I promise that I'm just going out for a walk
October 4, 2014 10:07 PM   Subscribe

For the last few months, I feel like my wife has been monitoring my behaviour, moods, and trying to monitor my thoughts (almost). I feel untrusted and it's bringing me very low. I've tried addressing it with her and talking through my feelings, but it only seems to stop temporarily. Snowflakes below the fold.

This all started after a particularly massive fight we had. The details of it were unimportant, except to say that it happened because I found out my wife had told me a massive lie with the intent of getting a reaction out of me. She did; it hurt like hell. After I found out about the lie, I spent a weekend away on my own thinking things over. I decided to come back, but made it clear that I have no interest in a relationship where someone's going to lie to me in order to try and find out how I feel about something (which was the motive she gave).

Since then, my wife has:

* Snooped in my journal (I've stopped writing in it and started using the DayOne app instead
* Tried to snoop my email (but can't; I use 2 factor authentication)
* Looked through my notebooks and sketchbooks, ostensibly to feel more connected with me when I'm away for work, but always ending up with comments like "this drawing is so sad; are you okay? are you leaving me?"
* If I go quiet (I'm naturally quite introverted) she starts to worry what I'm thinking, and if I don't immediately tell her what's going through my head (which is often as banal as "I wonder if you could teach a monkey to use stilts") she'll pick the most catastrophic scenario imaginable.
* When I go out for my evening walk (which was a thing I did long before we met, and which I've done on and off throughout our 10-year marriage) she now phones me whilst I'm out. Every single time. She's made it very clear that she's expecting to not get through because I'm making a call to some other lover.
* She looks through my clothes in the laundry hamper and asks about every weird hair or fibre she finds (one of my regular clients has a pair of cats that like to be loved.

Now, to be absolutely clear, I love my wife to pieces. Sure, we've had our ups and downs, but every marriage does, and I can deal with that. But this behaviour is driving me spare.

I've tried talking to her about it, tried understanding where the anxiety about my feelings comes from (it always comes back to "you left me and I didn't see that coming; how do I know you won't do it again?"). I've tried explaining how much it's hurting me (after which she apologises, stops doing it for about a week, and then goes through my stuff again the next time I'm out of the house). I've suggested we go to therapy to work things out, but she's very resistant to that (I already have a therapist to help me deal with other issues from long ago; my wife hates me going to see her and has more than once said that she doesn't think I should).

It's getting to the point where I'm starting to get inured to it all, and I don't like that. A bit of me wants to be angry about it but I mostly feel low-level disappointment and resignation these days. I don't like feeling this way. In fact, a bit of me wants to have the strength to say "if you look through my private stuff again, I'm leaving" but for some reason that never comes out.

How should I address this issue with my wife? I know we can't move forward from here if she just keeps falling back into the same behaviour, so how can I show her that I really, really need her to stop behaving like this?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (51 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
"You are being controlling in a way that is seriously impairing our ability to have a healthy relationship. You need to see a therapist and work on this issue on your own." If you don't see some improvement within a month, and serious improvement within six months, leave.
posted by jaguar at 10:25 PM on October 4, 2014 [44 favorites]

I think you've posted here before, and so my comment is a based both on what you may have written and what you're currently writing. IAMNAD, but this looks like mental illness to me. A scary one involving paranoia and obsessiveness. I would not try to manage this situation on your own. Since you love your wife you can try to get her to see a psychiatrist who can evaluate her and prescribe a course of medication and treatment. You can't manage this situation by making yourself smaller or reasoning with her. Either leave and protect yourself or try to get her into treatment.
posted by charlielxxv at 10:34 PM on October 4, 2014 [25 favorites]

Yeah, I feel like we don't really have enough of the backstory here to be able to say much that would be useful to you.

The only suggestion I have is in response to this:

In fact, a bit of me wants to have the strength to say "if you look through my private stuff again, I'm leaving" but for some reason that never comes out.

From your description, your wife has tremendous separation anxiety. Given that, I don't think it would be wise to use the threat of leaving her as a stick to keep her in line. Of course, you might decide that you do, ultimately, need to end the marriage, but I would keep any threats of "abandonment" off the table; I can only see it making the situation worse.
posted by girl flaneur at 10:41 PM on October 4, 2014 [9 favorites]

Mod note: A couple of comments deleted. Not cool to try to connect an anonymous question with a specific member. If you have policy concerns, contact us – otherwise, please respect the OP's anonymity here.
posted by taz (staff) at 11:01 PM on October 4, 2014 [7 favorites]

My apologies, it looks as though my comment was deleted. Originally just meant to link as it seemed someone else on AskMefi had had similar relationship issues, and then got more worried. I see outing an Anon would obviously not be cool.

Didn't save post, so recreating rest of comment:
I've had family members act like this when they were starting to go through a paranoid episode. This justifies seeing a Dr, if not illness, sometimes it can be a health condition causing anxiety or paranoia - get blood tests of iron, thyroid, all the usuals.

