The idea that people don't change: what does it mean for me?
December 4, 2012 6:14 PM   Subscribe

People don't change. If accepting that reality is the way to peace, how do I reconcile it with being married to someone with whom I'm incompatible in fundamental ways? (I am committed to this marriage because we have a young child who means the world to me and needs me.) Do I need to stop believing there could be core change in another person's outlook on life?

My marriage often feels unsustainable to me. Yet it's also unthinkable to be away from my son for much of his life (we agreed to share custody should we ever split), not to mention the toll on him that being away from Mommy even part-time would mean.

Because of this conflict, I feel a strong hope that my wife is capable of fundamental change. I really need some help with thinking about whether that hope is unrealistic and therefore unhealthy for me.

She has lifelong mental health issues that are beyond my ability to understand or help with. We're currently a few months into (very long overdue) individual work with a psychiatrist for her and relationship therapy for us. I waver constantly between thinking "give the therapy time" and thinking "the core issues are not going to change and I do not want to spend my life like this."

If it's false hope to think people can change at core, then is it unhealthy to base hope for a relationship's future on that hope? (Some core differences here: I think the world is essentially safe and good and exciting; she thinks the world is essentially unsafe and people are essentially predatory, nothing is exciting except our son, and concepts such as forgiveness and "gratitude" [I am not allowed to speak the G word around her because of how negative she feels it is] are tools of the people who would take advantage of her if she bought into those concepts -- and she thinks I'm very naive for believing in good the way I do. She's extremely focused on anger and vengeance, on 'getting back at' people who do wrong and need to be exposed for what they are, and the idea of "letting go" of anger makes her, well, really angry, because anger is power.) She is very clear she's not interested in any chemical treatment, and I don't know how much core effect talking with her psychiatrist is going to have.

I've tried a lot to write a question about the validity of the "staying together for the child's sake" idea, but I've realized that question seems moot because I feel like I would stay with the child despite almost anything. So I'm hoping a broader question will help -- this question about expectations/realism, my philosophical approach. I need to know whether I really need to adjust to the idea of living with a person who's going to be fundamentally 'about' depression, anxiety, and simmering anger for the rest of her life, rather than hoping that can change. (If can change my own perspective/hopes, could that be a way toward peace for myself?)
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (27 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
It's not false hope to think that people don't change. People do -- but they do because they want to. Your wife doesn't sound like she wants to -- but YOU do. You need a change. You're willing to do it. So you should do the changing -- not by disavowing yourself of your needs and wants and life views, but by believing that what you feel is OKAY and reasonable and a good step to be taking. It is okay and alright and beneficial for you and for your son to separate and eventually divorce your wife. Think of it... What are you teaching your son by staying married to someone you no longer love, feel compatible with, or want to be around? Would you want him to marry and stay with someone and repeat this same pattern? Consider the possibility that the long term damage that you could put upon your son by staying in this relationship is greater than the damage that he would incur by being the son of divorced parents because honestly it really could be. Demonstrate to your son that it's okay to recognize and try to rectify a bad fit. Show him that you love him enough to provide him with two loving home environments even if Mommy's may not be there quite yet. He will be okay.

As to whether or not you can change your own perspectives... Yes. In time you will come to terms with who your wife is and what's brought her to the space she's in, and perhaps you will also be able to reconcile and accept that she was not a good fit for you and that that's okay, albeit sad and certainly disappointing for many reasons. Part of restructuring your world view in hopes of attaining peace is realizing that you do not have to endure a bad situation in perpetuity and that you do have the agency to enact the change you need. Look -- you come first. Yes! You do. You come first because you are a caretaker of your son and if you can't get what you need, you can't take care of him. Period! I'm dead serious. It is wonderful and good and amazing that you are willing to stay in the marriage for your son's sake -- but doing so could damage YOU and render you less and less able to be the best possible parent you want to be.

