Dear Dr. Alasko: My husband takes pride in being raised on a working ranch. He's hard working, honest and dependable. But he's also very rigid and cynical, which means he disparages anyone who doesn't see the world in black/white terms. He doesn't like any of my friends who are artists or teachers, and especially despises my gay-couple friends. I appreciate his dependability but his limited attitude makes me sad. Is there any way to get him to be more open?

Dear Reader: You describe your husband as being born into the intensely physical world of ranching, which produced a rigorous work ethic. While those ethics are admirable, they can also be limited.

The human mind requires exercise just like muscles do. If, during their formative years, people don't experience different forms of reality and those of different cultures, their attitudes and beliefs can easily form into restricted and rigid patterns - and remain there for the rest of their lives.

This means that their "comfort zone," the limits of what they're are to tolerate, often remains very small. All of us, I think, have experienced how venturing beyond one's comfort zone produces anxiety.

Your husband's comfort zone, unfortunately, is so tightly restricted that even other people's careers and sexual orientation produce (unconscious) anxiety. He responds to that anxiety by attacking their human value. In his mind, they are simply wrong, and nce he categorizes them as wrong, he doesn't have to exercise his thinking, understanding or compassion.

He's also caving in to intellectual and emotional laziness. He could, for instance, reject them benignly by saying "Well, it's not my style but to each his own." But that would take a suspension of his sense of limitations, and that can be hard work.

In psychology this kind of rigidity is worrisome because inflexible people have difficulty adapting to change. And constant change turns the wheel of life.

How to deal with this? Bacially, you have two options.

First, try to have a discussion with him about your needs and feelings. Talking, after all, can sometimes help soften attitudes. Would he be willing to sit on the couch and talk with you?

If so, tell him that his rigidity is imposing arbitrary limits that make you unhappy. Unhappiness does not predict longevity, either in life or in relationships. Surely he doesn't want to intentionally create a gulf between you that ends up in a separation.

You might also simply demand the he expose himself a bit more to people different than himself. I remember a client whose husband was so harshly anti-gay that her gay childhood friend couldn't visit them. She took him to see the movie "Brokeback Mountain," about two young cowboys who endured through a life-long sexual relationship. He was so uncomfortable that he almost left several times. But it softened his attitude and he became much more tolerant; no more fights occurred when her friend visited.

Your second option is to deliberately create a parallel life in which you satisfy your own need for social contact. You take separate trips to visit with your friends and leave him at home. When he feels the loneliness of an empty house he might recognize that he's on an unnecessarily self-limiting and self-destructive path.

Ultimately, his childhood experiences on a rural ranch combined with his particular personality might not be supple enough to change. Let's hope that's not the case and he can learn the path of understanding and compassion. That would certainly provide a richer life for you both.

About the Author

Carl Alasko

Carl Alasko, Ph.D. is the author of Beyond Blame (Tarcher Penguin), and like his first book Emotional Bullshit, it has been published in five languages.

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