Reality check
January 7, 2017 11:31 PM   Subscribe

I need a reality check: am I unreasonable? If so, what should I do about it to fix myself (please don't suggest therapy, I genuinely don't have access to it). Have you faced or seen a similar relationship dynamic and if so, how was it handled?

I have always known that I come second to my husband's own enjoyment, and have accepted it, because that's his right and I knew this going in. I'm not a very interesting person anyway. However I feel less and less able to accept just how far back that second place is.

I have been with my husband for over a decade. During this time I had a parent diagnosed with a terminal disease. The diagnosis came after a very frightening medical incident which left me profoundly shaken. I was visiting my home country at the time alone, and was confused and hurt that my husband didn't phone or ask me how my parent was, but I chalked it up to cultural differences (I'm Asian, he's European). He was very loving and caring afterwards.

When I returned to our home in his country, I was a wreck. He had a holiday planned with a friend and immediately went away for a week, leaving me alone. The following year I had to travel back to my home country often when it seemed like my parent's death was imminent. So I had to save up money and annual leave. I was working 1.5 jobs at the time to pay for travel and my parent's medical expenses. So our shared holidays suffered. When I went to my home country for what seemed like my parent's final days (parent lived a while longer after this), he went on a trip to the Caribbean by himself. I know that I have no right to stop him, and that I couldn't expect him to suspend his life because mine felt destroyed, or give up his holidays because I couldn't join him or enjoy them, but I was humiliated to see the surprise and pity in his family's eyes when they learnt of this. I find this episode very hard to forget - at the same time, I can't see that I have any right to feel as I do.

The breaking point has been something really minor. I've been away for work for a couple of months and am due to return next week. I had been really excited about watching Arrival, and had told him many times how I was looking forward to it. Yesterday I texted him saying how I was looking forward to seeing him, and we should see if we can find the DVD. He then told me that he had gone to the theater that same day to watch it on a limited release showing but he'd be happy to watch it with me some time. I felt immensely hurt and it brought to the surface what I wrote above: that I am a very distant second to his enjoyment.

It is reflected in every aspect of our daily life. For instance, we do nothing on weekday evenings because he goes to the gym, and I have given up on suggesting things to do on the weekend because we never end up doing them unless I can make them sound enticing. He never marks or even remembers holidays from my culture, and after a few years of celebrating his holidays I've just stopped making an effort for them when all I feel is bitterness.

Now I want to tell him I'm not coming back, that physical loneliness would be preferable to loneliness within marriage. Am I being reasonable in feeling so profoundly hurt?

Background about me: I grew up in a household where Parent 1 was always complaining to us children about how controlling of their enjoyment Parent 2 was. Because I am temperamentally like Parent 2, when I got married I was petrified that I would do the same to my spouse.

Because I know people will ask: No, I'm not good at communicating. Every time something like this happens, I shut down and curl up into myself, go passive, feeling that surely I shouldn't need to spell it out, even if I could. This is a flaw in me I recognize but I am completely paralyzed and I don't know how to get out of it.

Finally, I would like to add that I love him very much and he loves me too. Obviously the good in our relationship is not reflected in this question because I don't need help with it.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (48 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I have always known that I come second to my husband's own enjoyment, and have accepted it, because that's his right and I knew this going in. I'm not a very interesting person anyway.


This man is treating you with such utter disrespect, it breaks my heart; especially reading that he went on holiday after you went to visit a possibly dying parent.

You most certainly are NOT being unreasonable!

I know that's the question you're asking, but I have to say, this isn't love, and this isn't you being a poor communicator. This is someone who is treating you like a doormat, and enjoying the benefits he's reaping from the relationship.
posted by NatalieWood at 11:47 PM on January 7, 2017 [79 favorites]

Now I want to tell him I'm not coming back, that physical loneliness would be preferable to loneliness within marriage. Am I being reasonable in feeling so profoundly hurt?

Absolutely reasonable. It doesn't matter how much he loves you, he hurts you because he doesn't care enough not to. Your relationship isn't working.
posted by the agents of KAOS at 11:49 PM on January 7, 2017 [24 favorites]

It's not unreasonable to feel hurt over these incidents whatsoever.

What is unreasonable is breaking off a marriage over something you've never brought up as a problem, and expecting him to read your mind and know what's upsetting you. Doesn't mean you can't do it, I mean, I don't think what's he's done is reasonable either, but if you want to have a successful marriage at some point later on, you do need to learn how to tell someone what you want from them and when they've hurt your feelings. You say therapy is impossible and that this character flaw is paralyzing and you can't get out of it - I would suggest that it will serve you better to think of this as a problem that can be solved and that you are willing to work towards fixing. There are books and techniques that can help you to learn how to communicate and be a better partner in a relationship (and get what you want out of the relationship in the process), but you have to be willing to do the work.

