"I don't feel safe around my wife. What should I do to make our marriage work?"

Haya Malik

Dear Haya,

I am almost 40 years old and got married a year ago. I am struggling, somewhat suffocating, in my marital life and don't feel safe around my wife. I feel terrified being at home with her when there is no one else around. I am also struggling with anxiety. My mental and physical health has tanked.

My personal, social, emotional and physical boundaries are very often severely violated by her. My wife conveniently hides behind pregnancy-induced hormonal mood swings to justify her abusive and aggressive behaviour. There is a huge difference between how I am expected to treat her and what is expected of me. I suspect some of her behaviour is a result of feedback from close family and some of it stems from our sub-cultural differences.

I am a grammar schoolboy who received education abroad, living there by myself for eight years. But despite her fancy education and global exposure, my wife and her family are somewhat orthodox traditionalist types.

Even though the subculture of my extended family is not too different from that of my in-laws, I feel like a fish out of water around my own spouse. Despite my best efforts to communicate my need for my boundaries to be respected, they keep getting violated.

Please help me understand how to deal with this situation.

I dont feel safe around my wife. What should I do to make our marriage work?

Dear reader,

I am sorry to hear about what you are going through. As a therapist, I want to first acknowledge the courage it takes to reach out for help in a situation like this. It sounds like you're experiencing a lot of distress and discomfort in your marriage, and it's important to address these feelings in a healthy and constructive way.

First and foremost, it's important to recognise that your feelings are valid and that you have the right to feel safe and respected in your relationship. Feeling safe in a relationship is a primary need for the relationship to thrive. It's concerning that you feel terrified and suffocated when you're at home with your wife and that your boundaries are being violated. These are serious issues that need to be addressed.

It’s important to recognise that pregnancy-induced hormonal mood swings are not an excuse for abusive or aggressive behaviour. While hormonal changes can affect mood it’s not an excuse for mistreatment of your partner. It's important for both partners to take responsibility for their actions and to communicate openly and honestly about their needs and feelings.

In terms of dealing with the situation, it's important to set boundaries that I see you have already done which is great. When we set boundaries, there are two parts to it — creating and communicating the boundary and the repercussions of what happens when boundaries are not met.

I hear you say that your boundaries are constantly violated. What are the repercussions of the violation of those boundaries? When we don’t do what we say, we are unconsciously giving the message that we are not serious about what we are saying to which the other person unconsciously may respond in a similar way recreating the same experience leading us to feel unheard, resentful, and unsafe. Words and actions need to align.

Moreover, you need to critically assess what your needs are, and what you need to feel safe in the relationship and communicate to your partner how the relationship is currently making you feel.

I’m not sure to what extent your wife is aware of the impact her behaviour is having on you, which is why you need to have an open and honest conversation about what is going on for you, how you’re feeling and what you need which may help to improve the situation and to also assess and communicate what happens if there is no change and work around expectation management.

Finally, it's important to take care of yourself and prioritise your own well-being. I hear you saying that your mental and physical health is tanked. This is a sign for you to act towards your own well-being. This may involve setting aside time for self-care activities, such as exercise, meditation, and seeking professional help. It's also important to seek support from trusted friends or family members who can provide emotional support and help you navigate this difficult situation.

It's crucial for you to recognise that your feelings are valid and that you have the right to feel safe and respected in your relationship. It's important to communicate your needs and boundaries clearly to your wife and seek support from a therapist or counsellor who can help you navigate these issues and develop healthy coping strategies.

I would also recommend you seek couples therapy when and if you both are aligned and want to work on the relationship. A therapist can also help you and your wife communicate more effectively and work through any underlying issues that may be contributing to the problems in your relationship.

Hope this helps!

Haya Malik is a psychotherapist, Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) practitioner, corporate well-being strategist and trainer with expertise in creating organisational cultures focused on well-being and raising awareness around mental health.

Send her your questions to [email protected]

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