Dear Annie

Dear Annie: My husband of 20 years, “Earl,” can be friendly when he wants to be. It’s the second marriage for each of us. We usually are very compatible, but once in a while, I feel verbally abused.

For example, his insurance company has an annual dinner, which includes good food and door prizes. There have been a couple of years when we were with people he knew, and I enjoyed the conversations. At the dinner two years ago, the man seated on the other side of Earl tried to converse with both of us, while Earl stared straight ahead. After a while, I felt uncomfortable talking with this man across Earl. Other people joined our table, and more conversations took place, but Earl was like a statue.

As we got up to leave, I said goodbye and said it was nice to meet them. Earl stood behind me and stated sarcastically, “If you want to stay, I could come back later.” I asked him last year not to buy tickets, and he didn’t, but he just came home with tickets for this year’s dinner, and I reminded him I said I would never attend one again. A tirade resulted. He says I hold a grudge. He also says I am never happy unless I’m complaining about him.

Similar statements have embarrassed me over the years. I may see a neighbor from long ago and visit for only a couple of minutes. He could walk over and get introduced, but he stands near the exit or gets in the car, glaring at me, and then announces that maybe the neighbor could drive me home if I’m not ready yet. Over and over, these sarcastic statements embarrass and hurt me.

Today I tried to make him understand, but it ended with him telling me to move out. Am I too sensitive, or is he too callous?

 — A Fly in the Ointment

Dear Fly in the Ointment: No, you are not being too sensitive, and to call your husband callous would, in a sense, be too generous. “Callous” implies indifference more than it does malice. The latter is more the case with your husband. When he accuses you of holding grudges, he’s really describing himself. He is behaving in a vindictive, petulant and, yes, verbally abusive manner. When he escalates any conflict (or at least any conflict in which you stand up for yourself) to “Why don’t you just move out?” he is holding the relationship hostage. This manipulation tactic makes it virtually impossible for you to have any sort of constructive conversation about the relationship. This is not sustainable.

Because your husband seems far from ready to admit this, it’s time to enlist the aid of an objective third party. Tell him you’d like to go to marriage counseling. It’s the best hope for improving the health of your relationship. Please let me know how it goes; I’d love to hear back from you.

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