Dear Amy: I have a marriage question.
I have taken a sort of “vow of silence” around my husband of 40 years.
I am not giving him “the silent treatment.” I respond to questions, provide the occasional benign observation, and try to make statements of support.
He finds a way to contradict virtually anything I say.
I could observe trees swaying gently in the wind, say, “It seems breezy today,” and he would reply, “No, it isn’t. The wind velocity must be such and such degrees for it to be breezy.”
I would like to be able to communicate openly about that issue and other issues in our marriage. I’d like to be able to discuss my hopes and dreams.
I’d like to be able to share silly, fun thoughts and creative ideas.
But if I say almost anything, he replies “No, it isn’t…” or, “No, you don’t…” or “That’s not the right way to look at it.”
So, if I brought up my feeling that my husband often contradicts me, he most certainly would reply “No, I don’t!”
I feel that I live in a world of “NOs.”
It would be self-sabotage to leave the marriage after 40 years.
How can I encourage the same care and security internally?
I would like to break my vow of silence, feeling secure that I won’t immediately be contradicted, but I’m at a loss for how to do that.
— Wife With No Words Left
Dear No Words: If your husband’s contradictory reactions are confined mainly to his interactions with you, then it would seem that his entrenched negativity is expressing hostility toward you.
If he tends to be “Mr. No” with everyone, then I’d say his hostility is directed toward himself. He seems quite unhappy.
Avoidance is a natural response to being continuously shut down, and so actually — you are giving him the “silent treatment,” but it is important for you to recognize that you do have a voice and have a right to use it.
I hope you will try to start a conversation about the effect this is having on you. If you use “I” statements, such as, “I feel sad when you respond to me with such negativity,” he can shoot back, “No, you don’t” — which will bring the whole process into the realm of the absurd, and might catch his attention.
There are many books and resources offering ways to communicate better. Therapy could help you two to make great strides. One book you might read is, “Dealing with the Elephant in the Room: Moving from Tough Conversations to Healthy Communication,” by Mike Bechtle (2017, Revell).
Dear Amy: Since my husband retired, he has stopped taking daily showers.
In fact, if he showers once a week, I am lucky.
He walks five miles every day for exercise and perspires a great deal, but he doesn’t change his shirt.
I have tried humor: “Gee, honey, you’re kind of fragrant.”
I’ve also reassured him that washing many shirts is no problem. I have requested directly that he change his shirt, and even handed him a clean shirt.
We live in an open-plan condo, and I’ve taken to burning candles and incense to improve the air.
Can you think of something more effective?
— Distressed Wife
Dear Distressed: Don’t you wonder why your husband has stopped showering? Have you asked him? Ignoring hygiene is sometimes a sign of depression, but he sounds like someone who is trying hard to take good care of himself.
So why is he neglecting his hygiene — a vital component of his own self-care?
When your body and clothing stink so much that your partner is burning incense to try to mitigate the stench, it starts to smell like a deliberate and hostile gesture.
You’ve been responding to your husband as if he is an unpredictable bull, waving clean shirts in his direction. Ole!
Stop hinting around. You have the right to cohabit with someone who demonstrates the willingness to bathe — for your sake, if not for his own.
You might tell him, “Honey, I’m not merely asking you to shower. I’m telling you that it’s a requirement for us to live together.”
Dear Amy: Thank you for running the letter from “A,” who described her challenges after meeting and getting to know her birth family (she had been adopted).
I’m adopted, too, and this dream of meeting my perfect biological family persisted for me — until I met them.
— Grateful for Adoption
Dear Grateful: Dreams sometimes need to be dashed before they can be fulfilled.
(You can email Amy Dickinson at firstname.lastname@example.org or send a letter to Ask Amy, P.O. Box 194, Freeville, NY 13068. You can also follow her on Twitter @askingamy or Facebook.)
Subscribe to our weekly newsletter, In The Know, to get entertainment news sent straight to your inbox.