Am I overreacting?
February 3, 2017 9:58 AM   Subscribe

Need advice on how to handle marriage issue

I need advice and to get out of my own head on a marriage issue.

Long story of course, but it boils down to: married 21 years, 2 children. My spouse experienced some sort of personal crisis last year (midlife, marriage, personal, all of these, I can't say for sure). During this he was a zombie and his drinking was worse (he is an alcoholic, high functioning). My heart broke for him and I listened to all his resentment and all my wrongs done against him. I was shocked and hurt, and wasn't allowed to defend myself, I had to listen and be quiet. I am not saying I have never done him wrong, but I am willing to take responsibilty and make things right. He was angry over small messes in the house, not paying enough attention, and he expressed this in a cruel way. He became very critical of me. I thought everything was ok, I was surprised. However I have made more effort on the house staying cleaner and showing him the attention he needs, and I have no problem with that.

Now that he has gotten better, I am still hurt and angry but want so badly to be at peace inside. The problem is that he continues to do little things that break my trust. I have seen him visiting dating sites, no contact that I am aware of, and he texted a female coworker after we agreed that because of this past year we would not text opposite sex friends in private (there was an issue with another female coworker during the bad year). The problem is not so much that he texted her on an innocent topic (to wish her a happy birthday, but with many sweet expressions) but that he asked her to not tell me and she agreed. I felt embarrassed because he has told me that he did tell her (and others) that I was jealous of other women lately last year. I do not think he is interested in her other than a friend, it is more that he crossed a boundary that we have both agreed on. I am just very embarrassed and angry that he asked her not to tell me and that she agreed. I don't know her well but she has texted me a couple of times, just a few polite sentences. Honestly I don't want to befriend her, as I don't think she is a very nice person.

He wants to be able to talk about her and other female friends to me, and since he has never really mentioned female friends much in the past it makes me uncomfortable in light of this past year. I have told him this.

He says I overreact, and that he is committed to me. I am afraid to bring up when I don't like a boundary crossed because it causes us to fight horribly and I don't feel I am heard.

Yes, we are going to marriage counseling. I would just like advice and to vent here please.
posted by wondering123 to Human Relations (32 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
No, you aren't overreacting. At all. Not one bit.

Is leaving an option? I know you have 21 years of history, but the way he is treating you and behaving seems unacceptable.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 10:05 AM on February 3, 2017 [43 favorites]

I am afraid to bring up when I don't like a boundary crossed because it causes us to fight horribly and I don't feel I am heard

This is probably the reason that he reacts to your legitimate complaints about boundary-crossing by escalating the procedure and ignoring the substance--whether he is doing it on purpose or subconsciously, it creates fewer problems for him by discouraging your complaints.
posted by radicalawyer at 10:06 AM on February 3, 2017 [18 favorites]

I was shocked and hurt, and wasn't allowed to defend myself, I had to listen and be quiet.

Why did you have to? What happened, or would have happened, if you tried to defend yourself? Or if you didn't sit there and listen?

My mom was married to my dad for thirty years. For most of those years he was a high functioning alcoholic, until the bottom fell out and he became a non-functioning alcoholic. She has said they had the same conversations over and over for years in which he would make her talk about his insecurities and resentments and problems, and nothing was ever, ever resolved, because the main issue was: He was an alcoholic. Nothing is ever going to change or get better in a relationship with an alcoholic who will not stop drinking.

You say your husband is "better," but what does that mean? Maybe he's drinking a little less, but the demons are still there, and they'll resurface sooner or later. This will happen to you again, and again and again. It's not normal and doesn't have to be acceptable. You don't have to be your husband's therapist. You don't have to be in a relationship with somebody who lies to you.

