Just when I had started to believe that my needs actually matter...
December 20, 2020 12:54 AM   Subscribe

I come from an emotionally abusive household where my parents often told me I was too sensitive or crazy (classic gaslighting). My husband used to be pretty good about taking my feelings seriously when we met, but now it feels like I'm being treated like a crazy person again. Help?

I was the covert scapegoat at home - my parents invested just as much money into my education as they did with my brother's, but he was definitely their favorite. I'm a girl and both my mother and father are pretty sexist. My brother could call me things like "ugly slut" right at the dinner table and I'd get in trouble for being upset. I was told things like I'm just too sensitive and that it's my own fault if I was being bullied in school, you all know how this stuff goes. I'm low contact right now (and live far away) and feel better, plus I have some pretty awesome friends.

My husband and I met during a very low point in my life almost a decade ago, and he was there for me and gave me emotional support. I have since started therapy and understand myself a lot better, and while he doesn't really get my emotions (he says he doesn't really feel things the way I do - he basically only knows tired and hungry), he supports me going to therapy and lets me do my thing. On the flipside, this means I do all the emotional labor in our relationship like telling him to please pick his tissues off the floor, communicating with his family, reminding him to see a doctor if he needs to, speaking his language to him etc. He does a lot of cooking so I don't mind sharing chores this way, although it can be really rough when I'm sick and he doesn't pick up on it. I don't expect him to read minds, but I will say "hey, I have a headache, can you please come home quietly tonight?" and he'll stomp up the stairs and yell "I'm back!" It's not malicious (like my parents would be, and what I never wanted in a partner), but it's thoughtless and at some point, the difference doesn't really matter.

Today we were at the store and the cashier pulled down his mask and touched his nose. I told my husband we should ask him to clean his hands before he touched our groceries, but my husband said we should not. He wanted to just switch to a different register, but we were already next in line and I didn't see why we should have to. After all, the cashier at the other register might be touching his nose as well and we just didn't see it (the other employees didn't seem to care), so wasn't this our best chance? We could have just said, "sorry, it seems like you just touched your face, would you mind cleaning your hands first?"
Husband was completely against it and so we ended up taking our grosseries home and wiping them all. I am upset. It seems like every time I make a (to me) reasonable request to back me up on something, he acts like I'm making a huge scene, that I shouldn't care, that I'm wrong. It feels like my discomfort is less of an issue to him than other people's discomfort. Other examples:
- on our honeymoon, a staff member of the boat we were on for a trip called me fat. Instead of complaining, husband tipped the guy nicely despite me asking him not to
- someone bikes too close to me and knocks into me. Husband watches and says nothing, despite having previously told me that he would a civilian arrest if he saw someone biking dangerously
- some old guy harasses me at a tourist spot we both visit. Instead of complaining to the admin, husband tells the old guy "my wife's feelings got a little hurt"

Were my parents right and I'm just way too sensitive? The internet (this place, Captain Awkward) made me think I have a right to be upset by these things, but people in real life don't seem to agree. (My friends probably would, but they're probably too similar to me, and they only ever hear my side of the story.) My therapist seems to think maybe this marriage isn't great for me (which is sad, as my husband has a lot of great sides as well), but then again she's going off what I'm telling her - my feelings - which is different from me being objectively right or wrong. Do I need to adjust my expectations?
posted by LoonyLovegood to Human Relations (28 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
You definitely have a right to all the things you’re feeling. Your feelings are real, and it’s great you’re listening to them and acting on them.

The thing I wondered first about several of the examples you give is... why didn’t you just do those things yourself? It’s maybe because you’ve had to edit them down to tell them here, but there feels like a bit of a dynamic where you feel you have to funnel your public behaviour through him.

