Emotionally manipulative fiancee
September 21, 2014 1:08 AM   Subscribe

Told my fiancee that she is emotionally manipulative when arguing. She is upset but I can't take it back because it's true. How do we proceed?

My fiancee and I don't argue often, and when we do, it's over fairly soon and we resolve it together with a fair amount of compromise. Or at least it used to be like that.

However, over the last few months I've realised that our arguments haven't always ended with a good compromise, as I tend to give in to what she wants.

I began to rationalise this to myself by thinking that "a happy wife is a happy life", and that it keeps the peace. I don't like arguing, or upsetting her, and so far this had been a good strategy.

But recently, it's felt like with every argument she has ended by acting like a spoilt teenager, getting in a bad mood, and ignoring me until I give in and take all the blame. (Usually, if I'm 100% at fault, I will apologise before it gets to the argument stage)

So to today. Out food shopping, (where we usually follow a list, making sure we stick to a budget, and recently have been trying to cut down on snacks) she grabs more snacks than we had allocated for, and when I suggest that that might not be a good idea, she gets her own shopping basket, and goes around filling it with stuff not from the list but which she thinks we need (some of which, to be fair, we did actually need). When I then get frustrated, and say that we'll be going over budget, she leaves the basket on a food shelf and goes and sits in the car by herself. I pay for everything, including her basket, and we go home.

All the while she ignores me, won't look at me, and gives one word answers to anything I say.

Then came the argument, and we argue about what happened (she said that I'd humiliated her in public), and I'm all ready to apologise, until I decide to stand up for myself. I tell her, using "I feel" phrases, that she acts spoilt, and that she emotionally manipulates me into saying that I'm always the one to blame, and that she uses childish behaviours to get her own way.

This was yesterday afternoon, and now she won't speak to me apart from by text, where she wrote "What you said was nasty, horrible and i didnt like it at all."

I'm sorry she feels upset, because I don't like it when she's unhappy, but I felt like I needed to say it, and I think it's true. But if I stand by it she will resent me for it, and if I give it up, then yet again I'm enabling her behaviour.

I love her dearly, and I'm looking forward to marrying her, and I wish I was a better communicator! I also accept that I make wrong judgements, so please let me know what I can do to rectify this situation.

Tl;dr: Told my fiancee that she is emotionally manipulative when arguing. She is upset but I can't take it back because it's true.
posted by Petrot to Human Relations (44 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Well for a start, don't argue through text. Maybe wait until you've both had a chance to calm down then get together and try to talk it through. I do notice that she's not arguing that what you said wasn't true, just that it wasn't nice. So maybe she sees your point even if she doesn't like it...
posted by Jubey at 1:14 AM on September 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

First, the point of phrasing your complaints to her as "I feel" is to allow her to hear what you are saying without becoming defensive. If you say things like "I feel you are manipulative" it defeats the purpose.

Tell her how her behaviour makes you feel, rather than attributing her behaviour to some character flaw of hers (such as "being manipulative"). Giving people the benefit of the doubt tends to work better than starting off from square one assuming they have negative intentions.

Second, you need to also acknowledge her feelings. From your description, I can understand why she would feel that you embarrassed her in public. Sure, she probably didn't handle that feeling in the best way possible, but that is a separate issue.

Third, while we impact each other when we are in a relationship, ultimately we are each responsible for our own feelings. All you can do is express how the other person's behaviour impacts you; ultimately, it's your responsibility to deal with that in whatever way you deem best--letting it go, hashing it out, or even ending the relationship. What a mature person doesn't do is go around nursing grievances, which it sounds like you are on the road to doing.
posted by mysterious_stranger at 1:24 AM on September 21, 2014 [47 favorites]

You can't take it back because it's true? You said that twice. It looks like you're the one being difficult.

How can someone move on in a situation when there is no compromise?
posted by oceanjesse at 1:31 AM on September 21, 2014 [10 favorites]

It might be that the only way you get out of this intact is to ask her immediately why when she gets in a snit: Why is it wrong to point out your budget is being exceeded? Public or not changes nothing about the fact of it.

It sounds like she needs to do a bit of growing up, and maybe you do too. Doormat to 'I know I'm right I know I'm right' seems a bit of a drastic about-face.
posted by northtwilight at 1:39 AM on September 21, 2014 [4 favorites]

Couple of things seem to be going on here that don't excuse her behaviour, but perhaps partially explain it:

- When one partner in a relationship suddenly decides to stand up for themselves, this changes the dynamic and the other party will typically not immediately go along with this 'new you'. It'll take some time to both get used to you doing this.

- I'd have a hard time too if my husband started criticizing my shopping choices while at the supermarket, in public. Perhaps you'd have had better 'results' if you'd had a conversation about it at home. Yes, you would have spent too much for that week, but I rarely have a very constructive conversation when I feel embarrassed and angry about that. So: pick your battles and pick the best time and place for those battles. But:

- I don't know how typical this example is, but perhaps it's worth trying to determine if you see her acting as a spoiled teenager in situations where you act as 'the rational parent'? I'm not saying this to blame you for her behaviour, and this might have been an atypical situation for you, but it might explain some of the dynamic going on.
posted by Ms. Next at 1:39 AM on September 21, 2014 [14 favorites]

It sounds like she doesn't really want to follow some kind of structured-list-life and is maybe trying to communicate that to you albeit in a very poor fashion.