You need support. She has a psychiatrist -- you go get yourself a therapist to help you find the objective clarity you need to make the most informed and appropriate decision for you and your son. Your son needs you to do right by you, too, not just by him. It is not black and white that together your son will succeed and apart he will be ruined. There are other options. Don't cheat yourself out of what you need and in doing so you will be moving towards the life that will help you do what you want most: be the best possible parent to your child.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 6:35 PM on December 4, 2012 [3 favorites]

I think it's possible for people to change at the core; it's just not possible unless they want to and are willing to do a lot of hard work. It doesn't sound like your wife is at a place where that can happen.

I think the more important questions are ones about what's best for your son, and what it's healthy for him to observe from his primary caretakers in the long run. I'm not married, but I do work with kids, and a pattern of one person who finds anger pleasurable and has serious mental health issues (and reluctance to address them) and another person who accommodates that don't sound healthy in the long run. He's going to wind up using your relationship with your wife as his template for how he relates to intimate partners in adult relationships.

So... I'd toss the agreement you made with your wife to share custody in the event of a split up right out the window and reassess what's best for your son. I'd also think about your own core values and how this situation is imposing on them, and how much it would be possible and healthy for you to change.

It really sounds like you're the one who's tethered in reality here. I wouldn't give that up.
posted by alphanerd at 6:38 PM on December 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Is this behavior new, or did you marry and have a child with a full understanding of her issues? Do you believe she has the capacity and desire to be a loving mother to your child? Do you want her modeling these patterns of behavior for your child? You talk a lot about her problems but no redeeming qualities.

My personal opinion is that people sometimes stay together too long "for the good of the child" for reasons that are not really for the good of the child, including fear of being alone, financial burdens, and a desire to not be labeled the one who left, among others. It's completely possible that seeing you two fighting constant would have a more damaging impact on the kid than two separate households.

Finally, some people change and some people don't, only time will tell. One thing that is true is that you can't change people so even though your wife is in therapy, if she does not want to change, then she won't.
posted by seesom at 6:45 PM on December 4, 2012 [6 favorites]

Another question to consider is how healthy would it be for your child to grow up in the middle of your relationship as it currently exists? As much as I believe in marriage, there are times I believe it's healthier for a child to live with one parent rather than in the midst of severe dysfunction. I don't know whether this is true in your situation, but it should certainly
be one of your considerations.
posted by summerstorm at 6:47 PM on December 4, 2012

It doesn't matter if people theoretically can change. It matters whether or not that change actially materialises. You have to deal with her as she presently is and abandon any ideas that you can affect, control or predict who she will be in the future. If you want to stay with her, as she is, then you need to figure out how you can make that feasable for you. The onus is on you to work that out. Otherwise, leave. But don't base your decision on whether or not she could change; it's irrelevant. Assume that she won't and leave room for her to do so if she does.
posted by windykites at 6:50 PM on December 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

How old is your child? Did her anger escalate post-partum, because post-partum rage is pretty common. Anger is about power but it is also about isolation. It is her against everyone. Helping her to not feel alone is the antidote.
posted by rabbitfufu at 6:56 PM on December 4, 2012 [4 favorites]

I don't think it fair for you to judge her outcome, as she has only just started treatment.

That you are thinking like this does not sound pragmatic. Instead, it sounds like self-sabotage. Certainly, strong doubts on your part are premature at this stage.

The people I know who hold the type of world view you say your wife holds were often severly abused or victimized, sometimes sexually. Could that be at play here?

I dunno. Not giving the treatment a try is creating an unsafe space for your wife to seek out treatment in. It affirms her current world view. Rip the band aid off if that is truly where you are at, tho.

Don't stay with her if you don't love her. That won't help.

I'm just wondering why you can't give her some space? It sounds like she is taking a big step, and you are already saying it won't work.

(Hmm. Come to think of it, there are GREAT therapy modalities that treat emotional issues and trauma which don't involve meds. CBT is one. I think it's called EFT(?) that's another. I'm a fan of bio-feedback and meditation, myself. I find hypnosis and self-hypnosis very effective as well.

I don't mean to get side tracked. It's just, there are resources out there, medication doesn't always work. It just seems like you are jumping the gun a bit here. Understandable, but don't be too hasty with this process.)