However, if this behavior is not out of the ordinary for your 10 year relationship, AND they refuse to see a therapist? This is not a healthy relationship to be in.
They need help, and you won't be the one to provide it, but you may be able to provide the motivation.
posted by Elysum at 11:04 PM on October 4, 2014 [4 favorites]

It is perfectly okay and healthy and good to leave a relationship where your partner's controlling behavior makes you feel resigned and disappointed every day, even after you've talked about it with her and given her a chance to behave differently. (Have you? Sounds like you have and the improvement is only short lived.)

Hard to say without knowing what the fight was about. Any history of mental or notable physical illness that might explain anxiety/paranoia? has she ever been like this before? When was the last time she saw the doctor even just for a regular check up?

This "I already have a therapist to help me deal with other issues from long ago; my wife hates me going to see her and has more than once said that she doesn't think I should" would be a dealbreaker and a very serious boundary violation for me, but maybe it isnt for you. if she doesnt want to get medical attention or therapy to address the anxiety and doesn't want you to get the care you need either by seeing a therapist on your own then i don't know what else to tell you than maybe this is time to think about leaving.
posted by zdravo at 11:17 PM on October 4, 2014 [6 favorites]

Highly manipulative major lies to test your reactions coupled with the totally inappropriate disrespect of privacy boundaries (reading your journals without explicit permission is major in my opinion) is extremely troubling. I'd insist on long-term joint and individual counseling starting immediately. She is not acting in a balanced and respectful way. It sounds like she's pathologically jealous, highly manipulative, and paranoid. This is not normal or healthy. It's an extreme set of red flags and cause for concern. Do not minimize this.
posted by quince at 11:22 PM on October 4, 2014 [29 favorites]

[...] a bit of me wants to have the strength to say "if you look through my private stuff again, I'm leaving" but for some reason that never comes out. [...] how can I show her that I really, really need her to stop behaving like this?

I'm sorry. I think you have to leave to get this behavior to stop. Your wife is behaving cruelly. Her anxiety (no matter how well-founded) is not getting resolved, and in the meantime you're becoming depressed and apathetic. What your wife is doing is not okay. I want to stress that.

In your place, I would have walked after the first diary intrusion. You can give her a warning if it makes you feel better, but if you do that, you have to hold to it. If talking is hard, write a letter. Let her read it, with you, in public. I don't know if she is capable of being violent, but giving her an ultimatum in private may not be the best idea right now.

But I think the only way you are going to get through to her that this repellent behavior is not okay is to warn her, once, and then leave.

And the initial fight that made you leave the house was because your wife lied to you. I'm not sure it matters why you had the fight. If I were your therapist, I'd be asking why you came back.
posted by Nyakasikana at 11:34 PM on October 4, 2014 [3 favorites]

OP, interesting advice above to have your wife get a very full health work-up.

Sometimes mental illness is directly caused by, or exacerbated by, biological conditions.
posted by jbenben at 11:37 PM on October 4, 2014 [13 favorites]

Nthing that this shit is not OK and you have every right to feel violated and harangued and that you shouldn't have to put up with it.

However, I do agree with others who have suggested that your wife may be mentally ill. I urge you to find a way to get her in for a psychiatric evaluation (and possibly medication) for a probable anxiety disorder. It's quite possible that 1mg/night of klonopin or whatever is all she needs to be normal again, so please try to help her get well first before giving up on your marriage.

If you think she may be hostile to the suggestion that she's mentally ill, perhaps you could start with marriage counseling (something it sounds like you two will need regardless). If the marriage counselor agrees that her behavior is abnormal maybe that will help convince her to seek help.
posted by Jacqueline at 11:39 PM on October 4, 2014 [4 favorites]

BTW, just want to clarify that this level of sharing between couples is not itself a problem. I have all my husbands' passwords and vice versa and we have both have 100% access to each other's emails, Facebook, files, etc. for whatever reason. So it's not unreasonable for your wife to want access to these things.

The key difference is that's a level of sharing that my husband and I actually mutually agreed to. If your wife thinks your marriage should have more openness and sharing that's a legitimate request -- it's the way she's gone about trying to get it (violating your requested/established level of privacy without your consent) that's very wrong.

So while you might eventually consider giving her access to more things, I urge you to put that off until these other issues are dealt with so it's not just a reward for her bad behavior.
posted by Jacqueline at 11:46 PM on October 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

Respectfully, I would be looking at yourself for answers instead of your wife. Unfortunately, you are withholding a lot about how you operate, so there isn't much to say. And perhaps this is an issue in your relationship.

You might want to seek input and offer changing your behavior in conversation with your wife and see how it goes over (this is important, you don't need to "win" anything), instead of drawing lines in the sand and impressing upon her the changes she needs to make. Because no matter how well-intentioned you are, that's never going to work. Hear what she has to say, and see if you can stand it. Expose the communication problem, if there is one, by being as loving as possible.

Trust is a very fragile thing. These are huge offenses that need to be met with something more productive than low-level disappointment, resignation, sticking to your routine and the pondering of hollow threats. You can't avoid direct communication by being a journaling, peripatetic introvert. Don't pretend to forgive her if you haven't. You're not doing anyone any favors.

