"He Doesn't Keep His Word"
"All I've ever wanted is to make Kathy happy," said Phil, 35. "I've loved her almost from the moment she walked into the office where we both worked. But it's scary to be in the same room with her when she has a meltdown. She gets nasty, sarcastic, and demanding. I don't know how to respond and feel annihilated after five minutes.
"Kathy keeps a long list of things I don't do, and she's relentless about letting me know it. The problem is, I don't think these things are a problem! She gets equally bent out of shape whether my mom's stuff is in the basement or we're 20 minutes late for a 3-year-old's party. Hey, I forgot. So what if we miss a few rounds of 'Duck Duck Goose'? The phrase 'making mountains out of molehills' fits my wife to a tee. But whenever I try to help her put things into perspective, she lashes out at me.
"Why didn't I let her know about the credit cards? Because my business has been slow this year and I'm not sure how things are going to shake out, especially in this economy. I didn't want to withdraw from our savings in case I needed quick access to cash. I didn't tell her because she flips out if she thinks we're low on money. She's terrified we'll end up like her parents, living hand to mouth. I'm worried myself, so it doesn't help to have her treat every downturn as if it were a catastrophe. So, yes, sometimes I keep her in the dark. It's not because I don't care. It's because it's the only way I know to stay sane.
"As for the stuff in the basement, it's hard for me to talk about it. I'm still dealing with my mother's death, and I'm not ready to go through it yet. I wish Kathy would understand that and leave it alone. I don't appreciate being told what to do, as though I'm in third grade. Put the garbage out. Call the finance guy. Enough already! A lot of what's happening between Kathy and me feels like a replay of my childhood.
"My dad was a real-estate developer, and my mother called herself a 'domestic engineer.' She turned staying home into an art form: She headed up every school committee, volunteered as den mother and class parent -- all while raising four kids and running a large household. I guess we were as happy as any other family, but did we have meaningful, deep conversations? Never. Mom was always hounding my dad to do one thing or another. Mostly, he buried his head in his newspaper and ignored her. Both my parents were strict: Kids were to be seen and not heard, to use proper table manners, to never talk back. If I broke a rule, Mom would go to her bedroom, close the door, and not speak for a while.
"Kathy says I'm just like my parents, either ignoring her requests, like my dad, or freezing her out, like my mom. But look, I love Kathy or I wouldn't be here. If she would just simmer down, we could be the happiest couple around."