You didn’t need to get agreement from your husband at the checkout about what to say, you could have just got to the front of the line and asked the checkout person to wash their hands. You could have complained about the person who called you fat yourself. Etc. Are you asking his approval for everything you do when you’re together, and/or frequently expecting him to act on your behalf in public? If so, you can stop that and just do these things yourself, which takes away the possibility of you being disappointed by him not reacting the way you want - act that way yourself without taking it to a panel and trying to get him on board with the idea.

That said, when someone’s treated you badly in public, you do have a right to reasonably expect your loved ones to back you up and be sympathetic. It does sound like there’s a pattern where he’s not sticking up for you at all in those circumstances and that sucks. I don’t know that I’d call it gaslighting, it feels more like being unsupportive and uncaring of your feelings.
posted by penguin pie at 3:30 AM on December 20, 2020 [38 favorites]

I probably should have mentioned that we are currently living in husband's country, and while I speak the language just fine and have a ton of local friends, it always feels a little like I need his approval in order not to cause him shame, and because it's a fairly patriarchal society where the men (at the register, on bikes, whatever) would listen to him more than a female foreigner. I also want to see IF he would stand up to me at all, because if we ever had kids (we're in our 30s) and he rolls his eyes at me in the delivery room when I tell the doctor something's wrong and they don't listen, we're in a lot of trouble and it will be too late.
There have been situations where I tried to stand up for myself, like telling someone who biked into me on the sidewalk to watch where they're going, and them getting angry back at me (a short woman) while my husband (a tallish guy with a black belt in karate) stands there and stares at his phone or looks uncomfortable for me "making a scene".

FWIW, in similar situations, my local female friends (who seem to sympathize with me more) have said something, and his parents are fairly considerate people who definitely understand being quiet when someone is sick. He just likes to take the path of least resistance, I guess? He also thinks if someone is being persecuted in their country for being LGBT+, they should "just move somewhere else", for example.
posted by LoonyLovegood at 4:13 AM on December 20, 2020 [2 favorites]

It sounds like your husband supports your need to work through this, but doesn't want to do any of that work with you. That's fine - he's your husband, not your therapist - but it sounds like he is both emotionally unintelligent and not very supportive of you in other ways.

The examples you gave of the bike, the boat, and the tourist spot are not examples of a supportive husband. All 3 cases are classic examples of a woman being treated negatively by asshole guys (assuming the cyclist was also a guy) and any man worth his salt would call out that behaviour. He may not like conflict, but at the very least a good husband certainly wouldn't tip someone who called his wife fat. That alone is appalling behaviour and raises a lot of red flags for the way he thinks about you.

You say "my husband has a lot of great sides as well", but some sides are more important than others. One of the most important sides for a husband is protecting and supporting your wife in a world where women can get treated like crap just for being women. It's sad that this is the case, but it is reality. He is not doing that, and in the case of the tip is actively rewarding someone for insulting you. But because of the emotional abuse you've gone through in the past it may not be obvious what normal, decent relationship behaviour is. So let me be very clear: Tipping someone after they called your wife fat is so far past acceptable that I'm actually angry on your behalf.

In short, you are not being too sensitive. Your therapist has said "maybe this marriage isn't great for me". Difficult as it may be to hear, your therapist (who presumably has seen plenty of good and bad marital situations) probably knows what they are talking about. No-one here can tell you if you should or shouldn't stick with your marriage, but I suspect quite a few people here will tell you that you are entitled to better treatment than you're getting from him.
posted by underclocked at 4:21 AM on December 20, 2020 [19 favorites]

This is definitely a real problem. You're presenting it as an interpersonal problem, and that's certainly going to be part of the issue (does your husband really only identify the emotions of fatigue and hunger? Those aren't even really emotions, they're more like physical sensations that various emotions might accompany...)

