How to Survive Incompatibility

Letter #2

Dear Dr. Harley,

I am very confused with my 16 year marriage. I have tried everything I can think of to establish some kind of a marriage relationship but nothing is working. We come from two entirely different backgrounds and I feel like a fifth wheel.

My wife and I are involved in a business venture together and can't even discuss business matters anymore. She will only talk to me on social outings and when it comes to purchasing something. Then we have a nice conversation. Otherwise, nothing.

I am my wife's third husband. I think the only reason she married me was for my money. When it comes to financial matters, she all ears. Am I only good for $$$$$$? I think I'm losing the best years of my life.

Whenever I don't agree with her, she threatened to see her lawyer and end the marriage. We have gone to a couple of counselors and the last one said, that we can't even agree on topics to discuss. I really don't know what to do.

Life should be fun, not filled with threats. Whenever I a couples enjoying life, I feel I'm being robbed of happiness. All I do is work hard to pay for my wife's good times with her family and friends. I feel very strongly that I am being used. I hope for better days, but I don't know which way to go.

Can you help me?


Dear Lonesome,

What you describe is a marriage on the brink of divorce. The relationship gets worse and worse until one or the other can't stand it any more. Then the marriage ends. While your cultural backgrounds may be different, your 16 years of marriage are enough to overcome important areas of incompatibility. But during those years, instead of eliminating those areas of conflict, you have probably added to them. I'll bet you were more compatible when you first married than you are now. You've actually grown apart over the years.

A couple creates compatibility by following the Policy of Joint Agreement (Never do anything without an enthusiastic agreement between you and your spouse). You mentioned that you argue so much that you can't even agree on topics to discuss. While it might seem impossible at this time, it's the only road that will lead you to a happy marriage.

You may not have your wife's cooperation at this point in time, but at least you can avoid doing anything that your wife doesn't like you to do. Granted, you may feel like a chump, a bigger dope than you already feel like you are. But, I guarantee you, you're more likely to save your marriage by taking her feelings into account than by ignoring them and doing what you please.

I wouldn't be too worried about the fact that your wife is interested in your financial contribution to her life. At least it's something! In many bad marriages, couples run out of any reason to stay together, and your wife still has one left. Now you should build on that one and create others. Find out what your wife's most important emotional needs are by completing the Emotional Needs Questionnaire. Then try to meet them. You may also copy the Love Busters Questionnaire to find out what you do that bothers her the most. If you do a good job meeting her needs, she will try to meet your needs too.

I know that at this time you feel that it's her turn to try to meet your needs. You feel that the very least she could do would be to spend some time talking to you and treat you with respect. But if I were you, I would set the example for her. Never argue, never fight, never be disrespectful of her. Don't do to her what she's been doing to you. Treat her with the same kindness that you want from her.

It's a tall order, I know. But it's the right answer to your question. The only answer to your question, if you want your marriage to become a happy marriage. Sure, you could give up and file for divorce like 50% of married couples do. But if you want to save your marriage, and if you want to have a happy marriage, you must 1) follow the Policy of Joint Agreement, 2) learn to meet your wife's most important emotional needs, and 3) overcome any habits you have that cause her unhappiness. She will respond to your care for her with care for you and, hopefully, within a very short time, she will commit herself to these three steps, too.

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