I'd suggest the same approach to the fact that you think you have no right to ask your husband for love or support, and that you are a boring person. I don't care if you are pure evil and you kill puppies for fun. He's your husband, and he's supposed to provide you with love and support. Your self esteem seems to be the other issue that you need to address before you will be able to have a successful relationship. It sounds cliche when people say you have to love yourself before you can love someone else - but it's true, and the great thing is that when you do love yourself, you'll care about yourself enough to find a partner who will treat you better.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 12:02 AM on January 8, 2017 [33 favorites]

He's a bad husband. He may not be a bad person but he's a bad husband to you. He should have been with you when you went to see your dying parent and you should not feel uninteresting or that you have to subsume your life for his.
posted by fshgrl at 12:03 AM on January 8, 2017 [56 favorites]

It sounds like you know what you need to do. You are worth so much more than someone putting you at a distant second place. I think you are great at communicating based on the intelligent concise way you wrote this post. Perhaps the trouble is that when you need to communicate with a loved one, there is is a mental block in your way. Therapy is a great tool to figure out how to effectively communicate, as well as how to break old patterns that keep from repeating unhealthy relationships. If you feel that you genuinely don't have access to therapy (even online chat/skype sessions) would you consider picking up some self-help therapy books? I'm so sorry that you are in an unhealthy relationship, but focus on making yourself your first priority and know that you will be much happier and healthier for it. Best of luck, anonymous.
posted by Champagne Supernova at 12:05 AM on January 8, 2017 [3 favorites]

I want to hug you and I am so sorry to hear about your experience.

Once again I am going to recommend a couples therapist that specializes in Hold Me Tight - but you could just read it together with your spouse. The audio book is fucking awful - don't bother. I bet the overall message is better if you just read it together.

I'm also in a mixed culture marriage. They are so hard. Normally I would say your husband is an asshole, because the lack of support you describe is indicative of a total asshole... But you say you love each other, so I'm going to go with that. Somehow you guys stopped communicating, so it seems he is missing vital things. You admit you have never articulated your needs. I'm going to advise you to learn to talk to him.

Your other choice is divorce. I advise you to try communicating before you take that step. By all means get a divorce if he finds communicating about your relationship inconvenient and won't do it. But ten years - try with him before seeing a lawyer.

posted by jbenben at 12:24 AM on January 8, 2017 [13 favorites]

It sounds like you went into the marriage thinking that this kind of dynamic was normal and you accommodated it for many years. Your husband might have had a tendency to be selfish, just like you have a tendency to be accomodating/withdrawing but your behavior reinforced his just like his reinforced yours. Since the two of you aren't very good at communicating, there is a good chance that he will be realized surprised to find out how desperately unhappy you are. (Even you told him, he might not have realized how deeply hurt you are). So you need to tell him. It's not about the movie, it's about how your relationship has fallen into a pattern that really doesn't work for you and leaves you very unhappy to point that you don't think you can stay if things don't change. Then (assuming that you do want to make it work) ask if he would be willing to work with you to help the relationship get better. His answer will tell you a lot. If he is shaken up and willing to do what he can to fix it (even if he doesn't understand exactly why you are so upset) then you have something to work with. If he dismisses everything, then you know there is no hope. And if you already know that you have had enough, and YOU aren't willing to work on it, then say that instead.

Couples therapy is really, really good for helping people have the conversations. I also like Emotion Focused couples therapy (that's what Hold me tight is based on) If you can't do regular therapy, you might see if the two of you could do Hold Me Tight weekend to help you get started on talking with each other. Another book that can help you understand where your conversations are going astray is How To Improve Your Marriage Without Talking About It. (In particular, it might help understand you better)

I would also suggest that you do some of your own work in terms developing the confidence to ask for what you want. Not demand, but just be able to clearer with him about what you are thinking and feeling and hoping for. I haven't used this book on self-esteem myself, I've read good things about it and David Burns is really good at CBT style self help.
posted by metahawk at 12:50 AM on January 8, 2017 [6 favorites]

I have always known that I come second to my husband's own enjoyment, and have accepted it, because that's his right and I knew this going in.

Yes, that's unreasonable.
posted by flabdablet at 2:18 AM on January 8, 2017 [27 favorites]

This sounds lonely and hard. You're not being unreasonable. It sounds like you've sort of been excusing a lot of his behavior on account of cultural differences, but let me assure you: it is not considered normal, reasonable, or kind in any part of Europe I've ever lived in to just abandon your spouse while their parent is dying and not check in or support them at all and to go on vacation to the Caribbean instead. Also, I'm pretty sure most of the Europeans I know would not consider it reasonable or kind or fair for one partner to have to wheedle and plead with the other one to spend time with them.
posted by colfax at 2:45 AM on January 8, 2017 [14 favorites]

Your husband's behavior sounds completely clueless at best, callous at worst. It does not seem like he sees himself as part of a team. You don't need anyone's permission to feel upset, of course - but this internet stranger wants to assure you that I'd be very upset if a partner treated me this way.

Right now, I think you need someone on Team You. Do you have close (or at least semi-close) local friends you could lean on for support? Family? Could you talk to a clergy person? Talk to a local organization that supports women?

Hugs. Feel free to PM me if you want to talk.
posted by M. at 3:05 AM on January 8, 2017 [4 favorites]

I wouldn't usually comment on something like this, as people above have already said what I would say, but I do have to say to you, and this might be simplistic, but... stop blaming yourself! It is not your fault!
posted by Diag at 3:45 AM on January 8, 2017 [8 favorites]

I have a relationship where we both have (and like) a higher degree of autonomy / separate-lives / whatever-you-want-to-call-it than many other couples I know. But what you're describing would never fly for us - he sounds callous and cold and no wonder you feel lonely!