Currently, you seem to be approaching this in an all or nothing way - either I give in and take all the blame or I don't give in and I stand up for myself.

There was nothing to stop you from "going off the list" and maybe buying a few less other things to balance out the extra snacks or having a conversation with her in the car afterwards, rather than in the store, that makes it more like a conversation between two adults and not a parent telling off a child.
posted by heyjude at 1:41 AM on September 21, 2014 [4 favorites]

That shopping trip sounds like a nightmare for sure, but I agree with people that saying "I feel you are manipulative" defeats the purpose of an I Feel statement. When you phrase it like that you're still telling someone that they're manipulative instead of telling someone what your emotions are.

If you say "I feel embarrassed and resentful when you distance yourself from me in public, because then we're not working together to solve a problem", that's different. But "I feel you are a manipulative spoiled child" is not an I Feel statement, and you shouldn't really expect anyone to respond well to that.
posted by Jairus at 1:43 AM on September 21, 2014 [36 favorites]

I tell her, using "I feel" phrases, that she acts spoilt, and that she emotionally manipulates me into saying that I'm always the one to blame, and that she uses childish behaviours to get her own way.

I agree with others that (her behaviour as per your description during) the shopping trip sounds horrible.

But you're not at all stating your case clearly:

1) The only thing you ought to tell her in "I feel" terms is when you actually feel something, such as happy, hurt, confused, not up to it. All other "I feels" are bogus packages for what you really think. Quit that.

2) The phrase "acts spoilt" is entirely up to interpretation. It's a smoke screen term for sketching up the Huge Irresponsible Partner without committing to details. Be clearer (to yourself) about what you actually mean.

3) Emotional manipulation: You may well be right, but you seem to have trouble being clear about the how of it all. You use the term as a pre-analysis placeholder. Your partner can't act on the term alone. For her to decide whether she needs to alter her attitude towards you in your relationship, she would need relationship-specific details, to discuss and to agree or disagree about.

3b) Re-reading your post, you seem to be blackmailing yourself into compliance-mode by means of some rigid ideas about "love" and your partner's "happiness." Note: a man who has a habit of back-pedalling, standardized and often needless apologising, silent compliance (why did you pay for her shopping basket!), and generally trying to fly low doesn't make a "happy wife". Her happiness will always be on her plate, yours on yours. You can compare notes, or you can mess with each-other's plates; sometimes you can add a nice item on your partner's plate so to speak. But you can't BE the plate. Don't try.

4) To be sure, whatever she ever did, in the present scenario it appears to be you who eventually gives up and admits blame as a blanket solution. Now, who exactly is spoiling her here? You give her what she wants, every time (always assuming that the picture you drew for us is faithful). So quit spoiling her. Act like a sensible, compassionate and consistent being.

5) "Childish behavior" see point 2. Could be anything really. I would just skip talking about it, it might boomerang right back into your face. Talk about concrete situations: 'when you do this you hurt my feelings; can we talk about keeping earlier agreements even in the face of some local disagreement; you embarrass me in public just the same by just walking out on me'; whatever else strikes you...

Are you sure you two are made for each other? It seems a lot of strife for not such a happy beginning...
posted by Namlit at 2:36 AM on September 21, 2014 [26 favorites]

Premarital counseling can teach you both skills to improve communication and can also establish some rules for fighting fair. I think it would be worth considering.
posted by quince at 2:59 AM on September 21, 2014 [9 favorites]

I began to rationalise this to myself by thinking that "a happy wife is a happy life", and that it keeps the peace. I don't like arguing, or upsetting her, and so far this had been a good strategy.

Well first of all, don't do that. It's demeaning, both to her and to you. You are self-identifying as a doormat. It's along the lines of the She Who Must Be Obeyed trope, and it's a revolting way to view your partner and a sad way to live your life.

I wish I was a better communicator!

Well, clearly you yourself have some work to do here (see everyone's comments about "I" statements) but you are not the one who walked out of the store, sat sulkily in the car, and is now refusing to speak. That demonstrates an infantile level of communication on her part, and no conflict resolution skills at all.

I love her dearly, and I'm looking forward to marrying her, and

...and the two of you do not have the communication skills required to make a marriage work as things stand today. Are you doing any kind of pre-marital counselling, either independently or maybe through a church or similar organisation? Because you two need more and better communication tools to get down the long, long decades ahead of you.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:01 AM on September 21, 2014 [45 favorites]

If she told you that you were emotionally manipulative in an argument, what exactly would that mean to you? In what way would you change your behavior during arguments? Can you take that kind of phrase and actually maneuver it around in your own head effectively so that your method of arguing would change? I couldn't - because I think it would be impossible to have an argument without BOTH parties being emotionally manipulative - that's what an argument IS, to me, anyway: Each person is feeling emotional and acting emotional and each person is trying to get their point made in such a way to clarify it and force it until the other person sees the light and changes his view or at least capitulates and gives in. If that isn't "emotional manipulation" I don't know what is.

If you love this woman, and I think you do, and you want to make a life with her, don't treat her like a child; she's not, and you're not her parent.

Keep arguments/discussions at home - never ever in public. Make up before you go to bed - even if the sun comes up first. Don't criticize her unless you're comfortable having her criticize you. If you can possibly manage it, make it a habit to do the "discussing" later, after the heat of the moment has passed, and learn to use "I feel" statements correctly - there are lessons available on this online for free.

