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Dear Dr. Debra,


My husband is always complaining about everything to the extreme. He is never happy. A typical day starts with him coming up the stairs, saying he is physically exhausted, then he goes onto say, ďMy leg is killing me. My eye is sore. It smells in here. I canít drink that, oh, no, I canít eat that. Are you sure this milk is good? Smell it. It smells bad. I suppose there are no towels.Ē This is no exaggeration. Iím a good cook, not a lot of variety as he is a very plain eater. Chicken makes him sick, although he orders it at restaurants. Hamburger he has for lunch. Steak he is sick of. Fish smells. He likes pork chops, but says this one tastes like soap. I am not kidding. I have custody of my grandson and cannot divorce as my grandson has had enough loss in his life. However, I am depressed and depleted due to my husbandís constant negativity. Please help. Iím losing the will to live.


Mrs. Giving Up



Dear Mrs. Giving Up,


Thereís so much to respond to in your e-mail. First of all, I want to tell you, ďDonít give up.Ē  Youíve obviously been through some painful life circumstances, and being in an unhappy relationship doesnít help you heal. It only makes you feel worse. But there is hope for you to make some changes so your life gets better.


You sound depressed. (So does your husband, but more about that later.) You must feel trapped in a hostile environment with a negative, critical man. Thatís enough to make anyone feel depressed. However, there are some things you can do.


First of all, I suggest you meet with a counselor for some sessions to deal with your feelings and your family situation. The counselor will evaluate whether you need medication for depression and, if you do, refer you to your doctor or a psychiatrist. The counselor also will help you process the pain of your losses, and help coach you in dealing with your husband and finding more enjoyment in your life.


You might need to rethink your choice about staying with your husband only for your grandsonís sake. It is not healthy for the child to be exposed to his grandfatherís negativity, nor to see the two of you in a bad marriage. If your husband doesnít really interact with his grandson on a positive level, there might not be much for the child to miss if you chose to separate. However, if your grandson has a meaningful relationship with his grandfather, thatís different. Iím not saying you should leave your relationship, just that you need to reevaluate your thinking. In order to remain in a difficult situation, you must feel the freedom to leave, even if you choose not to take that option.


You need to start practicing tough love with your husband. You need to sit down with him and tell him his negative attitude is making you unhappy to the point youíre contemplating leaving your marriage. But because you want to honor your commitment to him, and to your grandson, you are going to stay in the marriage and keep making an effort. However, you are no longer going to tolerate his negative attitude. Then let him know the changes you are going to make in your interactions with him.


From now on, youíre going to ignore any negative comment he makes. Act as if he hasnít spoken, and keep on doing what youíre doing. Donít reward him with your attention when he complains or acts critical.


Start your new tough-love program with food. Let him know that you go to a lot of effort to prepare meals for the family. If he continues to complain, you will no longer cook for him. Instead you will only make food for you and your grandson, and he will have to make his own meal. Therefore, each time he criticizes a meal, he does not get another one until he apologizes and refrains from further criticism.


Before the family has dinner, remind him of the new rule. When he slips up, calmly tell him that he will be making his own dinner the following night. If he says something else negative, calmly but firmly say that if he continues, you will remove his plate from the table, and he will be excused to go elsewhere. After that, ignore any tantrums on his part. Or if he is talking or behaving badly, quietly pack up the dinner, and you and your grandson drive to a park and eat.


The idea is that you donít give in to his negativity. This will only reinforce the bad behavior because heís learned it works. He needs to have discipline in the form of removal of the food, the company of you and your grandson, or both. But you need to be consistent. Doing this behavior sometimes, but not others, will only reinforce the bad behavior.

Before you start this plan, youíll also need to clue your grandson in to what youíre doing and why. Explain to him that itís for both your sakes. Neither of you needs to live in a hostile environment, and he also needs his grandfather to be a positive, instead of negative, role model.


Now for your husband: He needs to see his doctor and have a complete physical examination. Perhaps he has a legitimate problem (in which case, heís allowed to complain about the pain or discomfort of that issue). Itís possible his poor attitude is caused by a physical condition, such as a lack of potassium or some kind of degeneration in his brain. Or (as I said above) maybe heís depressed and needs medication.


Your husband should be in counseling if heíll go. The two of you also should have some couple sessions. And, since it sounds like your family has had to cope with some painful situations, some family sessions that include your grandson will be helpful.


I know it will be hard to be strong with your tough-love program. It might take a while, but if youíre consistent, you should start to see changes in him.


Take care,

Dr. Debra

Feel free to write me with your questions

Debra Holland, Ph.D., is a licensed psychotherapist who specializes in relationships and communication techniques.

To read previous 'Ask Dr. Debra' articles, please visit www.wetnoodleposse.com, where Dr. Debra is a regular contributor, or click here to view the archives.





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