You deserve a partner. An actual partner who is on Team You and actively shows it.

If he would listen, you could try forcing a conversation. One thing about the way my relationship works is we can go overboard on the separate-lives thing, and a couple of times over the years one of us has sat the other down to say "hey, I miss you, I'd like us to spend more time together, what can we do about that?" And we solve it together, which tends to involve something like putting a higher emphasis on planned dates, making sure we are focusing on each other and not our screens when spending time together, or just a general refocusing on each other. We do that because we are a team, even if we get a little out of practice sometimes, so it's not a hardship or a problem, it's like, "shit, you're right, I've been all up in my own head a lot lately, thanks for the kick in the butt, I love you, let's go do something cool together."

It would be instructive to see if your husband can react in a similar manner. If not, I'm not sure there's anything you can do but leave - this isn't an issue you're going to fix without his buy-in that there's something to fix.
posted by Stacey at 4:40 AM on January 8, 2017 [8 favorites]

What is unreasonable is breaking off a marriage over something you've never brought up as a problem, and expecting him to read your mind and know what's upsetting you

Not going on vacation while her parent is dying does not require telepathy-level husbanding skills, it just requires one to not be a selfish, narcissistic, child. His behavior is so unreasonable that requiring OP to explain to him, patiently, how he's fucking up is tantamount to demanding she do the emotional labor to raise him to adulthood.

Fuck. That.

OP you are not unreasonable. You have some work to do on yourself if you want to be in better relationships in the future, but get the hell out of this one. There is literally no degree of silence that would ever convince me to treat a spouse this way. Your husband is terrible and, I am sorry about this, unlikely to change after a lifetime of this.
posted by schadenfrau at 4:55 AM on January 8, 2017 [77 favorites]

There's nowhere in Europe (or, I would like to suggest, the world, assuming the means exist) where not contacting your spouse while they are dealing with the illness or death of a loved one is considered normal behaviour. Your husband has treated you like shit and you have let him. These are two separate issues though. Your letting him doesn't excuse or explain him doing it. You can try not letting him and see if it changes, but I'm guessing not. It sounds like he has a housekeeper who also takes care of his emotional and sexual needs. You say that "obviously he loves me", but I don't think you've mentioned anything that would suggest it, let alone make it "obvious". What is it that makes it obvious to you?
posted by Iteki at 5:15 AM on January 8, 2017 [14 favorites]

I think your whole question, and the clarity you are trying to find, are probably going to hinge around this statement you seem to be taking as your baseline assumption: I come second to my husband's own enjoyment, and have accepted it, because that's his right and I knew this going in.

As a straightforward statement of fact, that just seems like either a no-nonsense way to solve this, or a horrifying way to doom a relationship from the start. There are plenty of patriarchal societies set up where that's how marriage works. He comes first (almost always he), she accepts that (almost always she), and if she chafes under it, well, she knew that was how it would work going in, so there's no way to push back. And if he is unhappy, it's usually because he doesn't feel put-first enough. In other words, the answer is simple: she sucks it up.

So if you're fine with that framework, and are asking how to make it not chafe when you're not only coming in second, but also watching him have fun vacations and treat your priorities as unimportant to him, then this may help: If you weren't putting your family's needs first, you also could be going on those vacations. You chose to be with your family (and that was a necessary, good choice that you should feel good about), and it isn't fair to expect him never to have a vacation just because he can't or won't come with you on those trips. And if he's not there and you're not telling him what's happening while you're there, it's much harder for him to sympathize with you about it. You might try being more assertive about talking with him about what you need emotionally from him while you deal with the issues, and not expect him to know what you need. And while you're away, to give yourself permission to see movies or do activities you'd rather do with him, if the alternative is not doing them at all. Did you ask him specifically not to see Arrival until you get back so you could watch it together, or did you just talk about how much you wanted to see it, assuming he would get that you were planning it as a joint activity? You may need to be more prescriptivist with him to get your needs met - put your important dates and holidays into his calendar. Let him know what you are expecting on those days. It's a way of doing the "man is the head of the family, woman is the neck" calibration that a lot of women in patriarchal cultures use to maintain the social structure and still get what they need. But all of that requires that you get better at communication. You're saying not to mention therapy, but you are also saying that you know you have a problem with this. So I won't suggest therapy if you can't afford it, but I do think you need to find a way to work on your assertiveness. Even in the best, most equal partnerships, you almost never get what you want if you can't say what you want -- that's how equality works. No one is a mind-reader, and no one should be expected to be..

With that out of the way, I personally feel that signing up for "his needs always come first" is a recipe for disaster. It may sound manageable on paper, but in practice it involves a marriage based on inequality, and the one who gets the unequal share of the workload or the emotional payoff is always going to feel resentful - especially if they're good at supporting their partners needs, so they know exactly what they're not getting. Because of course you also deserve a tropical vacation, and if circumstances make it so you can't have one, the very least he could do is empathize about it (and the most would be to find a way to be with you instead of partying on his own, as I think you've realized). If you have a few free hours, the Emotional Labor thread here can be really eye-opening, and a lot of people here have found it helped them frame conversations with their partners, or showed them a way forward for themselves.