But it feels like you might be playing down the intercultural differences too. You didn't name your countries here so I won't either, but I remember this context from elsewhere and on top of the patriarchality, your husband's culture also stereotypically has very specific attitudes to confrontation, to the importance of maintaining social harmony, to emotional openness, etc. I mean, these are stereotypes and you'll know the reality much better than me. But it feels like a factor you need to take strongly into account in whatever approaches you take on trying to resolve this issue. If you do couple's counseling, you might want to make a point of looking for someone experienced with intercultural relationships.
posted by trig at 4:50 AM on December 20, 2020 [17 favorites]

(also I wonder if asking this question on a local forum, if you have one, would offer more relevant advice for your situation, and a more relevant set of insights about the behaviors at play.)
posted by trig at 4:55 AM on December 20, 2020 [3 favorites]

If you are feeling that the relationship you are in now is replicating dynamics from your emotionally abusive family then a big red warning light in my mind begins flashing.

Being insulted and harrased in public and expecting support from your partner is not too sensitive or emotional, the end. You are making so much room in this post for how you might be wrong and your friends are just biased toward you and your therapist doesn't know your husband's good sides... but they don't need to. How the relationship makes you feel is your lived reality, and that reality is your husband doesn't care if you feel unsafe or harrassed in public. Sure maybe he doesn't "get it" but that's not really the point. You (not the culture, not your family, not an objective standard that doesn't exist, but YOU, which is ENOUGH) need him to care about this and he doesn't. The only thing you are responsible for is making the needs you can't fulfill yourself, clear. If you've communicated your needs and they are ignored there is something wrong with your marriage that needs attention.
Your feelings are valid, valuable, and your deserve respect, no matter which country you reside in.
posted by wellifyouinsist at 5:17 AM on December 20, 2020 [15 favorites]

One thing I can say about this country is that the customer is usually king and that I have seen men here yell at (younger/female) cashiers over absolutely nonsense, so a polite "please wash your hands" was absolutely within our rights.
If my husband was just a timid person, I'd be less hurt than this. The way it is now, he brags about being different from others here and about catching bad cyclists who ride on the sidewalk because he legally could (he's a lawyer), but then when one actually runs into me, suddenly he's all "stop freaking out" - and I'm starting to question whether I just dreamed his previous personality and promises.
posted by LoonyLovegood at 5:36 AM on December 20, 2020 [3 favorites]

Were my parents right and I'm just way too sensitive? The internet (this place, Captain Awkward) made me think I have a right to be upset by these things, but people in real life don't seem to agree.

I suspect these people in real life may not be coming from a malicious place, necessarily, but they may have their own reasons to be giving you advice that promotes keeping the peace, not looking for problems, and so on. They are more interested in keeping you (plural) together as a couple than in what's going on with you (singular), but they are doing it on a very superficial level.

This thing about telling a third person "my wife was a little upset" is incredibly annoying and patronizing and it strikes me as a very good example of someone who needs to be more on Team Us-- not USA; you and me. I think if you feel he's on Team Us, he can do all kinds of annoying things, like forget to be quiet coming home at night, and it won't feel so personal. If my partner was doing some of the things you list, I would think it was just sort of a difference in style or opinion or culture and would be apt to let it go-- if he wasn't also doing some things where he really seems to be letting you down and not prioritizing you. So if people are not validating your feelings on this point or that, they may not be seeing the whole picture. To me, the whole picture is that you need to be sure he is on Team You and Him. I think it's absolutely legitimate that you are having doubts and you should address them with him.
posted by BibiRose at 6:25 AM on December 20, 2020 [4 favorites]

I agree with what others have said about your feelings - they matter and deserve to be validated by your husband. But I want to call out to other points that stood out to me in your ask.

1. you are doing all the emotional labor. That's awful. And you're right to be concerned about what would happen with kids in the picture. To me, reciprocity in a relationship is key. When one person is doing all the work to keep social connections, initiate communication on important topics, plan for the family, plan dates, etc. that is a not a relationship. 🛑 Stop doing things that are your husband's responsibilities. He is a grown ass adult who can remember his mother's birthday and make his own doctor's appointments and can deal with the consequences of not taking care of his own business.