When you make a budget, make allowances for slips and extras here and there. You're not doing your taxes, where every dime has to be accounted for - you're figuring out what to buy at the grocery. You don't have to agree on every item - that would be creepy because you can't make life work out the way the numbers on paper do; get a few extras that you like and she doesn't and vice versa.

Don't expect more of her than you expect of yourself. Decide if you love her enough to live with her just the way she is or not. If she exhibits behaviors that you just can't see living with for the rest of your life, stop now - don't expect her to change or you to make her change. I get the idea that you're both probably expecting a little too much of each other and it would probably help if you could lighten up a bit and get back to the reason you're together in the first place, even if you have to throw out the grocery budget and just buy snacks.

It's okay - everyone goes through a cement mixer of chaos as they try to get it right.
posted by aryma at 3:11 AM on September 21, 2014 [7 favorites]

Do you have any idea what she was feeling? Why she would, for example, start adding things not on your list to the shopping basket? How was this list made -- did it take into account, or at least notice, the function being served by that comfort food? Was there any substitute offered for the comfort given up?

I'm not blaming you, just saying that having a more complete understanding of this other person (a unique person, but like many other people in her needs) might be necessary for a fulfilling life together.
posted by amtho at 3:48 AM on September 21, 2014 [6 favorites]

The ability to constructively conflict - and the ability to constructively resolve conflicts - is a critical skill in successful relationships. You may not need those skills very often, but they are invaluable when called into service. It's something a couple has to work on together, but it should be viewed as a long term investment in the relationship that will yield dividends for decades to come.

I urge you to consider some pre-marital counselling for both you - this is not about the relationship being in trouble or anything - it is about getting the right foot forward in your nascent marriage. I have a feeling this may be a hard sell for your fiance. I recommend it pitching it something like this, "Honey, I'd like to apologise for my behaviour the other day. Though I was upset and frustrated, I clearly upset you, as well, and it wasn't necessary, and it didn't help us resolve the issue. I would love it if we could find a method of discussing disagreements that didn't leave anyone feeling hurt or misunderstood, but left us both feeling safe, secure, respected, and with a sense of mutual understanding. What do you think about the idea of pre-marital counselling? I know a few other couples that did it before their marriage, and they found it really helpful in shaping the way they communicate, and how they manage disagreements and conflicts in the relationship. Because I think even the best relationship is going to have times of disagreement, and minimising that and developing good strategies to deal with it could be helpful. I think that I would really learn a lot from attending some of these sessions with you, and we could avoid situations like the other day with lots of hurt feelings and resentment - because I love you and I don't want you to feel hurt or resentful. What do you say?"

Best of luck
posted by smoke at 3:48 AM on September 21, 2014 [4 favorites]

The best response to emotional manipulation is not to critique the behaviour but to just not let your emotions be manipulated. Just carry on living your life calmly and pleasantly. Concede points readily if there are good reasons, but don't concede to mere emotional intimidation. Don't reflect it, either, just ignore it completely.

Let the argument go. If she revives it, state your position once in as brief and friendly a way as possible, listen to her and then leave it. If she's partly right, acknowledge that, but don't apologise, and don't keep buying the extra shopping. You're entitled to get your own way sometimes.
posted by Segundus at 3:50 AM on September 21, 2014 [4 favorites]

Yeah, watch how you use that "I feel" phrase, because you were definitely misusing it as a license to make accusations instead of actually disclosing anything about your own experience. Anytime you hear yourself say "I feel like..." or, even worse, "I feel like you..." then you should seriously consider scrapping the sentence and starting over.

In your shopping example -- early, before it really went off the rails -- you could say "I am feeling anxious about money, and the extra snacks in the basket are freaking me out." That's an actual disclosure about yourself, and it doesn't make her responsible for your feelings.

she gets her own shopping basket, and goes around filling it with stuff not from the list but which she thinks we need (some of which, to be fair, we did actually need). When I then get frustrated, and say that we'll be going over budget,

See, here you could say, "I'm frustrated because we're going over budget." Notice that frustrated is actually a feeling, and what follows is a non-accusatory description of the circumstances triggering that feeling. Imagine how it might go if you went on to say, "but I have to admit that we really need some of this stuff. I guess the budget / shopping list needs some tweaking. What do you think we should do?"

Of course, talking about problems this way -- admitting your own vulnerability, asking for help or change that your partner doesn't owe you, seeking compromise, respecting your partner's choices -- this is not easy. But it's the only way to even have a shot at a happy relationship.
posted by jon1270 at 3:59 AM on September 21, 2014 [42 favorites]

So, number one is that you guys aren't communicating well and I think you both know it. That's fixable because communication is just a set of skills and behaviors, not some magic thing that just happens out of nowhere -- and to learn those skills, there are books, there is counseling, and there are classes. But it will take work and commitment, and that is up to the two of you.

Second is learning (both alone and as a couple) to be aware of the factors that bring on crappy arguments -- like being tired, hungry, or stressed, for example. If the underlying issues are financial (hence the need to budget) or health (limiting the snacks), you can't solve those things standing in a crowded supermarket aisle and being self-aware that you are feeling stressed and frustrated in that situation is the first step in changing the dynamic.