You mention seeing "surprise and pity in his family's eyes" - whether that is a typo and you mean your own parents, or whether I'm reading it correctly that even his own parents acknowledge that he's not treating you the way a husband should - that should be your reassurance that you are not being unreasonable. If you want to fix things with him, it will be a difficult road without a counselor of some sort. It sounds like he has been used to living his own best life for years now without any thought of your needs - more like a child than a functioning adult - and asking him to recognize how wrong that is on top of asking him could provoke an incredible tantrum. You may be able to find a social worker or other social-services program in your area that can get you the name of an organization who can help you find someone to work with who won't charge as much as a therapist.

Best of luck and I'm sorry for the loss of your parent. It sounds like you've had a really rough couple of years.
posted by Mchelly at 5:51 AM on January 8, 2017 [5 favorites]

What is unreasonable is breaking off a marriage over something you've never brought up as a problem

I disagree strongly with this. You have the right to end a marriage without having to justify it to your husband or give him any "chances".
posted by heatherlogan at 6:08 AM on January 8, 2017 [50 favorites]

Nope. I wouldn't tolerate this level of "care" from a friend let alone a husband!
posted by Chrysalis at 6:30 AM on January 8, 2017 [2 favorites]

I'm so sorry. Of course you are hurt. The only thing that's unreasonable here is how little you feel you deserve, and how poorly your husband is treating you. Normally I would agree that you need to communicate your needs to have them met... but the needs we're talking about here are basic human needs, not special snowflake things. If a friend treated me the way you described, I would start thinking of them more as a casual acquaintance, somebody who I would hang out with sometimes but wouldn't expect anything from. But for a spouse to show so little regard for your feelings? No wonder you feel so lonely. He is treating you like furniture.
posted by chickenmagazine at 6:30 AM on January 8, 2017 [4 favorites]

Not you're direct question but I'd like to emphasize that someone who is one mifi and put together several paragraphs IS an INTERESTING person. Perhaps hurt, in a restrictive situation, but you ARE and interesting person! (I expect with many other good and positive attributes also)
posted by sammyo at 6:44 AM on January 8, 2017 [11 favorites]

Here is what I'm wondering: what are you getting from this marriage beyond the feeling that you are married? Your finances appear to be completely separate, for one thing - you work 1.5 jobs to pay for a trip home while he uses his vacation and money to take a fancy trip (does he ever visit your family with you?) It seems like he gets someone to meet his needs while keeping all his time and money for himself, while you get nothing much. Again, one can have a very autonomy-driven relationship without "you need to make a trip home to see aging relatives - well, don't expect me to chip in, you should just work more". That's exploitation in my book.

I would be very worried in this situation - when you age or if you get sick, will your husband be there for you? What if you need expensive medical care or a lot of assistance? I think it's much better to be on your own than to be in a relationship with someone who is exploiting you and may kick you to the curb when you're older or sick.
posted by Frowner at 6:49 AM on January 8, 2017 [33 favorites]

Background about me: I grew up in a household where Parent 1 was always complaining to us children about how controlling of their enjoyment Parent 2 was. Because I am temperamentally like Parent 2, when I got married I was petrified that I would do the same to my spouse.

This is a trap. Parent 1 was able to categorize Parent 2 to their kids as a killjoy. You are afraid of being categorized in this way. But it's not like Parent 1 was in the right; they are the one complaining to their kids about the other parent! Other things being equal, Parent 1 is the one in the wrong. They should have been modeling respect for their spouse. You grew up with the idea that it's OK for things to be so uneven that one parent is running down the other to the kids. That is total BS.

Otherwise, what people above have said. You are not boring; you do not deserve shitty treatment.
posted by BibiRose at 7:01 AM on January 8, 2017 [7 favorites]

You are reasonable, he's not. His family's reaction tells you you're right.
posted by koahiatamadl at 7:11 AM on January 8, 2017 [5 favorites]

Even if you were boring, you still don't deserve shitty treatment! Plenty of boring (or stupid, or not very pleasant, or whatever) people live happy married lives with people who care for them and are capable of making that love felt every day.
posted by Iteki at 7:22 AM on January 8, 2017 [5 favorites]

The story as presented has no other conclusion but DTMFA. However, I'd like to hear his side of it. He must have one. I may not be allowed to suggest therapy, and I am not your therapist, but there is something about 10+ years of accepting one's subordinate role ending in your abrupt leaving that needs to be explored. You chalk things up to cultural differences, you say, but now you want to stop chalking because of a trivial "breaking point." I'd like to suggest that you weren't really doing that at all. You were suppressing your increasing rage until now you feel unable to continue doing that. Your method of suppressing it is to tell yourself you are not interesting, less important, etc. I think you were waiting for your husband to notice your abject state and "fix it" but he never did so, and yet you continued to hope and wait. Not returning is an example of being bad at communicating. You want to tell him how you feel without actually having to be present.

