"I'm not going to change"
May 30, 2013 6:54 AM   Subscribe

The other day I had already had a bad day when my husband made an insensitive and crappy remark about something. I replied with tears in my eyes and said that he really had no idea about [subject]. Husband ignored that and then 5 minutes later cheerfully asked if I wanted to watch tv. I said no. He was surprised that I was "still mad" and we tried to talk about it, but I shut down because I felt vulnerable and remembered past talkings where I always felt like "too sensitive" and nothing would change anyway. This time, my husband apparently also thought the same because he said "Well, if you're unhappy, maybe you don't want to continue this relationship, because I'm not going to change".

I thought about writing a long he-said she-said askme, but figured that the details don't really matter. I then actually still wrote a long explanation, but I figure my actual problem is described in the paragraph above. And I wonder: if someone is so clear about not going to change, is that indeed a clear sign that we should move on? Even though we have been married for over ten years, have children together and I still love him?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (40 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
It sounds like you both need professional help in expressing yourselves and really listening to each other. After ten years and children together you won't be ending this relationship - you would be changing it, and regardless of your ultimate decison you both need to build up your toolbox of communication skills.
posted by saucysault at 6:59 AM on May 30, 2013 [10 favorites]

Ten-year relationship, and seemingly out of nowhere he drops the "maybe we should quit because I'm not going to change" bomb? He has something going on inside of him. There's something that he's not telling you. If you don't feel comfortable confronting him about where in the hell did that come from, you should insist on counseling.
posted by jbickers at 6:59 AM on May 30, 2013 [53 favorites]

Here's my read on it from his potential perspective: he says things that he thinks are benign but that you think are insensitive. He is not going to walk on eggshells wondering what you will react to next. So if you are going to keep reacting to these remarks, maybe you don't want to be with him.

I'm not saying that's true or fair of him, but that may be what he's thinking. It sounds like he said what he said out of frustration. I would ask him what he meant. Do these kinds of upsets happen often?
posted by desjardins at 6:59 AM on May 30, 2013 [21 favorites]

No, it just means that YOU have to change. Can you accept your husband as he is? That's the crux of your question. If the answer is no, then you do need to think about leaving him.

It's interesting that he suggested that you break up though, I wonder if that's what HE wants. You should both get into couples therapy/mediation to understand where you're each coming from and if you do break up, how to do that as amicably as possible.

It's possible to love someone but to be in a relationship that is good for neither of you.

Your inability to talk to your husband about your feelings is just as frustrating to him as his off-hand insensitive remarks are to you.

Shutting down and not talking is NOT going to ever help a situation.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:01 AM on May 30, 2013 [5 favorites]

As someone who is happy with who I am and might say I had no desire to change (under different circumstances), I am now mature enough to know that I do and will change whether I want to or not.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 7:02 AM on May 30, 2013 [5 favorites]

You should listen to people when they tell you something. But you should also listen to what people do. In this case, he said something rude, expected you to just be over it, and then officially told you he's tired of dealing with your feelings. There's obviously something going on in his head that he's just now letting out. I'd say some counseling is in order. If he's determined not to change then what you're losing is somebody who doesn't respect you or treat you kindly. That's not a loss, that's a gain for you.
posted by headspace at 7:03 AM on May 30, 2013 [6 favorites]

Just ask him what the hell he meant by that.

From what you've described, it could just as easily be an expression of frustration that you're constantly accusing him of hurting your feelings; or something more serious, like that HE'S unhappy and thinking about leaving. It's a serious thing to say in any case, and he owes you an explanation.
posted by fingersandtoes at 7:03 AM on May 30, 2013 [5 favorites]

Talk to him not us.
posted by BenPens at 7:04 AM on May 30, 2013 [8 favorites]

He sounds frustrated by the mini-fight. If this was a momentary thing, I'd shake it off after reminding him that ending a relationship is not an appropriate threat point and talking about how you's appreciate it if certain kinds of comments are censored to the extent possible.
posted by deadweightloss at 7:07 AM on May 30, 2013 [2 favorites]

Wait, what?

