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'I'm As Pathetic As My Wife Tells Me I Am'

It sounds like the role of victim is very familiar to you. I am guessing that you grew up hearing similar comments about your lack of value or redeeming qualities, or witnessed one parent browbeating the other.
10/12/2016 05:05pm ET | Updated December 6, 2017
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Couple angry with one another

Reader Low Self Esteem writes,

I am 31 years old, father to two amazing boys ages 2 and 4, and married to an absolute dynamo of a woman. We have been together for almost 11 years and married for nine. When we started out, I was just 21. She was 27, a career girl splitting her time between wine country and several offices abroad. I was a musician working for a locksmith shop. I will keep the story short, as it's a long one... suffice it to say that after our second date, she told me that she was looking for a "man" not a drunk kid. I responded that I was the man she was looking for. Three marriage proposals (third time's the charm) nine years and two kids later, here we are. There is no more spark. No intimacy, emotionally or otherwise. I am the most boring person on earth. I am terrible with money and laundry, I am emotionally needy, I have epilepsy, I am constantly grumpy due to my seizure medication, I am messy, I have severe ADD, I am not ambitious and she does not trust me.

Welcome to my pity party.

I truly believe that she thought that I would become more of a type A person. I thought that I could continue to woo her with my considerable singing voice and my super sweet guitar skills. Now, she hates it when I write her a new song because obviously I've wasted time with music when I should be working (an actual direct quote). The fastest way to her heart now is to either be 2 or 4, or to only discuss the logistics of school/daycare, the bank account, the house, or my business. And by her heart, I mean simply to not hear the 47 ways I have come up short as a husband/father/provider that day. Even the dates we go on feel like a budget planning meeting.

The worst part is... she's right about me. I cannot provide for her and my sons doing what I am doing, the way I am doing it. I don't communicate about our finances enough. I do occasionally act out toward our sons. I was addicted to pornography (worked hard to address that issue and have had success!) I did form and subsequently end an emotional attachment to my oldest friend (a girl I've known since I was 2 and I dated when we were in 9th grade). I am not man enough to deal with her response to her father living with us, my new diagnosis (the epilepsy), my 4 year old changing schools and screaming daily about it.

So now, its simply business as usual. I do not dare to seek affection. I am tired of rejection. I do not dare to discuss my fears or failures. I am tired of lectures, comparisons, and brow-beatings.

And through all of this crazy. I love her more than I ever have. I will continue to clean the house, dress and drop off the kids, pick up the kids, get her a glass of wine, find the things that are lost, fix the toys, make dinner, make coffee, do the dishes, mow the lawn etc. She is not a monster and I don't fault her for reacting to me the way she does. I also am not trying to be a martyr. I truly love her and my sons and do this stuff because of it.

I'm just... sad. How do I reclaim my confidence, and with it, my marriage and her trust?

Dear LSE,

It sounds like the role of victim is very familiar to you. I am guessing that you grew up hearing similar comments about your lack of value or redeeming qualities, or witnessed one parent browbeating the other. You were out on your own with what seems like an alcohol problem at age 21, and I wouldn't be surprised if you saw some alcohol abuse at home too. Either way, people who end up in marriages as dysfunctional as yours usually have low self-esteem, whether or not they are as aware of it as you are. Not only are you not standing up for yourself with your wife, but you are actually doing things to sabotage your marriage and erode trust further, like having an emotional affair. Subconsciously, you expect your life to suck, so you are making it suck.

From the time you met your wife, you knew you would be inadequate in her eyes, because she outright told you so. She wouldn't even marry you till you asked three times, despite there being many women out there dying for a proposal from a charming, sad musician... like your emotional affair partner, most likely. And now you're in exactly the marriage that you and she expected, one where you constantly disappoint her. (Note that it is also likely that she saw the same disappointer/disappointee dynamic in her own upbringing.)

If you want some ways to change, I suggest you start with couples counseling, where a professional can help you and your wife explore your dynamic in a new way, and give you some tools for communicating without insults or your end and passive aggression on yours. You are probably in the gender-inverse scenario of what I describe here, as she is Type A and you are the more "laid back" one. But you also need treatment, both therapy and medication, for your ADHD, because ADHD can really prevent you from being engaged and motivated in the marriage. Read The ADHD Effect On Marriage for more about this.

In your individual counseling, I suggest you work on ways to recognize your tendency to roll over and play dead and embrace the victim role in your life and marriage. You should not tolerate emotional or verbal abuse, and you should also not resort to affairs and porn in order to escape dealing with the reality of your life. You may be a romantic guy, but women don't like romance if they are scared about putting food on the table.

Speaking of which, perhaps it is time to reevaluate career options and find something, anything, that pays the bills in a consistent way. Music may be your passion, but if you're choosing it over providing for your family, you're likely to end up divorced and unhappy, or unhappier. Try to think about ways you can utilize your creativity to make some money, which will likely impress your wife and take some of the financial burden off her shoulders. If she would prefer to be home with the kids more, especially since they are so small, but she is the primary breadwinner and it's a role she didn't want, she will be resentful.

Good luck, and thanks for writing in. That was a definite step toward a new, proactive you. I have faith that you can turn this ship around. Till we meet again, I remain, The Blogapist Who Says, Maybe You Can Teach Music Lessons.

This post was originally published here on Dr. Psych Mom. Follow Dr. Rodman on Dr. Psych Mom, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest.

Learn about Dr. Rodman's private practice, including therapy, coaching, and consultation, here. This blog is not intended as diagnosis, assessment, or treatment, and should not replace consultation with your medical provider.

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