Dear Jim: My husband of forty-five years has always been difficult, but this time he’s gone off the deep end. He’s angry at the pastor of our church for some supposed insult, and now he’s angry at me for not taking his side. We had previously made wills leaving $5,000 bequests to the church, but he’s made an appointment with a lawyer to have the bequest taken out of his will. He wants me to do the same, but I don’t want to. He also wants me to stop attending services at the church (he stopped going two months ago), but I have no issue with anyone there and much of my social life revolves around the church. He won’t let go of this -- I must hear his complaints 10 times a day. What can I do? (“M.B.”)
Dear M.B.: I don’t envy you. You’re married to a man who’s controlling and who insists on blind loyalty. If he thinks he’s not getting that loyalty he just pushes harder in the hope that he’ll eventually wear you down.
And maybe he has worn you down in the past, which could be part of the problem. Maybe being “difficult” is how he gets his way, or tries to. Maybe he thinks it’s only a matter of time before you start doing what he demands.
I think the best way of dealing with someone like your husband is to make it clear that he can complain all he wants but that you’re not going to change your mind.
You can point out that you’re not disagreeing with him, per se, but that you have good reasons for wanting to preserve your relationship with the pastor and the congregation. You’re not attending the services to spite your husband, but rather to fulfill your own spiritual and social needs.
You could also point out to him that your marriage has survived 45 years despite what must have been some differences of opinion about people you know. Was there ever a time when you were feuding with a friend or relative and he didn’t want to get involved? If so, you could remind him that you didn’t consider him disloyal for remaining on the sidelines. He was entitled to his opinion and you were entitled to yours.
If the rational approach fails, try being arbitrary. Tell your husband---with a smile, if possible -- that from now on every time he mentions the pastor or the church in an uncomplimentary way, you’re fining him five dollars. I’ve heard that in the old days wives would fine their husbands each time they cursed, and in some cases it actually helped to break them of the habit. It’s worth a try.
Whatever you do, though, just be consistent. Don’t resist and resist and then give in just to shut him up. I’m well aware that after so many years it’s not easy for either you or your husband to start doing things differently. But if you can stand your ground this time your husband will probably respect you for it (even if he won’t admit it), and there may be fewer difficult issues to deal with in the years ahead.
Good luck, and please let me know if this helps..