Following the Policy of Joint Agreement
When You're VERY Incompatible
Dear Dr. Harley,
My husband and I have been married for almost two years, and we are 11 years apart in age. Naturally we do things differently, but we usually are trying to meet similar goals. Nevertheless, we are very incompatible on all levels.
He is a mathematics professor and I am a mental health tech on a psych unit. Where he thinks things through logically, I am looking at them from an emotional perspective. From the time we were married, my husband has wanted us to make all decisions together so that we will develop, over time, a compatible lifestyle. But it's not working.
We married spontaneously, not knowing what kind of a couple we would make. After 3 unhappy months of marriage, I had an affair with my ex-boyfriend. My husband and I eventually reconciled, but he never forgave me. Since then, I have been faithful, honest, and apologetic for the bad decision I made two years ago. I talk when he needs to talk, I am silent when he wants to be distant, I hold him all night long when he feels insecure, I tell him every place I go and every dime I spend without exception. But he still feels resentful.
To complicate matters, my husband is jealous of another male friend I've known for years. To please my husband, I have had very little to do with my friend since I've been married so that I can dedicate all of my time to the relationship with my husband. The times I have contacted my friend, my husband has been with me. My husband insists that my friend is romantically interested in me. I have expressed my wish to maintain the friendship but have agreed to only visit in his company and with his blessings.
My friend sensed tension from my husband when we talked several months ago, and suggested stepping out of the picture for my marriage's sake. I said no, but if this is necessary, I will end my friendship. I do not want to because I am sure I will resent my husband for this request in the end.
I feel that the sharing of decision making with my husband puts him in control of me. I wonder if this will ever change. If it will not, I may not be able to live here and stay sane. Some days I feel like leaving just for another taste of freedom. I crave independence. I know this relationship has to be unhealthy for us both to behave this way.
At present my husband does not respect me and often refuses to talk to me. I wonder if actions wouldn't speak louder. Should I leave him for a while to force him to treat me better?
Your husband had the right idea when you were first married -- he encouraged you to agree before either of you did anything. Your first reaction to mutual agreement may have been so negative, that you did what he feared the most -- you had an affair. It was a blatant and cruel violation of the agreement that he thought would make you compatible.
Maybe, prior to marriage, you and he had not practiced mutual agreement. You may have done whatever you pleased, and he may have accepted it. So when he proposed mutual agreement at the time of your marriage, you may have felt trapped by it. As is the experience of many that try it for the first time, you may have felt deep resentment and depression. Whatever it was that drew you to your old boyfriend right after you were married, it certainly could not have justified what you did to your husband. It undoubtedly hit him like a bomb.
In spite of your bad start, however, The Policy of Joint Agreement is what you need. It was created just for your situation. It's for people who don't feel like being thoughtful. If you had followed it faithfully when you were first married, you would not have had the affair, and by now you would be sharing many common interests, mutual love and respect for each other. It would have forced you to consider your husband's feelings, even when you thought you'd go crazy if you did.
There are two kinds of resentment: (1) Resentment due to something one of you DID to the other that was hurtful, and (2) resentment due to something you DIDN'T do for yourself that you would have liked, but would have hurt your spouse. Your husband has the first kind of resentment because you had an affair three months into your marriage. What you did hurt him. You have the second kind of resentment because you now feel obligated to avoid seeing a friend who is a threat to your husband.
I think you would agree with me that the first kind of resentment is the worst, because your husband knows you deliberately hurt him. It's no wonder he's having trouble recovering from the experience. Your poor communication may be partly due to the fact that he is still trying to recover from the shock.
The second kind of resentment, the kind you are experiencing, may be uncomfortable, but life is full of instances where we need to control ourselves for the protection of others. In other words, I'm saying that whatever resentment you may feel about not being able to see your friend is nothing compared to the resentment you would feel if your husband had indulged in an affair.
You may be right about your incompatibility, but from what you've told me so far, what is separating you is not incompatibility, but his emotional withdrawal, which is a different matter entirely. He started out on the right track, wanting to settle all decisions on a mutually agreeable basis. But I think his best intentions are being overwhelmed by the grief he is feeling from your affair a year ago. He probably would have gotten over it by now, but your effort to see another friend from your past is keeping his grief fresh. Why torment your husband with needless pain?
From your husband's perspective, if you cared about his feelings, you wouldn't see your friend. The fact that he has made his wishes clear, and you have wanted to see him anyway, is proof to him that you care more about seeing your friend than you care about your husband. My advice to you is simple: Don't have friends who make your husband uncomfortable. Follow the Policy of Joint Agreement.
Remember incompatibility is a present condition, not necessarily a future condition. I'm in the business of helping incompatible couples learn to become compatible, and I see it happen almost every day. Once you both learn to behave in ways that do not hurt each other, your husband will have little trouble becoming emotionally reunited with you, and will work with you to create a life that is enjoyable for both of you.
The fact that you hurt him with your affair does not mean that it will burden the rest of your marriage, unless you keep bringing new men into your life who threaten your husband. It doesn't mean you will live your life in a closet. It means you will develop friendships with men who your husband knows and trusts. There are a lot of people out there. Why waste your time on those who make only one of you happy? Develop friendships that are good for both you and your husband.
The Policy of Joint Agreement may make you uncomfortable at first. After all, it means you must give up everything you enjoy that hurts your spouse. But it doesn't take very long until all those self-centered pleasures are replaced with a mutually enjoyable lifestyle. When that happens, you're compatible.