Dear Dr. NerdLove:
I am making active changes in my life, for personal growth. I do dialectical behavior therapy, and have PTSD counselors. There were issues in the past and I didn’t deal with them, so my coping skills was never let me be out of control, being selfish, and lashing out. I always get defensive, try not to let anyone steamroll me. etc. This behavior has led me to ruin. It’s my own fault.
So for a year after my husband left me and divorced me, I really saw how crappy I treated him and all kinds of people. I realized that my selfish agenda was not okay and I sought help. Now in the family, I was known as the drama queen crazy, yadda yadda. Denial was my friend… Now that I am actively changing for the better, of course, no one in the family believes I can change. So, I wrote a letter to everyone that I was mean rude or just selfish (no I’m not an alcoholic but the “make amends part ” goes for mental illness, etc. ). Understanding that they may not accept my apology, I needed to say that I am sorry. So my tells me that I am still holding animosity towards one of my in-laws for something that happened 7 years ago. The reason I brought that up is because the nasty comment she said; I pondered on why she would say that. Did I ever do something wrong to her? The issue she’s focused on is that 8 years ago, she tried to jump in to an argument with my sister and I said some really nasty things. Fast forward, I gave her a letter, apologized via text, in person and she still does this.
This woman (who is only family by marriage) has been gossiping about me to my ex, who I am trying to get back with. He believes her because she plays coy, innocent, sweet and quiet. It’s happened a few times. I used to be the aggressive type of communicator and that never got me anywhere. So, I become assertive and call her out on what she said. They all knew what she said to them and I found out. So I asked her, again, if she could forgive me. I am not that person anymore. Well, three folks are on her side. I am her elder, I would have never done that to my elder.. But everyone doesn’t live life with my expectations. When she talks about me and my ex believes her, we get farther apart. How do I be so calm and not let her affect me? I want to patch up with my ex.
I have had people tell me not to be alone in the same room as her, because she twists things. It’s a fact I can’t change her mind about the changes, but she is interfering with him and I getting back together.
Please help me.
Of course someone is going to believe the quiet coy one, because in the past I was so dramatic. Being assertive hasn’t worked, she is passive aggressive and says underhanded comments. How can I show them I’m not that way anymore and I don’t know what to do about her gossiping, slander? She lives with him and her husband. I’d love it if I never had to speak to her ever again, but I can’t, since she lives with him. I’m trying to be the good Christian unlike before.
Seriously give me a strategy please. I want to make up to my ex husband and hopefully we get back together. I know I can’t erase the selfishness, neglect, etc, but if he takes me back, I can spend the rest of my life making it up to him.
Look At All These Rumors
Alright LAATR, I’m gonna level with you: you’ve got a fairly significant uphill climb here, and part of the problem you’re facing is that you’re kinda going about this the wrong way.
Now first and foremost: it’s really admirable that you’ve recognized that your behavior was unacceptable, that you’ve hurt people you’ve cared about and that you needed to make a change. Similarly, it’s admirable that you’ve been doing the work to try to get better — going to therapy, working with counselors who treat PTSD and so on. That’s all to the good. That speaks a lot to the sincerity of your emotion. It’s also good that you’ve been reaching out and apologizing for your past behavior and trying to make amends wherever possible. Trying to make things right — as best as you can, at least — is important.
But here’s the thing: doing this with an agenda beyond “working on my issues so I don’t hurt the people around me” and “make right what I put wrong” is going to throw everything off. One of the most important things you have to realize is that while you’re being sincere in your apologies and wanting to make things right… that doesn’t mean that everyone is going to believe you or accept your apology. In fact, the people you hurt may have very good reason to not believe that you’re sincere or feel like you have ulterior motives beyond making amends. They are still going to be weighing your current behavior in light of what you did before, and that’s going to make some folks hesitant to accept your apology at face value. And as much as it may hurt you if they don’t believe you, there really isn’t anything you can do to make them see that you’re sincere. And — depending on just what happened between you and them — they may not be willing or able to accept your apology. They may never be willing to accept it. And frankly, that’s their right, and you have to be willing to live with this. It absolutely sucks, but making amends and trying to do better means that you face and live with the consequences of your actions, and those consequences may mean that some folks aren’t going to trust you or take you back.