"Well, if you're unhappy, maybe you don't want to continue this relationship, because I'm not going to change".

This is a passive aggressive and shitastic thing to say to someone who's already upset after having a bad day and an insensitive, callous spouse invalidate them.

I'm afraid that what he's saying is that he is thinking he doesn't want to continue the relationship because he is tired of having his insensitivity called on and he doesn't want to have to meet you in the middle for good communication. I think you should look into couple's therapy for strategies to communicate about how you're both feeling about your marriage.
posted by mibo at 7:14 AM on May 30, 2013 [27 favorites]

if someone is so clear about not going to change, is that indeed a clear sign that we should move on?

I don't think so, no. That may be different from what is actually going on with you, however. Basically each person in a relationship needs to determine what they want, need and can't live without in a relationship. This is true for your relationship with everyone in your life but it's most important with your partner because, unlike the mailman for example, they are supposedly on Team Us and so the things that are on your need/want/can't live without list are important to them as well. And so they should meet you partway and vice versa.

So then the next reckoning point is trying to figure out what to do about stress points. He said a crappy thing, it made you feel bad, you were having a bad day, you reacted, he ignored it, you tried to talk about it later, you shut down, he snapped about not changing. Sounds like a bad cycle for the two of you and I'm sorry. And I guess I'd ask you to think: is this him saying he's not going to change anything or is this him talking about how he's not going to change a particular aspect of the way you guys relate. And if so, is it an essential "can't live without" aspect to you?

Obviously, I think counseling may be in order to help snap you guys out of your bad patterns, but also to have a safe space to talk about dealbreakers and what the two of you are and are not willing to do for each other, for the relationship, for your kids. I know that I personally have a decent sense of how to prioritize my relationship, or I think I do, and am willing to make a lot of compromises to try to make it work. I am now with a partner who feels more or less like I do. I wasn't always. Finding a good fit has a lot to do with how much you both value being on Team Us relative to the other stressors and obstacles life throws your way. So I know it must have stung when your husband said he's not changing, and personally I'd find that to be a nasty thing to say, but I think it's opening a door for talking about the real future of the relatoonship which is probably a good idea and both of you maybe reassessing how to feel, ten years in, about continuing to work on it.
posted by jessamyn at 7:17 AM on May 30, 2013 [6 favorites]

Is he saying "I won't change because I don't want to" or "I don't believe I can change"? Or maybe "Even if I changed, I think you would still find something to get upset at me about"? That seems like an important distinction to me.

I agree with those who say couples therapy, because it seems like you guys need to talk to each other, but you aren't very good at it.
posted by mskyle at 7:17 AM on May 30, 2013 [3 favorites]

First, I would strongly caution you not to assume or guess what he meant, because you don't know, and that's a huge part of the communication breakdown here. I don't think this is about changing or not changing. It's about wanting to communicate functionally well with each other in a way that meets both of your needs, and how willing you both are to meet somewhere in the middle to accomplish that, in an atmosphere where I suspect based on your framing that you both feel like the other is expecting the other person to change/do all the work/fix the problem because they are the source of the problem. Every relationship involves meeting in the middle to accomplish the mutual goals you have, and moving together in the same direction; this cannot be accomplished when both parties expect the other to change and are unwilling to accommodate for a difference in the other person's way of communicating/needs/etc.

The suggestion above for couples counseling is potentially a very helpful one, because instead of loading up on expectations that he needs to change or you need to change, the real issue is that both of you need to accurately and specifically identify what the actual problem is, collaborate on a solution, and supportively work together to get there. Couples therapy is an excellent tool available to you to help with that.
posted by so_gracefully at 7:18 AM on May 30, 2013 [3 favorites]

"Well, if you're unhappy, maybe you don't want to continue this relationship, because I'm not going to change".

In my world, this is a bomb, not a casual remark tossed off during a fight or just because you're angry.

