Does Your Partner Drive You Crazy?

Learn how to live with your partner’s rigidities.

Posted Jul 08, 2019

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Carla and George came for couples therapy because they were always engaged in petty bickering about stupid little things. Unfortunately, sometimes these arguments turned into screaming matches and occasionally shoving matches. Carla complained that George was a control freak who needed to micromanage every little thing that she did. Carla said that George was driving her crazy, and she didn’t know if she could take it anymore.

Nevertheless, it wasn’t so easy to get up and leave, because they had just had a baby girl, and she didn’t want to become a working single mother. Their sex life was suffering because Carla didn’t like to have sex when she was angry, and she was mad at George all the time for his controlling ways; she felt George was unrelenting in stressing her out.

Of course, there are two sides to every story, and George had a different take on their marital difficulties. He saw himself as a considerate and conscientious husband who was just trying to be helpful. George was a successful computer programmer who believed there was a correct algorithm to solve any problem. George believed that there was a right way and a wrong way to accomplish almost anything, from dieting to raising a baby to planning a vacation.  

George believed he excelled at risk management, and finding the safest and most effective way of getting things done: He had made a lot of money cashing in on this talent. He didn’t understand why Carla couldn’t see the error of her ways. He believed she was a stubborn person who couldn’t admit she was wrong (or perhaps she just wasn’t that smart).

Carla was deeply offended by such characterizations. She felt she was entitled to a mind of her own. She didn’t think she was stubborn or stupid, and she believed her intuitive approach to life was just as valid as George’s rationality. Carla believed that George was arrogant and couldn’t admit he was a control freak.

They each wanted me to validate their incompatible viewpoints. The trick in doing couples therapy is to figure out how contradictory viewpoints can both be true. I began to see that George had many obsessive-compulsive traits. He worried about every little thing and couldn’t relax until each worry was fixed. He became irritable when things couldn’t be organized to his liking.

Carla lived in a more freewheeling way. She trusted her intuition and liked to go with the flow of her feelings. She became angry when George questioned the wisdom of her intuitions. To some extent, neither partner was prepared for the compromises of married life. They were each used to getting their own way, though they rationalized their preferences differently.

Carla felt George’s OCD should be fixed, but he didn’t want to be fixed, and was making a lot of money just being himself. He saw his high salary as validation of his approach. George felt Carla should be fixed, as it was irresponsible to live by gut instincts now that they were responsible for a family.

Carla didn’t want to be fixed: She felt that motherhood was best left to her maternal instincts. Carla was an art teacher, and all her students loved her. She felt she had done just fine in life without George’s advice.

George had been attracted to Carla because of her warm, fun-loving, and laid-back personality. She was not at all like his strict, perfectionist, unemotional mother. Carla was attracted to George because he was loyal, devoted, and stable, unlike her glamorous but alcoholic, womanizing father, who had difficulty supporting the family as a musician.

Each had picked a partner the exact opposite of a problematic other-sex parent, but now they found that they were being driven crazy by a romantic choice that was supposed to be an antidote. Here’s what Carla and George needed to learn to do:

1. Don’t Make Your Partner Feel Badly About Being Rigid. We are all rigid in one way or another. Yes, it would be better to become a more flexible person, but there is no quick fix for the problem of being set in our ways. It doesn’t help us become more flexible to be made to feel bad about all the ways we are a difficult person with whom to live.

2. Accept That Nobody Gets Fixed. Nobody wants to be treated as a fixer-upper who will only be accepted once getting fixed to your liking. Make your partner feel that he or she is good enough despite the flaws. Stop trying to change your partner. It will only lead to power struggles and arguments that won’t go anywhere.

3. Accommodate Your Partner to Earn Brownie Points. Your partner’s rigidities are driven to some degree by anxiety and frustration. Try to respond with empathy to the worries and frustrations behind the rigid behavior that’s driving you crazy. Your partner will be soothed rather than antagonized. Your partner will be appreciative and might even chill out and become more flexible to return the favor.

4. Cultivate Gratitude When Your Partner Works Around Your Rigidities. Don’t forget to show appreciation when your partner accommodates the things you do that drive your partner crazy when you’re feeling stressed out. You want to reward your partner’s good behavior. Don’t take it for granted or act like you’re entitled to that accommodation. You’re stressing your partner out big time, and they are trying to handle it as good-naturedly as they can without losing patience with you.

Facebook image: fizkes/Shutterstock

References

Josephs, L. (2018) The Dynamics of Infidelity: Applying Relationship Science to Psychotherapy Practice. American Psychological Association: Washington, D.C.