And third (which connects back to the first point) is that the goal here is to be approaching problems as a team and making life easier and better for both of you. That doesn't automatically happen by getting engaged or getting married -- it takes careful work and communication, and both people working together. Again, there are books (with many suggestions in previous AskMes on this topic), counselors, and other resources for finding the tools that will work for the two of you.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:36 AM on September 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

jon1270's explanation of how to lead with the feeling rather than a description (of her behavior) or prescription (of the "right" thing to do) is very good. The other tool I would suggest is to always go into these situations with a joint problem-solving attitude. That includes at the initial point of difference (such as in the store), when the difference has become an argument, and when the argument has become a rift in your relationship.

For a problem-solving attitude to work, you need to recognize that (a) what you perceive to be the problem is probably not the only problem that needs to be addressed, and (b) what you perceive to be the solution is not the only right, fair, or valid solution.

So to back this up to applying problem-solving at the three stages to this conflict:
Stage 1: initial point of difference. What are the problems here? You perceive the problem to be "more snacks than budgeted" but she may perceive the problem to be "not enough budget for snacks" and the root problem you both share is that you have a finite amount of money to spend. Before you launch into your perceived problem and proposed solution, ask her about what problems she's perceiving. Acknowledge her problem. Then shift to examining the shared problem and and search for win-win solutions that resolve both of your initial problems.

Stage 2: You get into an argument over how the initial difference was handled. Your perceived problem: she acted in a childish, manipulative manner. Her perceived problem: she felt humiliated The problem you both share: you're both having trouble expressing your needs and concerns effectively so that you both feel like you're being treated fairly and with respect. Let her lead with her problem: she felt humiliated. Totally valid! She feels what she feels! If you apologize for that and agree to not challenge her shopping choices in the supermarket, that's not a "loss" for you, and standing up for yourself doesn't require that you deny her feelings or--now that you're aware that this hurts her feelings--refuse to make any changes to your behavior. Then move on to the problem you share: how can you both communicate to one another in ways that don't feel humiliating or manipulative? Come up with a win-win solution.

Stage 3: Ok, you guys blew it in stages 1 and 2, and now you've got a real rift. Your perceived problem: you don't like the way she's communicating, and if you retract or apologize you're worried it will just encourage her to continue using these tactics. Her perceived problem: you made some very hurtful accusations, and she was hurt. Again, totally valid! Calling someone childish and manipulative is a hurtful thing to say! Of course she didn't like it, and yes, you could have done much better in handling the precipitating problems. So start with that. Then look at the problem you both share: how to talk about concerns, upsets, and feelings without hurting one another so much. How to be better mutual problem-solvers from the start so that you feel like equal partners. And maybe there is something going on in her life or your mutual life that has led to this change in dynamic and that you can tackle from the perspective of looking for the win-win solution.

The pattern is: start with her perception of the problem and acknowledge it, and then move on to looking for a win-win solution to the shared problem. I think that you will find that your perceived problems can get solved without pushing your fiancee into a defensive position.

Another thing that I think deserves pointing out specific to this particular incident: part of the problem is that you may not fully sympathize with how sensitive an issue food choices can be for many women. We are constantly bombarded with messages about what to eat and what not to eat, and food shaming is a pervasive cultural problem. For a lot of women it starts in childhood with food-critical parents. And even if a woman is lucky enough to escape that trauma it sets in with peers in school, then colleagues at work--this whole web of guilt over eating "bad" food and virtuousness over eating "good" food or not eating at all. I'm not surprised that the hint of a suggestion that she was buying too many snacks triggered an emotional response that prevented her from responding in a more rational, level-headed manner.
posted by drlith at 5:38 AM on September 21, 2014 [5 favorites]

Not sure how the shopping interaction was "public." I presume neither of you raised their voice or got third parties involved in it. The food dispute may be a red herring. Based in the facts as you've given them, walking out of the store in a snit was just childish.
posted by JimN2TAW at 6:05 AM on September 21, 2014 [8 favorites]

Scanning the comments, I didn't see anyone agreeing that throwing a hissy fit in the supermarket, stomping out to the car and givivg the silent treatment are unacceptable. Well, let me be the first. Who, actually, is humiliating whom here? Whatever the fault of the OP, the lady's behavior was terrible. And apparently, its become a norm.

I'm nothing like a shrink, but I think she may be having trouble adjusting to the fact that life as a couple means she doesn't always get her own way. In fairness, it could also be a reaction to the OP being overly rigid.

My grandmother still did this sometimes after 50 years of marriage. My grandfather just let it go as her being her, and didn't let it bother him.
posted by SemiSalt at 6:26 AM on September 21, 2014 [17 favorites]

JimN2TAW - It is "public" because any kind of emotion -- which needs to be dealt with from both parties for a discussion like this -- will attract attention in a supermarket with other people around, and because the setting (standing around in a grocery aisle) is not comfortable, physically or socially or logistically (other people may need stuff in the spot where you're standing, or may need to navigate past), for a discussion taking more than three sentences.
posted by amtho at 6:50 AM on September 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

It is "public" because any kind of emotion -- which needs to be dealt with from both parties for a discussion like this

The below does not seem like the setup for a public argument to me:

and when I suggest that that might not be a good idea,

The response, however, seems vastly overblown and immensely childish:

she gets her own shopping basket,

It's like there's been no warning or even an attempt to communicate before zooming from fine to full on strop. Households need to be able to discuss the shopping budget whilst shopping, for pity's sake.
posted by DarlingBri at 7:08 AM on September 21, 2014 [9 favorites]

You treated her like a child, so she acted like one. You thought a few snacks and some items you needed were worth an argument about in public. Did you offer to change the snacks you had, or rework the budget, or any compromise or did you just say no to another adult while controlling entirely what was purchased and wonder why she got upset.
posted by wwax at 7:15 AM on September 21, 2014 [12 favorites]

As I understand it there was a previously discussed and agreed shopping list. She brought some snacks that were not on the list, he remarked that they'd agreed not to get more snacks.