I would seek a calm time when you're getting along to ask him to talk about the feelings that made him say that. Depending on his answer, I probably would then ask him to go to counseling immediately so we could better communicate. Or I would rethink whether I want to stay in this relationship.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 7:19 AM on May 30, 2013 [8 favorites]

Well, if you're unhappy, maybe you don't want to continue this relationship, because I'm not going to change".

Rightly or wrongly, he's frustrated by how you are treating him. He feels like he is walking on eggshells. Either he hasn't communicated this with you previously, or you weren't hearing him. The "change" remark probably didn't come out of nowhere: he thinks you expect him to change, and he resents it because he doesn't agree that he's the problem (either in part, or at all).

Again, I'm not saying he's right or wrong or you are right or wrong. You're going to get a lot of people saying he's just being passive aggresive or manipulative. But, unless he commonly drops bombshells like that to win arguments, he sounds desperate to me.
posted by spaltavian at 7:24 AM on May 30, 2013 [5 favorites]

if someone is so clear about not going to change, is that indeed a clear sign that we should move on? Even though we have been married for over ten years, have children together and I still love him?

No, it's a clear sign you need to go to marriage therapy. If he's not going to change (and I generally accept people will remain as they were on the day you found them) that's fine but that doesn't mean the two of you cannot improve your communication.

I mean, as you didn't give a concrete example, it's hard to say, but it's pretty common for things like Party A says "If it was really important to you, you'd find time to go to the gym" and Party B hears "You're a fat ass and I no longer find you attractive." Then you have two people having two different conversations and it's an unnecessary mess of misunderstanding and hurt feelings.
posted by DarlingBri at 7:35 AM on May 30, 2013 [6 favorites]

The actual content of your argument with your husband is pretty much beside the point. What this is illustrating is a need for couples therapy. Because there is a severe breakdown in communication happening
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 7:40 AM on May 30, 2013

Here's my read on it from his potential perspective: he says things that he thinks are benign but that you think are insensitive. He is not going to walk on eggshells wondering what you will react to next. So if you are going to keep reacting to these remarks, maybe you don't want to be with him.

I'm not saying that's true or fair of him, but that may be what he's thinking. It sounds like he said what he said out of frustration. I would ask him what he meant. Do these kinds of upsets happen often?

This is the way I see it too. I will say this: When you marry someone, you commit to be with that person as they are, not a projection you may have of how they could be. This is your husband, as he is. Maybe he feels like he's tried to be more sensitive, but is tired of walking on eggshells. If you can't love him/live with him the way he is, maybe he's got a point.

So you have to go through your feelings and make the decision: can you live with him as he is? If not, then, do you want a divorce? There may be options in between, but for the things within your control, that's what you need to choose.
posted by Doohickie at 7:49 AM on May 30, 2013

In addition to all the suggestions re: communication and counseling....How hard are you both working? When was the last time you or him or you and him had a break / vacation?
posted by WeekendJen at 8:08 AM on May 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

Open and clear communication comes easy to some couples, and others have to learn to express their thoughts in a way that their partner can clearly understand their thoughts. My wife and I have had some of these fights, without the final comment.

From my perspective, I've done something that upsets her, but I am not clear on what I did wrong. Sometimes when this happens, I feel like I everything I say makes her more upset, so I don't say anything more, and hope she feels better on her own.

NOTE: This is not a great way to deal with disagreements.

Talking about upsetting topics, especially emotional topics, is hard. It's harder when you see a clear wrong on the other person's behalf, so you're upset at the action and upset at the lack of (for lack of better words) remorse.

Sometimes you need to spell everything out. Perhaps you could both take a breather from the argument, so neither are as emotional as in the heat of the debate, but come back within the day to talk about it. Clearly state why you were upset, and why your husband's response made you more upset.

Also of note: keep the discussion on the single heated topic. Steer yourself and your husband back to find some resolution on the topic at hand, and do not veer into past arguments, unless you are both content with the conclusion of this follow-up discussion. Expanding the discussion into past grievances solves nothing, and it dredges up past injuries that one party might believe are completely healed. Then you get into thoughts of one party holding grudges against the other, making future discussions even harder.

