I’ve been married to Reuven for about six months. We dated pretty briefly, and, looking back, I really didn’t have the opportunity to see him in too many different situations. Basically, I knew how he acted with me on dates and, later on, with my parents and occasionally with extended family.
With me, Reuven was always fine. I’m outgoing and easy to be with, or at least that’s what I’m told. I’m warm and friendly and it’s important to me to make people feel comfortable. I’m aware of that fact and work hard to make others feel good about themselves. So I guess from the start, Reuven was comfortable around me. I’m not at all judgmental and really like everyone.
With my parents and family, I did find Reuven to be on the quiet side, but we’re a big, noisy family and no one noticed anything strange. Now that we are married for a while, I’m seeing a side of Reuven that I never before even knew existed. I think he’s uncomfortable with many people and seems to think that everyone is judging him and out to get him. If he doesn’t like the way someone says hello to him, he starts telling me what an arrogant/mean/judgmental (I can go on) guy that person is and start building a whole case against him in his head.
I don’t know why I didn’t know this before we got married, but he doesn’t have too many friends — maybe just one or two with whom he feels comfortable. Basically, it seems that, to him, everyone is guilty until proven otherwise. And I’m just the opposite. To me, everyone is good until they give me good reason to believe otherwise, and rarely does anyone prove that to me.
Last Shabbos, he came home from shul in such a terrible mood that I could imagine smoke coming out of his ears! He was in a terrible state. I couldn’t get much out of him, but apparently someone said something to him that he didn’t like, and that was it. I spoke to a cousin of mine who was at the “scene of the crime,” and he told me that he didn’t know what was said between them, but that Reuven and this other guy almost came to blows and had to be separated by some of the other men there.
I’m concerned about this behavior, because I’ve never seen anything like it and it seems crazy to me! Again, when Reuven and I are alone together, he’s fine. He doesn’t go crazy or act as though he’s under attack. He feels happiest and safest at home with me. Any time I suggest getting together with other people, he says he’s not interested. At this point, I’m actually nervous about being out with him and other people because I see that he has such a short fuse and I don’t want it to blow!
I feel like there are two Reuvens: the one he is when he’s with me, and one that he shows the rest of the world. But I’m worried that I might find myself living in a world of just Reuven. I’m friendly and sociable and want to be around others, too. How do I remedy this terrible situation?
I hate to say it, but it seems you may have good reason to worry. Reuven sounds like someone with some serious issues going on, including anger-management. Something is definitely off with him. I’m glad that he doesn’t act out around you, and obviously you get credit for that. You sound like a warm and wonderful individual with whom anyone would feel safe and comfortable. Reuven knew exactly what he was doing when he asked you to marry him. He needed to marry an accepting person like you in order to feel relaxed and content with you. You, however, clearly didn’t know exactly what you were getting into when you agreed to marry Reuven.
Though so many of us wish it were so, we cannot turn back the clock. Were that possible, you probably would have taken much more time dating Reuven. Clearly, you were able to bring out the best in Reuven when it was just the two of you, and, therefore, he probably behaved nicely on dates with you. But you didn’t have the chance to see how he interacted with others in normal situations and in situations that were more challenging. Had you seen firsthand his inability to manage his emotions in normal life scenarios, I have to wonder whether you would have been so quick to marry him.
It’s possible that while you were dating, since the two of you had something good going on together, you might have had success in suggesting he speak to a therapist in order to work on his social issues before getting engaged. At that point, you had some leverage, since he clearly was interested in marrying you. At this point, the question is if you still have leverage and, if so, how much?
You’re not married all that long, so I advise you that the sooner you shake up the status quo within your marriage, the better. You don’t want Reuven to believe that he can count on a future of living in a bubble exclusively with you, safe and sound. Nor do you want to worry about who he is going to argue with the next time he’s in public. You need to let him know immediately that you desire and deserve a normal life with him that includes satisfying relationships with family and friends. And you want to be able to relax in knowing that he has dealt with his insecurities and issues surrounding getting along with others. And finally, you have to make it clear that you will not settle for anything less; therefore, it is incumbent upon him to get whatever help necessary to learn how to live successfully among others.
What will come of this conversation is anyone’s guess. I wish you well and hope that Reuven feels compelled to do the right thing both for your sake and for his sake. If he digs in his heels and is unwilling to go for help, you will then have some serious questions to ask yourself, and you will need to determine what you are willing to tolerate. But you are far from having to make those decisions at this point. For now, your work is with Reuven, communicating what you need and what your expectations are for your marriage. Wishing you success!
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or 516-314-2295.