2. I did wonder if your husband is not neurotypical. You said he only knows two emotions tired and hungry and his repeated failures to read and act on clear social cues. Maybe he has some genuine difficulties reading and responding to some social situations.

Your husband needs to join you in therapy. He needs to start taking responsibility for his part in your relationship and whether or not it makes you feel loved and supported.
posted by brookeb at 6:55 AM on December 20, 2020 [5 favorites]

Yeah, +1 to suspicion of potential non neurotypical, for the reasons brookeb has and more.

As we get healthier as individuals, it's common to look around and wonder why we put up with certain things that used to be... Not ok, but tolerable or normal.

posted by Jacen at 7:49 AM on December 20, 2020 [2 favorites]

he brags

Cowards often do. It's essentially a camouflage tactic.
posted by flabdablet at 8:20 AM on December 20, 2020 [16 favorites]

I... am going to take a slightly different tack from other commenters and say, after seeing all your comments about how it is "in this country", that before we even get to the question of whether your husband is bad for you, I would state that the COUNTRY you are in is bad for you, and that you need to get out ASAP.

Maybe your husband will come with you. Maybe he won't. But either way, you will find a lot more peace once you are in a place where you are objectively permitted to be in control of your own world.
posted by WaywardPlane at 10:21 AM on December 20, 2020 [15 favorites]

yeah, I'd be wary about ascribing to him all the deficiencies that maybe are actually a function of the country where you are living. If your friends are part of that culture then sure, they're not going to see it as a problem.

But just as far as he goes: have you told him specifically "it's not acceptable for you to take anyone's side against me in public. Team Us comes first, you can litigate that shit with me later in private if you think I'm in the wrong, but don't you ever treat me that way in public again?" I've had to say that explicitly to my spouse (although it was just one incident and FAR from as gross as the ones you've described) and it has not needed to be repeated.
posted by fingersandtoes at 10:54 AM on December 20, 2020 [5 favorites]

I have, to some extent, been the husband in this scenario. So let me start by affirming you are totally entitled to your very valid and real feelings.

First off, I really strongly advise you to show this tread to your husband. Seeing how you put these thoughts in writing would most likely be VERY helpful for him. Communications is like an iceberg, 90% of it is below water. Communications in a relationship is worse, because once we settle into habits and routines (that we think work) we don't even spend very much time thinking about the 90%. Giving him the opportunity to read this allows him to see your thoughts on a bunch of different things he may never have connected, and when he's reading it he won't feel the need (as we all would) to stop and defend himself and/or apologize for each individual item before reading them all and seeing the larger pattern.

I also highly recommend sending him to the Metafilter thread on Emotional Labor, I didn't get it before reading that thread, and many men don't get it because until we're seconds from getting divorced it's never really something we had to know. I know it sucks that you have to do some EL to get him to know what it is, but it's the chicken-and-egg problem, except that he's never heard of either the chicken or the egg and someone has just been bringing him omelets and chicken salad all his life.

“Where’s My Cut?”: On Unpaid Emotional Labor (there's also a good annotated version as a PDF Emotional Labor - The MetaFilter Thread Condensed.pdf that I found on the Mary Sue).

I had an ex with a similar history of gaslighting by others, and it made her quite timid at times, and even though I was aware of that I was often surprised at how she interpreted my actions. On more then one occasion when I thought she was asking my opinion of something it turned out later she thought she was explicitly asking me to do something or if we could do something. From her perspective she'd asked if we go go to restaurant X, and from my perspective she'd asked me if I wanted to go to restaurant X. That changes my "no" from giving my opinion to vetoing her request, which was never my intention.

These situations OFTEN happened in a time sensitive way (like during checkout at a store) where I was focused on doing something else, so even though I was aware this was a problem it was still easy to miss it in practice because it requires a lot of effort to try to read between the lines constantly, and to steal your example, if she asked me if I thought we should ask the cashier to wash their hands, and I didn't personally see a reason to do so, I might have just said that without mentally getting from "she wants my opinion on this" to "she wants me to ask this person to do this". Later if she was upset I would then be surprised, which isn't the best way to validate someone's feelings, and we would both end up hurt/upset.

