Dear Dr. Darcy-
My wife and I have been married almost 15 years. The first few years were tough –but we seemed to get it together after our daughter was born. Unfortunately, the last 5 years have gotten progressively worse. My wife is simply an unhappy person and I suspect that this is who she was her entire life. Things around the home have gotten much worse with her yelling at my daughter almost daily. My daughter, by the way, is a very good student, has a great group of friends, she volunteers 3 days a week at a local animal shelter and gives us no trouble at home. She’s essentially a perfect kid despite being in her early teens (she’s 13). Recently, my daughter came to me to speak about her mother and we both agree that she's irrational and chronically unhappy. The question is what do I do about it. Do you think it’s time to give my wife an ultimatum?
When you yell in front of or at your child, you change who she is. When you talk about your spouse to your child, you create what is called a ‘split.’ Why should you care? Well, in the short run, you become your kid’s buddy, which may feel good now but which will bite you in the ass in the long term. Because in the long run, your kid will grow into an adult and will have adult judgments of your parenting skills (or absence thereof) like I’m having and she will conclude that you’re a pussy who needed a friend or a shrink to badmouth her mother to.
There is so much wrong with this family scenario that I almost don’t know where to begin. Before we decide whether to flush your marriage, let’s get some game rules clear:
- Your wife must stop yelling at your daughter. As I said above, when you yell at your child, you change who she is, fundamentally. Your child, for better or for worse, is a sponge, and she’s learning how to handle life by how you behave. As a teenager, she’s learning how to resolve conflict, what she wants in a partner and what she doesn’t want in a partner. I feel a wiseass remark coming from you: “Well, maybe my daughter will learn that she shouldn’t marry a yeller.” That’s what you’re thinking, right? It’s not that easy. How many children of alcoholics resolve to never marry a drinker, only to find themselves divorcing a spouse who turned out to be an alcoholic? Too many. Only you can protect your daughter from her irrational mother. Heed my warning now or pay the price later. It’s your choice.
- You must stop commiserating with your daughter on what a douche bag you married. Why? Because you made the decision to marry her, and at best it makes you look spineless for staying with the mother; at worst it morphs you into a pseudo-friend, which she does NOT need. She needs a parent, and since she cannot rely on her mother to be a rational parent, you must fill those shoes. And you can’t fill them by talking shit about her mother. Find an adult to speak to and spare your daughter.
I can’t weigh in on whether or not to flush your marriage because I don’t know what steps, if any, you’ve taken to resolve your marital issues. Hence, I’m relegated to espousing the same rhetoric that I always close with: Get yourself into (couples) counseling and email me if you need names. Christ, I should start charging for referral fees.
Writer’s Stats: Male, heterosexual.