May 7, 1998
I am engaged to a wonderful man whose "littleproblem" has become very, very big during the course of our two-yearcourtship and has grown acute during our engagement. He was always alittle possessive when we dated, but, then, it made me feel loved. Iactually thought it was sort of sweet and sexy, and it made me feelprotected.
His possessiveness has grown into what I feel isan invasion of my privacy that seems, to me, to be not sweet at all.It feels controlling -- as if he thinks of me as an incompetentchild. He'll show up uninvited to a girlfriend-only lunch; he'll tryto find me a job with a friend of his before I even open theemployment ads; he calls my doctors and asks about test results forme.
When I complain, he says that he is just trying tobe helpful, and asks why I don't appreciate his love and caring. Ido, but I'm worried about feeling more and more "devoured" by his"caring," and I'm asking for help in how to deal with it because, atthis point, I feel inclined to hide my whereabouts and activities sothat he cannot butt in so freely -- even though I have nothing tohide.
"As wolves love lambs, so lovers love theirloves," wrote Socrates. While you found the wolf at first to becompelling, you are now beginning to feel more like a lamb chop thana lamb. Should you marry him without resolving this now, youundoubtedly will be devoured by his controlling nature.
You must tell him that this issue is seriousenough to cause you to call off the whole deal if it is not resolvedimmediately. Explain in as concrete a manner as possible thebehaviors that are not acceptable to you, and why. Listen to what hesays -- whether he is defensive or truly understands you. He may beinsecure and need a little help in some areas, he may have somecharacterological issues that are deeply entrenched, or he may notsee the need to change. If you get nowhere with him, get counselingtogether immediately.
It will take courage to face these issues squarelyand at once, but not to do so will ultimately reduce you from lamb tolamb chop to mucky, little divorce statistic.
My 7- and 10-year-old sons recently sat me downand told me what I was like when I got angry. They said that Iscreamed a lot, acted like a "monster," frightened them, and wasentirely different from the "sweet mommy" who usually takes care ofthem. I always knew I had a temper, but I had no idea I was havingsuch an effect. My husband thinks they are just spoiled and don'twant to hear about it when they do wrong.
I am a little confused about how to handlethis.
The Talmud states that if one person tells youthat you have ass's ears, pay no attention. But if two tell you,you'd better saddle up.
Whether or not your children are spoiled is notthe issue. Whether or not they don't like criticism is not the issue(who does?). Rather, the fact that both your children experience yourrage as frightening and deemed it important enough to approach you iswhat counts -- that, and your ability to hear them with an openheart.
Yelling is not an effective way to discipline.Either children get scared or feel bad about themselves, and,eventually, they become so inured to yelling that they tune you out.Also, they will learn to be yellers from your example. Learning tomanage anger is the task at hand.
First, when you feel the rage coming on, stop.Notice the buildup of anger. Catch yourself before you hit rage.Collect your thoughts before you speak. Then choose a differentmethod, preferably quieter and with less blame. Use consequencesrather than fear. "You may not go out and play until your rooms areclean." "No TV until the homework is done." "Here is ashmatte. Now goclean up what you spilled." In other words, actions should havelogical consequences that teach children responsibility.
If you lack the necessary self-control to stopyelling, there are anger-management and parenting books and classes.If that fails, there is counseling. The fact that you are taking yourchildren's feelings to heart is a good prognosis.
My mother-in-law has been in the hospital,recovering from surgery for a week. She is a widow and has alwaysbeen an unpleasant, demanding and self-absorbed woman, but she is myhusband's mother and children's grandmother, and because I have noremaining parents, I do want to be a good daughter-in-law.Furthermore, my husband is an only child, so there is no one else totake care of her. He works more than full time, and since my job ispart-time, I feel it is my duty.
I visit her every day, bring her anything she asksfor, and, when she is well, take her shopping and to doctorsappointments. I try. Yet she barrages me with complaints about how noone cares about her, no one visits her, and so forth.
She doesn't understand that I do work, havechildren (which is another full-time job) and have a life. She thinksthat I am her servant, which would be OK if she showed anyappreciation whatsoever. I am at my wit's end with her complainingand sometimes want to say what's on my mind, and yet I never say aword.
At Wit's End
Dear Wit's End,
There seems to be a rather fine line between"honor thy parents" and "kick me." I mean, Martyr of the Year is arotten, low-paying job with no benefits and zero glory.
Have you said anything at all when she complainsabout the dearth of visitors, such as: "What am I? Chopped liver? Ihave visited you every day. It hurts my feelings when you say thingslike that."
Although you are a true mensch for your efforts, thereis no law against directly and kindly saying how you feel. You neednot be abused to be a dutiful daughter-in-law.
Deborah Berger-Reiss is a West Los Angelespsychotherapist. All letters toDear Deborahrequire a name, address and telephone number for purposes ofverification. Names will, of course, be withheld upon request. Ourreaders should know that when names are used in a letter, they arefictitious.
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