She didn't say, yeah, but let's be flexible, or yeah, but now I kind of want them; she said he was humiliating her, picked up lots of other stuff, stormed out without paying.

Of course this is the OP's account, but then it's the OP we're answering.
posted by Segundus at 7:15 AM on September 21, 2014 [12 favorites]

You guys have a communication problem. It's possible, for instance, that your fiance doesn't think that the current way you're doing groceries (strict budget and list-making, no deviating, and it sounds like there's some stuff that you need that isn't ending up on your list) is working, and she doesn't have the communication skills to convey that to you like a grownup. You feel like you're always the one giving in, but it could be that she feels like she's giving in, because she wants a little more flexibility in grocery shopping and she feels like she's giving in to your very regimented shopping style. Or that could not be the case. The point is that you're not communicating well with each other, and it's leaving you both frustrated and resentful. You need to find better ways to communicate with each other, because otherwise this is going to cause big problems in your relationship. Can you get a little bit of couples therapy to talk through how you can address your conflicts directly and constructively, rather than her lashing out passive-aggressively and you feeling manipulated and put-upon?
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 7:45 AM on September 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

I think it's time to take this woman-child to a couples' counselor to work on your communication. Especially if you plan on getting married. Honestly in even a perfect relationship there should be pre-marital couples counseling. And how she behaves in this context will tell you a lot about her ability to put in the lifetime of hard work that's necessary for marriage.
posted by Sayuri. at 7:52 AM on September 21, 2014

I think a counselor would probably help you guys a lot. But remember that the purpose of seeing a counselor isn't to validate your point of view or fix her, but to help you guys communicate better. So, keep an open mind.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 8:04 AM on September 21, 2014 [4 favorites]

You both need counseling. You don't have firm commitment on how you're dealing with money and clearly have issues with communication.

There are wonderful pre-marriage counseling courses offered through churches. Call around to a few and enroll together.

I think it's okay to say, "I see that you've put some things in the basket that I thought we agreed we wouldn't buy. What's up with that?"

Now an adult response might have been, "Yes, that's true, but I have a craving." An adult response to THAT would have been, "okey-dokey." Because at the end of the day you're both grown and sometimes a person wants Cheese-Doodles.

Now if the exchange was more, "Cheese Doodles? Did you forget that we're on a diet." Then yeah, I can see where that would be annoying.

People who call themselves doormats are frequently Passive Aggressive. Sure, you might say it in a Droopy voice, "Sweetums, are you SURE you want the Cheese Doodles?" But that self-righteous and faux-submissive shit makes rational people go batshit.

So yes, you need counseling. Here's what you say to her, "I'm not going to communicate with you via text. We clearly have problems that are bigger than fucking Cheese Doodles and we need to get professional help before we move one more inch towards being married. Let's call a truce and make an appointment."
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:16 AM on September 21, 2014 [15 favorites]

The point of "I feel" statements is to say how her actions make you feel, not to say that you feel she is a spoiled brat! That's just name calling!
posted by J. Wilson at 8:39 AM on September 21, 2014 [4 favorites]

It's good that you recognize the way to healthy communication includes "I feel" statements. However, unless used properly, this can actually be more harmful than good unless you actually state *feelings* during it. "I feel that you are manipulative" or even "I feel manipulated" are not *feelings*, they are *judgments*. When people hear judgement, they get defensive. Here is a list of feelings. Here is a list of needs.

You will notice that these lists comes from NonViolent Communication. I strongly encourage you (or both of you if she is amenable) to learn more about this technique. The best part is that it works even if only one of you is using it :)

The four basic steps are:
1. Make an observation: "When you we were shopping, you put extra groceries that were not on our list that we agreed not to buy."
2. State how this made you feel, without judgement :"I felt frustrated and upset because we had agreed to not buy some of the things you selected and I was afraid that we would go over our budget or buy things that would lead us both to snacking when we would like to do that less"
3. State your need: "I need to have more clarity around how strictly we are going to follow our shopping plan."
4. The make a request. For this to truly be a request, and not a demand, it has to be something that your partner can say no to without feeling pressured or manipulated into agreeing: "Next time we go shopping, can we review the list first and make sure that we have everything we need so there is no confusion when we get to the store?" or "Would it be easier for you if one of us did the shopping next time instead of going together?"

Maybe it is hard for her not to make impulse purchases and stick to what sounds like a diet change. Maybe she felt embarrassed that she was falling into bad habits and her own feelings of guilt or shame caused her to become upset, and she took those out on you. I'm not saying that this is healthy, but most of the time when people behave this way, it is helpful to look for the underlying cause. You can even ask her about this using the technique:

1. I noticed when I asked you to stick to our list, you became upset.
2. Were you feeling embarrassed or guilty that you had picked out some things that were over budget or not healthy?

