Is it me or him?
September 21, 2007 8:24 PM   Subscribe

Am I being unreasonable in asking to be treated politely? Is he being too hard on me by basically refusing? Am _I_ the asshole like he says?

To start off with - I know I don't come off looking very smart here but I really could use some help and I've gotten to the point where I just don't have anyone who can give me an objective viewpoint.

I was married to my ex-husband for 20 years before I divorced him over issues similar to the ones that I'm bringing up here. We have 3 kids - 2 teenage boys and a 10 year old girl. He moved across the country after our divorce, then returned and wanted to get back together. This came at a particularly vulnerable time in my life when I was dealing with serious financial concerns and working 60+ hours per week so I agreed to try against my better judgement. There have been many ups and downs over the last year that I won't go into here, but the big thing for me right now is that I can say something to him in what I believe to be is a perfectly normal tone of voice and he will often (at least a few times a day) respond to me with varying degrees of anger ranging from snapping at me to something more extreme.

I find myself more and more just trying not to say things because I don't want to deal with the possible unpleasant exchange that will result. I can't really say that what is occuring is really verbal abuse, just more like living with a fast food worker who isn't giving you the service you'd like. I told him recently that every exchange with him was like getting a tiny paper cut and at the end of the day, I had a 100 paper cuts. His reply was, "Really? 100? Is it really 100? Aren't you exagerating?" So you can see that he doesn't really see or appreciate how much pain this is causing me, nor does he really care and I can't seem to convey this to him.

This morning, he told my son to get out of the shower and then went back 4 minutes later and told him to get out again. When I said, "You know, it's only been 4 minutes since you told him to get out the first time." he said something and I don't even remember what it really was, just that it made me feel bad. When I said that I didn't think he needed to be rude about a simple remark, he told me that I was always rude to our son and then called our son in the room and was trying to get him to say which of us was the rudest before I put a stop to that. Now he says he's tired of my shit and he's spending the night at a friend's house. All I wanted was for him to be polite to me?

The thing is - my oldest son is starting to treat me like his dad does and I don't know if it's because it is me who's so awful or if it's because he's mad at me because he's doing bad in all his classes and I keep taking away privileges from him until he improves his grades. So basically, I feel like I'm getting it on all sounds and I'm wondering if I'm the victim or the jerk. If I'm the jerk, then I want to change and if I'm living in a situation that isn't right, then I want to change the situation because this is killing me. Your home should be your sanctuary from the world - not just another lane on the freeway.

I grew up with this guy - he was my friend and we used to laugh and have great conversations. I miss my friend and I don't seem to have the words that will bring him back or make him care that he's hurting me.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (26 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
No, it's not you. Maybe it's both of you, or maybe he's disturbed and not caused in any way by you, but you probably need to get out as soon as reasonably possible. I'm sorry, what a crappy situation.
posted by anadem at 8:49 PM on September 21, 2007

You're not the asshole. And you don't need to take it. Tell him so. Tell him he's being an asshole and you're not going to take it any more.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 8:50 PM on September 21, 2007 [1 favorite]

By 'get out' I mean from the relationship, preferably by ejecting the guy.
posted by anadem at 8:53 PM on September 21, 2007 [1 favorite]

This sounds like a cocktail of problems. It's not any one thing. There's a whole lotta stuff happening here and it won't have a magic bullet answer.

But to pose some Socratic method questions back to you ... if you start reading between the lines of your own post, there's things that might not be apparent to your subjective viewpoint.

All I wanted was for him to be polite to me?

Are you sure? Because...

When I said, "You know, it's only been 4 minutes since you told him to get out the first time."

... this sounds like an attempt to control your husband's interaction with your son, which he then bristles at (rightly or wrongly).

he said something and I don't even remember what it really was, just that it made me feel bad.

Are you listening to him? Really listening? Funny that you don't remember what was said, just your emotional response to it.

When I said that I didn't think he needed to be rude about a simple remark, he told me that I was always rude to our son

Really? Was it just a simple remark?

But more importantly, why the heck does he then bring the son into the equation? What does that have to do with anything? But does it? Was this conversation about the interaction between two adults, as you imply, or something greater?

and then called our son in the room and was trying to get him to say which of us was the rudest before I put a stop to that.

Well, that's just fucked up, period, indicating (to me, at least) that your husband is not blessed with maturity.

But again ... when you say, "I put a stop to that," what did you do, exactly? Because then...

Now he says he's tired of my shit sounds like your "putting a stop to that," is a replay of something he's experienced before.

Bottom line: You deserve respect, but could be inadvertently contributing to problems getting repeated over and over again.

Family therapy, for the win.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:20 PM on September 21, 2007 [5 favorites]

You and your ex-husband don't seem to be communicating too well. From what you say, it certainly sounds like he's being terribly unreasonable.

