After you have been with the same person for quite a long time or are comfortably married, it’s very normal to feel as if your spouse has changed somewhat. This makes sense if you think about it. No one remains exactly the same for their entire lives. And many of us meet our spouses when they were much younger than they are today. So they might seem full of life, rebellious, or adventurous when we first meet them. But then many years later, they may be settled and somewhat more conservative. This is the natural order of things and it doesn’t always cause problems.
But it can be problematic if the changes in your spouse are particularly troubling to you or if they remind you of something (or someone) that causes a negative reaction in you.
I might hear from someone who says: “I grew up in the same neighborhood as my husband. I have known him for most of my life. As children, we used to play together because our mothers were very good friends. Because of this, I spent a lot of time at his childhood home and I know both of his parents very well. I have never liked his father. He is stern, old fashioned, pompous, and very judgmental. Just his tone of voice grates on me. I used to avoid my husband’s house in the evenings because I knew that was when his father got home. And the atmosphere in the house would change then. The laughter would stop. And every one would get much more tense. One thing that I always loved about my husband was that he was much more like his mother, who is gentle and kind. His mom was always laughing and loved having the neighborhood kids over. So I assumed that my husband was going to be a spouse and a parent much like his own mother. He used to be that. When we were newly married and young parents, my husband was exactly what I anticipated. But, in the last five years or so, I see my husband’s father in him more and more. Lately, he always acts as if the world is out to get him or rip him off. He’s impatient and critical. Worse, when I hear my husband’s voice, that grating tone is the same as his father’s. It drives me crazy and it is a huge turn off. I know that the great irony of this is that I’m complaining about my husband’s critical personality while I am criticizing him. But I guess I am so disappointed because I always really disliked his dad. And I now I feel like I have a version of his dad living in my own home.”
What You Are Seeing Is Normal: There is an old saying that eventually, we all become our parents. I don’t believe this. And I really hope it’s not true because I would never want to be like my mother. I love my mom, but her outlook on life is very negative and as a result, people generally feel tense around her. Still, sometimes, when my reserves are down, I will hear something come out of my own mouth and it will literally stop me because it sounds just like my mother. I’m always disappointed in myself because for years, I have vowed to never be anything like my mother.
But if you think about it, how could I not, at least in some ways, repeat what I grew up hearing? My mother was my same-sex role model for nearly 18 years. When you grow up watching that person and experiencing how they live their lives and handle every day problems, then at least a little bit is bound to rub off on you, even if you reject much of their personality.
I suspect this is the case with your husband. This doesn’t make him a bad person. It doesn’t mean that he identifies with his father and has a similar personality or even similar beliefs. In fact, I would doubt this since his earlier personality reflected his mother.
But, it is a little too easy to resort to negative patterns and examples in times of stress, even if that is the last thing that we want or intend to do. I would suspect that your husband’s father comes out in him when he is anxious, scared, or angry. Your husband may have a more strong mental picture of his father in tense situations – since his mother was not often in tense situations, being the kinder and more optimistic of the two.
Understanding this is important because it helps you at least feel a little bit of empathy. And it may help you to understand that your husband isn’t necessarily a bad person and that he doesn’t necessarily suddenly have his father’s personality. He hasn’t morphed into his father. He has just seen this behavior for large amounts of his formative years, so it can’t help but come out sometimes.
Think just for a second if you have ever sounded like your own mother. I believe that we all have, even if we don’t realize it. I am not telling you this to suggest that it’s fine for your husband to act like his dad. I’m just saying that it’s natural and very common.
Putting An End To This In A Positive Way: But the real issue is how to get it to stop, or at least tone it down a little so that it doesn’t continue to erode your marriage. The first part of my suggestion would be to not sound critical when you bring this up. The last thing you want to do is to go in all angry and say something like: “do you hear yourself? You sound exactly like your father. And it drives me nuts. You know that I hate your father.”My husband does something in this situation which is pretty effective and it doesn’t deteriorate our relationship. He brings this to my attention in a joking way. My mother is a worrier who always sees everything as a borderline disaster. In some situations, I can be this way. When this comes up and it’s driving my husband nuts, he’ll address me using my mother’s name. He’ll say: “yes (my mother’s name,) everything is just awful.”
That’s his way of telling me that I’m sounding like my mom. But he says it jokingly. I get the message. But neither of us are angry. You might try a similar approach and insert your husband’s father’s name when he’s acting like him. So if your husband were being impatient and his dad’s name was Bob, you’d say, “Hold up Bob, it’s not as bad as all that.”
Is There Something More?: Finally, if this doesn’t help and you don’t get relief when you use humor, ask yourself if this really is the core of the problem. Maybe the voice is just a trigger that signals anger at your husband for something else. But you can’t fix it until you address what it really is.