A really high amount of this was related to stuff I honestly didn't care about, which made it very confusing to me that she thought I would dictate on the matter. To my mind it was almost if she was gaslighting me by saying I'd vetoing getting thai food last night, when literally all I said was it's been a while since we had sushi. I was hurt she seemed to feel I was dictating to her when that wasn't my intention, and she was hurt that I didn't understand what she meant when she was talking to me.

Although your scenarios don't 100% match this, reading between the lines I think it's possible there's some of this happening, plus cultural issues, plus language issues that complicate things even further. You say your husband was 100% against talking to the clerk, but I'm curious what his actual words were, and whether you think he didn't want to, he didn't want you to, or he wanted to prevent you from doing so. There's miles between each one of those and it's not totally clear which you think it was. If he said "No, we can't do that it's stupid" then you can probably just go ahead and dump his ass and get out of the country as has been suggested. On the other hand, if what you said to him was along the lines of "do you think we should ask that clerk to wash his hands?" then while that could have been clear to someone with a high level of emotional intelligence who was in tune with your feelings on the issue, it could also have just gone over his head and not be any reflection of what he thinks about you.

Part of the issue between me and my ex was that in many ways I had a higher opinion of her then she did, which meant in practice I expected that if she felt strongly about something she would act on it herself, and wasn't always attuned to when she needed help or affirmation with her feelings. To make matters worse she often did, so it wasn't an always/never situation, which would have been easier to predict. To put it another way, she wasn't timid all the time so I sometimes didn't notice when she was being timid, and failed to help her out when I could have if I had been smarter about it.

To steal another one of your scenarios. My ex gets bumped into on a bike, and I see she doesn't tell the person off herself herself it could be that:
Version A) She's not feeling timid and she decided that she didn't need to yell at the guy. If I step in I remove her agency by doing it for her then she would be upset, I'm treating her like a child by not respecting her decision of how to handle the scenario.
Version B) She is feeling timid and will be upset that I didn't step in and defend her.

If your husband isn't aware that you're sometimes feeling generally, culturally and/or linguistically unable to speak up for yourself then he may being trying to avoid mistake type A, and stumbling into mistake type B. Add to that a baseline level of just being unaware of EL because others have always done it for me, and I think it starts to resemble your situation fairly well.
posted by tiamat at 12:06 PM on December 20, 2020 [11 favorites]

yeah, I'd be wary about ascribing to him all the deficiencies that maybe are actually a function of the country where you are living. If your friends are part of that culture then sure, they're not going to see it as a problem.

But the OP’s friends do see the sexism and harassment as a problem. They’ve told her it’s not unreasonable for her to expect her husband to back her up when she’s treated poorly by someone else.

I think the real problem here is exactly what you described, OP. When others treat you poorly, your husband passively goes along with it and doesn’t have your back. If you moved to another country, these incidents would still happen (there’s sexism and harassment everywhere, to lesser and greater extents) and he still would not have your back.

This is a problem, you are not overreacting, and you are completely correct to be concerned about what would happen if you had kids. Your husband needs to be Team You. Right now he is Team Let’s Not Make A Scene, which is a good way to make you feel unsupported.

You can’t be doing all the work in your relationship.

Your childhood experience with your parents gaslighting you is what’s making you doubt yourself. Please listen to your gut, and your friends, and everyone here who is confirming your unhappiness with your husband’s behaviour. This isn’t a referendum on his worth as a person; it’s saying the way he’s behaving to you right now isn’t okay. You deserve better, you are entitled to ask for it, and you’re entitled to leave this relationship if your husband refuses to meet this bare minimum of treating you with respect and standing up for you.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 12:08 PM on December 20, 2020 [5 favorites]

What's somewhat concerning about this is there doesn't seem to be a whole lot of code-switching going on. Let's say you're living somewhere where it would make way too many waves for him to stand up for you in public the way you'd like. Then it would be somewhat reasonable (albeit annoying for you) for him to react the way he does to others who've slighted you while privately validating you in private. That's a way for him to clearly demonstrate that he's on Team You despite public behaviours that you might be uneasy with.