If you still can't get through to him and you both want to continue with your relationship, counseling could help. If you do go with counseling, make sure both you and your husband are happy with the counselor. My parents had counseling for a while, but one of my parents felt like the counselor was taking sides, so that came to an end without my parents fully coming to terms with the issues in their relationship.

And WeekendJen is spot-on about external stresses. If you both don't get time to really wind down, be it quiet evenings, a calm weekend or an extended vacation, discussions that would normally be rocky at worst can become verbal battles. Even being a bit sleep deprived will make you grumpy enough to increase marital stress.
posted by filthy light thief at 8:19 AM on May 30, 2013 [2 favorites]

Lawyer up toute suite:
"Well, if you're unhappy, maybe you don't want to continue this relationship, because I'm not going to change".
He has already considered it, given it some thought, and is okay with the marriage ending.

Read that last sentence again and take it in.

A married man doesn't reach for that kind of statement casually or off the cuff. He's thought about it, tossed it around in his head for some time previous to this conversation, and come up with "I'd be okay with us getting divorced, ten years of marriage and kids and all."

He's emotionally out the door. Lawyer up and strike first. Don't find yourself reaching for your lawyer when his is already sharpened up, in hand, and incoming.

I'd start checking his collar for lipstick and take notice if the seatbelt on the passenger side of the car where you sit suddenly starts showing up adjusted to someone else's size.

Lawyer up and protect yourself. He's already given you the "Take it or leave it". Don't expect him to play nice and gentlemanly once it goes to court.

Wen the divorce comes, the advice I've heard from children of divorce is no matter how scumbaggity he may act, don't shit-talk him in front of the kids. He's still their father emotionally to them. Don't drag them into your relationship ugliness, take the high road and let him be a douche on his own.

My sympathies & best of luck.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 8:21 AM on May 30, 2013 [14 favorites]

I think marriage counseling might do a lot of good here--notice I said "might" (no promises). In your shoes, I might go to the counselor myself first for a session or two to talk all of this through. You may then be in a better place to determine what your wants and needs are before trying to go in for a joint counseling session.

I know others in this thread will think you should just talk to your husband about it first, and honestly, I could see it going either way, but I'm a complete stranger and don't know the entire backstory. It sounds to me like this is well-trod ground for you both and that the old way of resolving these issues is no longer working--hence "just talking to him" is laden with plenty of baggage.

If you truly feel talking to your husband about this right now is a dead end, or you are just unable to face it, talk to a professional and get your bearings first.
posted by duffell at 8:31 AM on May 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

"......then 5 minutes later cheerfully asked if I wanted to watch tv"

My read is that your husband is signalling he wants to spend time with you, and he wants you both to enjoy your relationship and deflect life stress with fun times. He doesn't, for whatever reason, want to talk about your bad day? I don't know, just speculating that he is trying to cope by changing the subject. I think he is drawing a line in the sand here, saying that this is how far he is wiling to go with the dynamic you have got going on. But that dynamic can be changed, but you will most likely have to start the process. Your relationship sounds like it has very typical problems, and can be fixed, you love him, he seems willing to want to move to more positive experiences. Not so bad.
posted by nanook at 8:37 AM on May 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

I disagree with Pirate Bartender etc. Wholeheartedly. Asking you if you want to watch TV right afterwards says, to me, that he said that in the heat of the moment because he was frustrated and felt put-upon by your problems. Now, that's obviously not good, but that's what it sounds like. I've said things like this to my partner. I never mean that I want him to leave -- what I want is for him to feel bad for me because he's mad at me (it's not mature, I know, but there it is).

