I’ve been dating Caren for four months now. When we first started dating, I couldn’t believe how wonderful she was. And she is wonderful. She’s fun, smart, pretty and full of energy. She is so easy to talk to and there’s never a dull moment with us. She can also be very compassionate and kind. I look forward to seeing her in between dates, which was not always the case with me. By the way, I’m 27 and Caren is 23 years old.
There is a problem with Caren that I just don’t know how to deal with and though I’ve tried my hardest, I’m not getting anywhere. Had I not been nervous about this issue, I probably would have proposed already, but this area is of concern to me. Basically, Caren always has to be right. Now, the truth of the matter is, she is usually right! That’s what makes this difficult. When we differ on something, nine out of 10 times, it turns out she’s right. She’s very smart and also has great instincts. Maybe I’m just not as smart. But on those rare occasions that she turns out to be wrong, she will never admit she’s wrong. Even if I can show her, in black and white, that she’s wrong, she seems to be unable to say she blew it, let alone apologize for insisting that I was wrong.
I’ll give you an example. It’s a silly thing, but I just want to give you a sense of what I sometimes have to deal with. Last Sunday we made up to meet in Manhattan for the afternoon. She was already going to be in the city because she had some meeting, so we made up to meet at noon at a certain location. I got there at noon, and didn’t see her where we made up to meet. I tried calling her for at least a half an hour, but her cell phone was off. Finally, maybe at 12:40, I hear from her and she’s basically yelling at me for not being where “we made up to meet.” She kept insisting that she had the right spot and the right time and I believed beyond a shadow of a doubt that I had the right spot. Anyway, I knew we made the plan over the phone to meet, but wasn’t sure whether or not either of us had texted the other to confirm. I decided to check my phone and sure enough, I had sent her a text at one point, confirming that I was correct. Even after literally showing her the text, she insisted that I was wrong. Against absolute proof! As I’m writing this, I realize how crazy it must sound.
I guess I put up with this because it doesn’t happen very often. As I said, she’s usually right. But on those few occasions when she’s not, she can’t admit it. Nothing I do or say can change her thinking. If Caren wasn’t so amazing in so many other ways, I’m sure I would have moved on a long time ago. But there are so many great aspects to her and I really do find myself thinking about her nonstop and always wanting to be with her. And she definitely has some wonderful qualities.
Do you think this is something that can change or be overlooked, if so many of Caren’s other qualities are so amazing?
The Navidaters respond:
Sure, you can overlook it! You’ll just have to arch your back seven inches, squint and stretch your neck three feet to the right. Ouch! You are in such a tough spot. You have strong feelings for Caren, but her inability to own up to her mistakes and apologize might be leaving you feeling pretty bad about yourself and worried about your future with her. Furthermore, Caren is unable or unwilling to talk about the issue with you. If you were to speak with married people living with spouses who are unable to apologize and unwilling to talk about it, you would quickly find out there is often a shared sense of loneliness and sadness.
You may be fighting with Caren about arrival times or other seemingly trivial goings-on, but the subtext is probably, She doesn’t care about me. She doesn’t see me. She doesn’t value me. She doesn’t care that she is hurting me. Where am I in this relationship? I’m a nobody here. My feelings don’t matter.
You asked a very deep and philosophical question. Can people change? I can only answer your excellent question based on what I have seen in my practice. The answer is, yes, people can change. But there is one huge caveat. The person has to want to change in order to change. People make changes for all sort of reasons. Maybe they are about to lose a spouse after an ultimatum. Maybe they realize they have hit rock bottom and cannot go on living a certain way. Sometimes they realize their old behaviors and habits are no longer working for them. Ultimately, even when one partner enters therapy kicking and screaming, it is his/her choice to make a change. The same is true for everyone! Including Caren.
Taking the focus off Caren, it seems like there is a part of you that is able to overlook Caren’s treatment of you because of her favorable qualities. What is your insight or understanding of this? I think you should consider taking some time to figure this out in therapy.
I understand from your e-mail that Caren is usually right. Once in awhile she is wrong, and so you are OK going with her flow. I don’t care if she is right 100% of the time. Marriage isn’t about who is right and who is wrong. The marriages that are about that are generally unhappy marriages. Who cares about being right if it means your husband is feeling alone and depressed? And I can’t help but wonder why Caren wants to be with someone who is always wrong. (Not that you are, but you know what I mean.)
Solid marriages make room for both spouses’ opinions and feelings. Beyond figuring out Caren’s motives, we need to help you understand how you’ve gotten caught up in this game of who is right and who is wrong. And why you have so willingly taken on the role of the “wrong one.” For the next few weeks, my advice is to see a therapist and work on making some changes of your own. I would like to see you a bit more empowered, a bit more comfortable with your thoughts and ideas and speaking up for yourself in a healthy way. You mentioned that nothing you say or do sways her or convinces her. Let’s stop convincing Caren for the time being, and convince you of what you are worth in your own therapy.
By Jennifer Mann, LCSW