That kind of code-switching, though, would require that he understands that distinct cultures (both his and yours of origin) are a thing. People who don't spend a lot of time in multicultural environments (and even those who do, under certain circumstances) sometimes don't have an understanding of culture that treats it as a separate thing from someone's personality or something else innate. Same goes for the sorts of people who really into seeing themselves as being different from the people around them; exploring how much you're influenced by things larger than yourself can be a real threat to one's identity. OTOH, maybe he does understand all of this, yet still sees your perspective as wrong or simply does GAF. We can't tell from here.

Being an expat, discomfort with or the inability to recognize cross-cultural complications is likely a worldview you would have trouble relating to. None of this is about defending him, but I think that there's some more work to be done to figure out if his issue is mostly a cultural blind spot or an actual disregard for your perspective.
posted by blerghamot at 12:19 PM on December 20, 2020 [2 favorites]

Do you know any women in this culture and place you would like to emulate?

If so, you could ask them how they live their life and assert themselves.

If not... that's a problem.
posted by flimflam at 1:06 PM on December 20, 2020 [1 favorite]

I didn't read all the comments but I assume everyone's covered "YES your feelings are valid and you have a right to express them and not be told they don't matter or are wrong". I scrambled to comment because I wanted to tell you:

You doing all the emotional labor, no matter how else he contributes, is NOT "sharing chores"!

I say this from a place of long experience: For a decade and a half I lived with a partner who took care of most of the financial stuff and a couple specific household chores, but all the emotional labor fell to me (including constantly reminding him of his commitment to do those chores, and doing them myself when he eventually just stopped doing them). For years I thought this was okay, because like you, I thought of it as a division of labor. But in reality I had all the responsibility and very little of the power, rarely got my own emotional needs met (especially as time went on and he got used to being taken care of), and ended up seeming like the mean nagging girlfriend which of course I never wanted to be.

I also come from a neglectful home where showing feelings or expressing needs was at best useless (no one was capable of responding to them) and at worst dangerous (it would be turned against me), and this relationship only reinforced my deep and deeply harmful beliefs that a) I couldn't trust my own feelings, and b) that no one would ever help me and I was 100% on my own

I still loved him, he had many excellent qualities that made it easy to talk myself into staying. It was very, very hard to end the relationship, but we finally did when it was clear he wasn't willing to make the effort to make it better. It was the best thing for both of us. We're both happier now. And in fact we're still friends! But it was not a healthy relationship and we do not belong together.

If you think your husband is invested in the relationship enough to want to salvage it, ask him to work on this seriously with you, and consider couple's therapy (which I acknowledge may be a cultural challenge, but maye your own therapist can guide you to resources). If you truly don't think he is, this isn't going to get better for you and you deserve so, so much better.
posted by rhiannonstone at 2:09 PM on December 20, 2020 [1 favorite]

Thank you all for your replies, I really appreciate them.

If I may make a couple of clarifications:
- My female Japanese friends DO think that husband should have my back since I am here for his job. The ones that are in relationships with men tend to complain about similar things, but not to this extent. Several of them are seeking to leave the country, which is also our plan for the near future.
- We have lived in Europe before and my husband has also lived in other countries without me before. He just likes to insist that he's different from everyone else and "not normal". I try to be mindful of our cultural differences (his mother literally says I'm acting more Japanese than him), but 50% of that should fall on him, no? (He also doesn't believe in therapy, go figure...)
- I am German and usually fairly blunt. I have told my husband explicitly and many times that he needs to do thing XYZ and if he can't remember, he'll have to put a reminder into his phone. The reminders miraculously disappear and he will later claim he has no memory of me ever making such a request, but of course because he loves me, he will generously believe me. Yesterday as well, I made a specific request for him to ask the cashier to clean his hands because I thought it would be more impactful coming from him, and he said he would not and that he cannot back me up if he doesn't agree with what I want. This was the first time he outright stated something like that instead of feigning ignorance, and I'm shocked.
posted by LoonyLovegood at 4:58 PM on December 20, 2020 [2 favorites]

