As the kids grew up and moved out, our problems became more apparent. She can be self-centered and controlling, and gets very upset if things don't go her way. We can't dance at parties because she only wants to dance her way. She got extremely upset when I made decisions on care for my aging parents. She gets upset if I ask her what she wants to do on a weekend; she wants me to find something she'll like.
There were early signs. When we first started living together, for example, she would complain if I read a book while she watched Spanish-language TV.
My wife also doesn't show any interest in things I like. Even though I don't speak Spanish well, I have fun watching her soap operas and going to Spanish-language concerts. If I try to talk to her about current events, sports, movies or music, I'm met with indifference. She only seems concerned with what I can do for her.
Therapy hasn't really helped. I think I've made changes; my wife doesn't feel like she needs to change. It's always what I need to change. We've talked about divorce, but it seems like we should be able to work through this. There are no dealbreaking issues like cheating, just a serious lack of communication. I'm not sure what to do.
— Looking for Something More
Looking for Something More: With all due respect, I’d say there’s an excess of communication.
At least, there is plenty on the negative and futile end of the scale.
You are trying and trying to converse — on news, sports, arts, and in therapy — and in the process communicating your hopes of converting her into an engaged and chatty companion. Your efforts to share her interests and meet her needs communicate this, too, in their ways.
She, for her part, is communicating with you all over the place. The emotional outbursts, the indifference to your conversation attempts and the stubborn resistance to change are all forms of communication and her message is clear: She is available to you strictly as is, so don’t look for anything different from her.
Whether this is healthy, good or kind, and whether you accept or like this about her, are all apparently beside her point. As is. Take-leave.
So my advice is to move yourself deliberately to the positive and productive end of the scale with full knowledge of her as-is terms. Since she’s not budging, anything that hinges on her changing the way she does things is not productive and therefore is out. Your dwelling on what you and she no longer talk about or share? That’s negative, so that’s out. Reacting when she gets upset is negative and counterproductive and out. You get the idea.
What’s in: Dance your way, warmheartedly. And look for what she does offer you now. Don’t be stingy; even shared history and financial stability have value. Find what pleasures you can in your present reality — both the good things about her company, and the good things about having more room to develop varied interests than you’ve had in three decades.
Maybe you need to stay interesting to yourselves and each other through some smaller, separate pursuits. Kids are 20-year collaborations, each. You and your wife were good partners in these projects — excellent. It seems unrealistic, though, to think you can subtract this consuming purpose from your daily lives without consequence.
Explore this positive and productive side of the scale, as creatively as you need to and as transparently as any marriage deserves, then assess: Can you live happily in a marriage built out of the material you have vs. the material you keep trying in vain to get?
And don’t get hung up on what you “should” be “able to” accomplish. There is only what you do, what you have and how you feel.
As for her controlling and selfish nature: It’s emphatically not okay. But if I read things correctly, she was controlly before kids and after but not (problematically) during. If so, then maybe the project — the purpose — really is the thing. Maybe she’s bored and adrift; people sometimes micromanage less when there’s more to do. Maybe your marriage needs something to do.
It has high mileage and “instant connection” pheromones well out of warranty, yet you’re asking it to be enough, alone, to keep you both happy — which you’ve never asked of it before. Why not use your happier years as a script? Find a purpose and put it to work. Divorce can wait while you give it a try.