You can decide what you want on your own, but you should know that things will probably not get better. They will almost certainly get worse, or at best stay the same. Is that okay with you?
posted by something something at 10:07 AM on February 3, 2017 [16 favorites]

Constant criticism and telling you that you're overreacting are signs of emotional abuse. Consider stopping marriage counselling and going to individual counselling instead. Leaving him should absolutely be on the table. Please rally your support network and ask for help in evaluating your options. I am so sorry this is happening to you.
posted by crazycanuck at 10:08 AM on February 3, 2017 [46 favorites]

No, you are not overreacting. At all.
posted by *s at 10:09 AM on February 3, 2017 [8 favorites]

You are not overreacting at all. I'm sorry.
posted by headnsouth at 10:11 AM on February 3, 2017 [4 favorites]

I don't think it's possible to overreact (in the sense you are describing) to a spouse visiting dating sites.
posted by bq at 10:16 AM on February 3, 2017 [27 favorites]

The dating sites would be a deal breaker, along with secret conversations with other women. And you aren't "allowed" to get upset and speak your mind?

He does sound controlling and emotionally abusive. If he's not willing to seriously commit to stopping drinking, you should be ready to leave. Nothing else will get fixed until the major problem is.

(And of course, how can you trust him when you already know he is willing to do things he knows you aren't okay with behind your back, and even have other people complicit in helping him?)
posted by catatethebird at 10:25 AM on February 3, 2017 [6 favorites]


-he continues to do little things that break my trust
-I have seen him visiting dating sites
-he texted her with many sweet expressions
- he has told me that he did tell her (and others) that I was jealous of other women
-He says I overreact
-it causes us to fight horribly

None of these things are OK. You should have some individual counseling as well to explore why you think it is acceptable for you to be treated like this. <3 It's hard to wake up and realize that this is where you are but you DO deserve better.
posted by CoffeeHikeNapWine at 10:39 AM on February 3, 2017 [15 favorites]

If it is possible for you, I'd suggest trying not to focus on the female coworker. I think this is, frankly, a distraction tactic men who cheat use sometimes: making it about you vs. her rather than keeping the issue about the relationship between him and you, where it should be. It brings up a lot of complicated patriarchical issues and horrible self-comparisons (is it because she's prettier than me? younger? thinner? oh, I can understand why he did it, I'm such a...) which are awful for you and, again, not really the point. It's another tactic he can use against you, too. It's convenient for him to make it about your feelings of jealousy, and how "petty" or whatever that is, and not about how that is a natural response to his behavior.

I've been through a situation like this, where my boyfriend-at-the-time cheated on me, quite a bit, but originally and in an ongoing way with someone he'd introduced me to and who I thought was a personal friend to me. When I expressed negative feelings toward her in the aftermath, he got all 'I don't know why women do this, it's so petty, if anyone did anything wrong it's me.' I responded that, yes, of course I agreed that with him stood the blame for breaking our relationship agreement, but I was in love with him and not with her so wasn't it understandable that I would feel complicated, mixed feelings for him and much less complicated, negative feelings for her?

This ex-boyfriend also had a tendency to make it about comparisons between me and whoever the woman was at the time--'I cheated because you wouldn't [whatever] or aren't [whatever]', 'I told her [convenient edition of the story] and she said [supportive thing, possibly against (me)]'--which I now realize was more about him and his issues than it ever was truly about me. It sure ate me up at the time, though. And he led me to believe that this, too, was a fault in me: I was too jealous, I was too insecure, I didn't stand up for myself, that wasn't attractive. I was 22 and in my first relationship, and felt myself deeply in love. I took it all very much to heart, and it messed me up for a long time.