However, I want you to consider how you frame your question. You ask if you're the asshole here, but all of your wording clearly implies that you don't think you are. When you say "Am I being unreasonable in asking to be treated politely?" you clearly expect the answer to be "Hell no!" When you ask if he's being reasonable by doing what you call "basically refusing," you expect the answer to be "Hell yes!" When, further down, you compare him to a fast food worker who isn't treating you with respect, you expect that the comparison between a life partner and a menial worker is appropriate.

In other words, you sound very, very angry. You are blaming this man a lot, for everything. Your wording implies that you clearly don't think you are doing anything inappropriate and that he is acting out in completely incomprehensible ways.

And, for all we know, that may be a true description of events. And, if so, you definitely should get out. I mean, now. It just is bad to be in that sort of situation. And you know that.

But, if what you say isn't an exactly true description.. Like I said, you sound really angry. You also sound as if you think it was a stupid idea to ever go back to him. You also sound like you really want to leave. So, once again, you probably should leave. I mean.. Why the heck are you staying in this situation? You don't seem to have any reason or motivation to stay. So, why even ask?

I think you need to be honest with yourself about what's going on. Are you being abused by a complete, incomprehensible jackass? Or are you in a horribly dysfunctional relationship where both of you are to blame? Either way, you shouldn't stay in a relationship where daily interaction is the way you describe... But, give yourself some time to calm down, consider the way that this relationship (with both him and you) has affected your children, and then try to really understand what got it to this point.
posted by Ms. Saint at 9:23 PM on September 21, 2007 [4 favorites]

So you got back into a bad relationship for reasons other than actually wanting to get back with the person, and things turned bad again, and you are surprised? Why?

Sounds to me like you need to spend more time figuring out how to fix things and less time pointing fingers. It's not an issue of who is right or wrong, it is an issue of "what do we do to make this right?". The answer seems pretty clear, from what you wrote.
posted by foobario at 9:33 PM on September 21, 2007

The people who are blaming everything on your husband are wrong to do so. We're getting only one side of the picture and its (for obvious reasons) one that's going to put the asker in the best light, even if unintentionally.

But even so there are indications that the problem is both you and your husband. Giving him shit because he told your son to get out of the shower twice in five minutes is, indeed, rude. It might not be rude if everything was going swimmingly but in the context of your obviously adversarial relationship, it would annoy almost anyone.

I've been in situations like this. Things that would pass unremarked in good relationships are like fingernails on a chalkboard in a bad one. It's not you or your husband, it's your poisoned relationship.

The truth is that you're both probably being jerks to eachother. Neither of you likely intends to be that way, but once a relationship reaches a certain level of brokenness even otherwise good-hearted people can snap at everything.
posted by Justinian at 9:35 PM on September 21, 2007 [2 favorites]

Ms. Saint has it exactly with this: I think you need to be honest with yourself about what's going on. Are you being abused by a complete, incomprehensible jackass? Or are you in a horribly dysfunctional relationship where both of you are to blame?

From your question, I take it to be the second situation. You guys might both be great people but your relationship is broken.
posted by Justinian at 9:36 PM on September 21, 2007

I think the two of you need to be apart from one another, and I think until that happens your son will continue to pick up his cues on how to treat you from his father.
posted by davejay at 9:51 PM on September 21, 2007

It sounds like your ex doesn't have a whole lot of respect for you. No...scratch that. He is displaying outright contempt for you, under your own roof. You don't need that, no matter where it puts you when he's gone. If he sticks around, pretty soon you'll be walking on eggshells just to keep him from firing off some nasty remark. It's not worth it.
posted by brain cloud at 10:06 PM on September 21, 2007

I tend to agree that this is a both of you issue. You think he's rude and angry, and he thinks you exaggerate problems and nag him for ridiculous things. I'm willing to bet you're both right.

One step to take in the right direction (besides the step where you go to marriage counselling and probably individual counselling, and maybe throw in some counselling for your teenagers, who clearly could use someone to help them understand why Mom and Dad are acting like this) would be to reframe the language you use to describe the problem. There are lots of 'always' and other exaggerations in there. No one does anything 100% of the time. It's unlikely that these arguments really happen 100 times a day. When you take the extremism out of the way you think and speak about the problem, it's a lot easier for the other person to respect your argument, and a lot easier for you to be rational about it.
posted by jacquilynne at 10:13 PM on September 21, 2007

my oldest son is starting to treat me like his dad does

I've dated guys whose fathers were jerks to their mothers. I pretty much still wish them evil, both the fathers and the sons, years later.
posted by kmennie at 12:56 AM on September 22, 2007

Sounds like you are dishing and endless string of nagging criticism, and he is bristling back at you in a jerky manner.

