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HER WAY OR THE HIGHWAY: How to Deal With My “Take it or leave it” Spouse

Question:

My wife has a habit that has always driven me crazy, even when we were dating.  Whenever I raise a complaint, she responds, “This is who I am: take it or leave it.”  The conversation (which really isn’t a conversation) inevitably ends with my having to accept the status quo and I’m getting REALLY fed up.  I’m no expert but I do believe people can change and that both people in a marriage should always be willing to compromise.  Am I wrong?

Answer:

No, you’re not wrong.  But in describing two partners who are “always” willing to compromise in every situation, you’re also describing the ideal scenario and not the one you married into.

I say “married into” because you mentioned that your wife had this annoying trait when you married, so the fact that she’s continued to exhibit it—however destructive and maddening—should be no surprise.

In fact, what would have been surprising—even miraculous—is if, at the moment you placed the ring on her finger, she had suddenly become the epitome of consensus and negotiation.

That may sound harsh, but I do you no favors by trying to shade the truth and the limits of the two choices she is giving you:

Take It:

When we marry, we make a lifetime commitment to our spouse.  This means that we will often have to concede our own wants and desires and focus on meeting their needs above our own.  This can look and feel like “taking it”.

If you consider it further, it’s not really the “taking it” part that is often the problem, but the resentment, frustration, and anger that can build over time.  This not only takes a toll on our well-being but the way we feel about our partners and our marriage in general.

 

If you’re interested in this topic, you may wish to read our blog entitled
You Owe Me: When the Score is Uneven in Your Marriage.

Take it or leave it

 

When our spouse’s preferences or requests are relatively minor or short-term, it shouldn’t be a big deal to make this sacrifice.  However, when our spouse’s needs become excessive, imbalanced, unreasonable, or pathological, other courses of action may need to be taken.

In addition, no HEALTHY marriage can withstand a situation where one person gets his/her way all of the time.  This is not only bad for the partner who loses their voice in the relationship, but for the other partner who often becomes so demanding and controlling that their spouse ceases to exist as a separate individual.

Leave It:

I’m not speaking here of leaving your wife, but of refusing to tolerate a one-way marriage. Not every situation is black and white, and there are many creative ways of getting our own needs met and leveling the playing field, even when our spouse refuses to participate in the process.

 

If you struggle with compromise in your marriage, you’re not alone.
check out this additional article on Compromise in Marriage.

 

It may sound like conflicting advice to encourage you to call your wife’s bluff, but have you ever just said, “Okay, I’m going to leave it” and rejected what she’s asking you to accept?  If this seems bold to you, just remember that you’re not doing your marriage any favors by continuing to tolerate this imbalance in your relationship.

For example, if you raised the idea of going somewhere else other than her parents’ home for the holidays and she responded with, “We’ve always gone there, and I’ll always be with my family at Christmas.  Take it or leave it”, have you considered ‘leaving it’ by responding, “If that’s your stance, I understand but I haven’t been home for Christmas in six years and it’s really important to me to see my family too so I guess we’ll be spending the holidays apart this year.”?

In another example, if you asked her for a more equitable redistribution of household duties and she responds with, “I like things the way they are.  Take it or leave it”, you could ‘leave it’ by saying, “Well, as I explained, my new work schedule doesn’t allow me to pick up groceries AND the kids on the way home, so I’ll plan to start picking up the kids and we can order in or start using a delivery service for the groceries.”

 

Unbalanced relationshipIn these illustrations, you’re not forcing her to abandon her holiday plans or leaving your kids in limbo.  But you ARE establishing that you will begin operating differently than you have been in the past.  If she doesn’t like it, she will need to make some adjustments herself or come back to the negotiating table.  In fact, you may find that once you begin standing up for yourself, she suddenly becomes more flexible.

Ultimately, she may have never learned how to successfully negotiate a happy compromise that meets both your needs—or this outcome may be scary to her for some reason.

In either case, please seek professional assistance!  So often, what seems completely reasonable in the confines of our own four walls and experience we finally see as destructive and dysfunctional when we get an outside, objective perspective.

So give us a call.  (We’ve dealt with many take-it-or-leavers and will be happy to help.)   And then tell your wife you already have an appointment in hand and would love to improve your marriage . .  . together.

If she resists, just reply, “It’s your choice.  If you won’t come, I still plan to go without you.  Take it or leave it.”

 

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