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Hax: Wife's venting to Mom a problem

  • Article by: CAROLYN HAX
  • October 13, 2013 - 2:28 PM

Dear Carolyn: My wife of three years feels the need to, in her words, “vent” to her mother whenever she and I have problems. This venting is usually bad-mouthing me, and isn’t always truthful, or the complete truth. It has made it near impossible for me to have a relationship with her mother, who is convinced I am a controlling jerk.

I have asked my wife to stop, or at least be honest and give both sides. She flat refuses to see there is anything wrong with her actions. Am I completely wrong?

Carolyn says: There are some might-be-wrongs here, including: the venting to Mom; Mom’s accepting daughter’s version wholesale; and the stuff between you and your wife that generate such venting. There’s also the business of your … overhearing? listening in on? her conversations and trying to, ahem, control their content.

All of these things are potentially wrong. I just can’t say “completely” wrong, or even how bad they are, without knowing more details. Some confiding outside the marriage is OK, for example, but oversharing, bad-mouthing and truth-shading are not.

So, I’m going to start with the only calls I can make: Your marriage has fallen ill, and your wife’s “flat refus[al] to see ... anything wrong with her actions” is wrong. Completely.

Relationship problems are never the work of just one person. You’ll get nowhere if your Plan A is to get your wife to do all the changing and you don’t have a Plan B — especially since the “controlling jerk” opinion is in the air, even if it’s unfounded.

The path to mutual cooperation has to start with your admission of fault. Even if it’s general, it’s essential: “That you have so much to ‘vent’ about tells me we’re doing something wrong. I’d like to know what that is, what my part in it is, and what I can do better. Will you work on this with me?” Insert openness to professional help here.

Here’s why her “completely wrong” has transformed into your supplication: When she’s trashing you to Mom, when you’re listening in, when she’s cherry-picking facts to vindicate herself and indict you, and when you’re trying to remedy this by micromanaging what she says to a confidant, it’s time to recognize that the atmosphere between you is poisoned by mistrust and self-interest.

The only way to get there is to show her that you’re dropping your defenses, and inviting her to do the same.

E-mail Carolyn Hax at tellme@washpost.com, or chat with her online at 11 a.m. Fridays at www.washingtonpost.com.

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