You keep repeating how he doesn't care that he is causing you pain and whatnot, but you apparently don't seem to care that your nagging/criticism is obviously causing him pain as well.

So I say you break even on this one.
posted by Ceci n'est pas une marionnette de chaussette at 1:35 AM on September 22, 2007 [1 favorite]

no-one here can give you your answer. We're only hearing your side of the story. He will likely have a completely different version of events. Your side of the story is clearly biased towards you being the good guy and your husband being the ass.

As to the shower incident - 4 minutes is more than long enough for a teenage boy to finish showing - for a lot of teenage boys 4 minutes is long enough for their whole shower ;)

The fact that you know it was 4 minutes suggest you're timing him which is a little obsessive and controlling.
100 papercuts? Surely you can see why he felt that was an exaggeration. His reaction may have been less than pleasant, but he probably felt like he was being attacked - which isn't far from the truth.

Your husband clearly has issues but you don't seem to want to help him with them - just nag at him because of them. If he's being grumpy at you, maybe you should try to address why he's grumpy.
posted by missmagenta at 1:53 AM on September 22, 2007

I told him recently that every exchange with him was like getting a tiny paper cut and at the end of the day, I had a 100 paper cuts. His reply was, "Really? 100? Is it really 100? Aren't you exagerating?" So you can see that he doesn't really see or appreciate how much pain this is causing me, nor does he really care and I can't seem to convey this to him.

It would seem to me that someone who gets 100 paper cuts per day would learn how to handle a paper differently.

What it seems like you keep missing on is that you have a decision of how to react, not that you are repeatedly tormented by his merciless inflictions of emotion upon you. You control your own emotion.

There is the wind that blows the tall grasses around, and there are the grasses that are blown around by the wind. You can BE the wind if you decide to, or by default you can just STAY being the grass. CHOOSE to be the wind. Make circumstance occur rather than being always pushed by circumstance. You can actually and deliberately change the way you react to him. It's seems likely that he's not going to really change yet, to try to make things work out, but progress doesn't seem like it can be made until one of you quits insisting the default reaction is the correct one.
posted by Quarter Pincher at 4:01 AM on September 22, 2007 [2 favorites]

asking a bunch of strangers on the Internet how to interact with your husband/ex husband/companion and your son is kind of weird but at least it means that you realize that there's a problem there.

the next step is asking advice to real, non-Internet people -- maybe people who have had the professional training to actually help you and your family try to get out of what is certainly a very painful situation
posted by matteo at 4:16 AM on September 22, 2007

oof, i'm really sorry. it sounds like an intolerable situation. if for nothing else than the sake of your son, get out of that relationship.

family counseling might help--that irritability sounds like depression, and it might help your husband get the help he obviously needs. however, if he won't, then you have to leave before your son turns into him.
posted by thinkingwoman at 5:57 AM on September 22, 2007

Oh screw it - I can't figure out how to post a comment anonymously and these replies have been so helpful I really want to thank everyone for them.

matteo - I've asked variations of these questions to professionals over the years but all my experiences in therapy have really come to make make me trust therapy less. There seems to be a lot of telling you what you want to hear - not what would be best for you to hear. And I think your therapist often comes to like you and think you're right. When both parties are in individual therapy, both parties often end up at cross purposes. I've had only one therapist who really helped me out of all the ones I've gone too- although I've really liked lots of them.

And just speaking personally, it's easier for me to listen to opinions in a forum like this where I can weigh them and think about them, refer back to the answers and incorporate them into my own thinking. I have become a big believer in the hive mind.

to everyone - I know I'm a total control freak so those remarks really hit home.

I guess the whole reason I posted the question is that I just feel so burned out by not getting something I really, really want and need that I'm getting less motivated on trying to look at his needs and desires. I want a little taste of what's in it for me before I go on, but reading everyone's responses makes me realize that he's obviously going through the same thing. That helps me to be able to try to see things from his perspective for a bit and see that I'm not so perfect after all. And I struggle with depression a good bit which makes it easy for me to fall into the "it's all bad, it's never good" trap of thinking.

Why do I stay? I said it at the end of my message - I miss my friend. I really miss my friend.

I may have to let my friend go - but at least if I do, I think I'll have a better perspective of what to do better the next time.

And maybe it's not such a bad idea to let him have a break from my shit :)

Thanks everybody - you all gave the best answer.
posted by katyjack at 6:05 AM on September 22, 2007 [1 favorite]

Food for thought: you gave us an example of an interaction that I'm guessing you thought was a clear cut case of right and wrong (or you wouldn't have used that example), and it doesn't seem clear cut to almost any responder so far. I think everyone in your house is getting so distanced from respectful discourse that none of you can see it anymore. I think the upside at this point, if y'all can let go of needing to blame someone, is that it's not anybody's fault anymore, it's just how things have come to be.