I don't think talking about it will help because this is a decade-long dynamic. I suggest, if you really can't handle it anymore, going to marriage counselling. But DO NOT, whatever you do, start snooping around for signs of cheating. It's just going to make things worse.
posted by AmandaA at 8:51 AM on May 30, 2013 [6 favorites]

I also completely disagree with Pirate Bartender. I would start this conversation by saying "Hey, the other day you said 'Well, if you're unhappy, maybe you don't want to continue this relationship, because I'm not going to change.' What did you mean?"
posted by craven_morhead at 8:59 AM on May 30, 2013 [8 favorites]

My biggest relationship rule is:

Talk or Walk.

If you are not willing to talk then you had better be willing to walk because it just isn't going to work out. People suck at guessing other people's feelings. Less sensitive people suck at it a bit more. My wife and I have been together for just under 20 years and I have no belief that I can guess what is going on in her head and she certainly can't guess my thoughts or feelings. We talk. There is room for errors, misunderstandings and confusions in our relationship. Sometimes people are just crabby, tired and exhausted. Sometimes there is just friction from being two different people. So a big part of this is on you for not talking it out. You have to ask for what you want and you need to realize that even the best of people can probably only deliver a portion of that.

Don't rule out the fact that your husband was just inarticulately expressing that he is an imperfect human being and likely to stay that way.

posted by srboisvert at 9:12 AM on May 30, 2013 [6 favorites]

"Actually, you've already changed. Into someone who suggests the end of our marriage and our family. Are you willing to do the work with me to repair things and talk about what's wrong in our marriage?"
posted by anildash at 9:19 AM on May 30, 2013

You need help talking to each other.

Professional Help.

The "you're too sensitive" "you're too cold" trope has been played out in a lot of marriages but that doesn't make it a helpful or inevitable truth.

It shouldn't be this game of Rosetta stone where he says a dozen words and you spend days trying to guess what they really mean. Find a marriage counselor or a divorce lawyer.
posted by French Fry at 9:29 AM on May 30, 2013

"Well, if you're unhappy, maybe you don't want to continue this relationship, because I'm not going to change".

"I don't want to discontinue this relationship. I want us to go to counseling because clearly you don't understand why this is upsetting me.

Do you want to discontinue the relationship? Is this your way of suggesting so?

I don't expect you to "change". I expect you to work with me to find an amicable compromise."
posted by xm at 9:46 AM on May 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

Advice for the next stage of your marriage, after you suggest the relationship counselling: there are only TWO possible answers to the question, "Will you go with me to relationship counselling?"

1. "Yes."

2. "This relationship is not worth that much effort to me."

For your own sanity, you must leave the person who doesn't reply with the first answer.

If you do, at the eleventh hour that person will suddenly beg you to go to therapy with them. But they already told you how little they valued the relationship; they're just scrambling (teary-eyed, but egotistically) to keep their world as unchanged as possible, NOT to keep you specifically.
posted by IAmBroom at 9:51 AM on May 30, 2013 [4 favorites]

Counseling for sure.

There's a part of counseling that I like to think of as "coaching to help us figure out how to communicate our needs and wants without pissing the other person off (or yourself)." Sounds like you both need some of that. We found this incredibly helpful, even after ten years of marriage.
posted by advicepig at 9:54 AM on May 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

Your husband's comment, "I'm not going to change," is indicative of a very common miscommunication between couples. It's easy to explain in an isolated context:
  • I want you to change.
  • I want your behavior to change.
In the context of AskMetaFilter, the difference between those is simple and clear. Amid the emotion and history of a marriage, however, the difference is a lot more subtle and really genuinely difficult to articulate.

I don't know if your husband's comment actually does reveal this communication problem. It's indicative, like coughing is indicative of the flu. If you are having that problem, it can be hard to untangle. The miscommunication just worsens the challenge; even asking for behavior to change can seem like a personal criticism, so it's a bit like retreating from, "I'm not super-criticizing you as a person...just a little bit." Counseling might be helpful, whether it's in person or via self-help strategies. I wish you luck.
posted by cribcage at 9:55 AM on May 30, 2013 [3 favorites]

"Having tears in your eyes" is not a form of communication. And you kind of insulted him by saying he has no idea about whatever the topic was without explaining yourself. He may have been really embarrassed about not noticing you were upset and ended up overreacting by his statement.