So a lot of extremely fleeting details in your post indicate that you withhold a lot. I don't know if that's something you're willing to change, but it might really help you out if you did. Your wife's reaction is a severe and immature one. What I can tell you from personal experience is that, regardless who is to blame, these situations are far more fruitful if you can look inward for change. And if your partner is willing to do the same, then you have a workable marriage on your hands.
posted by phaedon at 12:30 AM on October 5, 2014 [27 favorites]

I think your wife has a mental illness -- her thoughts seem obsessive if not paranoid -- and this is not a problem you can solve on your own. If she refuses to seek treatment, there will be no lasting change. To think that love conquers all and so it doesn't matter how she treats you or how miserable you are is juvenile.

You sound miserable and she sounds miserable. Yes, she'll be devastated if you split but it's the kind of devastation you can recover from. Staying together just means the kind of devastation where you look back at 80 and realise you've wasted your life.
posted by DarlingBri at 12:30 AM on October 5, 2014 [7 favorites]

I think the content of the argument does matter, because otherwise we're left with gaps, and what's left does look like mental illness. But - although her actions are not ok and crossing boundaries - it's not clear that that's what it is, so, my apologies, wild speculation ahead. I've witnessed fear of infidelity completely upend otherwise normallish people. Was your wife's deception related to infidelity? Did she cheat, or was there a thought or hope of it? If so, does she think you might now be cheating as a kind of retribution? If the fight left you feeling angry, more removed and less emotionally available (because of your hurt) than you were in the past, she could be interpreting all of this as a cover up for an imagined transgression, because anger and withdrawal is a form of leaving, emotionally, but she might be articulating it through her guilt; and the more you pull away, the more certain she becomes, and the more intense her worry; the more intense her anxiety and need for control, the more you pull away - maybe something like that?

If any of that is in the right ballpark, I don't know. You would have to deal with your anger in order to communicate honestly. She would have to deal with her guilt and fear. You both would have to deal with the history generated by what's happened since the fight, and whatever came before it and led to the issue - is it possible you might have had a role to play there? In any case, that would be a lot of difficult, earnest, painful work that would involve everyone being willing to be radically honest with themselves, and would probably need facilitation by a counselor, for you, for her, for you both.

(Sorry for the armchair stuff and extended conditional tense but that's the story I'm hearing. Good luck.)
posted by cotton dress sock at 12:43 AM on October 5, 2014 [3 favorites]

I don't think it matters what the lie was, or how you reacted - I don't think it could warrant controlling, manipulative behavior. I was in a relationship with someone like this- everything I said was a lie, everywhere I was going was to meet a secret lover, me deactivating my Facebook account was because I was cheating on him, anyone I texted was a guy I was cheating on him with, someone called my phone once in the middle of the night while I was sleeping, and this was my fault, any time I didn't answer my phone meant I was on a date with my 1 of my 14 other boyfriends. That's not ultimately why we broke up, but I am thrilled to no longer be subjected to it. This is emotional abuse. What your wife is doing is unacceptable, but the fact that it's a sudden change in behavior after 10 years together makes me think, like others have said, that something chemical might be going on. You need to tell her that you will not continue to be in a relationship like this. If she's committed to changing her behavior she needs counseling. Like others have said she should also have a physical if this is a sudden change in her behavior after a decade. If she's not willing to change her behavior regardless of the cause, and get professional help to do so, then I think it would then be time to walk away from this relationship.
posted by Enchanting Grasshopper at 2:03 AM on October 5, 2014 [13 favorites]

I think the reason you haven't given her an ultimatum is because on some level you think it won't help, and you don't want to leave her.

If you want to stay with her, I would say that for the moment you have to accept that she's going through something kind of weird and scary, and do what you can to take care of her. I am not telling you to be a doormat, but do whatever you can to show her that you want to be with her. Maybe suggest she starts going on the walks with you, for instance. Don't let her go through your stuff, but give her no reason to want to do that. Be extra affectionate, patient and present.

While you are doing that, insist that she either goes to counseling with you or on her own. I think you need to hit those two points really hard: you want to be with her, and she needs to talk to a therapist.

But don't give her ultimatums unless you have to. Threatening her right now is liable to just make her more clingy and desperate. Whatever is going on with her, she's in a bad place and she needs help.

None of this is to say that you did anything wrong (at least, based on what you told us in your question) or that what you're asking for isn't fair or rational. But I don't think your wife is in a fair, sane place. I think you have to be the sane one right now and accept some of her troubling behavior while you get her to the help she needs. Treat this like mental illness, because that's sure what it sounds like to me.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 2:05 AM on October 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

This is an exceptionally difficult AskMe to answer because there are so many gaps in your question.

The details of the massive fight are not unimportant because, according to you, that is where it all changed. You not sharing the details despite the anonymity makes me wonder if the background story to the fight is the actual bug bear in this question, you know it, and therefore you have left it out? I always look for the gaps and the absences in a story - and the missing background story is one glaring (and telling) omission.

I also see a big amount of resentment on your part towards your wife - you feel she is very controlling to the point you say she is "trying to monitor my thoughts (almost)". Is she controlling or is she simply asking questions about things you prefer to keep private? You say she is "always ending up with comments like "this drawing is so sad; are you okay? are you leaving me?"" - is she worried about your mental health? Does she have a reason to worry your mental health?