Do you love her? Was she like this when you married? Or did something change?

I appreciate that you are tired and frustrated. Maybe take some kind of a break? Bring your child along, recharge your batteries?

I it would be GREAT if you had individual counseling and support. At this fragile stage, I don't think it is OK to tell your wife that you don't really care if she makes progress or not, that you don't believe in the marriage any longer. But neither should you struggle on in silence! Go find your own counselor or support group.

Your participation is not necessary for her progress, but you shouldn't sabotage or self-sabotage things for your family, either.

Yes, to answer your question, there are thousands of ways for people to change their core - through therapy, books and other self-work, spiritual or religious experiences that spark new levels of thought. I recently saw a movie that profoundly changed me inside - art can be another avenue towards self-knowledge and wellbeing. Nature. Being out in nature often heals people. There is animal therapy, (especially equine therapy)where a patient works with the animal, but really, they are learning how to work with themselves and their own emotions more effectively.


By "Core" I think you mean "Subconscious." Most of the modalities I mentioned aim at treating the subconscious, since when bad things happen to us, that's where dysfunctional coping strategies are generated.

Sorry this maybe isn't the answer you want. Your question reads a little unfair or just plain "off" to me.

Again, I'm sure you are fed up and emotionally devasted. But she IS undertaking treatment. Take some space for yourself, leave some space for your wife, back off from this train of thought for a little while and just see where things go.

Unless you just don't love your wife anymore. In which case, leave. Deep down, your doubt may be compounding her distress and she might get better, faster, without feeling that from you every day.

Good luck.
posted by jbenben at 7:14 PM on December 4, 2012 [11 favorites]

Regarding "staying together for the children": my childhood best friend's parents stayed together until her younger sister graduated from high school, then immediately got divorced. Friend and her siblings were completely blindsided and, years later, still feel enormously resentful because they realized that many of their most pleasant childhood memories were not "real;" that is, their parents had pretended for years to love each other just so their kids wouldn't realize that Mom and Dad were unhappy together.
posted by easy, lucky, free at 7:46 PM on December 4, 2012 [3 favorites]

It is not that people don't change, it is that the only person you can change is yourself. You might want to be curious about questions such as
"why did I fall in love with this woman?"
'what are the things that I like and/or respect about her - exactly the way she is right now?"
"why am I feeling so hopeless right now?"
'what can I do differently that would make all three of us happier?'
In other words, go into the couples counseling feeling curious and hopeful that you learn something to help you - it might not save your relationship but if you are open, you will learn some important things about yourself and some new tools for being relationship. It might also help to have your own therapist.

And to offer another persepective on your wife's situation: you say "she thinks the world is essentially unsafe and people are essentially predatory," My guess is that this was a logical, rational conclusion based on the world that she grew up in. It may not true in the adult world that she lives in today - figuring that out will be part of her work in her individual therapy. However, you could open yourself up to the possibility that this is how she protects herself and those she loves (which is a good thing) and, you might be able to connect in a loving way to the positive intention behind the behavior even if you don't agree with it or if you need to set boundaries about how she expresses her feelings around you. (You can acknowledge that she feels unsafe while still not putting up with her venting it on you.) The more you are able to be safe, reliable and loving with her exactly the way she is (while still protecting yourself) the more you will creating a safe space for her to take a risk and let her guard down.
posted by metahawk at 7:51 PM on December 4, 2012 [13 favorites]

I can relate to a lot of what you're saying, particularly the 'staying together for the kids' part, having been in this situation for the past few years. Ultimately, trying to do that has failed and I think we're all worse off for it. It's an incredibly stressful way to live, even if you don't realise it at the time and kids pick up on that stress - again, they might not realise it, but I can assure you that they are aware of the constant low-level tension and unhappiness that exists and are affected by it.

The fact that she has sought professional help is a great sign, though and I think it's worth giving that process a serious chance before giving up. Giving it a serious chance means giving your wife 100% support and giving 100% to your component, not just waiting to see if the problems get solved by some magical process, of course.