This update puts a more ominous spin on things, imo. That's just straight-up gaslighting and there's really no level of nice sides that make up for doing that to you.
posted by augustimagination at 7:55 PM on December 20, 2020 [3 favorites]

He’s an annoying coward. With therapy and self-awareness he could change, but that’s a long uphill road.
posted by stoneandstar at 7:58 PM on December 20, 2020 [4 favorites]

This man explicitly stated that he can’t back you up on ANYTHING... if he doesn’t agree with what you want?

This is not a loving or caring person. This is beyond his being a cold fish, or a control freak, or someone with a low social or emotional IQ. He’s not a wonderful guy with a gruff manner. No, this guy you married has total contempt for you. Your fear that he may enter the room when you’re in labor and roll your eyes when you ask him to call the nurse for pain medication, is very telling to me. It’s exactly the kind of thing this guy would do.

Look, I happen to relate to you and to your description of your childood. As another responder mentioned above, early trauma from abuse at the hands of parents or caretakers distorts the child’s perceptions of what is appropriate in human relationships. Kids like us become desensitized to abuse to a certain extent, but in your case your gut is telling you that you are completely emotionally alone in this relationship. And you know this is wrong, and you’re ready to do something about it.

Your parents argued with your feelings, told you you weren’t really cold or thirsty or tired, and they dismissed your pain. They may have praised you for the wrong things—for being tough, for instance, when it should have been okay for you to cry and seek their comfort. You’re right that this pattern is repeating itself now (good insight), and it alarms you. We trauma survivors seek out people who remind us of our abusive parents not because we love pain, but because we want to rewrite the story. If we can finally conquer the cold and cruel person we’ve fastened on, our lives will finally fall into place. But it never happens, because there can be no intimacy with an emotionally unavailable person.

Your husband may just be a product of his misogynist culture, or he may be autistic or have a personality disorder. I don’t believe evil people exist—there are reasons for behavior. But do the reasons matter? The effects on you of his words and actions will be devastating to you over time. And they’re already harming you.

The most chilling thing you wrote was that he told you that he only has two emotions—hunger and tiredness. This simply can’t be real, but whether it is or not, you don’t have a husband, you have a poodle. What he’s telling you is that he’s not available for intimacy. He’s out to lunch, and quite satisfied to remain so. His smugness in every interaction with you that you’ve described is loathesome.

Please get out from under the hellish influence of this person and try to recover some agency in your own life. You have a lot to offer, and your life is worth so much. Please love yourself, and stop living under the volcano. It will take courage to free yourself but you have untapped sources of strength. You are a beautiful and unique person who deserves to be loved and cherished.

I’m pulling for you.
posted by cartoonella at 8:24 PM on December 20, 2020 [3 favorites]

Oh, wow, talk about burying the lede.

I Iived in Japan for a few years, though many years ago now, and have had several Japanese roommates since returning to the U.S. I have also spent lots of time in Europe, though not Germany. Theories about neurological differences and your family background aside, I'd say you're experiencing a massive gender and cultural divide. Although Southern Europe is, on the whole, less feminist than Northern Europe, it and the United States, too, all blur into a single cultural place compared to Japan.

This is not to say there aren't rebels and freethinkers capable of transcending their own culture in Japan, but most don't or can't, and Japan would be among the harder places to do so because there are high social penalties for those who don't fit in.