I grew up with a snotty dad, and I was a snotty kid and young adult and it took a massive amount of work to stop. If you guys are capable of being a team and tackling this as such, do it. If you can't, and the only way to stop is to get away from each other, do it.
posted by Lyn Never at 6:19 AM on September 22, 2007

katyjack, have you tried family therapy? It sounds like you believe the problem is in the interaction between you and your husband (and sometimes between you, your husband, and your son), so it might be extremely helpful to get all three of you (or at least the two of you) into the same room with one therapist and work on identifying and breaking those patterns of interaction -- which, as you noted, is hard to do in individual therapy, because the therapist is only seeing one half of the story.
posted by occhiblu at 8:25 AM on September 22, 2007

agree on family therapy. the relationship seems really poisoned so that whatever happens today that is annoying carries with it the weight of all the other annoying things, and nobody is able to let it go and start fresh - maybe therapy would help find a way to do that.

that is if both of you will be able to accept a "it's not one person or the other - you're BOTH wrong" answer, to stop needing to prove that you're in the right.

I feel bad for your son being put in that situation. My parents used to do that - it was horribly stressful for me.
posted by citron at 9:34 AM on September 22, 2007

You know, my exhusband and I went and had our old dog put to sleep yesterday, and were able to cry together and hug at the end. We've been apart for 8 years now, and are both remarried. We like each other more and are nicer to each other than we did in the latter part of our marriage. Not in a "wish we could be together" way at all, but in a way that lets us reminisce about our past (we met as teenagers) and laugh and acknowledge our shared history and parent our daughter together well. Sometimes, I think, you can only get the person you miss back by leaving, by changing your relationships.

Not that I'm saying that's the only solution...I think family therapy is a fabulous idea, and if you all see a therapist I think you'll be likely to have an experience where the therapist sees the big picture, not just your side of it. This'd be a good thing whether or not you stay married.

I also wonder if it's hard for you to let him parent the kids his own way (within reason) after you did it on your own for awhile. That would be hard for me. I'd suggest doing your best, whether with each other or not, to not interfere w/ or make undermining comments about the other parent in front of your kids.

And lastly, I'm really impressed at your ability to be so receptive to people's comments. It seems like you genuinely want help and are open to all sides of the discussion.
posted by purenitrous at 10:59 AM on September 22, 2007

Before you can be helped by anyone, they need to hear both your and your husband's point of view. Nthing marriage counselling. There's no way any of us can take your description of the situation to be complete and accurate.
posted by tehloki at 2:52 PM on September 22, 2007

You can't change the way he behaves, but you can change the way you react. Make that change and take responsibility for yourself; by doing that I think you'll find your way through to whatever life holds for you all next.
posted by Lleyam at 5:33 AM on September 23, 2007

Your Son doing badly in all his classes was like a flare for me. He's really unhappy for the whole lot to slide.

There's always two sides and a truth to every story. But calling him in for a completely subtlety free "Who do you love better, me or her?" My God! WTF?? This does not suggest anything flattering.

Something to consider is that when your children look to their examples what do they see. What would seem certain is that you are walking on eggshells. There could be any degree of this but if you are holding your tongue more perhaps it's getting worse. Maybe it's the same but your spirit is breaking, I don't know?

Maybe you Are a nasty bitch.. though if he is 'out bitching' you *Eeek!*. If there is unhappiness there will be victims and aggressors (or passive/aggressors, whatever works?) But kids See All of this and If? they're going to emulate it they will pick what seems to work best.

But it seems you're already tasting the fruits of that.
(Maybe he was the man you married? A frog was a tadpole but not is.)

and Everyone should keep in mind

It won't hurt to assume you're guilty and start meticulously avoiding seeding ideas or any other equally inexcusable torture. It is so confusing for kids but persevere. There's nothing worse than having the fog clear only to find that they are both jerks. Forget him just do your best.
posted by mu~ha~ha~ha~har at 2:16 PM on September 23, 2007

He sounds terrible, and it really doesn't sound like it is your fault whatsoever. If anything, the only thing you should do is kick him to the curb, so to speak. No one deserves a type of guy like that.

And about your son, coming from a daughter of an alcoholic/drug abuser: he may have picked up the habits from his dad. I find myself sometimes (when I am in an emotional situation) acting like my dad. I am talking about crying, being slightly manipulative, being overly angry, etc. You mimic what you know, and if that is what he knows, he is going to do it. For the sake of your son, you need to get out of this relationship.

You may want to have family counseling with you and your son, if not with the father as well. I had to see a few different therapists until I found one that I could really trust, and you may need to do the same.

I will keep you in my thoughts, and I hope this has helped at least a little.
posted by slc228 at 9:08 PM on September 23, 2007

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