Again: it absolutely sucks, but that’s life. Sincere apologies and making amends doesn’t mean you get to skip or avoid the fallout.
And if you’re doing this with an eye towards getting your ex back… well, unfortunately, that gives everyone reason to question your sincerity.
Now I don’t know what you said to your in-law or why she’s holding onto this years later. Likewise, I can’t say whether she’s gossiping about you maliciously because FUCK YOU, THAT’S WHY, or if she sincerely doesn’t trust you or sees you through the lens of how you used to be. But the simple truth is that you aren’t in any position to stop her or do anything about this. Confronting her or throwing around accusations isn’t going to help. Even under the best of circumstances, it’s just going to end up looking like you’re backsliding to how you were before. At worst, it confirms whatever she’s been saying.
You have exactly one thing you can do here: you keep doing your therapy, you keep talking to your counselor, you keep improving and you live your life. If you want people to accept that you’re sincere and that you’re trying to do better, then you have to show them through your actions. That means continuing to work towards being the person you want to be and living your life with integrity and in alignment with your values. As I’m often saying around here: deeds, not words. Talk is cheap; action is strong. If you want people to believe you, then telling them won’t work. You have to demonstrate your sincerity through your day to day life. And to be clear, this doesn’t mean making a production about “LOOK AT HOW DIFFERENT I AM, I’VE CHANGED!”, it means just being the person you want to be. You can’t try to arrange things so that your ex or folks in his circle see how different you are, you have to be different and accept that either they’ll hear about it or not. If they do, then your consistency and authenticity may — and I stress may — encourage some folks to be willing to give you another chance. But they may not, even if they believe you; they may decide that they were hurt too badly to try.
Your friends are right: you should avoid being alone with your in-law. Not just because she twists everything or what-have-you, but because there really isn’t going to be a good outcome. If she’s malicious, then she’ll lie. If she’s sincere but doesn’t trust you, she’s going to see everything in terms of how things were. And trying to get her to stop “interfering” with your ex is only going to make things worse. I understand your wanting to defend yourself but there’s simply nothing you can do that isn’t going to make things more complicated at best. Your only defense, as it were, is to live your life with integrity. You can’t change their minds for them, and you can’t get caught up trying on convincing them; that just ends up pulling you away from your goals to be a better person. Your focus needs to be on making amends where you can (and where trying to do so won’t cause more harm) and being a better person. Your ex, his family and everyone else can see how you behave now and decide what they think for themselves.
And by that same token: your improvement can’t be contingent on getting your ex back. That very well may not happen. If he decides he just can’t give you another chance, then what happens next? Are you going to throw all of your improvement aside?
Like I said: you’re doing a lot of work to be better and that’s admirable. I hope you keep at it and you continue to improve. But part of being better means taking responsibility for your actions and the consequences that came from them. If this means that your ex and other former members of your social circle aren’t willing to try again, then that’s it. It sucks, and you should mourn the loss. But the only thing to do is to keep moving forward, a little sadder and a little wiser. You’ll make other friends, meet other potential partners and — most importantly — you’ll be a better person and you won’t hurt yourself, your relationships or other people the way you did before.
So I been married to my wife for 20 years. Our connection was intense! But now I’m wondering: why does my wife tend to touch other men on their arms or shoulders? I have expressed to her it makes me uncomfortable, but she does it anyway!
Personally, I try to avoid conversations or being in close proximity to other women. That way, in this day and age nothing can be misconstrued! I especially don’t touch other women anywhere, whether it be a pat on the shoulder or any where! I especially don’t stand close enough to other women to allow them to touch me, friendly or otherwise!
I feel like my touch is only for my wife. I also feel like my wife shouldn’t be willingly touching other men, no matter how innocent she thinks it is! I don’t do it out of respect for my wife, and I have personal beliefs that I feel like a married couple should never touch anyone outside the marriage AT ALL! I feel all touch in a marriage should be for the couple, their children, and immediate family! I feel very disrespected everytime she does this!