Ideas relating to manhood, hierarchy in terms of status (which can include job, age, background) and traditional marriage would no doubt be coming to the fore for your husband if he was a Japanese person abroad for many years, and is now returned home. Indeed, the most similar story I've heard to yours involves an Argentinian and an American meeting and marrying abroad, only to return to Argentina and have everything fall apart. Argentina, like Japan, is a very macho culture, and machismo doesn't exist in a vacuum:
The traditional role of women in Japan has been defined as "three submissions": young women submit to their fathers; married women submit to their husbands, and elderly women submit to their sons. Strains of this arrangement can be seen in contemporary Japan, where housewives are responsible for cooking, cleaning, child-rearing and support their husbands to work without any worries about family, as well as balancing the household's finances. Yet, as the number of dual-income households rises, women and men are sharing household chores, and research shows that this has led to increased satisfaction over households that divide labor in traditional ways.
Smart men who can evolve abroad because that's the norm there may suddenly devolve when they go back home because of subtle and not so subtle cultural ideas about fitting in, and Japan is a country where the "square peg" get ground down by the larger group. There are groups for everything, and strict conventions on how to behave in a group, which may have little or nothing to do with how individuals really feel. I think for a lot of Japanese there are no outlets for this, which only adds to a sense of isolation for a lot of people. It was my impression in Japan that the Japanese are as isolated as many Westerners are. The only difference is the Japanese are isolated in groups, and individual Westerners are truly alone.

All of which is to say it is now logical to me that he acted one way in a foreign country and different at home. It is also logical to me that he didn't defend you when someone on a bicycle knocked into you, or when you wanted to ask the clerk to wash their hands, which likely has some subtext there it wouldn't it other places. It is also logical that your Japanese woman friends are taking your side. As you no doubt know, Japan has long led first-world counties in the decline of people getting married, at least in part from Japanese women rejecting the Japanese patriarchy and what that will require of them as a wife.

Anyway, I am not Japanese, and if there are any who visit this thread they should weigh in, or correct me if they think I am overgeneralizing. That said, if I were you, however, I would seek out some ex-pat friends (of any nationality), who are also married to Japanese nationals. They may give you the most valuable insight. My suspicion is your problem is less your husband than your husband in the context of his own country.
posted by Puppetry for Privacy at 8:29 PM on December 20, 2020 [2 favorites]

I appreciate the comments, but can we all assume that I've been here for a while and know stuff about the culture and my husband?
posted by LoonyLovegood at 8:50 PM on December 20, 2020

OP, what would be helpful to you now?

I was the one who asked if you had been explicit with him. You say you have. And in response, when he hasn't lied, he's been explicit with you. He literally told you he doesn't have your back.

I'm sorry, this is a terrible thing to hear from your spouse, but it's crucial information. If you were my sister I'd tell you to act on it.
posted by fingersandtoes at 9:18 PM on December 20, 2020 [5 favorites]

You do know the culture, LoonyLivegood, so why are you going along with it and expecting him to subvert it? You’re as afraid of the social penalties of being a rowdy woman as he is of defending you.
posted by stoneandstar at 9:38 PM on December 20, 2020 [5 favorites]

I just want to say that, from the replies here, you were right not to mention your nationalities and country of residence in the original question.

It doesn't seem like your husband has realistic expectations of how he should relate to you in the marriage, and that needs to be fixed, but I don't think you can just work on him supporting you. He needs to have a large enough mental model of who and what you are that he can instinctively empathise. So I guess the question is how to get him to see you as a full person, more than trying to get him to stand up for you. If he couldn't stand up for himself, it'd be a whole different question.

And yes, he needs to put in the work to learn real emotions. It's not good enough that he is going through life without them, not least because it means he can't identify your emotions.
posted by ambrosen at 2:31 AM on December 21, 2020 [2 favorites]

« Older Evaporative cooling inside a freezer?   |   Talking... Awkward Silence... Awkward Silence...... Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments