I am a critical thinker, fairly well-read, who tries to approach others with compassion, empathy, and a desire to validate their experience. This stems from a cursory background in Buddhist meditation (although I don't self-identify as a Buddhist).
But there's no talking with her about this. At all. It just devolves into "So I'm a bad person," or "I can't say the right thing," etc.
And keep in mind, this all stems from me saying, "I can totally understand your perspective. It makes sense. I think about it differently."
She even gets upset if I say, "I don't agree with your priorities but supporting you is more important to me than what I think ." I'm no saint, but c'mon... how can you get mad at someone who supports you unconditionally?
I can even preface my statement with, "I might be missing something, but this is how I feel about *whatever*" and she gets defensive and angry. Why? Because in her narrow world view there are not multiple perspectives and interpretations of human evens. There is only her view.
Therapy is not an option. We don't have the money or the time.
Leaving is not an option. We have two kids. I will do anything to see them grow up.
Happiness comes from within. So changing her or my situation avoids the real issue which is my ultimately arbitrary expectations and her failure to meet them. So really, in fairness, is this her problem? No, it's mine.
Are you saying you understand her even if you don't?
Can you say you don't understand and you're struggling with understanding and you're curious to know more about her opinions/values/decisions/viewpoints?
It seems like you have someone there who has put a wall up around themselves. So I disagree that this is a small thing.
I don't think you should say you understand her when you don't.
For being supportive, I wouldn't verbalize it. I would leave it as being supportive, if someone is supportive, there is no need to verbalize it, it would be evident in action (or non-action where that's a show of support).
Can you give an example of a specific situation where what you described has happened?
How old are the children? Might the rigid thinking have started with the children's appearance, or is this the way she's always been? Children can instill fear in a woman. Fear makes people maladpt. They might become rigid in thinking, adhere to a specific philosophy so as not to mess up as a parent. This stems from lack of confidence in parenting, wanting to do things the standard way. It's complex, but also very simple. Maybe you could put a finger on when this trait of hers developed. It's hard to believe you married someone who was like this from the get go?
For me, it requires a little mind reading. There are times when we can talk about anything. Other times, she can't assemble two nice words even if her life depended on it. When I know the decks are foul, I ask if I can do anything to help and otherwise avoid talking to her.
Center of the universe? Check
Everyone is wrong I am right. Check
Overwhelming sense of oneself? Check
Everyone persecutes me because I am right. Check
If you did as you're told we'd get along much better. Check
We have identical interests because they are my interests. Check
Everything is your fault. Check
You make me hate you. Check
I don't have to, that's your job. Check.
Your feelings aren't trivial, they simply don't exist. Check
You can be replaced. Check.
If you question me I will hurt you then I will hurt you more for that. Check.
I am not above the law, I AM the law. Check.
It sounds like you are married to someone who has narcissistic tendencies, if not full blown NPD (narcissistic personality disorder). They have no ability to see other's perspectives, to value other people's wants/needs, or to be self-aware. They lack empathy and everything is always about them - what they want, what they need, what they want you to mirror back to them. They are very caught up in appearances and how they look to the outside world. They are manipulative and controlling. They do not accept responsibility for doing anything wrong. They do not accept anything other than your admiration and agreement of their world view.
If she is a narcissist, she cannot and will not change. She would probably not agree to therapy if you had the money to go because she does not have the capacity to accept that she has faults, is wrong about some things. She would spend all her time in therapy trying to get the therapist to see her as flawless and wonderful. Her fragile ego could not handle the real work of therapy, which requires self-reflection, acknowledgement of flaws and issues, etc. Her father sounds like a narcissist, too.
I would google to read up on NPD and the various forms it can take. There are, unfortunately, limited options for you if she is one. And your children will also be harmed by her behavior, too, so read up and figure out if she is and if so, how you can best handle it. Not engaging is the best advice, but that's hard to do when you are married. You could stay with her to ameliorate the damage she will do the your kids, and then leave when they are in college. They will need your influence to counteract her warped view of the world. If she has NPD, you need to be aware that she views the kids as existing to meet her emotional needs and need for admiration and has no capacity to see and honor their needs. And if you divorce her, it will get ugly.
Sorry I don't have better news. I could be way off base but how you describe her fits neatly into the NPD framework. I hope for your sake I am wrong.
"Are you saying you understand her even if you don't?"
No, I'm not. I have what is called empathy or another term - sociological imagination. It means I can easily adopt another's viewpoint and see its validity. Thus I can understand where she's coming from even when I disagree with it.
My wife is definitely not narcissistic. She's not obsessed with appearances.
That said, she is almost obsessively concerned about what others are thinking and feeling. The irony is her concern is almost always about how another's feelings make HER feel. It doesn't seem she's concerns about another's feelings strictly for the sake other person.
She did agree to go to counseling when we tried it.
Yeah, so I need to give credit where credit is due. She's a very easy person to live with and be around, provided I keep any disagreeable thoughts or feelings to myself.
And as something who thinks about things and wants to talk and work through them, it's stifling.
OK, well from one empathetic person to another, if you want a person without a sixth sense to know that you understand, you need to be very EXPLICIT about understanding. Not just say that you understand. I am empathetic and I can usually tell when someone has a problem, but you know what, until I start listening to them, they might not even have a handle on the problem themselves. And then I find out I am shocked because I did not really have a clue as to the specifics of the issues, just that there was an issue and I THOUGHT I understood it completely, but I did not.
Understanding is really an interactive process. Empathy and intuition are not the same as active listening and expenditure of time and connection. Think of the difference between a diabetic who takes insulin shots and a diabetic who has a monitor and an automatic insulin feed. Technically, both get treatment for diabetic state, but obviously one delivery method of insulin and monitoring trumps the other in terms of how the diabetic feels. That's the difference between being 'understood' and 'being listened to' and then 'understood'. Anyone can have empathy without getting the full story. despite being sincere, it does come across as being dismissive. As though one's issues or problems or even joys aren't unique, don't contribute in a very specific way towards the world we live in. That's depressing. Very.
For my wife there are 2 perspectives on things: her perspective and the wrong perspective. Her father is the same way. In short, you're with them or against them.
Six, you are describing all-or-nothing thinking. This black-white view of people results in everyone being categorized as "all good" or "all bad." Typically, a person having this distorted perspective will recategorize someone, in about 10 seconds, from one polar extreme (i.e., "with me") to the other ("against me") based solely on an idle comment or minor infraction. This is done because the person is extremely uncomfortable with ambiguities and gray areas.
Significantly, although black-white thinking constitutes a distorted perception, it does not mean a person is crazy -- which would require the person's perception of physical reality be distorted. With black-white thinking, physical reality is perceived just fine. What is distorted is the person's perception of other peoples' intentions and motivations.
I mention this, Six, because black-white thinking is a hallmark of having strong BPD traits (Borderline Personality Disorder traits). Moreover, having strong BPD traits also is consistent with your observations that "she is almost obsessively concerned about what others are thinking and feeling. The irony is her concern is almost always about how another's feelings make HER feel." That is, a second trait of BPD is being extremely fearful of abandonment, a fear that often is manifested as an extreme sensitivity to criticism and rejection.
Yet, because your description mentions nothing resembling the other seven BPD traits, it seems unlikely your W exhibits a strong pattern of BPD traits. You nonetheless may consider it worth your while to read a brief overview of the other symptoms to see if any of them ring a bell. If so, I suggest you read my three posts in Blacksmith's thread. They start at Complicated Marriage Dynamic. Take care, Six.
Agree with laurae1967 you can be a narcissist and not have all the characteristics. There are levels of it. I believe destructive narcissists like my dad will never be cured they can only be managed. Lesser degreed people can change if they so choose to put in the work to do so.
Wow... again, such terrific responses. I appreciate it and will follow the suggestions.
When I attend a local Buddhist meditation group, we focus on compassion. I'm trying to reframe this entire experience as a way to practice compassion, knowing full well that it's going to be a one-way experience.
But it seems the truest sense of compassion and understanding comes when there's no expectation of reciprocation.
That's my positive spin. The other part of my thinks, "How long can I keep everything to myself?"
She's a very easy person to live with and be around, provided I keep any disagreeable thoughts or feelings to myself.
And as something who thinks about things and wants to talk and work through them, it's stifling.
This doesn't sound like much of a marriage to me. People disagree in marriages all the time, but they don't expect their mate to go along for the ride and put up or shut up. Feeling stifled is the antithesis of growth. Keeping one's feelings to oneself is not what a healthy relationship is about.
"My way or the highway." Doesn't sound anywhere near what respect for one's partner should be, does it?
And as far as your children go ... they look at their parents as role models and learn a lot about how men and women should interact in a relationship. If you and your wife are trying to hide this less-than-healthy way of interacting from them, forget it. Children are quite perseptive; they pick up on what is going on around the home between mom and dad.
Staying for the sake of your children is one thing. Being stuck in a marriage where you have to keep your mouth shut and go along for the ride, isn't my idea of marriage. Sounds more like incarceration to me. I feel sad for you, because you sound like an articulate, intelligent man. Your wife is missing out on so much you could bring to the relationship.