Dear Thelma: My wife is stressed, I try to help, but she just gets angry

Dear Thelma: My wife is stressed, I try to help, but she just gets angry
PHOTO: The Star/Asia News Network

I would like to end my 12-year marriage but I'm not sure if I should. My spouse is getting tougher to live with because she is becoming more negative and insecure.

She had a tough time in her current job during her first year, and had to deal with a really bad boss. I played my part and gave her moral support and strength. Now, she has a new boss (the old one was fired) and things are better. However, she was turned down for a promotion even after scoring high key performance indicator marks for two consecutive years.

I'm not sure if her work is the reason for her sour mood at home, but I find that the challenges at her job have crept into her personal live. Our daily conversation on even the most normal topics will turn sour when I give my two cents' worth and feedback, because she misconstrues it to be a personal attack on her. She will accuse me of judging her or challenging her intelligence.

She always watches romantic dramas, and reality shows on YouTube in her free time at home. She says this is her way to unwind and de-stress. I am worried that she is living in a fantasy world and not touching base with the harshness of reality. She seldom reads or plays in the park with me and our son, and dislikes exercise. Those are things I enjoy doing. Although she is not obese, she complains about being fat.

Her behaviour has taken a bite out of the peace in our relationship and it is really affecting both of us. We have discussed it, and although we do try to be more sensitive with each other and with the usage of our words, the situation is not improving. In fact, most weekends are spoiled and made tensed by her random bursts of anger.

I tried offering advice but it has fallen on deaf ears as she is stubborn and brushes me off, saying, "It's easier said than done" or she gets angry and says, "I'm not asking for your advice, can't you just listen to me without offering your wisdom, geez."

I have reached my limit of patience with her, and she knows it. What can I do?


Dear Anonymous

Oh dear, I'm so sorry to hear this. Stress and depression are relationship killers, and unfortunately, we're seeing an explosion of these situations because modern life is just too stressful.

While it looks a little bleak, don't panic. From your letter, there is a lot of scope for hope.

There are several elements here that need to be separated and addressed.

First, as you describe the situation, your wife is over-stressed by work. She copes by withdrawing into her own comfort zone: soap operas.

Add to this your belief that watching soap operas is a less worthy leisure pursuit than reading or exercising.

Second, you spend time with your son, playing in the park and doing active things. You two enjoy that but your wife doesn't.

Third, you used to talk over work stress issues together, and it used to go well, but these days these discussions turn into arguments.

Also, you have both fallen into a pattern of quarrelling, which is ruining your time together.

You have taken the first step towards finding a solution, which is an open conversation. From what you say, it feels as though it went well but it didn't affect any change.

From my experience, when couples talk about their difficulties, they often focus on relieving their feelings, and making promises about "doing better" without actually drawing up concrete plans on what "doing better" actually is.

Strange, isn't it? Because if we were at work, we'd be drawing up plans that include goals, milestones and active notes on what needs to happen for effective change. But when it comes to our personal lives, we tend to just hope we'll somehow luck out.

So, what you need to do is to work out a proper plan. I'm confident that you have a very good chance of making effective change because it sounds very much as though you have a strong foundation.

Yes, you're going through a bad patch, but from the way you talk about your wife, and from the way you two quarrel, I'd say you have a long and loving history.

(Does it sound strange, that your fights show you care? While it may not be pleasant, your wife is thinking about your feelings, your emotions and she's expressing that she's worried you think she's not clever, not beautiful etc etc. My dear, that woman loves you!)

You both sound as though you're willing to work this out, so have another chat. But before you do, I want you to think about those three points and consider this approach:

First, keep your value judgments about proper ways to relax to yourself. Not everyone loves to read and run around in the park. Respect that your wife prefers soaps.

Second, it's great that you and your son have your fun times in the park. However, your son also needs one-on-one time with mummy, as well as time where all three of you are together as a family.

With your wife's stressful work life, this will be tricky, but look into having weekly, fortnightly and monthly times scheduled where she and her son build their relationship, and times when all three of you together do fun things as a family.

Warning: this is not an opportunity for you to force your wife into "healthy" activities! Do something you all like. Alternatively, have all three of you take turns in picking activities. This will teach your son that healthy relationships are about give and take.

Third, no more talking about work at home. As it leads to quarrels, just stop. Your wife can discuss work with her friends and family.

As you've both built up resentment, and have fallen into bad habits, keep your chat to pleasant issues for the next few months. It's easy enough, when you hear yourselves start to argue, you both take a timeout. Learn to be good to each other again.

Also, I think you'd benefit from a change in strategy when it comes to discussing life's little snags and niggles.

Generally speaking, men listen to women talk and assume they are being asked for a fix or advice. This may shock you, but women don't look at men as founts of wisdom.

Your wife has given you a clear instruction: when she's just blowing off steam from a stressful day, don't be deluded into thinking she wants your two cents' worth of sage advice.

When your wife is venting, your role is to support with empathy. If you need to learn that skill, just see how women deal with the men who moan at them.

If you do this, then the day she says, "I want your advice", she will listen when you give it. Mind you, she may disagree. But by then you'll be firm friends again, and you can have a nice to-and-fro without resentment.

Good luck and do write to say how it goes.

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