I haven't had any issues with jealousy whatsoever in my current relationship. I'm with someone who doesn't bring out, encourage, and take advantage of that nastiness. We're good to each other, we build each other up, and we deal with any issues in an open, communicative, and positive manner. It is wonderful. It is so freeing, and so good. I know this is complicated and difficult for you, and you've been in it a long time, and you have a lot at stake. But it doesn't have to be that way. I hope that counseling will help you both.
posted by spelunkingplato at 10:42 AM on February 3, 2017 [23 favorites]

I've been in a relationship where expressing my needs and boundaries turns into shaming and "You're not supporting me." and that's kind of what this looks like to me. It messes with your head. It makes you feel like it's always on you to change and be better, and keeps him from ever having to move an inch. I really think you could benefit from seeing a therapist. It doesn't mean anything's wrong with you. It just helps to have a neutral ear to vent to. It can help give you a better sense of perspective, because right now even if he loves you, you can't rely on him to give you accurate information. It's always going to frame him in the best light and give you no credit. If you want to stay, it could help to have some support that you can talk to about your life at home. For me, it was a real eye opener to have someone I trusted and respected say, "This seems hinky to me. Are you sure that's what's really going on?" A therapist can also help you problem solve and slowly adjust your behavior to help you navigate this with less stress. I hope you work out what's right for you!
posted by Bistyfrass at 11:03 AM on February 3, 2017 [3 favorites]

So, out of love and loyalty, you have stood by him through his alcoholism and crisis, even though he has behaved selfishly and unkindly. There are other names for his behavior - bullying, gaslighting, being a jerk. Many people would consider his behavior to be amotionally abusive; I leave that to you. I think he's got a big heaping of depression, alcohol abuse does that, and is often a response to depression. You are, if anything, underreacting. You deserve, honesty, faithfulness to your wedding vows, care, cooperation, respect, and so much more. You should define what those things mean to you, and stop accepting behavior that doesn't meet the standard.

2 things I've learned: Some people will only treat you as well as you demand of them, and Pay attention to behavior as much or more than words.
posted by theora55 at 11:05 AM on February 3, 2017 [14 favorites]

Speaking from my own perspective, I would never treat a person that I was married to the way that your husband has (and will most likely continue) to treat you. If I did treat my spouse this way, I would fully expect and even encourage her to leave me.

The alcoholism has to be a big issue here, but there seems to be all kind of issues in your marriage, from pretty shady behavior on his part towards other women to his resentment towards you. Throw in a lack of communication on at least his part and you've got a pretty toxic brew.

It sounds like you've served your time.
posted by Fister Roboto at 11:27 AM on February 3, 2017 [3 favorites]

I will only comment on years of marriage. I divorced after 22 years of marriage. Asked my lawyer why it took me so long. He said, "You only divorce when you are ready to. You are now ready." Now, remarried, I have been married for 34 years with my second wife.
posted by Postroad at 11:35 AM on February 3, 2017 [29 favorites]

However I have made more effort on the house staying cleaner and showing him the attention he needs, and I have no problem with that.
wasn't allowed to defend myself, I had to listen and be quiet

He's not your boss or your dad. You don't say whether he was physically abusive but whether he used force or something else, he has done something to you that made you feel he had the power to allow or disallow you to speak, to require any of these things. When you say you're upset about the texting but had no problem with obeying him when he enforced other humiliations, it sounds like your rights have been restricted so far that cheating or cheating-like behaviors are the only things you both really believe he can do wrong. so, no, you're not over-reacting to this. but you may be under-reacting to everything else.

it sounds like you're focusing on the texting because he agreed it was wrong, and it's the only thing he agrees is wrong. as if you can't object to mistreatment unless he permits it.
posted by queenofbithynia at 11:46 AM on February 3, 2017 [11 favorites]

You've been under reacting for a long time, it sounds like, and now that you're reacting normally, it feels like an overreaction. But it's not.

None of what you've said is okay. It's okay for one spouse to ask another to help (note: HELP) keep the house cleaner or be attentive, but it's not okay to do that in a cruel way -- or in one direction. This doesn't sound like partnership at all.

