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I married a man over 30 years ago who was smart, energetic, funny, etc. In short, someone with whom I am, or was, compatible. As we age, he has become much more conservative to the point of being paranoid. He doesn’t trust The New York Times to report accurately, reads conservative/libertarian web-based sources only — after saying for years that the stuff you read on the Internet can’t be trusted.
In the privacy of our own home, I can ignore this. However, our social life has suffered greatly. He gets loud and belligerent and wants to “win.” Seemingly innocent comments set him off. We are losing friends, many of whom can give as good as they get, i.e., intelligent, good debaters. When he gets a taste of his own medicine, he later gets mad at me for not coming to his defense, as he thinks he is being unfairly attacked.
...how much fundamental change can a marriage accommodate?
In this political climate, you can imagine how popular “we” are. Yes, I’m somewhat resentful that I’m caught up in the perceived identity of us as a couple. I have always been my own person. But our friends don’t want to invite me without him; that would be rude!
I’m not interested in leaving him, but am looking for suggestions on how to re-build our intellectual relationship, both with each other and with our (dwindling number of) friends. I have tried counseling alone. He won’t go because there’s nothing wrong with him and “counseling” is a cop-out of the liberal elite.
He has had a medical exam within the last year and he’s basically fine. No neurological symptoms or underlying problem, which could have triggered a “personality” change. Which he would deny anyway, he’s only “come around” to seeing things the “right way.” He has an answer for everything.
I am sure that I am not the same person at 60 that I was in my late 20s when we married, but how much fundamental change can a marriage accommodate?
Married to an Aging Whine
This is going to sound sort of brutal, but from what I can discern the real crisis is that you’ve lost a great deal of esteem for your husband. You made your shared social life the focus of your letter, but it’s really about your feelings of loss and betrayal.
Your husband, the man who “was smart, energetic, and funny” has become self-righteous, paranoid, and hostile. You insist that you don’t want to leave your husband, but your final sentence suggests that you are, however elliptically, questioning whether you should remain in the marriage. So let’s add anger and guilt and trepidation to your list of feelings.
Your concerns focus on your husband’s conservatism. There are plenty of empirical psychological reasons that people become more conservative as they age: intellectual curiosity declines, as does our tolerance for ambiguity.
And there are any number of books and films that document precisely the metamorphosis you’re describing: a cycle of radicalization in which people seek out “news” sources that reinforce their worldview rather than providing them a factual account of the actual world. This happens, alas, to people of all political orientations -- just check out your Facebook feed.
But the real concern here isn’t that your husband has become conservative. It’s that he’s become inconsiderate.
...the real concern here isn’t that your husband has become conservative. It’s that he’s become inconsiderate.
I’ve said before, the most important factor in any relationship, and especially in a marriage, is the capacity to communicate. The fact that your husband is completely unwilling to consider counseling is deeply troubling. So is the general sense that he seems incapable of recognizing how his behavior is affecting you. In fact, as you describe it, his first impulse when he gets into an argument with a friend is to convert his humiliation into hostility towards you. He appears incapable of self-reflection and empathy.
It may be that his rancor is due to the election, which got everyone quite agitated. But it may also be that he’s simply chosen to shut himself inside an emotional bubble that no longer includes you, or regards your feelings as valid. There’s only one way to find out, MAW, and that’s to tell him how you really feel.
I recognize that this may sound like a dramatic measure. But it shouldn’t be. Marriage isn’t an arrangement you should have to endure. It’s a relationship you create with another person, in which both parties have to be willing to confess, to listen, to empathize, and to struggle.
So forget the politics. This is about your own feelings, as a loyal wife of 30 years, and about your desire to reconnect to the parts of your husband that led you to fall in love with him in the first place.
If he can’t hear that, and won’t work with you toward that end, you’re no longer in a marriage. You’re in a prison.
Author's note: Like I said: brutal. But what’s the alternative? To remain married to a man whom you no longer respect or enjoy? No person should be made to feel that his or her happiness requires an ultimatum. That’s my take. What’s yours? Use the comments section to send it along. And when you’re done with that, send along letter to Heavy Meddle, too. You can send your questions via email. I may not have a helpful response, but the act of writing the letter itself might provide some clarity. — S.A.
Heavy Meddle with Steve Almond is Cognoscenti's advice column. Read more here.
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