Like you, I've always been of the view that I would keep the family together for the sake of the kids but, in the end, that just hasn't been possible. It wasn't my choice but, despite the pain of the loss, there's a certain relief that at some point in the future I'll be able to live my own life according to who I am and I'm hopeful that this will provide a better example for my kids than pretending to be happy has done.

BTW, that agreement 'to share custody should we ever split'? Don't count on that if you do end up separating - people make all sorts of agreements in happy times not ever expecting to have to implement them.
posted by dg at 8:01 PM on December 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Loving someone with a significant mental illness means sometimes you don't get to be in the relationship you want and deserve, no matter how hard you work at it. There is a world of difference between "you can't change (or fix) people" and "people don't change (or heal)", and I think that the path to serenity lies with accepting the former, not the latter.

Thinking the world is unsafe and people are predatory are pretty central to anxiety. Never being excited about anything, never finding anything worth doing? That's anhedonia in a nutshell.

Depression and anxiety are mental illnesses, not "core differences" or "philosophical approaches" or "incompatibilities". Your wife is in treatment, but doesn't want to be medicated. Without medication you don't think she's going to improve to the point that you can continue to live with her in marriage. That leaves you in a fix. (But there's a pretty decent evidence base saying that talking therapies work about as well as medication for mild to moderate depression. If that helps any.)
posted by gingerest at 8:06 PM on December 4, 2012 [7 favorites]

Setting aside the other issues surrounding your wife and her own journey toward health, I think it's probably not a good idea to assume that having two parents living together is a net good for your child. I know that's the commonsense perspective, but I am not certain it's based in any real, reliable research or studies that aren't already biased toward the historically very recent idea of the nuclear family.

Think about it this way: one of your most important duties to your child is to model healthy adult behavior and decision-making for your child. Would you want your son to remain in a relationship like the one you are in right now? If he found himself in such a relationship, how would you hope he deal with it? Would you want him to stick it out, and if so, for how long?

Figure those things out, and then apply them to yourself.

One of the things I am most grateful for is my parents' divorce. Both parents ended up finding better partners (by which I mean partners better-suited toward them) and as a result I got to see my father and stepmother's relationship when I was growing up, and not my father and mother's. My father and stepmother are lifelong best friends and approaching their 35th anniversary. When I think of an ideal relationship, I'm using theirs as a yardstick. I shudder to think what sort of yardstick I'd have if my folks, who were wrong for each other and made each other miserable, had stayed together.
posted by eustacescrubb at 9:51 PM on December 4, 2012 [4 favorites]

Don't discount the possibility that you would get custody of your child in the event of a divorce.
posted by rhizome at 9:59 PM on December 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

OP, I think an update from you, through the mods, might improve the quality of your answers.

We don't know what your wife's mental health issues are - is she schizophrenic? Borderline Personality Disorder? A trauma victim? Depressed? Some combo of these and others??


My mother is Borderline Personality. Her brother is Schizophrenic. These things are different.

I specifically remember a moment when I was in my late teens, and my mom was 38 yrs old, that if I did not get her help soon, it would never get better. I put in a lot of effort, but she did not get help, and it ended with estrangement. But that was over 20 years ago, now.

A LOT has changed in the mental health world. My mother's condition was absolutely brought on by trauma in her childhood. That can be mitigated and overcome these days. Back when I was a kid, no one openly talked about this type of stuff. Now, it is the norm.


Not to to repeat, but... Is your wife depressed and riddled with anxiety? Dealing with the fallout of childhood trauma? Or something more extreme, like schizophrenia??

The answer colors every response you have gotten thus far, including my previous.

No one can tell you to Run or Stay without more information. The mental health professionals you are dealing with right now might not even be aware of all of the advances available.

I get that you at at the end of your rope. But if it is savegeable, a little more detail might help others with similar experience weigh in.

Please reply through the mods if this will help the quality of your answers here.
posted by jbenben at 11:03 PM on December 4, 2012

I think one misconception or false assumption is that even if she does change, that you will still want to be with the new person.