I agree that individual counselling is the best next step. Please take this question in!
posted by warriorqueen at 1:27 PM on February 3, 2017 [3 favorites]

why the hell does he get to unburden himself of all the things that he is angry and bitter about, and you don't? totally unfair.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 1:38 PM on February 3, 2017 [10 favorites]

You deserver to be happy.
posted by t-town at 1:38 PM on February 3, 2017 [2 favorites]

Not sure what ages your kids are, but you should also consider counseling for them. They are growing up with a severely distorted view of how to relate to family and partners. The earlier they get the message that it isn't right or normal, the better off you'll all be. Overreacting? I'd start from the place of thinking you're massively UNDER reacting and go from there. Good luck.
posted by sapere aude at 1:51 PM on February 3, 2017 [8 favorites]

You are not overreacting.

Also, please consider: him going sober doesn't necessarily mean that these behaviors will stop.
posted by homodachi at 1:55 PM on February 3, 2017 [5 favorites]

I'd like to have you over, so you can see how a decent man comports himself towards his wife. It sounds like this guy has you so twisted up and confused that you're not even sure you're justified in putting a boundary around his talking shit about you to other women, which is like the most giant obvious dealbreaker I can think of short of actual violence or theft.

You're under-reacting, if anything. What the hell does publicly disrespecting you with other women have to do with whether the house is tidy enough for his taste??
posted by fingersandtoes at 2:02 PM on February 3, 2017 [12 favorites]

No, you are not overreacting. If it were me, the fact he is talking to other women in a way that he never used to signals (to me) that he is interested in them. I would be concerned that one day, this might lead to an affair. The fact he asked her not to tell you is disrespectful and signals (to me) that he thinks he was doing something wrong.
posted by LillyBird at 2:35 PM on February 3, 2017 [1 favorite]

Yeah, you are WAY under-reacting. Alcoholic? Poor boundaries? Those female "friends" need to go and so does the alcohol. If they don't, then he should.
posted by Marinara at 2:35 PM on February 3, 2017 [5 favorites]

Ha-ha, yeah, my ex used to pull this on me too. But it was only 9 years. Including trying to make me normalize it and be friends with his girlfriends.

If you are in with someone who is gaslighting you -- that is, blaming you for their misbehavior.

Your options are to stay and put up with it, or leave.

I agree with those who say to get your own individual counselor, because often, when going to a marital counselor, they don't see or tend to minimize the behavior, because they go on the assumption that both parties want to work together. This is not working together, this is him dictating his behavior to you, and telling you to put up with it. It's disrespectful, to you and you children.

One thing that stood out to me when seeing my own counselor was A) he will not change and B) I don't have to stay in a relationship that makes me unhappy. There is no law that makes you stay there, it's not required, there is only your own sense of obligation and perhaps, worries about financial and what other people with think. But in the end, you are free to choose, and that's at the heart of it: choosing.

What will tip the scales for you no one can answer: that's up to you. Whatever you decide to do, it's of your own volition. Only you can say what is right for yourself, and your own situation. But as an outsider, I'd say he's acting like a jerk, and blaming you for his bad behavior, and then trying to pull the wool over your eyes when you catch him in the act.

You have NO reason to be embarrassed, and he has EVERY reason to be ashamed and embarrassed. What does a 2-year-old do when caught? Denies it and/or blames someone else? A grown man doing this is not acceptable.

I hope you can get through this, but whatever you decide to do, don't let him put his bullshit onto you anymore, OP, or tell you the house has to be clean so he won't be tempted to flirt, or tell you flirting in front of you isn't flirting. I did this for years, and it's not a fun feeling.

