My husband and I have been together 11 years. I started to write this letter because we can’t agree on moving into a new house. As I began writing I realized it is about much more than whether we move or not. My husband cannot handle change. No matter the situation, he gets completely overwhelmed, starts thinking about the worst possible outcome, and stresses himself out.
The current situation is that we started talking about moving 2.5 years ago. He was overwhelmed by that idea, said I was moving too fast, and couldn’t we compromise. He wanted a date way in the future, maybe we could meet in the middle. Life threw us a curve during that time frame where selling the house wasn’t an option, so I dropped it. After that situation passed we would discuss moving occasionally, but the timing wouldn’t be right, so I would drop it. Now we have started discussing it, the timing is right from a housing market standpoint. We found a house that we both love. He seemed finally to be in on it, so I start moving forward with getting our house ready to sell and he immediately became overwhelmed to the point that he makes himself ill. He says it is all going too fast, and can’t we wait another month. My point of view is that we have been discussing this for over 2 years, when you move, it can go fast, and the things that overwhelm him will still be there in a month, but the house may not.
In all fairness I do need to mention that his mother is terminally ill, and has been for sometime. I know that weighs on his mind. If he wasn’t always like this and it was just because of his mom, I would back off. But I know that with him it will never be a good time. It wasn’t a good time 2+ years ago, it isn’t a good time now, at some point his mom will pass and it won’t be a good time, then he’ll be getting ready to turn 50 and that will stress him out. He just keeps putting up new barriers. I don’t know how to help him. I know better than to think I can change him. I don’t know how to live in a state of paralysis because everything overwhelms him. (age 41, from US)
You are probably correct in thinking that your husband will always have a reason why “this isn’t a good time” if he has difficulty dealing with change. Some folks hate change and avoid it all costs and some folks hate the status quo and are always looking for excitement. It can be difficult to be married to either personality type, if they tend toward the extreme end.
It sounds like you have tried backing off and giving him time, but now that you are ready to move forward he is digging in his heals again. I’m sure that his mother’s illness is a huge stressor and could be wearing on him a great deal, however, focusing on getting your house ready to sell and looking forward to new surroundings could be a nice distraction, if he could reframe the whole situation.
I also agree that as a spouse, you can’t change him. You can try to understand and empathize. You can try to develop a strategy that takes into account his anxiety or resistance. But, you can’t change his personality or life-long patterns of thinking. What you can do is request that he seek help. He may benefit from medication to help with any possible anxiety or depression that could be an underlying issue, but most importantly, I would suggest that he seek counseling. In this case, both individual and couples therapy would be the best approach. Having a therapist or mediator in the room will help you approach an old conversation in a new way, hopefully aiding a mutually satisfying resolution.
All the best,
Dr. Holly Counts