As I said, this is a really hard AskMe to answer because on the face of it, omg your wife is controlling and should seek help, BUT there are so many gaps and things left unsaid in your post. I am not saying this is actually what's going on - but the way you've written your post makes me wonder if you are not lying to yourself about some aspects of your marriage and you need to come to terms with uncomfortable truths before you can get to the bottom of your wife's behaviour.
posted by kariebookish at 3:45 AM on October 5, 2014 [35 favorites]

Since you "...made it clear that I have no interest in a relationship where someone's going to lie to me in order to try and find out how I feel about something (which was the motive she gave)," and since she has, in fact, done what you said was a dealbreaker, her fears of you leaving her seem, to a certain point, rational.

Have you done what you could to deal with those completely reasonable fears? Or are you continuing to be cold and terse with her, which would be understandable?
posted by amtho at 3:49 AM on October 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

As others have said, it's difficult to tell whether her behavior is on any level understandable based on the circumstances of the lie and your leaving, but if you are looking for other ways to gauge her stability: how is her work life? How is her relationship with her family and friends? Is she maintaining habits like going to the gym, book club, etc? Is she gaining or losing weight, sleeping well, dressing and acting consistently in other areas of her life?

If my husband left me and disappeared for two days I don't know if I'd ever forgive it. But then on the other hand, I also can't imagine telling him a 'massive lie' for any reason, so it's really hard to judge from an outside standpoint.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 3:51 AM on October 5, 2014 [4 favorites]

Another vote for this question oozing a shit ton of resentment and thus being of dubious juridical value as far as inviting objective opinions.

You want answers that make whatever is going on all her fault. Ok. It's all her fault, so far as I can tell. I bet her version is different, though.

I think you have everyone's permission to DTMFA. (If no kids and not mental illness ... In sickness and health and all that stuff.)

Whatever went wrong, whoever pulled the first shit, things are clearly toxic between you two now.

There's very little in your tone that substantiates the assertion that you "love her to pieces" unless you mean that literally.
posted by spitbull at 5:27 AM on October 5, 2014 [7 favorites]

To me, it looks like you freaked her out leaving for a few days after the initial fight and now she is super paranoid about you leaving again. So instead of her take-away from the fight being "Wow, I should never lie to my spouse again," her take away is "OMG, he's going to leave me if I do anything wrong!" The frustrating thing is that because she doesn't want you to leave again, she is paranoid and snooping in your business - which unless she has your permission (which you don't have to give) is a violation of your privacy, and those are the things that are now starting to make you think of leaving again. And because she's doing these things, it makes you not want to promise and reassure her that you will be around forever, because at the rate she is going, you don't want to lie to her. So that makes her more paranoid. Round and round and round.

So now, your problem is how to break that cycle. And you're kind of screwed here because she has her mind set.- there isn't really anything you can do that wouldn't upset her. If you decide to pay her more attention and help her to feel secure again, she'll get paranoid that you're being nice because you are hiding your affair. If you ask for quiet time so you can blow off steam about her obsessiveness, you're cheating. Unfortunately, unless you both seek marriage counseling together, this cycle will continue, and worsen, and get ugly and sad for both of you. I would ask her one more time for counseling and tell her that you just can't continue to live in this cycle, you both deserve better from each other. If she refuses, you will have to summon your strength and do what you must to save yourself from this downward spiral. Best of luck to you, I hope you find peace.
posted by NoraCharles at 5:33 AM on October 5, 2014 [5 favorites]

I'm not as certain as myselfasme, but it does sound like some form of infidelity may be at work here-- your, hers or both. They say that people often start accusing their partner of infidelity when they're doing it themselves.

If you've given her any reason to suspect you of cheating, really think about whether you may be gaslighting her. It's possible to do this involuntarily.
posted by BibiRose at 6:21 AM on October 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

My read on this situation:

Your wife is acting desperate and panicked. She might be mentally ill or paranoid--but she may also be healthy but feeling utterly shut out by you emotionally, so much so that she's frantically trying to figure out what's wrong in your marriage. The anecdote you describe where she lied about something severe with the purpose of provoking a response reads to me like an attempt to see if you are invested or paying attention *at all*.

You describe yourself as "introverted" and the later in your post you talk about your emotional attenuation (feel like you want to be angry but are disappointed instead), and that "somehow" you can't bring yourself to say "stop snooping or I'll leave". These are big red flags of passive aggressive personality type. I'll bet that you're plenty angry at your wife and take it out on her in lots of underhanded ways that are driving her crazy--and then you conveniently get to blame her for being so out-of-control.

Add to that the dismissive statement that the details of her premeditated lying/provoking incident "are unimportant"--if she went through the trouble to plan it out and deploy such a risky maneuver, you better believe it's about something important to her, and you are blowing it off. I'll lay my bets that if we heard her part of the story, there have been many ways she's tried to bring issues to your attention directly--maybe her loneliness, feeling unloved and unappreciated--and you haven't taken those seriously either. Now she's turning to desperate measures and gets nothing but disdain.

It may well be the best for you two to split up.. If only so that she can be with a man who treats her with respect and addresses problems like an adult.
posted by Sublimity at 6:29 AM on October 5, 2014 [37 favorites]

[This is written assuming that you have not actually cheated on her. If you did actually cheat at some point, her behavior is still not cool but your secretive behavior - blocking access to your email - is not creating a healthy atmosphere for moving forward, and I would address that with your therapist.]