Then ask her what her needs are -- does she want you to be more accepting of her choices, or is there a way you can gently point out that she is going off the list that will be less triggering for her?

Then let her make a request as to how the two of you will handle this in the future.

Yes, it sounds like she was being emotionally manipulative in that moment, but your retaliation with judgments was also not healthy. It takes two people to have a fight, but it only takes one person to begin fostering healthy communication styles. Hopefully if you begin to use this technique, she will notice the change in dynamic when you have a disagreement and follow suit.

NVC is a fairly new technique for me, and I'm sure other Mefites can chime in with additional advice on how to use this skill effectively.
posted by ananci at 8:57 AM on September 21, 2014 [13 favorites]

she gets her own shopping basket [...] she leaves the basket on a food shelf and goes and sits in the car by herself. [...] All the while she ignores me, won't look at me, and gives one word answers to anything I say.

I don't want to think of what happens when she gets pregnant and when there is a child in the picture.

This is not two persons who can't communicate, it's not two persons who misunderstands each other. She just doesn't accept to behave responsibly. She needs to grow up and become an adult so she can handle a slightly irritating remark from her husband. Otherwise everything will go really bad when a child gets into the picture.
posted by flif at 10:24 AM on September 21, 2014 [3 favorites]

You are manipulative is not an 'I' statement, it's an accusation. Accusations are unlikely to resolve the issue. Words are unlikely to resolve the issue, though anaci's recommendations are quite good. She started a 2nd basket then left it on a shelf and left the store. Complete the shopping as you intended, buying the things you need, including the things she added, but not the un-agreed-on items. Do not comment. If she says You humiliated me in the store, ask her to explain why and how she felt humiliated, listen a lot, express sympathy for her unhappiness, and accept any reasonable responsibility. When you spoke to her in the store, were you kind? Make sure you are kind and respectful to her. If she has other behaviors like flouncing out of the store, the best response it to ignore it. When she goes silent and uncommunicative, speak to her normally, and ignore the rest. Ignore tantrums. Recognize that women are biologically and culturally more likely to cry, but tears aren't necessarily a sign of manipulation.

She may be emotionally hypersensitive. I am. I've learned that my feelings are real and legitimate, but I don't have to act on them. Once my initial anxiety is resolved, kindness is a really pleasant response. There's a great book about dealing with someone who has Borderline Personality Disorder, also useful for dealing with anyone who has poor boundaries, is manipulative, highly dramatic, etc. Stop Walking on Eggshells. The key is too not engage with manipulative behavior, ignore it. Remember What gets rewarded, gets repeated. Giving in to manipulation or arguing about it, reinforces it. Ignoring it extinguishes it.
posted by theora55 at 10:31 AM on September 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

Is this a kind of fight that you have a lot? A fight where you've made a plan, and then at the last minute she deviates from the plan, and you feel upset about that, and she feels upset that you're upset? Maybe you have different orientations to planning.

I've definitely experienced the frustration of getting things done with a person who has a different mindset about planning than I do. I like a plan but regard it as just a basic starting point, a framework that can be easily changed as new ideas occur to me, but I know someone who regards a plan as unchangeable-unless-really-dire-need, and a way of constraining ourselves from impulse buying. When we - for example - go shopping together, I'm looking for things we might have forgotten to put on the list. "Oh hey, I just remembered I was thinking about maybe getting X or Y." I would grab those things and feel happy and clever for remembering - it will be good for both of us that I remembered, go team. But my friend feels as if things are out of control, and I'm deviating from the plan as if there were a dire need, and feels as if I'm disrespecting the work we did in planning the list in the first place. We had agreed on that list! He's just trying to keep us on track, and it feels to him like I'm pleased with myself for taking us off track. (But if he put this to me by saying he was acting like the adult, I would be indignant, because my actions were trying to help the team too. When I agreed to the list, I agreed to it as a starting point, not a fixed limitation.)

This doesn't speak to the storming-out. But maybe this explanation shows how two people can be acting in a responsible way but have very different approaches to things like this - maybe you can arrange a conversation where you two can explain yourselves to each other, as a basis for figuring out how to avoid this kind of conflict. A counselor could definitely help to make that kind of conversation happen.
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:25 AM on September 21, 2014 [4 favorites]

Another thought, about the storming off and about why she might have felt the grocery discussion was "humiliating" - overall in life, is she in a position where she's treated as, or seen as, or might see herself as, a "child" or second-in-command or less-powerful than you?

It might be something she feels very tense and self-conscious etc about already. In which case having you say "no, you can't get those, remember our budget" might feel to her like twisting that knife -- "here's another case where I'm being cast as the irresponsible/powerless kid and he's the mature/authoritative grown-up and this sucks." It might be something you don't even notice, if you see her as an equal, but has she (for example) lost her job, or is her job much less high-paying or prestigious than yours, or are you older, are you often the one who acts more responsible, etc? Those things can make for a crappy dynamic where she can lose sight of her own power, cease to see herself as an equal, and lashing out in a teenagerish way is the only way she can think of to express her anger or other upset feelings. This is more a problem for her to work on in individual counseling -- but again, joint counseling might be a way to start that conversation.
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:41 AM on September 21, 2014 [4 favorites]

Okay. There is a meta-game going on here that you guys need to talk about. You want to be a better communicator? Start communicating.