In your culture, that may be what one does in a marriage but in the West, that is culturally considered masochistic. You may see it as a gift you gave him but it is also withholding who you are from him. You are hiding hoping to be found, but you are still hiding. Not returning would be just choosing a better hiding place. I'm not blaming you for this but he might. That doesn't make it your fault, but I would guess you still think that he will suddenly realize how he treated you and everything would change. Or, alternatively, he will be justly punished by your not returning. (Notice the passive "not returning" instead of "leaving.")

From the point of view of your anger, either would be a proper ending to this tragedy, but your life is not a play looking for a dramatic resolution. (I'm thinking of Ibsen's "A Doll's House.") From a western standpoint, you are free to do what you wish. You are not a secondary person who needs us to approve of it. Much of what we can tell you are things you already know. However, if you enter into another relationship planning to be a subordinate waiting for your mind to be read so you can be given what you need, you'll just find yourself back in the same place you started.

There's something rewarding about being a "second." It means you've been selected by a "first." The more-importantness you project onto him makes your being selected all the more exciting, like Cinderella when she is found by the prince in the fairy tale. It may not feel romantic to enter into a relationship with an equal. If this remains the case, you might be able to find someone better able to play the role-- someone better skilled at guessing your unspoken needs. Or maybe your husband, startled by your sudden loss will suddenly wake up and become that person (I wouldn't bet on it, but it's possible). If you love each other as you say, it's worth a try, since you can still leave if does not work. There's nothing about this moment that uniquely allows you to leave the marriage.

What I'm trying to say here, is that the solution to this problem has to come from within you. We people outside you telling you what to do would just be taking the role of your husband (only, since you've revealed yourself to us, we can take your needs into consideration.) From what you've written here, you're not at all bad at communicating, just frightened to do so. Maybe you need to show your husband what you've written above? What's the worst that could happen since you're ready to break up anyway?
posted by Obscure Reference at 7:25 AM on January 8, 2017 [9 favorites]

Your feelings are valid. It sounds like your husband is, at best, not good at anticipating your needs without being handed a road map.

You say you're not a good communicator*. If you worked at being a better advocate for yourself and your husband changed his behavior to make you more of a priority, do you think you could be happy in this marriage?

The reason why I think it may be worth a shot is 1) Being more comfortable advocating for yourself is a good step anyways. You deserve to be loved in a way that makes you feel cherished and supported. Being able to communicate to your partner what you need will help you build a fulfilling relationship, either with your husband or someone else. And 2) your husband's response to the movie: saying he'd be happy to watch it with you indicates he may be willing to make adjustments (unless you know this is an empty promise), he just needs to be told directly what you need.

#2 has a huge caveat though. Watching your wife work 1.5 jobs while dealing with dying parent suggests that at best he's completely clueless. Maybe if you told him you needed him to be more proactive he could manage that at the snap of his fingers (perhaps he's assumed you liked working a lot, or something, I don't know), but in all likelihood he's going to need step by step instructions, especially at first. That works for some people, but even if one is a great communicator it's not unreasonable to want someone who can anticipate some needs without it being spelled out everytime.

This is a flaw in me I recognize but I am completely paralyzed and I don't know how to get out of it.

* Re: your communication skills: This isn't uncommon at all, but have you always done this? Or has it just been with your husband? If he's not a good listener then I could see how someone who was generally a decent communicator started to shut down.

I have a few family members who are married to people who aren't always the best at picking up anything more subtle than a brick through a window. Generally this works for my family members who are happy to be direct, but sometimes it can be difficult when the topic is emotionally charged. So they'll write letters to their SO. Sometimes the letters are just to organize their thoughts, but other times it's how they'll start the conversation. This works in part because even if the SO's need some direction, they can take a concept apply it to slightly different scenarios in the future.

Therapy may be helpful working on your communication skills in general, or helping you unpack why you've suborned your emotional well being for so long. If you decide it's worth trying to mend this relationship, couples counseling may help you two match styles better.
posted by ghost phoneme at 7:42 AM on January 8, 2017 [1 favorite]

Lets assume that everything you say is true, that he has the right to put his need to go on vacation ahead of your need for emotional support in times of family crisis, and that you knew that going into the marriage and accepted it. That still doesn't lead to the conclusion that you must continue to accept it now. Because what he doesn't have the right to is to be married to you.

If that's not a bargain you can stomach any longer, then you absolutely have the right to change your mind. Marriage vows are important, but you haven't sold yourself into perpetual sexual and emotional slavery. You still have agency. You can either require that he provide more emotional support or you can leave the relationship or you can attempt to require that he provide more emotional support and then leave the relationship when he abjectly fails to do so because holy narcissism, Batman.
posted by jacquilynne at 7:47 AM on January 8, 2017 [3 favorites]

One thing that really jumped out at me - you mention cultural differences, but it always seems to be you accomodating his differences, rather than him accomodating yours. This may not be your husband, but - there's a certain dynamic where certain selfish Europeans marry Asian women because they (falsely) believe they will be more accomodating than European women. As other people have noticed, the things he does are not culturally normal for European men - but they do strike me as culturally normal for that subset of terrible European men who have sought out an Asian spouse for that particular dynamic.
posted by corb at 8:01 AM on January 8, 2017 [41 favorites]

What happens when you put your enjoyment ahead of his emotional needs? He has a stressful week at work and normally you would do several things to be supportive: listen to him talk through his problems, take care of the additional housework while he works longer hours, be sure to be physically/sexually comforting, make his favourite meals, etc. Think back to what you did the last time he went through a crisis.

