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My know-it-all wife is driving me nuts Add to ...

Group Therapy is a relationship advice column that asks readers to contribute their wisdom.

A reader writes: My wife thinks she's the expert on everything, constantly handing out unwanted instructions and advice to everyone (especially me). The habit has become worse over the three decades of our marriage. She's refused to try counselling in the past. Now I confront her head-on about it, yet she denies she even does it. Can you suggest a strategy to deal with it?"

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Be assertive

Sit her down and be assertive for once. You're both going to go to counselling, and you need to dig your heels in and insist. When you let your wife control the reins of the relationship, you're only perpetuating a destructive relationship dynamic - you're not at all being nice to her, despite how it might appear. She has learned over the years that you will tolerate being disrespected and there will almost certainly be resistance to you demanding to be treated as an equal. But that's what you need to do.

Jeremiah Gallinger, Edmonton

Humour helps

I too tend to be guilty of the same problem and the thing that works best for me is when my husband or family members answer "Yes my General!" whenever needed. This is a trait of character that many have and probably would be happy to get rid of, so do her a favour and point to her nicely when she is "caught in action". She will either get mad or understand, so be ready for both outcomes.

Germaine, Dollard des Ormeaux, Que.

Try these steps

1. If something that your spouse says annoys you, describe how and why it annoys you, and ask her to consider that you will feel the same way next time.

2. When it recurs, mention that this is a repetition of the thing that you previously found annoying.

3. Shut up.

4. Cut and run.

Each step is at your option, so you can easily stop at the beginning or end of any step.

P.S. I am an experienced professional. I know that I can charge for giving advice only when that advice is solicited. When no one solicits it and I can't charge for it, I know enough not to proffer it. Except in this case.

Jack Criger, Niagara Falls, Ont.

THE FINAL WORD

Of all the advice offered above, I'm most intrigued by the wisdom of Germaine, who shares your wife's problem but possesses the self-knowledge and (blessedly, I'll bet, for her family) sense of humour to recognize and even laugh at it. Unfortunately, it sounds as if your wife's compulsion to insist upon her own superior expertise in every situation is mitigated by neither of those qualities. For the sake of your own sanity and domestic harmony, therefore, it's up to you to bring humour and self-awareness to the table.

The way Germaine's family has taken to quipping "Yes, my General!" every time she slips into Mussolini-mode no doubt has the effect of an elastic band being snapped against her wrist. It's negative reinforcement - it hurts a teeny bit and has the added benefit of demonstrating just how frequently this lapse occurs.

Since your wife won't even admit there's a problem, it's obvious the entire subject makes her feel defensive. So that's where the application of humour comes in. You want to playfully make light of this issue, without losing sight of the fact that it is, indeed, a stumbling block in your relationship. But rather than pointing a finger in her face and shouting "booyah!" every time she begins to micromanage, or clicking your heels with a jaunty " jawohl!" why not simply sing a few bars of Frank Sinatra's My Way? (Film critic Roger Ebert tweeted just the other day that over the years My Way has "made a lot of [jerks]feel virtuous." When the time is right, you might mention that too.)

Really, what I am suggesting is just another version of what Jack recommends - reminding your spouse, over and over again, that she is doing the thing she insists she isn't. It also incorporates Jeremiah's advice to dig in your heels and stand up against this unacceptable behaviour. And yet - you're just singing a song! You're not being accusatory, angry or insulting (as long as you don't quote Ebert). But trust me. It will drive your wife crazy. And then she'll know how it feels.

Lynn Coady is the award-winning author of novels Strange Heaven and Mean Boy.

Next week's question: I am an 18-year-old mom whose baby was born prematurely, which put my plans for finishing high school on hold. Now I'm finding it extremely difficult to balance my son's health issues and hospital stays with my part-time job and my online school work. My boyfriend is still attending high school, and is indifferent to my stress. We are living with his sister and her husband, who have little kids of their own. How can I get some support and appreciation from my baby's father?

Let's hear from you

E-mail us at grouptherapy@globeandmail.com with an answer to next week's question or a dilemma of your own. All questions are published anonymously, but we will include your name and hometown if we use your response (it will be edited).

 

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