Ask her to sit down so you can have a discussion and clear the air, because there are things you need to talk about.

Acknowledge that the situation in the grocery store was a really difficult one and that you didn't do a good job of communicating why you were upset, and that you can understand why she feels attacked, and you would like to talk about it and work through it. (Note, you are not apologizing, or taking it back.)

Tell her that you have been suppressing some emotions for a long time and things suddenly boiled over and spilled out, and you realized you have not been doing a good job of identifying your own needs in the relationship and asking for the things you need, and because of that you were getting angry and frustrated. Moreover a lot of these needs relate to patterns in the relationships, and things you need to ask of her, and for various reasons it has been very hard for you to ask for things in the relationship, and easier to just suppress your own needs, in the short term. But you're realizing now that you can't go on doing this and things need to change, and you are going to have to start asking for a few things that you need. This might feel disruptive and challenging to existing patterns so you will need some understanding that this is a thing the two of you are working through together.

In particular, what's been going on lately is that you have been having a lot of small arguments, and your pattern is to deny what you need in order to make peace, which seems like it doesn't have many consequences, except that denied need leads to a tiny bit of resentment. And that resentment doesn't get felt or expressed but instead just sits there building up inside unprocessed -- and the effects are cumulative, so that all these little resentments reassert themselves with every argument, and suddenly a minor disagreement at the grocery store is actually about all of the past resentments over the last few months. Which is obviously not good, both because it means you have to carry all the resentment, but also because she gets blindsided by all of the shit you've been carrying which hits her all at once, way out of proportion to the situation. You recognize this is a bad pattern and it needs to change in order for your relationship to have a chance of being healthy in the long run.

If she is ready to hear it, you have some things you need to ask of her. In particular you need to be treated with trust and respect that should come with all adult relationships, and you need to feel that there is space for you to put forward your own desires and perspectives without being punished -- and that you feel like you are being punished when she sulks, or ignores you. Furthermore you are no longer willing to accept the legitimacy of that punishment and will continue to ask for the things you need. In the example of the grocery store you were feeling anxious about the budget and needed to feel like you were partners in the food shopping -- and you felt hurt, undermined, and frustrated when this need was not validated. And that if she had a need that needed to be expressed which was clashing with yours, then you would be willing to have a conversation about this, but you would not be able to hear it when it was expressed through sulking -- because that forces you to guess what the problem is, and gives you no opportunity to understand her need and balance it against yours. But what you want to do is give her what she needs while remaining loyal to yourself. That might mean in the grocery store you just needed to be reassured that she did care about the budget but that maybe it would be okay if you added a few things, within reason. And she may have needed to hear that you were going to be at least a little flexible to her desires (though give her a chance to express this herself).

In the future you are going to do your best to manage your own needs so that you don't end up carrying resentment that builds up. By default you are open to having conversations so that you can do things together in a way that works for both of you -- but if she chooses to go off and sulk, you are going to do what you think is best given the situation, instead of doing what you think she wants which is how you have behaved in the past. And if she wants to have input into what is best given the situation, you would love that, but only through open conversation.

You two have a lot to talk about and you may have to work up to this. It took my partner and I a long time to get to the point where we can have this kind of conversation. And of course it's a two way street -- she has to be willing to hear this as well. I would recommend something like couples counselling to give you a safe resourced space to work through this stuff.
posted by PercussivePaul at 12:23 PM on September 21, 2014 [4 favorites]

Second Stop Walking On Eggshells.
posted by PercussivePaul at 12:27 PM on September 21, 2014

I have to nth that calling someone manipulative and spoiled is truly mean. Those are truly, truly damaging words; it sounds like you're insulting her entire character and kind of hate her. I would apologize for going after her in such a personal, mean-spirited way and try to communicate how her actions made you feel, because all you really told her is, "I feel you are a bad, selfish, immature person." Her snit was ridiculous and merits conversation, but the way you did it is so offensive I'm not shocked she's still upset and wouldn't be surprised if she's acting out because you're always implying that you're smarter, better, kinder, and more logical than she is.

The "happy wife/happy life" thing is kind of sexist, so check yourself there too. Do you play the martyr a lot because, gee, woman are just such crazy, irrational beings that men have to make all the sacrifices?
posted by pineappleheart at 1:22 PM on September 21, 2014 [17 favorites]

I'm not sure what advice to give you on your communication styles.

But it's totally possible to have an otherwise wonderful relationship where it's just a hell of a lot easier on both parties not to go grocery shopping together.
posted by yohko at 1:39 PM on September 21, 2014 [3 favorites]

I'm going to take this a different direction of almost everyone else here. Forgive me if you find this answer heartless or offensive in some sort of way.

Assuming your retelling of the events is mostly correct (this is all we have to go on), I seriously have to wonder if this is someone you want to marry. The behavior you describe is ridiculous; if I was dating a woman who threw a fit (once again, assuming you are accurate) over snacks, I'd probably be rethinking the relationship. I've been in relationships with people like this before and more often than not, what you see is what you get.