And if you didn't - how would he react? Would he hold you to the same standard he uses, or is part of you already flinching at the thought of standing up to him and his anger if you expected equal treatment?

There are marriages where both people are partners with clear personal boundaries, and traditionalist marriages where one partner provides nurturing-support while the other provides protective-support. Whatever works. But then there are marriages where one person is dominating 80% of the relationship all the time, everywhere and the other person standing up is seen as an attack because they're so used to always having their way.

Go see a therapist by yourself first and talk to just one person. Don't push for marriage counselling yet. Get some clarity and confidence for yourself first with individual counselling. You have a lot to think about, and you need time and space to understand yourself.

And whatever your husband says, you're worth love and respect and honesty.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 8:40 AM on January 8, 2017 [2 favorites]

All the behavior you describe sounds dreadful, but did I read right that you haven't told him it's not ok?

People will treat you the way you tell them to treat you. If you haven't told him this isn't ok, then you could - maybe - drag his ass to couple's therapy immediately so you have someone there who can help you articulate the feelings that you apparently have shoved down deep and never articulated.

That said, if the years of this behavior have destroyed your love for him - which I can easily imagine - then yeah you can just leave him. You don't have to stay just because he didn't know this sort of thing is unacceptable. Anyone should know it. Telling someone they screwed up is appropriate when the screwup is an anomaly. This sounds like it's always been the status quo.

But in your next relationship, please don't start out accepting this sort of thing. Start with not getting together with anyone who makes you feel like a boring person.
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:48 AM on January 8, 2017

The relationships that I've seen with couples who are very independent seem to work because both people lead lives rich with other hobbies, friends, etc. So the one small thing I came in to suggest while you tease this apart (whether to stay or go, work on communication issues per suggestions already provided above) is build a friend group, and if you already have one, spend more time with them. Because some of the things that stand out to me are things like: Staying home and doing nothing on a weekend night because your partner works out. Why can't it be night that you go out with friends and do (whatever interest). Or things like holidays from your country. If your partner is indifferent, are there expats from your culture in your area and other friends? Celebrate with people who find it meaningful.

When I read your question, I can't tease out whether it is communication, he is that clueless, or a third possibility - does he even hear you? So when you mentioned that you were excited about Arrival, I wonder if he heard you speak about it. Because it seems odd that he would go see it himself. I think this part needs to be figured out and you may already have evidence of this in your own life: Does he remember things that you mention, what you prefer and what you like? Because if he doesn't, I think all the communication in the world will not change it because he would not value you as a person (and if this is the case, I would say get out), for your own health.
posted by Wolfster at 8:50 AM on January 8, 2017

"We accept the love we think we deserve."

You deserve more than this.
posted by kmr at 9:00 AM on January 8, 2017 [1 favorite]

I was humiliated to see the surprise and pity in his family's eyes when they learnt of this.

Yeah, so HIS family, the one of the same culture as he is, were surprised that he did not support you when your parent was dying. This should tell you that this is not a cultural difference but an issue of your husband's personality and individual choices.

And even if it were "just a cultural difference", that doesn't mean you have to put up with it. You sound like an intelligent and interesting person. You deserve to be put first sometimes.
posted by chainsofreedom at 9:13 AM on January 8, 2017 [12 favorites]

People will treat you the way you tell them to treat you.

I know this is an acceptable thing to tell people nowadays, although I don't know why. But good people don't mistreat others because they imagine they've been told to, or because the other person didn't say No loudly enough.

There is nobody on earth that I like well enough to marry but would happily treat as an inferior partner just because I decided they had implicitly given me permission to. "People" don't do this; selfish and abusive people do.

OP, please don't think that just because you have the right to demand better, that means you somehow engineered this situation out of masochism. You control yourself; you don't control him.
posted by queenofbithynia at 9:17 AM on January 8, 2017 [27 favorites]

Now I want to tell him I'm not coming back, that physical loneliness would be preferable to loneliness within marriage. Am I being reasonable in feeling so profoundly hurt?

You are 100% correct. Being actually alone has been vastly better than being lonely in my marriage. Your feelings are completely valid.

I have done lots of therapy. And I am here to tell you that if you can just go ahead and get a divorce and do what makes sense for you to take care of you, actually doing something to solve your problem is about a billion times more effective in getting your head on straight than sitting around talking about your feelings for a million years.

If you still need to sort your feelings, you can always journal. But the single biggest thing that got my head on straight was just doing what needed to be done, never mind social feedback or self doubts or internal dithering.

It sounds like it is time for you to just go. You will be far, far happier.
posted by Michele in California at 9:34 AM on January 8, 2017 [4 favorites]

I was about to start bashing this guy for being an insensitive idiot until you said you don't communicate. So he may not be emotionally smart enough to know that it's not appropriate to go on a solo Caribbean holiday while his partner is dealing with a tragedy. In his mind he might have thought "oh now is a good time, she's busy, I'm bored."

