Comparisons to Her Ex

Q: Every time my wife and I argue, she will compare me to her ex. From everything to lack of money to lack of sex. I can put up with a lot but that's below the belt. Is this normal and how should I handle it?? -- Fred, 22

Dr. Susan: Sure, some people, when riled, will compare their mate unfavorably to someone else. Yet normal in such cases doesn't mean nice or wise. Apparently, your wife doesn't realize the lasting negative effect her unkind comparisons can have on you. She's hitting you not only below the belt, but where she knows her slams will have the most painful immediate effects. You don't do that to someone you love. Once those words are hanging in the air, it's hard ever to erase them. You need to tell her clearly that this way of expressing herself is hurtful and will not get her what she wants and needs. When you're both in a good place, talk about how to use I-messages to communicate dissatisfaction. "I wish we had more money," is an I-message. "I need more affection to feel really loved," is an I-message. "I feel very distant and alienated from you when we argue and I am compared to someone else," is an I-message. Next time she pulls this, tell her this is not a fair way of talking and you're going to leave the room and perhaps you can resume the discussion later.

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