With that said, many of the suggestions above are good - counseling, books, etc - but that's all running with the assumption that you can successfully change her (or your) perspective/behavior. What if you can't? Is this someone that you want to spend the rest of your life with? Personally, I'd be seriously re-evaluating whether getting married to this person is the right thing for you.
posted by _DB_ at 2:09 PM on September 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

Is this the same woman who wanted to have a baby because she was turning 30 and wanted to do it now, so she could look good in a wedding dress next year?

I'd say you have bigger problems than snacks at the grocery store.

As people have said above, is she dependent on you? Because I have had weird fights with guys at grocery stores over miniscule items. Okay, not fights, just been highly irritated that they questioned my choices. Such as, "do you really need that magazine?" or something like that. $1.29. Really?

It's all about expectations: you expect she's going to adhere to the budget. She expects you're going to give in to whatever she says.

Sounds like a parent-child relationship, to be honest. Do you want to parent a grown woman? I love my children, but I don't want to keep parenting them. I love my husband, but I won't say no to potato chips or big dark chocolate bars. He doesn't say no to my fancy cheese or store bought hummus and organic corn chips.

But oh, when we first lived together, the fights and crap we went through. A toilet brush, of all things. That was something where he learned about "the happy wife" thing. I need a toilet brush. He didn't see the need for it. GRAR, all the way.

Now we have sort of a rhythm, we buy this or that, sometimes we add something, but yet, we never go beyond our weekly budget.

My other question is: why do you shop together? Because I, as the main cook and meal planner, would much prefer to shop on my own, and I did, for many years. We only do it together now due to my husband's work schedule (so it's not feasible for me to drop him at work and go pick him up and do errands in between). Can she go on her own?

The "we decided on a budget and snacks were ixnay" thing. What's up with that? Her kids eat too many snacks? She does? She needs to eat less snacks? Why is that? I'm not saying you're wrong, I can feel your frustration, but it does seem like you both have different ideas about grocery shopping. When I make a list, I generally go by it, and then I sometimes buy me some Pepperidge Farm orange milano cookies, and I will hide them once we get home (because my husband will eat them at midnight). My ex-husband once opened my underwear drawer and asked why there were cookies in there. I was like, "what are you doing in my underwear drawer?"

So the solution could be: she goes to the store with XX amount of dollars and you never question it. I mean, my ex used to examine my grocery receipt, and one time, I kid you not, he drove back to the store to get his 30 cents off a pack of diapers, because I forgot to pull the coupon out at the register. It wasn't just that, it was that he examined it and yelled at me and it made me feel like shit. And then I divorced his ass, after counseling and all of that stuff.

I'm sure you're not like that, and you are a perfectly nice guy. But please, before the two of you get married, and make a baby, and you are a stepdad to her other 2 kids, right? Please get some counseling. Those other kids deserve rational parents who won't argue over snacks or budgets or call their mom manipulative, or a mom who says "you're mean!" It really affected my daughter, who was mine from a prior relationship, to have her stepdad be very controlling about money down to the penny. They get along like peas in a pod now, but at the time, it was very stressful on all of us. Please try to work it out for the sake of those kids. It's not just you and her, it's you and her and 2 kids and a future family. If she can't see that, I'd back away from the wedding plans, mate.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 4:21 PM on September 21, 2014 [4 favorites]

Doesn't sound like she makes you happy. Doesn't sound like you make her happy. That has to change somehow, or you should break up.

I think the particulars of the grocery store and you bumbling with "I feel" statements are less important than you describing this as an ongoing trend.

Don't get married soon. Don't sweep this kind of stuff under the rug or block it from your mind in order to get married. Breaking up should not be unthinkable.
posted by mattu at 9:10 PM on September 21, 2014

You absolutely publicly humiliated her. And you publicly humiliated her over food, "snacks", something that women already get a lot of messaging around being bad people for wanting. You are absolutely in the wrong, and should apologize, not try to talk about how you feel she is manipulative for being offended.
posted by corb at 11:31 AM on September 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm going to dissent from the crowd. This woman is an absolute flippin nightmare. There is NO place for her kind of behavior. Not in anyone I interact with.

Publicly humiliated? What?

That kind of silent treatment crap is so toxic. That kind of throwing a fit, having to get her way. I had a friend like this once and it got worse and worse. I would pay a million dollars to not have to spend any time with her, ever.

I almost can't believe what I'm reading in these comments. Why is everyone saying you're controlling, and that you're at fault? This woman sounds awful, and the way she threw that fit is awful.
posted by htid at 1:49 PM on September 22, 2014 [4 favorites]

Did you offer to change the snacks you had, or rework the budget, or any compromise or did you just say no to another adult while controlling entirely what was purchased and wonder why she got upset.

I came here to say this. Not to excuse her behavior because she did act childishly, but your description of events makes it sound like you have complete control of the finances, and telling a grown woman what she can and cannot buy is pretty condescending. I think you both need marriage counseling/therapy to learn to communicate.
posted by Librarypt at 1:17 PM on September 23, 2014 [2 favorites]

Segundus, he didn't offer to be flexible either. If he's the one controlling the budget & saying no, I'm not sure how her saying hey let's be flexible would have ended any differently than it actually did. If she was controlling the budget or had any say, I imagine she would have just bought the damn snacks and we'd be having a whole different question from the OP. I'm not saying she handled it well, I'm not saying she was right. I'm saying if you keep treating an adult like a child, expect childish reactions.
posted by wwax at 7:50 PM on September 23, 2014

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