If the genders were reversed, people would be (rightly) going apeshit and calling this abuse. There is a pretty direct line between this kind of jealous & controlling behavior from a man to physical abuse directed at the woman. I certainly can't predict whether that will be true in your case, but there is no indication that this will magically stop without serious work on her part. You cannot do it for her, and if she does not want to do it, your only options are to live this way or to leave.

It's tempting to think you have some control over this, but you cannot use reason with an irrational person. Promising you will never leave again will not work. Telling her it's unacceptable will not work in the long-term; she is just suppressing the behavior until the anxiety builds up in her again and she feels like she just has to snoop. Couples counseling does not work in an abusive relationship; she is going to take what you say and use it against you. The only thing that will work is if she realizes she does not want to do these things anymore and makes concerted efforts to get help.

Whatever you said during the fight, you are not responsible for her behaviors now. Even if she has valid reasons for suspecting you of cheating, the healthy way to go about that is to talk to you directly, not rummage through your laundry.

Since this is about her feelings, not yours, I would ask her if she wants to feel this way. Any response that you're "making" her feel this way is incorrect. If you really, really don't want to leave her, the only thing you can do is to keep asking her to get help.
posted by desjardins at 6:58 AM on October 5, 2014 [12 favorites]

All of your problems are not with her behavior. I agree with posters recommending both couples and individual counseling.

Your marriage is no longer a partnership and you are both miserable with the situation as it is. You can either work together to change how you relate to each other, or you can break up. Either way, what happened in the past is over and done with, you have to move forward. For good or for bad.

Just because you loved each other in the past, it doesn't mean that you have to put up with bad behavior now. Living with suspicion and resentment is unhealthy and will kill any love you have for each other today, and will spoil the once great relationship you had in the past. If your wife is unwilling to participate in counseling, then you know that she is uninterested in a healthy loving relationship.

This is hard. Who knows why your wife is acting this way, she may not know herself. Or she may have very good reasons that you're not listing here. We don't know.

But this starts and ends with a neutral third party helping you to reconnect and to express your feelings honestly without rancor.

Good luck.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:18 AM on October 5, 2014

This sounds like a case of insecure attachment patterns being activated. If your wife is exhibiting very strong reactions to the events, it might be because they remind her of being abandoned or ignored in some fundamental ways when she was a child and unable to do anything about it. But these patterns don't exist in a vacuum - the way you're acting (being reticent, withdrawal, threats of leaving, actual leaving) is throwing fuel on the fire and making it much worse.

I agree with one commenter above who suggested her "massive lie" that started the fight which in your view generated this behavior was already part of this pattern. This seems like a typical situation when one partner is low on responsiveness and attention, and the insecure partner's anxiety is mounting more and more, and they are getting desperate and starting to cross boundaries in trying to re-establish the connection.

Ultimatums will not be of help here; only support and collaboration will help; but she needs to be aware of the issues, and if she's unwilling to go to therapy (btw, your wife's displeasure at *you* going to see a therapist sounds like jealousy that you're willing to be emotionally/psychologically open to another person in ways you are not open to her), then I suggest going through a lot of books, for both of you. If you can read them in parallel and then talk about them, even better.

Here are some books that would address the fundamental issues in your marriage; don't get discouraged by sometimes silly marketing-oriented titles, the content is excellent and research-based:


Getting the Love You Want

If This Is Love, Why Do I Feel So Insecure?

I think that ultimately, you also have a lot of work to do; you might need to adapt your ways of reacting to something that would give your wife the reassurance she needs rather than exacerbating her issues. This does not mean giving in to your boundaries being crossed, but the specifics are something for you two to work out. It might be that you are so badly matched that divorce will be the only solution, but you owe it to your 10-year marriage to give it your all first, and try to fix it.
posted by Ender's Friend at 7:46 AM on October 5, 2014 [5 favorites]

Seconding desjardins above. This behavior is not okay, is scary, should be treated as the beginnings of the ramp up to a severely abusive relationship. Anything you do to calm her in response to her awful behavior is going to reinforce it at best. I am not sure that threatening her with leaving is going to help; i think you have to really leave, and make it clear that you are not coming back unless she makes significant steps to stop this behavior. But leave.
posted by Made of Star Stuff at 8:03 AM on October 5, 2014 [4 favorites]

how can I show her that I really, really need her to stop behaving like this?

I think your mistake here is assuming that this is within your control. You phrase this question as though there's some particular phrasing or emphasis or explanation or something that you could use to get your wife to stop doing this, and if you could just find out what that is, everything would be fine.

But what if there isn't? What if there is literally no way you can stop her doing this, no matter what you do or say?

I think you may need to accept that if you stay, this is what your relationship will be like. Whatever the reasons behind your wife's behaviour, she either can't change it or won't change it and the effect on you is the same either way. If you don't want to be in a relationship like this (and you shouldn't, because Jesus this is no way to live), and she's not willing to change things... that leaves you as the one who'll have to do the changing.
posted by Catseye at 9:20 AM on October 5, 2014 [4 favorites]

I'm sorry, but the original post raises so many flags that I largely don't trust it.

