Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Dismaying Story #4: Her Insecurity Blanket

Dear Andrew,

I have been offered a fantastic new job with a higher salary than I have ever made. When I got home and told my wife, though, she was upset because the job involves being out of town with the sales team a few days each month. She came up with all sorts of reasons why I shouldn't take the job, like, "Do you really want to be away from the kids that much?" It's only a few days a month and I miss that much family time because of the overtime for my current job anyway. She talked about how much harder life would be for her and how she would miss me. She even said she was

worried I would meet some other woman when I was out of town, which is ridiculous. I would never do anything like that. In fact, I would have thought she'd be glad for me to take the new job -- she never has liked the fact that I have a pretty, young secretary where I work now.

She just kept coming up with one roadblock after another and to be honest, I can't see how any of them would result in significant problems if I took the job. Nothing I said seemed to make her feel any better, though. How can I get her to understand this job is really important to me?

Signed: Anxious to Get Started

Dear Anxious,

When someone's behavior doesn't seem to make sense, it often means we don't understand the true underlying reasons. My educated guess (which is all I can provide based on a letter) is that your wife does not object to the new job or the travel per se. Rather, this seems to be a fear reaction. What is she afraid of? I think she told you; she said she is afraid of losing you, that you will have an affair. She is expressing insecurity over your relationship.

This might seem to you like a strange or extreme way of expressing this fear. Why should she worry more about your marriage just because you'll be out of town once in a while? After all, you say you would never do that sort of thing in any circumstance, and plenty of people have affairs without ever leaving the city. It turns out that fears are not necessarily logical creatures. They can get in our minds, root around in the dark corners and have us imagining all sorts of dire consequences, even if those consequences are unlikely to actually occur. Regardless of how it seems to you, though, I suspect your wife's fears are very real to her.

You can likely verify this hypothesis by thinking back over conversations the two of you have had. Does she ever wonder out loud why you (or anyone else) would love someone like her? Does she think of herself as physically unattractive in any way? Does she talk about her own (real or imagined) character flaws? For example, she might describe herself as high maintenance or hard to get along with. Does she express jealousy or insecurity about situations that seem to you rather benign? You already mentioned one such situation in your letter, with your secretary. Does she tend to react strongly to criticism? The reaction could take any of several forms – anger, feeling down, and so on – but a strong reaction to criticism can be a sign of shaky self-esteem. Stated the opposite way, a person who is very secure in their own self worth may be affected less by someone else's opinions.

If this is ringing any bells, there are several things you can try. First, you should avoid adding fuel to the fire. Now that you are aware of her emotional hot buttons, be especially careful about doing anything that would validate her insecurities. Some men find it natural and comfortable to joke and mildly flirt with other women. You should avoid any hint of this. If you need to meet with your secretary, do so at your workplace in plain sight of others. Forget taking her to a working lunch, regardless of how convenient that might be or how innocent the purpose of the meeting. Be careful not to put your wife down in any way, even if you think you are "only teasing." Few of us are able to handle teasing well if the topic happens to coincide with an insecurity.

Second, go out of your way to reassure your wife. Don't assume she knows that you love her, that you will never leave her, that having an affair is something you would never do regardless of the circumstance or temptation. Tell her, straight out without mincing words or beating around the bush. Do it today and on an ongoing basis. Look her straight in the eye and tell her with all the sincerity you can muster that you and she are going to last for all time. More than anything, this may be the step that will help her feel better about your relationship in general, and about your potential new job in particular. Ask her if you have ever done anything to make her worry about your marriage. Given the fear she has expressed, she will likely say yes. Apologize for giving her that impression, even if you don't feel you did anything wrong. Remember, this is all about emotions and impressions. If she perceives a problem and your apology could help, then provide it, without reservation.

Finally, many couples find valuable help for these types of challenges by consulting with a third-party professional such as a counselor or psychologist.


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  1. Anonymous12:22 PM

    I can't buy into "apologize even if I feel did nothing wrong".

    She will always think she infers correctly and I'm always wrong.

    As an adult, she needs to work on her perceptions, intrepetations and reations... not seeking to be condescended to or placated.

  2. I dunno if all women always think we infer correctly.

    It's not the inferring correctly that's a problem - it's the inferring to a real possibility given the right circumstances.

    A fight between husband and wife could provide those right circumstances for an affair if the other woman is already in place.

    If there's no other woman in place, a fight can take place more safely. But if a husband's love is a sure thing, another woman can be in place, and it wouldn't matter no matter how badly we fought. The assurance after a fight is what I'd look for - that the fight doesn't affect the security of our relationship, no matter what.