You should have told him then and there "hey idiot, it's really not appropriate for you to be doing this, I need help. Help me." But instead you stayed silent. I'm not blaming you, but I am suggesting that you need to work on communication big time. Because this is what happens when you don't. You are seriously thinking about leaving him, but have never told him what he does bothers you.

Relationships are all about communication, and tweaking things along the way so the little things don't become big things.

Or he might just be an insensitive ass, who knows. But communication and therapy will help, don't throw away a 10 year marriage without at least TRYING to talk about things.
posted by katypickle at 9:51 AM on January 8, 2017 [1 favorite]

Presumably the Caribbean holiday was pre-planned, perhaps with no trip insurance. Maybe he didn't want to throw out all that money and assumed she would feel the same.
posted by serena15221 at 10:11 AM on January 8, 2017

I will add that working on your communication may be a thing you need to do. But it isn't such a heinous crime that you deserve to be tortured and another partner may well do lots better by you without you "fixing" anything about yourself.

Some relationships just do not work well, kind of like mixing dish soap and bleach. Neither is bad by itself, but you mix them and it makes a deadly gas. Some relationships are like that and it may have nothing at all to do with one of you being some horrible, deeply fucked up person.
posted by Michele in California at 10:27 AM on January 8, 2017 [3 favorites]

although: although it is not true that people will treat you however you tell them to, or however you expect them to, it is true that many people will take you at your own valuation because it is easier than measuring the evidence and coming to their own conclusions. This is useful if you are a confident person who can convince others you are good at everything, and not so useful if you are a modest and self-critical person who looks for flaws in yourself first and in others second, or not at all.

so, if you say you're bad at communicating, people will enthusiastically agree with you even though you give two examples of communicating clearly (in the last straw situation, where you explained in detail what you wanted and why you wanted it, and in the area of weekend plans, where you communicated to no success until you gave up - but not before trying.)

Another way to explain yourself is to say that you model consideration and good care for a spouse within a marriage by putting the other person first, which is the way that parents often teach children how to behave in life: not by lecturing them, but by showing them through their own good example. You seem to have done an exemplary job of modelling but it hasn't inspired him to imitate you. Is he a student who learns better from lecturing than from modelling? Maybe! Can you be expected to guess this without being told? That all depends on whether communication is a shared responsibility, or just yours. And on whether it is your job in the marriage to be the teacher, and to discover the best teaching methods all on your own.
posted by queenofbithynia at 11:08 AM on January 8, 2017 [5 favorites]

Early in my marriage on a road trip I would ask my husband, when I was hungry, "Wanna stop at X to get some food?" He always said no because even though I thought my question was obvious it was not. So we would keep going and I would get hungrier and more miserable with every passing mile. I was raised by an alcoholic dad and super codependent doormat mom so indirect communication was all I knew. Then I did lots of therapy and joined the Al-Anon fellowship. Now if I'm on a road trip I A. Tell the driver, "I need to stop in the next hour to get some food" and B. Always bring snacks and water as a backup.

Leave your husband or don't leave your husband. That's not the most important work ahead of you. The most important work ahead of you is learning to value yourself, show up for yourself (by asking for what you need, among other things), and accept that all humans are both imperfect and deserving of respect, love, and recognition. Even and especially you.

Al-Anon has meetings all over the world. No one is turned away and it's up to each of us to decide if we qualify for membership. I learned about setting and holding boundaries there. You need to explore what kind of boundaries and limits support your own emotional health and well-being. Beloved fellow MeFite, your job is not merely to survive. It's to learn how to thrive. I learned that. You can, too. PM me if you like. Good luck!
posted by Bella Donna at 11:19 AM on January 8, 2017 [5 favorites]

The way I see it, there's a couple of things going on here:

1) You have some problems of your own.
Life in an abusive relationship will tend to distort thinking. You display many of the hallmarks. For instance, you've bought into this notion that you communicate really poorly. That's not true: your post is thoughtful and well considered.

More than that, it's clear that you *have* tried to talk to your husband on many occasions, and been brushed off. I saw this:

I had been really excited about watching Arrival, and had told him many times how I was looking forward to it. Yesterday I texted him saying how I was looking forward to seeing him, and we should see if we can find the DVD. He then told me that he had gone to the theater that same day to watch it on a limited release showing but he'd be happy to watch it with me some time.

And this:

I have given up on suggesting things to do on the weekend because we never end up doing them unless I can make them sound enticing.

You *have been* communicating. Advice that hinges on 'oh but you didn't tell him' is well meaning, but misguided. He has rebuffed your attempts at communication about even the smallest things. There is no reason to believe he'd take a big truth any better than a small one.

You do need to work on this, but only for yourself. Whatever your protestations, therapy is, for real, the best way to approach that. If you can't see someone, there's Skype. If you can't Skype, there are books. You have a lot of work to do to heal the damage caused by all of this. You've bought into some really bad ideas about how relationships work due to both upbringing and this marriage, and you do need to correct that if you want to find happiness down the road. I strongly advise you to do so: you deserve better than this.

2) Your husband's behavior is completely inexcusable.
No one should have to be told 'call your wife when she's dealing with a dying parent.' He should have been in touch. He should have offered to cancel various trips. He should have offered to go with you, not to the Caribbean. It doesn't mean he *had* to do either thing, but making the offer and proactively supporting you is the duty of any partner.