The only thing that seems certain is that your wife is in pain and is suffering. I'd be afraid that leaving her might make her flip out and perhaps attempt to hurt herself.

I put some effort into figuring out how best to say this: if you find that you truly believe, in your heart, that she might be a hazard to herself or others, and she simply won't seek help on her own, then you should look into involuntary short-term commitment for her.

This is coming from someone who once had to deal with a serious suicide attempt by someone he loved.
posted by doctor tough love at 9:32 AM on October 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

Sorry that happened to you, doctor tough love, but this: "I'd be afraid that leaving her might make her flip out and perhaps attempt to hurt herself" is emotional blackmail, and it's a common tactic of abusers.
posted by desjardins at 9:58 AM on October 5, 2014 [16 favorites]

When are you going to set boundaries?

If this were me, the boundary I would set is this: She would have to get and STICK with counseling help, and she could no longer object to my own therapy. The consequences of her not doing that is you two separating for awhile. I am not a big fan of divorce, and I can see where this probably really is mental health related, but you can have a separation where the goal is the eventual health of the marriage.

And yes, if you believe she could hurt herself, I would have her involuntarily evaluated.

Even if she is ill, she does not get a pass on treating you cruelly, and it is not healthy for you to allow her to do so.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 10:05 AM on October 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

PS-if she is that suspicious of your activity, it is not in the realm of impossibility that you should be suspicious of HERS. Just wanted to throw that out there. People sometimes accuse others of what they themselves are guilty of.

(Or, this could be a mental thing a la Borderline, but it was worth mentioning.)
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 10:08 AM on October 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

Is there a reason you're not talking to your current therapist about these issues? I think that would be a good place to get more concrete help.

And if you're not talking to your therapist about them because you promised your wife you wouldn't, that's a sick abusive request and you should break that promise.
posted by jaguar at 10:11 AM on October 5, 2014 [3 favorites]

desjardins: I get the "emotional blackmail" thing. And that may or may not be what is happening with the wife in this thread. Is she an 'abuser'? I don't know. To me, she sounds like she's mentally ill. I'm sorry, but I guess I don't get your point.

A number of people appear to advocate leaving the wife. I strongly disagree. I think that in a marriage or other serious relationship, the partners have a responsibility to take care of each other. I don't have a good understanding of the situation under discussion - but it sounds like the wife is suffering from some form of mental illness. If she had cancer, nobody would tell the husband "you need to leave her". Likewise, if she's mentally ill, I think the husband needs to stay and try to help her get well.
posted by doctor tough love at 11:07 AM on October 5, 2014

If she had cancer, she would go get treatment. She is refusing treatment for her mental illness, if she even has one. We are not doctors, we can't know. Even if she does, mental illness is not a license to abuse your partner. Whether or not she is "an abuser," this is abusive behavior, based on what the OP has presented. No one has an obligation to be a literal or metaphorical punching bag. That is not how relationships work.

Also - he cannot help her get well if she does not admit she's sick.
posted by desjardins at 11:27 AM on October 5, 2014 [13 favorites]

This is abuse, full stop.

If my partner told me a lie solely to wind me up, that person would no longer be my partner.

If my partner did that, and then followed up with violating, snooping behaviour that didn't stop after being asked, I would leave. With the caveat that if my partner agreed to attend counseling--both joint and singly--as well as a full physical and mental health workup, we could negotiate re-establishing the relationship.

She may have diagnosable mental health issues. She may be physically ill. She may have elements of both. What she does not have is the right to abuse you.

And I'd echo snooping suspicious behaviour is often--not always, but often--an indication of guilt.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 11:31 AM on October 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

Mental illness and abuse are separate categories. Most mentally ill people are not abusive to their partners. Those who are, are abusive as well as mentally ill, not abusive because they are mentally ill. The poster's wife is presumably not insisting she needs to look through the journals of her friends, family, co-workers, and bosses to assure herself that they are not going abandon or fire her; she is presumably not calling her friends, family, co-workers, and bosses every 10 minutes when they are not in her presence to assure herself that they are not talking to or thinking about someone else; she is presumably not pawing through the dirty laundry of friends, family, co-workers, and bosses to determine where they've been. If she can control her behavior around other people, then she is choosing not to control her behavior around her husband and is therefore choosing to act in abusive, controlling ways toward him.

If she is showing that level of paranoia toward everyone in the world, then she needs to be evaluated by an MD-level mental-health professional, like a psychiatrist, for schizophrenia or delusional disorders. And even if she were diagnosed with a disorder that severe, that does not excuse her abusive and controlling behavior toward her husband.
posted by jaguar at 11:46 AM on October 5, 2014 [4 favorites]

i agree that she sounds like she's struggling with a mental illness and needs treatment. you can't force her, she has to want to get help. i also agree that she is exhibiting abusive behaviors. no matter what you did her reaction isn't ok. you can't make someone abuse you. i worry you are in danger. if you decide to leave, you might not want to tell her until you are actually gone.
posted by nadawi at 12:14 PM on October 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

How should I address this issue with my wife? I know we can't move forward from here if she just keeps falling back into the same behaviour, so how can I show her that I really, really need her to stop behaving like this?

