My Wife Threatens Suicide When I Bring Up Separation

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Reader’s Question

I am 31 years old, my wife is 32, and we have been married for 4 years. We are both students at the same university and I help her with her studies to such an extent that I take very few courses in order to study her subjects and teach her. I am also the only breadwinner; she used to work for a brief period but quit when she got into an argument with her manager.

Our problem is repeated fights. They happen several times a day and could involve her blaming me when she can’t find something in the house, such as her keys or clothes (I must have moved them). Or I might ask her what she would like to eat. All of the sudden she gets angry and starts yelling at me. Or if I say something small she analyses it for hours and later she’ll say that I said what I did because I meant that she is stupid, even though my comment did not mean that at all. I have tried discussing the problem with her but every time it ended up with a bigger fight. At one point I was really tired of the whole situation and discussed separation. At that point she was ready to commit suicide. A few years ago I left her due to the same issues and she did attempt suicide by swallowing pills. I cannot continue this situation anymore. I really wonder if I can either fix the problem or become separated or divorced without her committing suicide?

Psychologist’s Reply

Intimate relationships can be extremely difficult when one or both partners lack core self-esteem and the ability to regulate emotions. Healthy and mutually-satisfying relationships rest on foundations that include respect, trust, and a sense of equality. Based on what you’ve described, I question whether your wife experiences these qualities in relation to you. Treating you as an equal entails being considerate of your feelings. That doesn’t mean a lack of anger or blame, but such emotions should be the exception, not the rule. Even then, we would expect her to feel badly for having treated you harshly, prompting an apology and concern over how you were affected.

Trust not only includes the assumption you are and will be faithful, but also the assumption that you do not act in ways to intentionally hurt her. So, when your wife construes things you’ve said as having a hurtful meaning or intention, ultimately she doesn’t trust that you are considerate of her feelings. These misinterpretations may be the result of her own low self-esteem, but it’s still possible to trust in your love for her and realize that the negative interpretations are the result of her own issues being projected onto your comments.

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With all of that said, her past behavior has “worked” for her because it allowed her to vent her frustrations, blame you for the things that went wrong in her life, and continue to have a partner who takes care of her. So, ultimately she must have believed that you would “take” whatever she dished out. On those couple of occasions when your behavior said otherwise by attempting to separate, her emergency move was to attempt suicide, which apparently resulted in your remaining in the relationship and returning to the old ways.

When a loved one attempts suicide seemingly because of what we did or didn’t do, it’s natural to feel responsible and therefore guilty. However, we need to remember that, although the attempt to separate was the immediate trigger for the attempted suicide, the problems stemmed from much further back before that particular incident. Your wife is responsible for her own behavior, both in terms of what has led up to your decision to leave as well as how she reacts to your decision. If she has been uninterested in receiving professional help after the attempted and threatened suicide attempts, then we have to question her investment in the marriage and in your wellbeing. As long as your relationship returned to the status quo, she apparently was satisfied, regardless of how you felt.

Here is one option to consider: Have a serious talk with your wife about your unhappiness, and urge that the two of you seek professional counseling. If she refuses, or erupts emotionally in an attempt to sabotage your wishes, then you know she is probably not invested in a mutually satisfying marriage, but wants you to remain in your role as scapegoat and verbal punching bag. If she threatens suicide, the difficulty will be remaining calm and firm as you try repeatedly to explain that you do not want to see her hurt or dead, but ultimately she is responsible for herself. You are offering to work with her to get help, so if she refuses that option but insists she’ll try to commit suicide, you have to wonder what her ultimate goal is by making such threats.

Don’t be surprised if she expects you to react as you have in the past, and indeed it may be difficult not to do so. You could turn to a friend or family member who knows your situation and what you’re attempting to do so that that person can provide support and a relatively objective view on what the situation looks like to someone who is not emotionally engaged in it. If you can afford to consult a professional counselor before confronting your wife, that might be an even better option.

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