two have a mix of expectations, you must make explicit the rules you both will live by. Every couple has to do this. It's not an easy task under the best of circumstances, but it's not even possible unless you have some bargaining power in the relationship. You have to be willing to take it and use it, although it will feel uncomfortable at first. You in fact passed up a good opportunity to gain leverage with your husband at the end of his recent trip. Instead of yielding the information he demanded, you could have reacted more strategically and said: "I will tell you only when we can fully discuss how this marriage can make both of us happier. We have to set up the rules we both live by, and they have to work for me as well as you." Under no circumstances should you cede what he wants without getting something you need.