There has been a lot of conjecture on this thread about the mental health of the OPs wife. I'm going to presume that the OP has a reliable gut sense about whether his wife is actually starting to exhibit mental illness, from the totality of his experience knowing and living with her. If that seems to be the case, then by all means, talk with your physician or therapist about the best way to insist that she get professional help.

If that's not it--if you really don't think your wife is suffering from mental illness--then I think the absolute best tack you can take is to approach the situation this way: she is a good person in very great pain.

You say that in conversation with her about her anxieties, it always comes back to fear that you will leave her again. Can you appreciate that she is terrified? Can you find some compassion for her in that? Can you take a step back and realize that she values your love so highly that the prospect of it going away has her utterly panicked? Can you see anything good in that, anything appealing and poignant--or does that evoke a sense of disdain from you too? I think that the gut reaction to that is a really powerful diagnostic, actually. Do you love your wife enough to react to her panic about the possible loss of your love with tenderness and compassion, or do despise her for being so weak, or for putting you under what feels like too much pressure?

If you really cannot see any good in her--if you really can't find a way to enter this conflict from a position of compassion--then yes, I think you two are doomed to fail. Both of you should do this, ideally, but someone needs to go first and you were the one who asked, so I challenge you to try it. If you really cannot see a way to regard her with kindness then it will be a blessing to her that you leave. But I presume you can, so I say, go to her and say something like this:

Honey, I love you, and I can see that you are so fearful that my love for you is fading or gone, and that you are fearful that I will leave again. I love you to pieces and I want for you to be assured of my love. It sounds like somehow this message isn't getting through, and I want to make sure that you know it in your bones that I love you. Please, let's work on this together to figure it out. I think there may be some things that I have done that result in you feeling unloved. Would you tell me what those are, so we can discuss them and come to a better understanding. Are there things I could be doing that would make you feel more loved and appreciated? I can't read your mind and you can't read mine. Sometimes the message that gets received is different than the one that is intended. Can we please work together to make things better between us?

Then, if you do say that, the key to success is: listen to what she says and take it seriously. Respect that what she does makes sense to her in context. Assume positive intent. She is entitled to her point of view and her feelings, just like you are. For instance, if she says, "I say x, y, and z behavior and it reminded me of how sad you were just before you left, so I looked in your sketchbook and asked you if you were sad and if we were ok"--if she says that, DON'T take her to task in that moment for her snooping. Realize that her action was borne of a fear that you'd go, that she didn't think would be possible to address directly. The best way to solve that is to (a) allay the fear that you'll go and especially (b) work to make sure that she CAN have respectful, problem solving discussions with you so she won't feel like the only way she can get answers is by snooping.

Hope this helps. I recommend Love Without Hurt by Steven Stosny all over the green and I'll do that here too. Good luck.
posted by Sublimity at 12:23 PM on October 5, 2014 [8 favorites]

a bit of me wants to have the strength to say "if you look through my private stuff again, I'm leaving"

Tell this to your therapist. If you want to set boundaries but cannot, if you want to leave someone who is showing signs of controlling behavior but cannot, then therapy for yourself is the way to go.

(If her behavior is the result of you cheating, then I'd instead recommend that you address this via couples' counseling.)
posted by salvia at 12:46 PM on October 5, 2014

I agree with the calls to have your wife evaluated for mental illness, but otherwise, wow, the victim-blaming I'm seeing in this thread is out of this world. You haven't disclosed the content of the big lie to AskMe, ergo you are probably a withholding kind of person, ergo it's okay for your wife to be trying to hack into your email accounts and only be thwarted by your two-tiered security?

I agree that your cageyness sounds a little suspicious, but y'all.. unless there is something major here that OP not telling us (like, idk, his wife lied that she'd cheated on him, and then he went and slept with someone during that weekend apart) this pileon he's getting is completely inappropriate.
posted by moonlight on vermont at 1:15 PM on October 5, 2014 [7 favorites]

I also feel like there are too few details to even get a sense as to what's going on - hence the wildly different answers.

Her behavior is not ok, but whether it's abusive and controlling, signs of mental illness, or an understandable overreaction to a bad situation is impossible to say because you've left out all the information that could help sort that out. Could you perhaps update with more details about the fight and what led up to it?
posted by zug at 3:06 PM on October 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

There's nowhere near enough information here to make a judgement of mental illness or to recommend that you leave her. Vital information that's missing includes how long this has been going on for in the scope of a 10-year marriage (is it something that has suddenly come up or is this an enduring pattern?) What was the lie she told you?(and is this a pattern of some kind?). There is a vital piece of the puzzle missing here that means nobody can fairly and reasonably tell you what to do. Her behaviour is certainly abusive, but what's missing is the Why? If she has suddenly started acting this way after 10 years of bliss, it might point to mental illness or some form of guilt on her part. But you need to fill in some of the blanks if you want useful advice.

I'm not meaning to blame the victim here - it's really hard to tell just who the victim is in this case, though.
posted by dg at 3:15 PM on October 5, 2014 [4 favorites]

First of all, your wife's behavior is not something you need to correct. Second of all, if you don't want to be with her, then don't. Don't string her along. Cut it.