I need some advice on how to deal with this, because lately it just seems to anger me more than before! Please help!
My advice is therapy, my dude.
I’m not surprised that your wife has kept on touching people while talking to folks; your request is pretty much unreasonable.
It’s one thing if your partner is doing something that’s actively disrespectful or damaging to your relationship — being inappropriately intimate with other people when you’re in a monogamous relationship, say — but “have no physical contact with anyone else, ever” is the definition of asking for way the hell too much.
Let’s be real; there is a hierarchy of intimacy when it comes to touch, and arm and shoulder are towards the least intimate side of that scale. I mean, let’s take your wife out of the scenario; would you see anything unusual if a man was touching another man in the same manner during conversation? Probably not, even if you yourself aren’t a particularly touch-y person. But if clapping your bro on the shoulder isn’t sexual, then why would the exact same gesture change meaning if you do it to a woman or if a woman does it to you?
Here’s the thing: communication isn’t just verbal; it’s also frequently physical. Touch is an important and versatile way that we communicate with others. A simple handshake can be a gesture demonstrating trustworthiness and respect or an act of dominance. A punch to the shoulder can be a sign of aggression, a statement of reproach, or an indication of admiration, congratulations or affection. And a touch on the arm can be a sign of approval, a form of emphasis, an indication to stop or hold back, or a way of changing the meaning of something being said. Pretending that all forms of physical contact — particularly between men and women — is just an indicator of sexual interest or a prelude to a come-on is ignorant at best.
(And if contact between a person and another person of their desired gender is inherently sexual, then what, exactly, are bi and pansexual people supposed to do? Become hermits and anchorites?)
If you believe the only person you should be touching is your wife… well, look, I think your belief is stupid, but whatever, you do you. However, seeing as your wife is an individual with autonomy, if she doesn’t believe the same as you do, then that’s a “you” problem, not a “her” problem.
Here’s the problem you’re having: you’re acting like you own your wife and it’s pretty clear that you’re taking her making physical contact with other people as a threat to your relationship… somehow. You say that this is out of respect for your wife but frankly, it’s pretty clear this all comes from a place of deep mistrust. I mean, dude, you literally say “that way, in this day and age, nothing can be misconstrued”; that’s not exactly a sign that you think the people you’re talking to are acting in good faith.
Now I’ve seen a lot of folks who do the whole “I refuse to be alone with/ talk to/ mentor women” thing; former Vice-President Pence is a famous example. But the problem with this is that it implies that the only reason why men would talk to women would be for sex and that any contact between men and women is inherently sexual or could be seen that way. This is not only bullshit on its face, but following this to its logical conclusion would mean that women and men can’t exist in social spaces, especially ones that would bring them within arm’s reach of one another. And if we take that logic further… what does that mean for the women you work with? Are you going to refuse to work on a project with a female co-worker? Are you going to exclude female co-workers from networking or mentoring opportunities? What if you end up with a woman as a supervisor? Are you going to refuse to take meetings with her in her office? Are you going to try to keep all conversations to a bare minimum of words, lest she “misconstrue” things?
And if so… well, congratulations on trying to exclude a full half of the population from all aspects your life, I guess.
What you need to do is take a good, long and hard look at exactly what it is that makes you uncomfortable here — both with your touching or talking to women and your wife touching other men. Like I said: it sure as hell seems like it’s coming from a place of mistrust at best. Either you expect women to misinterpret (possibly deliberately) your platonic behavior, or you expect that everyone is seeing touch as inherently sexual. In which case then the problem is that you don’t trust your wife. Because, let’s be real here, even if the guy she’s making contact with assumes sexual interest, it takes two to tango…
So like I said before: this is something to unpack with a therapist and possibly a couple’s counselor who can help you realize why this is unhelpful at best and actively damaging to your relationship at worst. And I suggest you get on this quickly, because 20 years is a hell of a lot to throw away because you couldn’t get your jealousy and mistrust issues under control.