How to Thrive (or Survive)
After the First Year of Marriage

Letter #2

Dear Dr. Harley,

I've been married for 7 1/2 months and am facing a trying time. My wife has told me that she is not happy, and that the main reason is some of the "bad habits" she didn't realize I had.

It is hard for me to pinpoint any of these myself, but they are there and I accept that, and am willing to try to change. Since this has started I find myself accepting all the blame, and thinking that I am the only cause for her unhappiness. There is nothing more that I want to do then to re-establish her happiness and trust, and strengthen our marriage. I do not want to add more difficulty to this situation by placing some of the "blame" on her.

Most of the problems stem from what I have said in a normal day to day conversation, and she has taken them very personally. I might be insensitive, while my wife is over-sensitive. If this is a reason, do any of your methods deal with how we can reach a good balance?

I hope that you can make a recommendation so I can restore this bad time to what we had just a few short months ago.

K.G.

Dear K.G.,

The first year of marriage is a very good time to identify and overcome areas of incompatibility. The longer you let them grow, the more difficult they are to overcome.

If you have read my basic concept, "The Three States of Mind in Marriage," you will see that you are in the state of "intimacy" and your wife is in the state of "conflict." That's why you are willing to accept all the blame for her hurt feelings. The truth is, both of you will need to make some adjustments to each other. You will need to understand what it is you do that offends her, and she may need to modify the way she reacts.

It may be helpful for your wife to discuss her sensitivities with you. There may be certain things you do or say that symbolize experiences she has had in the past that are particularly distressing to her. Once you discover them, I would avoid spending too much time trying to "resolve" them. I've found that such probing doesn't make her less sensitive, it only helps you understand why she is sensitive so you can adjust to it.

I often begin counseling clients by telling them that if I do or say anything that offends them, to let me know so that I can be more sensitive. You should do the same with your wife. Above all, don't be defensive by telling her you didn't mean to offend her. Don't explain how your offending opinion makes as much sense to you as her opinion. Instead, simply apologize for offending her, and try to avoid it in the future.

It's likely that Love Busters are creeping into your conversation. Pay particular attention to the Love Buster, disrespectful judgments, where you are trying to give your wife "constructive criticism." Marriage is no place to straighten someone out. Any effort you make to take charge, or be a leader, may be interpreted by her as disrespectful. Your intentions may be pure, but if the effect is hurt feelings, stop doing it.

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