The rest is just drama. She said, you said, you went away, she tried to get in touch, you withheld. That's the makings of a novel, not a real relationship.

Do you love this woman as she is, and you will be a human being, not a drama queen, with her? Get up, kiss her, make the coffee, take out the trash.

Talk about the news and the weather, oh, we should do the laundry, you wash, I'll fold. My boss is a shithead, but I'll deal with it, how's you're day going? The cat puked on the rug again, I guess that's life, but I'll deal with that.

Did you see that cartoon? Oh, no, what? I look fat. No you don't. I love you the way you are, come here and give me a kiss. Did I tell you how much I love you today? You jerk, stop teasing me! But you're so cute! Hit me! Did it hurt your hand? I'm so lucky to have you in my life.

What you are doing is engaging in drama and an unhealthy relationship. You like it, maybe she likes it, who knows? But you have been doing it for a while, yeah? And you want a solution. The solution is to stop doing it. There is no answer to this question, because you have been doing it for a long time and the answer is if hitting your hand with a hammer hurts, then stop. If it hurts your and her, then stop. Separate and go your own separate ways. If she chooses to do that with some other man, more power to her. If you choose to do it with some other woman, more power to you. But for this particular relationship: break up. Because it's not healthy for either of you. That is the answer: there is no "dealing with her," because it's obviously so toxic for both of you that you have zero perspective. Leave and leave now and let this poor woman get on with her life.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 5:43 PM on October 5, 2014 [4 favorites]

The lying to test you, the sudden paranoia, and her repeated claims of infidelity point to her cheating on you. Can't say for sure, but if this is really new after 10 years, that's what it sounds like to me.

And by the way, it does not sound like you "withhold a lot" or are cagey. Don't anyone try to talk you into thinking you're the bad guy here. You're not spying on your spouse.
posted by spaltavian at 6:56 PM on October 5, 2014 [6 favorites]

Did your wife grow up in a dysfunctional family? I did and I recognize some of the things your wife is doing as things I used to do. I don't think she necessarily has a mental illness, but she may be coping with things in the only ways she knows how, which is not the healthiest way at all. It will only get better if both of you go to therapy.
posted by Lingasol at 7:53 PM on October 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

Yeah, I'm with Lingasol - I grew up in a dysfunctional family and was basically just a big sloppy lump of insecurity and fear in my first big relationships, in my college years. The wild neediness, total absence of boundaries, and unfounded jealousy is very familiar - but my behavior was, no doubt about it, controlling and abusive on my part, and I spent years working on treating my partners better and giving them my trust. I can't even fathom acting that way as a bona fide 10-years-married adult - my behavior was unacceptable then, even as immature as I was, and it would be even more so now as a middle-aged person.

The thing I find weirdest about this, and I think maybe the reason people are urging you to seek medical/psychiatric care for her, is that she's become an insecure, needy, boundary-blind, suspicious mess since you took one weekend away to think about what you wanted from your relationship. Barring physical causes, people don't get that insecure overnight. I'm not suggesting you've done anything to deserve her insecurity, just that either she was somewhat needy before and you could live with it because she had it under some control, or there is something pretty spooky going on.
posted by gingerest at 9:46 PM on October 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

The thing is, the "sudden change" may not be so sudden. It's sadly quite common for men to feel blindsided by his wife's escalated response--when she's essentially been trying to get his attention about problems for a long time. I think this is why the if-the-genders-were-reversed thing doesn't hold as much weight here.
posted by Sublimity at 6:38 AM on October 6, 2014 [2 favorites]

trying to force your partner to stop therapy, reading their private journal, keeping constant tabs on them - no matter how scared or alienated or whatever she's feeling, this is not ok. if it were "just" being needy, looking through your clothes, grilling you about the sketchbooks, i'd say maybe you guys need couples counseling - but with the privacy intrusions, and especially the giant red flag of her being opposed to you receiving treatment for your mental health, this is ticking off the checklist of emotionally abusive and her being a woman doesn't change that. if she agrees to seek treatment and really changes, this might be able to be saved, sadly, i think she'll keep giving you half measures and then backsliding. you don't have to live like this.
posted by nadawi at 6:57 AM on October 6, 2014 [7 favorites]

For some reason, what I got from your description was a woman so fearful of abandonment that she is manufacturing it. Like, her fear that you will leave her is so strong and the impossibility of being in an ambiguous (to her mind) situation is so untenable that she would prefer to push you so hard that you leave, so that the worst has happened and she has certainty.

If that sounds in any way like it could be true, it might (*might* being the operative word) help to sit her down and say, "It looks to me as though you're doing X. Very likely not on purpose. But it's working. If you want me to leave, keep up what you're doing. If not, let's talk about therapy."

Just a thought.
posted by janey47 at 2:24 PM on October 6, 2014

At this point, I don't think why is much of a factor. She needs therapy, at the very least, and couples counseling if at all possible. Have you tried simply asking her to go to a specific number of therapy sessions as a favor or gift to you?

Whatever her reasons are, the net result is that she is being abusive. Not sure how you can get through this without professional help for her.

If you have any reason to think she herself is cheating or did, hire an investigator and find out. That's not my suspicion, but several people have made a decent argument for it.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 2:17 PM on October 7, 2014

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