First of all, a disclaimer: I'm not a marriage counselor and don't
pretend to be one. My degree isn't in psychology, and I don't have any
bankable credentials in this area. In fact, in some ways I am like
you: I'm analytical, usually optimistic, and I tend to be
uncomfortable with my outward displays of emotion, even anger. I am
also an imperfect husband and father. But my wife and I will be
celebrating our 20th anniversary this summer, and I have done quite a
bit of independent study on how people interact. I also have made more
than my share of mistakes in life, and they say that's the best
OK, now for the nitty-gritty: You say you're open to "radical ideas"
to change patterns of communication. Here's one:
Tell her you've been wrong. Tell her you've been overly judgmental of
her. Tell her that you've had a self-righteous attitude because you
believe you're better than she is, because you believe your analytical
prowess is better than the way she handles emotions. Tell her that the
problem with the marriage isn't her "anger-management problem," but
the way you've been putting her down. Ask her for her forgiveness.
And mean it.
Then act like you mean it.
Listen to her. Don't discount what she says because it's reflective of
her "anger-management issues." Quit being so damn analytical and open
up to her emotionally. Respect her opinions. When you have even the
slightest feeling that you may be wrong about something, tell her so.
Is that radical enough for you?
The fact is that going to counseling _can_ be just a way to avoid
dealing with the real problem. It _can_ be a way of convincing
yourself that you're doing your part. Communication is more than a
technique; even the best types of communication can be a way of
manipulating someone. Unless you're prepared to deal with what YOU
have done wrong, this marriage is going nowhere. Counseling can be
effective, even essential, but it will do you no good until YOU are
willing to change.
I'll say that again, in different words. If you really want to save
your marriage, YOU have to realize that the problem with the marriage
isn't your wife's failure at anger management. You can't do anything
about that anyway. That's her problem, not yours. YOU need to clean up
your own act.
I don't know you. All I know about you is the few words you've written
above. *****But those words speak loudly.***** You believe that you're
right and she's wrong. You believe that your way of dealing with the
world is better than her way. You believe that she's the one who has
to change. How would you like to live with or work closely with
someone who believes that?
I'll repeat that to get my point across: How would you like to live
with or work closely with someone who believes he or she is superior
to you and that most problems are your fault?
To your belief that you're superior to her, I say, "Poppycock!" You're
the one who has to change. Maybe she'll change as a result, and maybe
she won't. But I can guarantee you one thing: If you change, she'll
find that the way she deals with you won't work very for her any more.
If you're kind to her, if you respect her, if you treat her like you
want her, she won't be able to live with herself unless she responds
with respect of her own.
You can go to all the workshops you want, all the Marriage Encounter
weekends, and you can read all the books you want. But things aren't
going to change unless YOU change. It's not up to her to change, it's
up to YOU. Yes, if she had posted the question here, I'd tell her the
same thing, but you're the one who asked the question. So if you
really want this marriage to work, you need to take the first step,
and probably the second and third and fourth, and be prepared to take
the fifth and sixth as well.
Then when you become the perfect husband, feel free to start
criticizing her. But not before.
All that said, I'm going to recommend two books and provide you with
the links where you can buy them at Amazon.com. Of course, you can
also buy these books at other bookstores as well, although the first
may be difficult to find unless you special-order it.
The first is "Bonds That Make Us Free: Healing Our Relationships,
Coming to Ourselves" by C. Terry Warner. I think you might like the
author, who's a psychologist who has done a lot of work relating to
helping business managers accomplish their goals. The same
philosophies that are in this book are ones he has taught business
Here is the basic premise of the book, which I'm taking from the
"Why then, if we are able to change fundamentally, don't we do it? Why
do we get and keep ourselves stuck in anxiety, suspicion, resentment
or anger if we all have the power to do otherwise? The answer to this
extraordinarily challenging and fascinating question is that we devise
and hang on to our emotional problems _for a purpose_, a purpose more
important to us than our happiness. And we deceive ourselves about the
fact that this is what we're doing. We participate in the creation of
our emotional troubles and deny we've had any part in it. In regard to
our trouble emotions and attitudes, we are our own worst enemies."
Warner writes at length about this self-deception. Time after time, he
says, we do what we inwardly know isn't right because we give
ourselves excuses to do it. Meanwhile, we get frustrated because other
people don't always treat us the way they should. And in our minds
that justifies the way we treat them, so the cycle continues.
With ending self-deception comes forgiveness of the other person. As
you might guess, forgiveness is a big thing with Warner. Here's a
small part of what he says (pp. 294-5):
"We need to note one more element of genuine forgiveness. Just prior
to forgiving someone, we will have been finding her or her offensive.
But with forgiveness comes a realization of the offensiveness of this.
How accusing we must have appeared to that person! Whatever he or she
may have done that we previously found offensive has changed in our
memory of it... Recently we wondered whether we could forgive that
person. Now we wonder whether he or she can forgive us!
"This is our new attitude toward having previously refused to forgive.
We feel a desire to be forgiven for it. _Genuine forgiveness includes
a desire to be forgiven and, if it is fitting, to seek that
"Of all the initiatives people can take who feel a devastating wrong
has made them miserable, one stands above all others in effectiveness.
It is actually seeking forgiveness for having refused to forgive."
In his book "Life Strategies," popular psychologist Phil McGraw also
places a strong emphasis on forgiveness, and many of his views
complement those of Warner. Here's an except (pp. 204ff):
"Ultimately -- and this may be extremely difficult for you to accept
-- forgiveness of those who have transgressed against you, or those
you love, is not about _them_; it's about _you_. ... Trust me when I
say that the only escape is forgiveness. The only way to rise above
the negatives of that relationship in which you were hurt is to take
the moral high ground, and forgive the person who hurt you. ... Their
judgment will come from a higher power, not from you."
But it's not that McGraw book I'm recommending (although it is a good
one). It's his book "Relationship Rescue."
McGraw takes his philosophy about forgiveness and about accepting
responsibility for your own actions and puts it in a book aimed at
helping people improve their relationships. This book is less
philosophical than Warner's book and is aimed at providing a guide to
action. But like Warner, he emphasizes that the person you have to
work on is yourself, not the other person:
"This journey does not begin with you and your partner, it begins with
you. You have to ... become the kind of person who commands quality,
inspires respect, and settles for nothing less than an active and
abiding love. ... The fix, the rescue, depends upon you. To proceed
with any other mind-set is to guarantee failure, miserable failure."
This book is filled with exercises designed to help the reader
understand him/herself and his/her spouse better. The book is designed
so you can proceed without your spouse's cooperation. Again, you are
the key to making your relationship work.
Best wishes in your marriage,
P.S.: The commenters below (or at least the ones that came before I
wrote this) also gave good advice. If you haven't done so already,
please check out what they had to say as well.