The bottom line is that neither of you seem to be communicating well with each other. So yes, definitely counselling, but try to go into it with an open mind rather than an attitude of this all being his fault.
posted by hazyjane at 9:56 AM on May 30, 2013 [3 favorites]

I took it that he asked you a question. Do you want to get divorced?

I asked my first wife the same question when I had exhausted my supply of solutions. That's kind of how it works. It's called irreconcilable differences.
posted by 99percentfake at 10:13 AM on May 30, 2013

I have a very sensitive relative and use the disengage/wait 5 minutes/change subject tactic whenever that relative says something that my only rational response would be, "Wait, whoa, what?!??" Without knowing the blow-by-blow of the talk (and I don't want to know) your husband can be painted as a victim or a villain.

And FWIW, when I proposed ending my marriage I wasn't emotionally already out the door or had a piece on the side. I was at the end of my rope. Your husband might be too.

If you want to continue being married, shutting down talk because you feel vulnerable or because past talks went poorly isn't going to work anymore. So hit up a counselor.
posted by kimberussell at 10:39 AM on May 30, 2013

Also, your husband is acting like a little boy. Saying something hurtful then asking you to watch tv 5 mins later? WTH kind of immature behavior is that?
posted by discopolo at 12:00 PM on May 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

What your husband said about not being willing to change is very unproductive. And he may have been wrong for making an insensitive comment. But I think you should try to look past the imprudent remark and focus on possible deeper issues. For example, maybe you and he are at opposite ends of the emotional scale and it's very hard for each of you to meet the other's needs.
posted by Dansaman at 12:09 PM on May 30, 2013

You know what, I have no idea if he is being a jerk or is reacting with understandable frustration...but even if it's option B, that's a pretty loaded thing to just say and then not follow up on.

If talking to each other isn't working, bring in someone professional.

Here's the thing: it doesn't matter who the "problem" is or who's "right." (using quotes because those terms are so loaded and inaccurate, but often how we feel about these kinds of issues).

Even if you are the "problem" in terms of just not being able to be happy, that needs to be established by someone not you (so that you don't smother legitimate feelings out of guilt or hopelessness) or your husband (who may be letting his frustration and confusion lead him to do nothing or deny a legitimate issue). If it is all on you, then you need help and your husband needs coping strategies, so that he can help you. If it's all on him, then he needs to commit to changing. If it's neither, then you have other choices. Etc.

You don't need definitive evidence that someone has been the bad guy to get help. You just need to acknowledge that there is a problem. And maybe that scares you.

However, the alternative is to do nothing and continue being miserable and mystified by each other.
posted by emjaybee at 12:20 PM on May 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

After 10 years of marriage (my 9th is coming this summer) you get to the point where you are very well rehearsed in your arguments. This is beneficial when the couple can see that they are trodding old ground and know that they always work through it, but it is also toxic if it feels like you never make progress on issues of importance. The line between these is very fine.

I haven't used the exact same words, but in some ways I've exclaimed my despair that nothing will change during an argument. Rather than taking his words literally that he is giving up I would suggest seeing him in light of fatigue over the rehearsed argument roles. I made some good progress in my marriage when my wife and I made a mutual commitment to improve our arguments. It sounds odd, but we outlined some ground rules for things that we shouldn't do or say because they would eclipse whatever problem we are working through.

I hope for your sake this type of meta analysis works too.
posted by dgran at 1:28 PM on May 30, 2013 [2 favorites]

Well, for a brief excerpt that might stand you in good stead - You can move him, but you cannot change him. Doesn't matter what he's thinking, actually, it's what he does. Venting is fair game is what makes arguments after 10 years, it certainly isn't expanding on new ideas. As our counselor once said about communication, women need to start off soft and men need to accept influence. You only learn how to do those things with outside help. Counseling pays off long term.
posted by ptm at 12:38 AM on May 31, 2013

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