Dear Dr. Norquist:
I’m in a quandary with my marriage. I’ve been married for 23 years and my husband and I have raised a son who is in graduate school and doing well. I love my husband dearly, but he has always been very demanding of my love and devotion. Sometimes I feel choked by his demands. Now that our son is grown, I’ve been expanding into new areas – mostly work with non-profits. My husband is possessive of my time and gets very angry at me for the work I do. I still make his meals, take care of the home and we eat together most nights. I can no longer let myself be controlled or contained by his possessiveness. Now I get angry back. I don’t want to have to choose between my marriage and my work. I don’t think it’s at all unreasonable for me to have both. My husband doesn’t see it this way. I’m pulling my hair out in anger and frustration. I’m hoping you have some helpful ideas for me.
Dr. Norquist responds:
This is a dilemma with no easy answer. It’s obvious that both your marriage and your work are extremely important to you, and you do not want to give up either of them. Ideally, both parties in a marriage can be supportive of each other’s growth needs, personal development and inner promptings. We all have ways in which we need to grow, and life provides continuing opportunities for that growth. Perhaps this situation is that for both of you. Your husband may have certain fears and insecurities that he needs to face for personal growth and to expand his capacity to love. Your current dilemma forces you to grow as well. You must find a way to honor your own beliefs and inner promptings, while maintaining your loving commitment to your husband and your marital vows. You cannot force your husband to grow in the ways that he needs to grow. However, if you comply with his demands of you, it’s likely that resentments will take root in your heart, choking out your love and your liveliness. In this scenario both of you will lose. Your husband will have lost an opportunity for growth, and still he will not be happy.
Your job is to find a way to meet your own needs on both fronts. There will be no clear answer to this dilemma. It is a path you will carve, day by day, decision by decision, depending on what each day brings your way. You can do your work and still be loving. It’s also OK to be angry. Your anger keeps your own needs in the picture, and shows your husband where you draw the line. He needs to be aware of when he is crossing the line and not respecting you as a separate person with your own needs. Some people, due to earlier developmental problems, never quite seem to develop the awareness that the significant others in their lives are not meant to revolve around their needs. They are not satisfied unless you give up your personal life for their needs. So, if this is the case, you need to find a way to honor your own needs and promptings, develop your own life, be true to your values regarding your marriage and accept that your husband may continue to be miserable in his life.
(Dr. Sallie Norquist is a licensed psychologist (NJ #2371) in private practice and is director of Chaitanya Counseling Services, a center for upliftment and enlivenment, in Hoboken.)Dr. Norquist and the staff of Chaitanya invite you to write them at Chaitanya Counseling Services, 51 Newark St., Suite 202, Hoboken, NJ 07030 or www.chaitanya.com or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by fax at (201) 656-4700. Questions can address various topics, including relationships, life’s stresses, difficulties, mysteries and dilemmas, as well as questions related to managing stress or alternative ways of understanding health-related concerns. 2012 Chaitanya Counseling Services