By Esther Mann, LCSW
After I was married for a short time, it became clear to me that my husband, Sol, is not capable of apologizing. Thank goodness we don’t fight that often, but when we do—and it could be over something that really isn’t all that important—I’m always the one who has to say that I’m sorry.
Recently, the day before my mother’s birthday, I told Sol to make sure to call my mother to wish her a happy birthday. My mother is funny about her birthday. It means everything to her for everyone to call and make a big deal over her birthday. I made sure to remind Sol the day before, and then on the morning of her birthday, before he left for work, I made sure to ask him to call her with birthday greetings that day. That evening, when it was already late, I asked Sol how his conversation went with my mother. He asked me why I was asking, as if he had no recollection that I told him two times that it was her birthday that day. I was so upset that he neglected her birthday, but even more disturbing was the fact that he insisted that I never even reminded him. Like I dreamt it up or something, which is so far from the truth.
We got into a fight and stopped talking. In the past, even when I knew for a fact that I was in the right, I wouldn’t be able to stand the silent treatment and would approach him and even apologize, even when I knew I did nothing wrong. Just to keep the peace and move on. This time, however, I decided I would muster up the strength to wait it out. Sol seemed to have no problem going about his life not talking to me; I, on the other hand, felt like I was dying inside. I just couldn’t take it and finally went over to him and apologized, knowing that it was all his fault!
I try so hard not to get into a fight in the first place so that I don’t have to go through this painful scenario, but inevitably something comes up and there we go again. Sol pulls away and appears to be perfectly OK, despite the fact that we aren’t talking, and I find the whole thing so unbearable that I eventually wind up approaching him and smoothing things out.
I’ve tried explaining to him, when things are calm, that this dynamic exists between us and that I feel it’s very unfair to me. He acts as though I’m dreaming it up, claiming that if he ever does something wrong, he’ll admit it and apologize. But this is not so.
What can a wife like me do with a husband like Sol? I hate not talking, but I also hate always having to be the one to run after him and apologize. I really, really wish I could wait him out. I guess I’m just weak in this way and I am unable to tolerate the silence. But who knows? Maybe because I’ve never been able to wait him out, I have no idea whether he would ever approach me again, which I guess is my worst fear.
So what are my options?
As you’re learning the hard way, there are those people who view saying “I’m sorry” in the same way they might view drinking poison. It feels dangerous and therefore impossible, so it’s kept far away from their lips! These people usually treat everyone in their world the same way. It could be their approach toward their parents, children, siblings, and even friends. It’s definitely related to a fragile ego and an inability to admit, even to themselves, that they are capable of doing anything wrong.
It’s great that you seem to have no problem admitting when you’re wrong and even at times taking the brunt of the burden, despite believing that you’re not wrong. This ability, however, has made it even easier for Sol to hold on to his righteous indignation. He has been able to feel more and more comfortable sitting back and waiting for you to make the next move, since his history with you has taught him that sooner or later you will!
So here you are caught between a rock and a hard place. On one hand, you’re getting tired of always being the one to make nice. On the other hand, living in silence is unbearable for you; therefore, the possibility of waiting it out and seeing if Sol will ever make the first move is not even an option for you.
Sadly, because of the diametrically opposing roles the two of you play, I don’t see a simple solution to your problem. You’re both creating your dance and neither of you have the will or ability to change the dance steps. Therefore, I suggest you seek couples therapy for the two of you. I have no doubt that you’d be willing and able to commit. Sol, on the other hand, might pose a problem, since the present scenario is working for him. It’s hard to get an unwilling partner to commit to such an experience. The question is, what do you have in your arsenal to use as bait to convince Sol to attend? Is there something he wants from you that you could barter with? Is there something you can withhold from him that could seal the deal?
It’s very important that you use all your resources to convince Sol to join you. If not, I suspect that this situation will only get worse and he will behave in the same way toward your children and other loved ones. If you’ve given it your best shot, and Sol still refuses to go, then go yourself and hopefully work with a therapist to build yourself up so that you can tolerate his silent treatments and create the right environment in which Sol is forced to man up and deal with his demons when it comes to apologizing.
Wishing you success in working through this area of your marriage that seems to be holding you both back from a much more satisfying relationship.
Esther Mann, LCSW, is a psychotherapist in Hewlett. Esther works with individuals and couples. Together with Jennifer Mann, she also runs the “Navidaters.” She can be reached at email@example.com or 516-314-2295.