Reader Email: My problem is getting in trouble for stuff I don’t deserve. And it almost seems like she sets me up to fail. I would do dishes before bedtime, for example, to give her time to work on her writing (her second book will hit the shelves in less than two months). There was a time that she told me specifically “I’ll get the dishes, don’t worry about it.” Three nights running, she said this. And, on the fourth morning, she read me the riot act for sticking her with the dishes for three nights in a row.
I don’t get it. I don’t understand how to stay out of trouble for not getting something done when she tells me not to do it. It’s a recurring theme in our world, “hold on, this is more important, leave that for now”…and so busy with kids and everything else that I never actually manage to get back to it, and get raked over the coals for forgetting it.
It’s become this massive boulder in the middle of our relationship, that if we don’t figure out how to fix it, is going to drive us apart. Her image of me is “lying untrustworthy and breaks promises” because there aren’t enough hours in the day to get done everything I’m supposed to get done AND everything that she told me to put off for later…and I can’t find a way to win that trust back because it’s a matter of perception and not necessarily fact…
Athol: The short answer is you’re falling into the Betaization Trap of being endlessly deferring and nice to her in an attempt to please her, but it isn’t working. The long answer is Chapters 10 and 11 in The Primer will be very helpful to you.
In terms of what you can do right now, the next time she blows up at you, say “Do you yell at the children like this when I’m not here?” She will of course say “no”. The you say, “Then if you can control yourself with them, you should be able to control yourself with me.” and you just bore you eyes into hers until she looks away and/or backs down. She’s actively choosing to yell at you and you’re actively choosing to accept being yelled at without any resistance.
Then no matter what she asks you to do when she is yelling, simply fail to comply with it. “I’m not going to help you when you yell at me.”
If she asks a reasonable request in a reasonable tone of voice. Just go do it.
Stop leaving tasks uncompleted because she said something else was more important. “No, I’m finishing this first. I’ll be with you when I’m finished.”
Try doing the dishes together if that’s a sticking point. “Come help me do the dishes.” If she comes to help, then do the dishes. If she doesn’t, don’t do them. When the dishes are done together, say you liked doing the dishes together. It’s also a good time to be a playful and funny with her. Gently pin her against the kitchen counter and make out a little.
Also if she’s crunching to get a book completed, she’s going to be stressed out and therefore more prone to be easily frustrated. As you bump back on her rudeness to you (Alpha) try and find a couple little ways to pre-emptively express caring for her (Beta) to keep the balance.
Also if she’s just trying too hard and doing too much, you can take the Captain role and order her to self-care. If she wants to write and do the dishes for example, you can just overrule her and say “Keep writing, I’ll do the dishes.” If she complains, just do the direct eye gaze thing and say “You aren’t able to stop me.” and walk away.
As an aside, there was a lot of additional information in the email that would have identified the readers, so can’t reveal that, but the wife seems to have a bit of a over-achieving-super-mommy-or-she-feels-guilty vibe. Jennifer gets like this to some extent too. As a result, the majority of my direction to Jennifer that takes a firm tone is simply to get her to take her good efforts down a notch and relax a little.
Some wives can’t ever fully relax until told to relax. Hence, “That will do Jennifer, that will do.” (Clarification before feminists descend on me in the comments: Jennifer is a “babe”, not a “pig”. That is all.)
My general impression is that the wife in this case is yet another First Officer running the show as de facto Captain and pissed off about it. So be the Captain.