"His Big Mouth is Costing Us Our Marriage": Can This Marriage Be Saved?
Her turn: "My husband is a loose cannon," said Meg, 49, a physical therapist in Philadelphia who has been married for six years to a successful accountant. "Norman speaks his mind about everything -- and he doesn't mince words. If we're at dinner with friends, he'll challenge their political beliefs in a condescending tone. If he doesn't like the food, he'll make his dissatisfaction known to everyone within earshot.
"When Norman blurts out something inappropriate, I'll gently nudge him or shoot him a 'cool it' look, but instead of taking the hint, he'll say, 'stop kicking me.' In social settings I'm constantly worried that Norman will offend our friends to the point that they'll dump us. That's happened before.
"I've begged him to choose his words -- not to mention his battles -- more carefully and avoid certain topics altogether, but Norman accuses me of censorship and says I'm too concerned with what others think. 'If I'm so awful,' he'll say, 'why do your friends still go out with us?' Reactions to Norman's outbursts vary. Some people change the subject, others charge right back, setting off an intense debate, and still others pretend they don't hear him. Unfortunately, Norman is oblivious to social cues.
"I've felt the sting of his so-called truth telling myself. If I'm watching a TV show about the British royal family, say, Norman will roll his eyes, snort and say, 'Meg, you're a smart woman. How can you watch that nonsense?' I'm not a football fan, but I'd never bad-mouth him for watching the Philadelphia Eagles. Can't he show me the same courtesy?
"Here's the crux of our problem: I think Norman is insensitive to my feelings and unconcerned with how off-putting his behavior is. He thinks I'm trying to censor him. This has been true throughout our relationship, but lately it's gotten worse, and we've fallen into a cycle of fighting and avoiding each other. We've always had an active sex life, but in recent months I've been so upset and angry that I've rejected Norman in bed -- so he's furious about that, too.A Spiritual and Intellectual Connection
"I'm an only child, born to older parents. Dad never wanted kids, but Mom finally persuaded him when she was 40 and Dad was 50. But my arrival didn't improve their marriage. They fought constantly about money. As a child I always tried to please them, behaving well and excelling in school. But I could never meet Mom's high standards. She had a rule for everything and nitpicked my appearance, my friends and my grades. Dad was sweet and accepting but emotionally detached. At 14 I got my waist-length hair cut really short -- an act of defiance against Mom, who liked it long. Mom had a screaming fit, but Dad was supportive. 'If you like your new hairstyle, then I like it,' he said. When I was 15 Dad suffered a stroke that left him partially paralyzed and he died two years later, at 67. Mom lived to be 82 -- and found fault with me until the day she died.
"When I was 25 I met and married a guy who was 10 years older than me. Patrick and I had no children but I adored his daughter, Kathleen, who lived with us. Eventually I grew bored with Patrick -- we had no interests in common -- and after 15 years of marriage, we divorced amicably. Kathleen and I are still close.
"A year after my divorce I met Norman, then 45 and a divorced father of a grown son. Norman was everything Patrick wasn't -- talkative, opinionated and interested in politics, religion, travel and books. I thought he was adorable.
"Norman invited me to dinner and within six months we'd fallen in love. I felt a spiritual and intellectual connection with him I'd never had before. We spent hours on the phone, attended lectures, saw foreign films, visited museums and took in the occasional Philadelphia Phillies baseball game. He was -- and is, when he's not shooting off his mouth -- smart, funny, affectionate and generous. Even now he'll surprise me with flowers and jewelry. If I mention a Broadway show I'd like to see, he'll whisk me away to New York City for a theater weekend. We had great sex and lots of friends, though I started to fear we'd lose them once Norman started challenging their views -- a trait he didn't reveal at first.