Q: My wife deliberately brings up fights that she knows will upset me. I have told her that I don't like having Sunday dinner at her parent's home, but she will make arrangements with them during the week to go there without consulting me. When I complain, she says it's too late now to change the arrangements; her mother has already started to plan the dinner. There is nothing I can do but go along.
I think my wife does this just to control me, because she knows I dislike going to her parents and spending all evening eating fattening food. The TV is blaring on so loud, the only place I can go to sit is outside on the porch. Meanwhile, I have a million things I need to get done at home, which puts me behind.
Since I know she is doing this just to upset me, I usually get mad and say things I probably shouldn't. However, I think she deserves to get blasted. It's her fault, since she knows this is going to upset me. What should I do to get her to stop provoking me?
A: While it may look to you as if your wife is deliberately provoking you, it is unlikely this is true. Your line of thinking is that your wife conjures up what would bother you most and then endeavors to manufacture that scenario, because she thrills in watching you suffer.
Your analyzing it this way means you believe her energy is focused on making you miserable, and this gives her a sense of power and control over you. It becomes a war over who has the power. Then, as a defensive strategy, you can justify acting mean and nasty back to her in retaliation.
All this accomplishes is an escalation in the conflict and fighting, each one believing that they are "right" and righteous, and their partner, wrong, evil and in need of being taught a lesson. This is a slippery slope toward serious marital unhappiness and disengagement, or even abuse.
To stop this cycle, talk with your wife about what it means to her to spend time at her family's house. Chances are, she is thinking of herself and her family. Self-absorbed as this is, it is not a Machiavellian scheme to make your life miserable. She just probably isn't thinking much about you at all, which is a problem in itself, but she is not deliberately trying to hurt you.
To persist in the line of thinking that she is deliberately out to get you, and knows what hurts you may be somewhat paranoid, which is another problem entirely.
Let her know, with enough time to discuss the alternatives, what it means to you to have arrangements made, even with her parents, that you do not have a choice in.
Chances are you will be best off spending some time at her family's home, just as part of the negotiation process that happens in marriage. But it is fair for you to have some say-so over when and how often that occurs.
Viewing her actions as simply selfish, rather than deliberately out to get you, may make you less angry with her. Nonetheless, nothing your wife can do justifies you allowing yourself to act angry, contemptuous, nasty or out of control.
You are solely responsible for your own actions at all times. If you are feeling you might say something hurtful, walk away for a "time out" for 10 minutes. Then come back and express your opinion in a calmer way.
Try this, as best you can.
Janet Hibel has a diplomate in counseling psychology from the American Board of Professional Psychology. E-mail your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or call (561) 694- 6703.