Thirty-eight year old Lisa (a stay at home mom) was absolutely convinced that Jose, her husband of five years, was cheating on her. She secretly checked his cell phone messages daily, timed how long it took him to return her numerous calls during the day when he was out of town on business, and constantly monitored his facebook and myspace entries.Â If he left the house to shop, she yelled at him on his return that “that was just an excuse to meet a girl in the park.”Â If he even glanced in the direction of a female when they were out together she accused him of “wanting” her.Â When they made love, and it ended too quickly for her, she yelled at Jose for “wanting to get it over with so you can be with your girlfriend.”
In therapy, Jose pleaded innocence and stated with absolute conviction that had never been unfaithful to Lisa. When pressed for concrete evidence, even Lisa had to admit that she had none, despiteÂ her obsession with finding such evidence.
Jose was a tortured man. He felt he could no longer put up with the daily unfounded accusations of his wife, yet he loved his three children and did not want to cause them to grew up in a broken home, as he had as a boy. So, he tried to cope as best he could, but everything he tried seemed to make the situation worse.
What can both Jose and Lisa do to help the situation? While there are no easy answers to complex problemsÂ like this, the following guidelines may be helpful, which we teach both in individual and marriage therapy, asÂ well as in our anger management classes.
Guidlines for Jose:
- Assuming his innocence, it is not up to Jose to “fix” Lisa. Most of the time, this is not even possible. Lisa has to fix Lisa, probably with outside professional help.
- Jose may have to decide if he feels he can cope with his wife, or if she is too “toxic” for him to continue the relationship. Sometimes “anger management” requires protecting ourselves from toxic people in our lives before common arguments turn into domestic violence.
- Jose should focus not so much on defending himself from his wife’s verbal assaults, as on re-assuring her that he loves her.
- Jose should find ways to make her feel more secure in the relationship.
- Joe should find ways to increase trust with Lisa by being open constantly about his whereabouts, his activities, and his associations.
Guidelines for Lisa:
- Lisa has deep feelings of insecurity and low self-esteem. She probably will need therapy to overcome these issues. She should not be defensive or feel shameful about needing therapy. Her problem stems from childhood experiences which will require a competent professional to help her sort out.
- Lisa should increaseÂ self-confidence by finding things in life to help her feel better about herself such as getting more education, acquiring job skills, and developing healthy friendships with other women and couples to serve as positive role-models in her life.