“We need to sell the house, but my wife is sabotaging my efforts (she is living in the house with our kids; I moved out three months ago when we separated). She refuses most requests for viewing, or makes sure the house is such a disgusting mess that prospective buyers just walk out. I am extremely angry with her, and can’t seem to make her see my point of view. What should I do?”
I suspect that what you’re really asking is “what can I do to get my wife to comply with my demand?” Of course it’s frustrating when you feel so powerless to get her to do what you want her to do. However, your anger at her, while understandable, is probably counter productive. As long as you continue to fight to try to “make her see (your) point of view,” you will likely continue to be frustrated. She is no doubt feeling coerced by you, and her sabotaging reactions to your attempts to get her to see it your way are probably perpetuating a power struggle that will have no winners. In other words, if she feels demanded upon, she’ll get defensive. If she feels defensive, she’ll dig in harder. As she ignores your appeals, you’ll get more frustrated and then probably argue more aggressively, and so on.
My suggestion is to try a different approach. Instead of working to convince her to comply with your demands, try to empathize with her fears. Whether these demands are right or wrong is not even the issue — I’m talking about how you engage with her about this. In all likelihood your wife is feeling scared: afraid of experiencing more loss, afraid of what her new home will be like, afraid of how the kids will be affected –in short, afraid of the unknowns that lie ahead of her in the next phase of her life. Holding on to the house is, at least in part, a way to try to hold on to what feels safe and familiar. By approaching her in a way that is respectful of her fears, you may find that it is easier to work together to do what is best for the family.
It would also be helpful for you to look at what buttons may be getting pushed in you. You’re clearly feeling frustrated and angry, but I wonder if you might not also be feeling scared. Under the stress of a divorce and all of the losses that a divorce engenders, other feelings may be magnified. Perhaps you’re afraid of being taken advantage of, or of not having enough money to pay your bills, or of experiencing more loss. When we feel scared or threatened, we tend to react defensively. This appears to be interfering with your ability to problem solve. By getting a better handle on your own fears, you might find it easier to interact with your wife in ways that get you working together more cooperatively.
Finally, if these suggestions don’t work, it may be necessary to seek outside assistance. A mediator might be able to help the two of you come to a compromise solution. Alternatively, counseling with a therapist who has experience working with divorcing couples could help both of you to neutralize the hot-button issues that are impeding your ability to communicate and work with each other.
Regardless of your feelings towards each other now, you have children to co-parent together. There will be plenty of other issues that the two of you will have to deal with in the years to come. For the sake of your children –as well as that of you and your wife — I strongly encourage you to find away to work together now.
M. Chet Mirman, Ph.D., a licensed clinical psychologist and the co-director of The Center For Divorce Recovery has offices in Northbrook and Chicago.