Like, you say you're the one who doesn't communicate well, but it seems to me that he hasn't made the slightest effort. More than that, all of this is basic human decency: if he can't work it out on his own, he's not ready to be dating yet, much less married.

I really think corb has his number: there's a certain kind of Western man who wants an Asian wife in order to get away with this sort of awful behavior. I've personally known one myself. It happens, it's dreadful.

Also, I need to point out that caring behavior that he displays at other times isn't a mitigating factor, that's part of how abusive relationships persist: every bad relationship that persists has 'good times.' That's how bad people drag this shit out.

Ditch him with all due haste. You have no obligation to him. There is nothing to recover. Just worry about getting yourself into a healthy space, because you do indeed have a lot of work to do there. You *deserve* to be happy. You *are* interesting. You *should not* settle. Until you believe that stuff, you do need to seek help and support to find your way.

All the best to you.
posted by mordax at 12:20 PM on January 8, 2017 [15 favorites]

This is not how a husband treats his wife. This is how a selfish person treats their dog.

You deserve better.
posted by MexicanYenta at 12:36 PM on January 8, 2017 [5 favorites]

Maybe I'm way off, but it doesn't sound like he treats you like a real person, more like an accessory for his life. There are certain European/white men who specifically look for Asian women, with the stereotype that they will be subservient and basically live do do their husband's will and never have needs of their own. Only you can tell if that's the case, but from the instances you describe, it really sounds like he doesn't give a flying fuck how you feel. I don't know what you can do, but maybe look over the past with a critical eye, and read other people's experience with similar relationships (that's another question, I'm sure there are forums or whatever for people in mixed-culture relationships) and try to evaluate his motives. Regardless, he's not being a good husband by ANY cultural measure.

(And I completely understand about the movie thing. Sometimes these small things, which should just be simple and effortless fun, are all the more devastating when it goes wrong, just because it would be so simple for it to go right. The fact that he couldn't put in the tiny bit of effort to wait a couple more days is really upsetting.)

Sorry my answer is kind of convoluted, but the main thing I saw in your question is that he doesn't care about what's going on with you, except in relation to how it affects him. That is not acceptable in a fair and loving marriage.
posted by catatethebird at 1:05 PM on January 8, 2017 [7 favorites]

Briefly: I was in a similar relationship for many years, although we didn't get married. I left him, but I didn't even really realize that's what I was doing until it was done, as strange as that might sound. (Basically I moved away to go to graduate school but we were still together. Cue terribly long drawn out breakup once I realized how goddamn happy I was apart.)

I loved this person very much, and I believe he loved me too, but it wasn't enough.

I'm sorry that this isn't really advice but more commiseration, but all this is to say that you aren't being unreasonable.
posted by sm1tten at 3:54 PM on January 8, 2017

(please don't suggest therapy, I genuinely don't have access to it).

Antennae are going up here. is this lack of access geographical? There are online therapists. Is it financial? There are sliding scale therapists. Is it cultural? There are therapists who specialize in culturally specific therapy.

Or is it that you're forbidden to see a therapist? That he won't let you or doesn't want you to? That's the #1 reason you should find a therapist - pronto.

Well, that and everything else you wrote. You are selling yourself short. You don't come second in this life. If this isn't working for you, you have every justification in the world to find out why, including why you're accepting the second-fiddle role, and to fix it. You are not unreasonable. But you do need some outside help. Really.
posted by Miko at 8:54 PM on January 8, 2017 [3 favorites]

You can access online Skype therapy for any time zone and if you prefer to talk to someone in your own first language, that could be possible online. Some therapists do text based therapy where you journal and they reply back. There's also 7 cups if tea and some other therapy-adjacent counselling services that are online and either free or very low cost. If you're worried that he will be upset if you stay therapy, I absolutely get you. I hid my therapist sessions at the start, and it was nerve wracking. The in-person therapy sessions I'd tried previously were derailed by his control and my fear. Memail me if you want to talk more, but basically you can set up a secret gmail account and do the scheduling and Skype calls through there and time it for when you're outside or know you have privacy.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 10:22 PM on January 8, 2017 [2 favorites]

Nthing that you are not being unreasonable. I'm in a mixed-nationality marriage myself, and none of what you describe sounds okay--in fact, it's precisely the kind of thing people in such marriages need to be wary of and mindful to avoid.

Your happiness isn't trivial; it's everything.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 12:15 AM on January 9, 2017 [2 favorites]

Anyone who is not a total monster knows that you shouldn't go off on a solo vacation when your spouse's parent is dying. It is ridiculous for people in this thread to blame you, OP.
posted by winna at 7:03 AM on January 9, 2017 [13 favorites]

Every time something like this happens, I shut down and curl up into myself, go passive, feeling that surely I shouldn't need to spell it out, even if I could. This is a flaw in me I recognize but I am completely paralyzed and I don't know how to get out of it.

This is called freezing and it is a normal stress response. It is not a flaw. It is a survival mechanism.
posted by sadmadglad at 10:37 AM on January 14, 2017 [7 favorites]

« Older Becoming more comfortable talking about myself   |   With Love, from San Antonio Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.