Now I'm married to a guy who would rather flirt with a Wendy's Chicken sandwich than a woman, so it's possible to find a guy who doesn't treat women like that. I wish you well, no matter what you decide to do, and I hope you find happiness.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 2:52 PM on February 3, 2017 [5 favorites]

The most important boundaries that are being crossed, constantly, are yours, and your trust. But that goes along with his alcohol abuse, emotional abuse, etc. He is lying to you, and manipulating you, to get sympathy and resources. And as everybody else has said, you are not over-reacting. Maybe having your own personal therapist (not a marriage counsellor) might help you to start analyzing how you are being manipulated and triggered, how to break those loops, and whether or not you want to deal with it going on. A therapist who practices cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) might help. Very best of luck.
posted by carter at 3:06 PM on February 3, 2017

No, you are NOT overreacting! It seems like you have bent over backwards to make this guy happy and he is portraying you like a clingy turd to his coworkers. Ugh, the happy birthday text accompanied by "shhhh don't tell my wife" is an invitation for mischief. And perusing dating websites. Blegh. You have every right in the world to feel yucky right now.
posted by pintapicasso at 3:14 PM on February 3, 2017 [5 favorites]

You are not overreacting.
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 4:16 PM on February 3, 2017

Go to therapy alone. My husband (together 22 years) had a mid life crisis (and had an emotional affair) and as hard as I tried I could not save the marriage without his buy in.

Put on your own mask first.
posted by vespabelle at 5:45 PM on February 3, 2017 [2 favorites]

How is your crime (small messes around the house) somehow worse than his emotional infidelity?

Get out. Seriously, you're in an abusive relationship.
posted by shazzam! at 5:53 PM on February 3, 2017 [6 favorites]

You're underreacting. He's a terrible husband. This is emotional abuse. Find a lawyer and initiate divorce.
posted by Gray Skies at 7:28 PM on February 3, 2017 [10 favorites]

I think a good partner would want to know when he crossed a boundary, so he could address it and not hurt you or the relationship. Even if it felt bad for him to hear about it. That kind of listening and holding is a valuable skill.

I don't think you're overreacting. It sounds like you can't trust him. He is not acting in a trustworthy way. I hope you can find a source of peace for yourself, apart from this relationship, no matter what happens.
posted by ramenopres at 9:10 AM on February 5, 2017

As I see it, the appropriateness of your reaction is not tbe issue here. You have a husband who is upset and who has upset you deeply. You need to tell him about your feelings, because they are very real, whether they are justified or not.

Tell him how much his bahvior hurts you. Ask him why he is flirting with other options when he made a committment to you. Remind him that the honor with which he treats the committment is a reflection of his character. If he is trying to tell you that he does not want to be in the marriage, then he should tell you, not hurt you.

For your part, I'm going to take a running leap of a cliff that represents a reasonable conclusion to me and guess that one of your issues is your mismatched libidos. That is an incredibly common problem in marriage, and there are solutions, but they require effort on both of your parts.

I know reddit has a reputation that is hair above Frogtown, but dead bedrooms is a great place to start the untangling if your libidos are indeed mismatched.

A little more, even if my guess is off: you have framed his behavior in terms of your trust and his unwillingness to respect your boundaries. This may be factually correct, but I would ask you to examine how useful it is. It certainly allows you to feel grief when he misbehaves, but try to figure out what is driving that behavior. Also, bear in mind that you need to extend trust to have intimacy. If his previous breach of trust leads to snooping on your part, then you will not have true intimacy whether you find what you are looking for or not. So ask him if he's been unfailthful, instead of going through his e-mail. If he lies to you, the truth is going to come out. You will not like how vulnerable this makes you feel, but that kind of vulnerability is a necessary part of a loving union.

I'd strongly urge you to sit down and have a conversation with him that is separate from the one in which you tell him how his beahior makes you feel. Start it by telling the qualities thst you still admire in him, or those that he has reminded you of recently if you struggle to do this. Then simply ask him what he wants, and instruct him to answer honestly. If he becomes defensive or says hurtful things, tell him that you are prepared to listen to his answer without judgment and work with him as his partner, since that is what you are. If it doesn't go well, just let him know that you are prepared to talk when he is ready. Good luck. I hope you are able to work through this.
posted by Mr. Fig at 11:20 AM on February 5, 2017

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