My now ex changed materially during our marriage. (I have to assume I did too, but someone else would have to be the judge of that.) We went to couples therapy several times and she went to her own therapist for a long time. I think she fundamentally changed her outlook on life getting over some childhood issues. I think she was better off herself for it. She was less angry and less cynical, but also changed in many other ways.

I think we both agree(d) that while the changes may have been beneficial for her personally, the only plus for the marriage was that when it was time to finally split, we were able to do it amicably. I had fallen in love with the her from her good days (my opinion) when she wasn't fighting her depression or her childhood. Those were many. I think the birth of one of our children set off a bout of postpartum depression from which it took a long time to recover and led to many changes in her life and outlook.

A different her had fallen in love with me too. I wasn't really what the new her was looking for I guess. (If I really had to speculate, I was what she thought her parents thought was the appropriate person to marry.) We had some great times, but...

She is a great mother despite I think being little too overprotective of our kids when they are at her house, she is a good and decent human, a good friend to many and attractive to boot. But, we are no longer compatible after she worked real hard to make the changes that I supported her efforts at doing.

My point is I would probably not stay together for the kids, but I would work with her to change (if that is what she wants) to help the kids knowing your relationship may or may not be better off for it.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 11:27 PM on December 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

As per your world views being vastly different, I think it would benefit both you and your marriage for you to meet somewhere in the middle.

Your wife's depression and anxiety certainly contribute to it, but in general people do not believe the world is awful, people are terrible, and no one can be trusted without an event or events throughout their life informing this decision. This is not explicitly healthy, but neither is a steadfast belief that the world and people are fundamentally good: a healthy dose of skepticism and guarding oneself is a good human tool and a necessity for a parent who often has to discern the motives of strangers for two people instead of just themselves. Obviously not everyone is fundamentally evil, but quite obviously everyone is not fundamentally good as well, because crime, so being on either extreme view point won't do the socialization of your child any favors. You could perhaps use your time in relationship therapy to try and come to a compromise on this with how it relates to you and your child, and try and see your wife's side in some instances.

As for her therapy, yes, give it time! Being hesitant to take on the side effects of medication when you're getting into CBT or something is fine, and your wife is one a process. She may very well be deconstructing any events that have made her mistrusting right now.
posted by itsonreserve at 5:16 AM on December 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

There are lots of ways to divorce and amicably raise children. You could have side-by-side houses for example. You aren't trapped and you don't have to live your life in misery for the sake of your child.

But that's not what you're asking.

You should give the individual and couples therapy time. In couples therapy, stand up for what you want in the relationship. If you don't want her to get angry at you for expressing your ideals, worldview or opinion, say so. She can be angry, but she can't take it out on you.

You can't change her, but you can change how you interact. I can't think of anything worse than walking on eggshells around your wife. So don't. And don't engage when she's ranting at you.

Either she comes to terms with her issues, or she doesn't. But in the end, be selfish and do what's right for YOU. As Dr. Phil says, "The only thing worse than coming FROM a broken home, is living in one."
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:42 AM on December 5, 2012

People can change, it's just that you can't change them - they have to want to change themselves. The fact that your wife is seeing a psychiatrist is proof that she does want to change. However, therapy is not an immediate fix. It takes time, patience, and work. A few months of therapy are not going to have immediate results - it's a gradual process.

Granted, this is not your problem. Nobody could blame you if you wanted to walk away from the relationship now, without waiting to see if your wife fixes herself. But thinking that it's hopeless is just not true.

Let me share a story with you. When I was much younger, I spent several months on life support, and this made me look somewhat different, especially during the recovery process. The other kids would tease me for this, and as a consequence I had a lot of anger towards humanity, similar to the way your wife does. I enjoyed hurting people because I saw how cruel and petty they were for arbitrary reasons. Revenge was a big part of my psyche because it ensured that people didn't hurt me. People like you were naive fools in my eyes: I was very similar to your wife in that respect.

