Direct Answers – Dark Matter, Tit-for-Tat

Dark Matter

I am so confused I feel like I am going crazy.  My husband and I are in our mid-40s. For the past two years our marriage has been rocky. The last year has been horrible. He was promoted, which meant a move, and we've been traveling back and forth for the past year until our house sells.  

We have three adult children who've moved out. Now it's just the two of us. We live in a condo overlooking the water, and I've tried to get our relationship back on track to no avail! There are no physical relations, except maybe once a month if I start it.

He makes time for everything else in life but me. I confronted him again yesterday, and he invited me out for a drink. As soon as I got there, he tried picking a fight. I smoothed it over—we were having a good time—then out of the blue he started telling me how selfish I am.

I am back in school and he's been great about that, but he always tells me how great he is and how everything we have is because of him. Instead of us trying to get to know each other, it's like he wants nothing to do with me. All he talks about is his career and our kids.

The reason I'm so confused is he holds my hand when we're out, and kisses me good morning or goodnight. But nothing else.

~ Roberta

Roberta, just because you go to your job every day doesn't mean you love it. Many people function on rote and routine. Holding your hand in a restaurant and kissing you in the morning and at night could be no more than habit.

Because he is angry you have to be careful, both physically and financially. He's on a precipice, approaching unknown territory. You can't say you know how he is going to react because you don't know why this is happening.

A possible explanation is he is thinking of a future without you. Maybe he's thinking you don't match up to his peers, or the 20-something he has his eye on. He's not even 50. Married so young, with kids grown and gone, he could be thinking, "I could have the life I was meant to have."

If there's no way to step up the dialog with him, you still need someone to talk to. A sounding board. A wise friend. A counselor. An attorney.

If he won't show you his cards, perhaps you shouldn't show him yours.

~ Wayne & Tamara

Tit-for-tat

I hate my mother-in-law. To give just one example, when I had my daughter by caesarian, she sat on my stitches. For the past 11 years we've been at her beck and call, even on holidays. Now I'm getting tired of it.

I've not said how I feel, as I respect older people, but deep down I hate her.

~ Brie

Brie, you and your mother-in-law have been playing a game, and neither of you has total control. The outcome of the game depends on what each person decides to do.

Your strategy has been to give in. That means she always gets to win, and your strategy makes you the loser. You hate her; that proves your belief in unconditional respect for elders is wrong.

Most experts on game theory would say the first time you play a social game with someone, you should be nice. But every time after that you should mirror the other person's behavior. If she is nice, you are nice. If she is demanding, you are demanding. And so forth.

This strategy is wise because it sets the basis for future cooperation, and it punishes bad behavior.

Your strategy needs an overhaul. When we respect those who don't deserve respect, we lose the respect of others, and ultimately, our own self-respect.

~ Wayne & Tamara 

Column for the week of August 26, 2013

Send letters to: [email protected] , or Direct Answers, PO Box 964, Springfield MO 65801.

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