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Ask Amy: I can’t say anything without being told I’m wrong


Dear Amy: I have a marriage question.

I have taken a sort of “vow of silence” around my husband of 40 years.

I am not giving him “the silent treatment.” I respond to questions, provide the occasional benign observation, and try to make statements of support.

He finds a way to contradict virtually anything I say.

I could observe trees swaying gently in the wind, say, “It seems breezy today,” and he would reply, “No, it isn’t. The wind velocity must be such and such degrees for it to be breezy.”

I would like to be able to communicate openly about that issue and other issues in our marriage. I’d like to be able to discuss my hopes and dreams. I’d like to be able to share silly, fun thoughts and creative ideas.

But if I say almost anything, he replies “No, it isn’t …” or, “No, you don’t …” or “That’s not the right way to look at it.”

So, if I brought up my feeling that my husband often contradicts me, he most certainly would reply, “No, I don’t!”

I feel that I live in a world of “no.”

It would be self-sabotage to leave the marriage after 40 years.

How can I encourage the same care and security internally?

I would like to break my vow of silence, feeling secure that I won’t immediately be contradicted, but I’m at a loss for how to do that.

Wife With No Words Left

Dear No Words: If your husband’s contradictory reactions are confined mainly to his interactions with you, then it would seem that his entrenched negativity is expressing hostility toward you.

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If he tends to be “Mr. No” with everyone, then I’d say his hostility is directed toward himself. He seems quite unhappy.

Avoidance is a natural response to being continuously shut down, and so, actually, you are giving him the “silent treatment,” but it is important for you to recognize that you do have a voice and have a right to use it.

I hope you will try to start a conversation about the effect this is having on you. If you use “I” statements, such as, “I feel sad when you respond to me with such negativity,” he can shoot back, “No, you don’t” — which will bring the whole process into the realm of the absurd, and might catch his attention.

There are many books and resources offering ways to communicate better. Therapy could help you two to make great strides. One book you might read is “Dealing with the Elephant in the Room: Moving from Tough Conversations to Healthy Communication,” by Mike Bechtle (2017, Revell).

Dear Amy: Since my husband retired, he has stopped taking daily showers. In fact, if he showers once a week, I am lucky.

He walks five miles every day for exercise and perspires a great deal, but he doesn’t change his shirt.

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