However, as I got older, I gradually saw that I was being irrational. While it's certainly true that some people are horrid and deserve to be hurt, it's unreasonable to have that as your default position - and it didn't fit in with what I saw of society once I grew up. So now, I tend to have a more neutral position with respect to humanity. While I may still go for the throat when I feel threatened, I now have a large number of friends whom I feel very connected to. I even do volunteer work! In fact, my upbringing was beneficial in some respects, because having seen how unpleasant people can be, it causes me to be much more appreciative of the people who are loyal to me.

Metahawk is right - barring strong chemical imbalance, people don't adopt these antisocial viewpoints because they want to: they adopt them because it is a rational adaptation to the environment they find themselves in. When you put them in an environment where kindness and compassion are more beneficial, they will also adapt to that as well. Having been similar to your wife, I tell you this from firsthand experience. So unless you have reason to think that your wife has a chemical imbalance, I think she is right to refuse medication - she needs to be reasoned out of her worldview, not medicated out of it.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 6:47 AM on December 5, 2012

I think if you decide to stay (even if it's to give her enough time for therapy), you should think about 2 things:
1. Pick a timeline to re-address the question. Maybe this is 6 months or a year or maybe your/her therapist would have a better suggestion.
2. In the time between now and the deadline, DON'T spend every day evaluating whether there is any improvement since yesterday or keeping track of every negative incident to prove you were right and you should have left at the beginning. Instead, spend this time really putting forth an effort to make the whole family happier as a whole. I don't know - compliments, helping with chores, happy thoughts, whatever the therapist is recommending for the two of you, but really throw yourself into it with a positive attitude.

At the end of the time, do a real assessment of whether there has been any progress and if this is moving toward how you want to live your life. THEN start to think about whether to stay married or to separate.
posted by CathyG at 6:57 AM on December 5, 2012 [5 favorites]

Also, don't let "the toll that being away from Mommy would bring" weigh on you -- kids are extremely adaptive, especially young. Most don't remember much from before age 4, so early divorces just become The Way Things Are, and they have no problem understanding that both parents love them, even if they spend time with them separately. Tthey mostly don't question the division of time either, as long as there's not much conflict around it.

Give the therapy time, then re-evaluate and make the right choice for you, her, and the situation, not for preservation of your image of Hallmark childhood. As long as your kid knows he's loved, he'll come out fine.
posted by acm at 7:18 AM on December 5, 2012

You are modeling to your kid that a vengeful, hateful, angry person who thinks gratitude is a weakness is a desirable partner in life.

You are modeling to your kid that those traits get you love and commitment and acceptance from others.

Is that what you want? Because if you think the kid is going to live their life without being exposed to those traits first hand you are mistaken.

As a child of dysfunction and abuse (but not divorce) I can tell you that maintaining a marriage means very little to a terrified/confused kid.

People don't really "change" but mental illness can be addressed. Needing anger and hating the world is not a feature it's a bug. I'd lay out that her behavior is unacceptable and that you won't stay if she continues to live this way. If she commits to self improvement via therapy than she might be able to address her mental health issues. But she has to want to, she has to see them as problems. It doesn't sound like she's there.
posted by French Fry at 7:23 AM on December 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

I have a somewhat similar situation and I think you and I are alike in terms of believing it's best for our child to have both parents present. I don't believe my wife will or can change since so much of who we are is pre-wired at birth or set during childhood, so I just feel that her shortcomings and our incompatibilities, and the lack of a great marriage, are things that I have to accept if I want my daughter to have both parents present. Of course I do that with some sadness because it certainly means circumstances are not ideal, but by focusing on my daughter's well-being and what I believe is best for her on a daily basis, I don't allow myself to dwell on it too much. If my wife were toxic to my daughter, then my way of dealing with the situation would be very different of course.
posted by Dansaman at 7:53 AM on December 5, 2012

My ex and I stayed together as long as we did in part for our kids. I think we did the right thing. He physically moved out a month before our oldest turned eighteen. Our kids are okay with all of that. Any resentment they have towards their father has nothing to do with the divorce and everything to do with some personal blindspots he has. Their resentment isn't a real big issue.

My ex and I had a lot of issues. We were together about 22 years. It took me a tad too long to realize that the way we interacted could improve even if neither of us "fundamentally changed".

