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Can Two Stubborn, Opinionated People
Have a Happy Marriage

QUESTION: This month is my one-year anniversary. This year has been the most difficult of my life. I knew my husband for four years before we got married, and we dated for three. We have accomplished many amazing things together. However, the marriage has been difficult. We have very passionate, emotional fights. We often rationalize these battles by saying that we are both stubborn, opinionated people. But enough is enough!

He is convinced that his way of doing things -- cooking, cleaning, managing finances -- is absolutely the best way. My ideas are different and therefore, he believes, wrong. No matter how hard I try to convince him that there are alternatives, I rarely succeed. In the end, I feel that I make more concessions in order to end the fighting. Obviously, this is very frustrating for me.

Lately, the fights are even worse. I am at the point now where I realize that if we weren't married, I would have left him. I don't want this constant battering of my self-esteem. I told him this once -- which I thought would be a real wake-up call for him -- but nothing has changed. I feel that I am a good communicator, but my words are falling on deaf ears.

I would never describe my husband as an unloving person. Besides being stubborn, he is also kind and generous. I feel our relationship is a roller coaster. When we are getting along, things couldn't be better. When we fight, I feel like I've made the biggest mistake of my life. I don't feel comfortable discussing any of these issues with friends or family. On the outside, we are the perfect image of a happy, newly married couple. I'm really at the end of my rope. I've thought seriously about marriage counseling (after only 11 months of marriage -- how sad), but I don't know if I want to take such a drastic step. Sometimes I seriously wonder if I even love him ... but I know that I do. I just can't handle this situation on my own anymore. He is responsive when we finally calm down and talk things out, but the peace never lasts very long.

I am desperately confused.

ANSWER: It is human nature to attempt to imprint your individual ways of doing things on your new family unit. Our family patterns run deep, because they reflect our loyalties to how things were done in our childhoods. The late Carl Whitaker, father of family therapy, described this struggle as an attempt by one spouse to reassert his or her family patterns on the other. In your case, you are losing the battle. No wonder you are upset!

By all means, go for counseling. It is not too early or too late. Seeking help is a sign of health. It is neither drastic nor a failure to do so. You still love your husband, but the battle for individuality has intensified considerably since the initial honeymoon phase of your relationship ended. Your dilemma represents a predictable developmental conflict in marriage. Still, it is possible to incur damage during this phase if the power struggle is not resolved in a manner that feels fair to both of you.

Your husband's difficulty lies in his inability to compromise fairly. He may be more willing to "get his way" than is beneficial to your marriage. It is important to the health of your relationship that your spouse become aware of the fact that he is getting what he wants in the short run while mortgaging the intimacy in your marriage in the long run.

Talk with your husband about your feelings over what has happened in your marriage. Let him know that you are feeling steamrollered in your relationship. He may be winning the battle but losing the war. Since he has always shown sensitivity, it is likely that he will respond to your feelings once he can hear them. Asking him to go with you for marital counseling will no doubt get his attention. But don't wait for the first appointment to begin expressing yourself.

Let your husband know how much your feelings are suffering from giving in to him. Use the marital counseling sessions to establish clear guidelines for listening to one another and learning new coping skills to resolve differences instead of merely backing down. It is inevitable that if this pattern continues, your resentment will affect your ability to give and receive affection in the marriage.

Your marriage represents the beginning of a new family unit. The task before you is to create a new family culture from the unique blend that exists between the two of you. Do this consciously instead of inadvertently. Books on creating the kind of family you want to have, such as William Doherty's "Intentional Family," can also help.

Take your feelings seriously. You are already questioning your love for him some of the time. This is a symptom of the communication gap that currently exists between yourself and your husband. Research shows that marriages dissolve because of unresolved conflict, not because partners stop loving one another. However, continuous conflict does erode affection and tenderness in a marriage, as you have already observed.

Do not wait to fall completely out of love with your husband before effectively confronting this problem. Seek help to get your message across. Let him know where your marriage is hurting before your suffering exceeds your capacity for caring!


Gayle Peterson, MSSW, LCSW, PhD is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She trains professionals in her prenatal counseling model and is the author of An Easier Childbirth, Birthing Normally and her latest book, Making Healthy Families. Her articles on family relationships appear in professional journals and she is an oft-quoted expert in popular magazines such as Woman's Day, Mothering and Parenting. . She also serves on the advisory board for Fit Pregnancy Magazine.

Dr. Gayle Peterson has written family columns for ParentsPlace.com, igrandparents.com, the Bay Area's Parents Press newspaper and the Sierra Foothill's Family Post. She has also hosted a live radio show, "Ask Dr. Gayle" on www.ivillage.com, answering questions on family relationships and parenting. Dr. Peterson has appeared on numerous radio and television interviews including Canadian broadcast as a family and communications expert in the twelve part documentary "Baby's Best Chance". She is former clinical director of the Holistic Health Program at John F. Kennedy University in Northern California and adjunct faculty at the California Institute for Integral Studies in San Francisco. A national public speaker on women's issues and family development, Gayle Peterson practices psychotherapy in Oakland, California and Nevada City, California. She also offers an online certification training program in Prenatal Counseling and Birth Hypnosis. Gayle and is a wife, mother of two adult children and a proud grandmother of three lively boys and one sparkling granddaughter.

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