“I Don’t Like My Wife”

“I don’t like my wife.” That’s what the man who came to consult me had to say when I asked, as I usually do on a first meeting, “How can I help?”

“Hmm” was my response to his opening comment of “I don’t like my wife .”

“What would you like to do about that?” I asked him.  There are certainly a great deal of possible directions  the conversation might go which come to mind but it’s not necessarily up to the therapist to provide them.

“I don’t know, “he said. “That’s why I came to see you. I still love her, I just don’t like her very much right now.”

“Anything in particular that bugs you?” I asked, and it was answered by a list of unpleasant behaviors from being short tempered, inconsiderate, to general all around grumpiness.”

“Are these new behaviors for her?”

“They’re certainly more of them in recent months.”

“Have you  said anything about it to her?”

“What could I possibly say?”

“How about ‘Honey, it seems to be that you have been short tempered, distracted and generally unhappy recently.  What’s going on with you?  Anything I might be able to help with?’”

He laughed. “That’s one way to approach it.”

“There are other ways,” I continued. “You could say ‘You’ve really been acting like a bitch lately and I don’t like it or you very much.’“

He laughed again.  “I think I like your first suggestion better.  It’s far more likely to let me know what’s going on.’”

Exactly.  If you had started with “I don’t like my wife very much and I want to leave her” our conversation would have gone in a different direction. But you said that you love her so I have to think if there’s something wrong with her, physically or mentally, you would like to help.  If you didn’t care what’s going on with her but just want the annoying behaviors to stop, you might take a different tack.”

He looked thoughtful.  “Of course I want her annoying behaviors to stop but telling her to just cut it out was only likely to have her snap at me.  Anything I say to her these say just seems to set her off.”

When you want somebody to change the way they are behaving, anybody, any behaviors, it helps to understand what’s going on with that person, why they are acting they way that they are.  Sure, you could make a guess like ‘Aw, she probably menopausal’ but what if it’s something serious.  What if she’s worrying about a lump she discovered in her breast or what if she knows something about one of your children that she’s afraid to tell you about or what if she’s planning to leave you?”

“Good grief!  What made you think of those possibilities? Do you think she is planning to leave me?”

“Look”, I said to him, “there are many possible reasons for her behavior but if she’s annoying you so much that you’re willing to spend time and money to come and talk to someone about her, then her reasons for behaving badly are likely to be serious too, don’t you think? And the only way you’re going to find out is to ask her in such a way as to get an honest response.  Offering help or sympathy is certainly more likely to get you what you want than an accusation or an insult.  Now, let’s practice.  What could you say to her?”

“Honey, I’m worried about you.   You don’t seem to be yourself lately.  Can we talk about what’s bothering you?”

“Excellent! Be sure to choose a good time for this too, when you’re not likely to be interrupted.  Whatever she says, listen.   Don’t offer advice right away.  Simply listen.  When she is through talking, offer your help and support and ask her what she would like from you.”

“Sounds like a plan.”

“Good.  I’m here if you or both of you want to talk further.  Let me hear how it turns out. I’m rooting for a happy outcome.”