For example: He did not like me rearranging the furniture. I was a homemaker and got bored with looking at the same arrangement all the time. This was a source of friction for years. Very late in the marriage, it stopped being an issue. I accidentally discovered that he didn't really care if I rearranged the furniture. He didn't like being imposed on to help me move furniture, in part because he had no ability to visualize the changes. If I rearranged things while he was gone and it was an actual improvement, he was fine with it. I also found that if I left all the walkways the same so he didn't trip over anything in the middle of the night, that helped a whole lot.

I would have never tried this intentionally as a solution. If I had come home and he had rearranged everything, I would have been ballistic. I was trying to include him as a respectful, courteous thing. But, really, it mattered to me a lot more than to him. I was projecting my values onto him without realizing it. A lot of our conflicts probably could have been resolved similarly. But we were stuck in a rut on a lot of issues.

I have two special needs sons who can be really challenging. We generally get along well. If I had known then what I have learned from raising my sons, I think my marriage would have gone a lot better. In addition to therapy, you might try picking up a couple of books on negotiating. "Getting to yes" is research based and a quick read. "Heart and mind of the negotiator" (or maybe "mind and heart...") is also research based but meatier.

Best of luck.
posted by Michele in California at 8:17 AM on December 5, 2012 [2 favorites]

I have to note that I'm actually really, really confused as to why these things are relationship issues (to the extent that you're considering a break-up) rather than simply differences in worldviews. Are these things negatively impacting your own relationship, or is it simply your view of how she interacts with others?

From your description, it sounds like she may have experienced some trauma in her life that has led her to her outlook - "the world is inherently unsafe" actually sounds pretty textbook for that kind of speech. In addition, though I can't speak to what your wife might have experienced, the notion of "Gratitude" is actually particularly (and legitimately) fraught for survivors of intimate partner abuse, sexual assault, and incest - and I'm sure there are other situations I'm not thinking of. When people have abused notions of "gratitude", it is very difficult to get a normal baseline.

For an example of how Gratitude can be problematic, try:
"I provide for you/paid for this dinner/brought you into the world, don't you feel grateful enough to do this for/with me?"

If your wife has in fact been victimized in some way, she may very well not want anyone to be victimized again - thus the focus on "exposing for what they are" the perpetrators of perceived misdeeds. She may also feel that "letting go of anger" means letting these people get away with their bad actions.

None of these are inherently bad things. They can sometimes negatively impact relationships, though, which is why therapy is important. Medication is not required for therapy to work. There are many other successful therapies - in particular, as one person has mentioned above, CBT. If your wife suffers from PTSD, there have been great leaps forward made with EMDR, which also does not require medication.

You can easily get through this, unless there's more you're not telling - but I'm sensing some ambivalence. Do you really want to?
posted by corb at 8:27 AM on December 5, 2012 [4 favorites]

It sounds like you are at the end of your tether and asking for permission to divorce.

What treatment are you getting? I don't know if you are the only one who can change here, but it might not be a bad idea to start with addressing your problem - you are married to a mentally ill person - before you wait for her to change. That will give you a much clearer answer than we could, I think.
posted by tel3path at 9:38 AM on December 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

When I was young, I definitely believed that marriage was till death do us part, and then later I believed I should stay in my marriage for the sake of our child.
When I sought divorce, it was because I realized our child would grow up with a distorted view of family life, and maybe would repeat this unhealthy pattern. Today, as the child has grown up to be a lovely young woman in a sound relationship, I feel certain I did the right thing. She does all the right things I didn't do, and I'm proud of her.
If your prime concern is your child, the most important thing is to envision and create a life for him, where he can learn to make his own life happy. Suffering in a terrible relationship is not that life.

Oh, and: you cannot ever change your wife. She can. As many above have said, if she really, truly wants a different life, giver her that chance. If she is using therapy as a hideout from reality, get out quick.
posted by mumimor at 2:12 PM on December 5, 2012

Here's my answer, from something I heard recently: Your child doesn't learn what you teach her. She learns what you are.

You are unhappy.
posted by cnc at 5:32 PM on December 5, 2012

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