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'My Family Is Making My Bad Marriage Worse

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Reader Rock and Hard Place writes,

I can't afford couples therapy, couldn't find someone affordable when I had a job either. I'm a stay at home mom now. Husband and I have been together for 13 years. I have a 5 year old and 8 month old and my marriage sucks. We don't have sex. I resent him for being unkind, not helping out and being selfish. He resents me for not blindly trusting his ideas (they are insane) and talking down to him.

I read that book you recommended, Getting The Love You Want, about imago theory.

It's like we can't be helped and I cannot get out of the marriage for a variety of reasons, mostly financial. We yell. I try not to but it happens. My mother hates him. My father hates him but behaves like he likes him/thinks he's funny. My sister just told me he won't visit anymore because we argue sometimes in their presence.

I find it very hard to not defend myself when someone lies or says something negative about me. I wish someone else who speak up for me when he acts like a jerk but no one ever does.

My family wants to see the kids but not him, and I live with him, so I'm in this impossible situation. To the point where I'm like, well don't visit then. Just don't see the kids, I can't walk on eggshells in my own house.

Am I crazy? Is there any advice you can give me here? Or is this just hopeless? I'm so unhappy.

Dear RAHP,

This situation certainly sounds difficult. You are between a rock and a hard place, which is the explanation for your name. You don't even like your husband, but you wish your family liked him more so they would visit without complaining about it. But on the other hand, you also wish they stood up for you more. And you can't afford couples counseling so you're stuck and there is no hope.

Actually, I don't believe there is no hope, but the way you're describing the situation makes you feel that way. Let's try to reframe this situation in ways that may make you feel that there are more possibilities here.
  • You likely have some form of insurance, and if you go on, there may be therapists who accept it. Or else you can google "pro bono counseling" or look up nearby universities that have graduate counseling or clinical psychology programs. At the University of Maryland, where I received my PhD, we trained in a graduate clinic under supervision, and clients only had to pay $10 a session.
  • In about 2-3 years, you'll have one child in elementary school and one in a 2's or 3's program. This can give you about 12-20 hours a week to work. Can we start brainstorming right now to think of ways you can get back in the workforce at that time? What are your skills? What did you do prior to being a SAHM?
  • You can't expect your parents or sister to confront your husband. That is just not their role, unless they are walking in on him being violent toward you.
  • Most sucky marriages are sucky because of both partners. You probably do talk down to him, because you did even in this email. I am sure he sucks, and maybe he even sucked FIRST. But right now, all evidence points to the fact that both of you likely suck.
  • Building off this point, you can commit to working on your contribution to the suckage. Some key points are: no matter what the hell he does, don't yell at him. If he has a stupid idea, try to think of its positives and lead with that feedback before cutting him down. If he tells you you're wrong, say calmly that you don't think you are, and offer to talk more later about it. Walk out of the room.
  • Figure out who you want to be if this marriage ends in a few years. Do you want to be a yeller or someone who complains that their family is both too involved and too uninvolved? I totally understand why your life is tough right now, I do. But at some point you have to take ownership of your own life.
  • Getting the Love You Want doesn't show that people can't be helped. It shows that they can, if they both try to be kind and accepting. You can unilaterally try to be kind and accepting. If you try this for a month, I bet you you'll be in a different place, even just slightly.
  • Tell your family that you will no longer complain about your husband and you'd appreciate if they don't either. If your sister doesn't want to visit because you guys argue, that's understandable. It's awkward. So stop arguing. Or else take the kids for nice excursions with your family while your husband does something else on his own.
  • I think you need to start treating your family like you'd treat friends. You wouldn't expect friends to intervene and defend you against your husband, or to hang around while you guys yell at each other. Treat your family the same way and things may improve.
  • Use the same methods in the first bullet point to find your own therapist. You need the support. You can definitely find someone who is affordable, because honestly you can't afford not to. You're teaching your kids terrible things about marriage, unintentionally, but you still are. You know this, and I am sure it bothers you. Take the bull by the horns and commit to changing how you act in front of them, and you may need a therapist's help to do this, because it sounds like your family is dramatic and it's possible that the drama manifested in arguments in front of you when you were a kid too.
Good luck. Keep me updated. And till we meet again, I remain, The Blogapist Who Says, Nothing Is Hopeless.

This post was originally published here on Dr. Psych Mom. Follow Dr. Rodman on Dr. Psych Mom, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest. Order her book, How to Talk to Your Kids about Your Divorce: Healthy, Effective Communication Techniques for Your Changing Family. This blog is not intended as diagnosis, assessment, or treatment, and should not replace consultation with your medical provider.