Dear Annie: I am 42 and married to a woman who is 44. We have two small children, a 5-year-old girl and a 6-year-old boy, plus an older stepson, who is 28 and on his own.
When I met my wife, we dated for years, and I eventually moved in with her and her son when he was about 12 years old. We sent him to college and got officially married around the same time.
About a year later, my wife was expecting MY first son. Through the pregnancy, she began to have some complications that sent her to the hospital and then eventually on bed rest until delivery. Everything eventually went well, and 16 months later we had no issues during her pregnancy with our daughter.
I like to think I am a good father. I coach baseball and mentor at Cub Scouts. I take the kids to birthday parties and generally do my best to let them have the life an American child should be allowed. I help around the house, do most of the errands outside the home, as my wife works from home, and generally save us money by maintaining the home mostly by myself at material cost.
The problem is that it never seems to be enough. My wife always demands more help, and I am suspecting that she doesn’t truly need the help; she simply doesn’t want to do tasks herself.
Ever since she began to have complications during my son’s pregnancy, my wife has flipped some kind of mental switch in her head. While I completely understand that having children changes everything, and they become the priority, I don’t understand what my wife has morphed into. She has no understanding of boundaries, and when I explain that her expectations are unrealistic, she loses her temper with me. She tells me there are no boundaries when there are children, but that is simply not true. Every individual will always have boundaries.
If I raise my voice to meet hers and defend myself or make myself heard, she immediately accuses me of emotional abuse and hides behind the children. She knows it will shut me down, and should I press further, her move is to threaten divorce. This tends to send me into a rage, and she is quite aware of it. I have asked her multiple times to stop this tactic, yet every few months, she will rely on it again when she feels like she is losing a disagreement. She has recorded me yelling (after she threatened divorce) to attempt to show me how angry and scary I can be. Predictably, I did not react well to that episode.
This smacks of gaslighting to me. She claims I have anger issues, but I am not ignorant. I am aware that she is trying to make me so angry that it clouds my judgment and she baits me to say nasty things that she can hold against me for future use. I am somehow powerless to hold back when she pushes the buttons so deftly and purposefully.
Through it all, I still love my wife, and my children are everything to me. I am not interested in divorce unless there is infidelity involved, and I do not believe that is the case. I don’t want my children to be put through that wringer unless absolutely unavoidable. How do I bring my wife back to earth without making my situation worse?
-- Frustrated Father
Dear Frustrated Father: All I’m hearing in your letter is what is wrong with your wife. I’m not seeing a lot of self-reflection. Remember when we point one finger at someone, there are three pointing back at us. Your wife sounds genuinely afraid of your rage and angry outbursts. That is something you have to look into getting help for. You blame her for your loss of control instead of taking responsibility that your reaction might be much bigger than what the conversation needs. It does sound like you and your wife love each other.
I didn’t love the way you said “MY first son” in your letter. It made it feel like you valued your son more than your stepson. Please seek professional help immediately, both individually for your anger and with your wife for couples counseling. You sound like your heart is in the right place. You might want to be a wonderful father and husband, but you must first deal with your anger issues.