On the "punishing" spouse

It’s been a few days since my arrival in Houston. What a city! Huge! Almost like New York! Not sure if that is good or bad, yet. But it seems to hold a bit of promise, so we shall see….
So the first day of my arrival, I met this lady in Starbucks and we hit it off talking about all sorts of things, like God, and narcissistic spouses and butterflies and even blogging. She has a blog and I have a whole bunch of blogs and so we talked and talked much to the chagrin of the other patrons, I am sure. Neither of us could believe how almost “divine” our meeting was since she blogs about how God has transformed her life (and I am sort of in a place where I have become more spiritual and aware of God’s power to transform your life if you let him) and I blog about divorce and had just done a few posts about the issues she was facing in her marriage. Turns out she is married to a man more than 20 years her senior. And she is also on the brink of divorce. She had filed her papers, but he had not yet been served at the time of our meeting… He probably hit the roof once he found out.
Why did she want a divorce after only 5 years of marriage? Among other things, her husband was a “punisher” and a “narcissist.” A bell went off in my head because I hadn’t addressed this issue of a spouse “punishing” the other yet.  But it’s a pretty obvious topic. I have had my own experiences, not as a spouse, but experience with older men who have this way of invoking “punishment” upon you when they feel you have stepped out of line. That is the thing, we both decided, about marrying a man who is too much older. He often ends up treating you like one of his children.
Even though  I recently did a post on how Madonna is “too old” for her 24 year old boyfriend, and I came up with this formulaic argument that a woman can afford to be 12 years and no more older than her husband, and, for men, he can be 20 years older, you should take it with a grain of salt.  Or a few grains of salt like with a Margarita. Because it doesn’t always work. And sometimes, it’s a raging disaster. A woman who is older is afraid of the man treating her like his mother; and the woman who is so much younger is afraid of the man treating her as his child. And it is not an unreasonable fear. This is often exactly what happens when there is an age imbalance in a relationship.
Older men, more so than older women, tend to view their spouses as children if their spouse is considerably younger. I think a man who is twenty years older than his spouse is considerably older than his wife. And as my new friend pointed out, the marriage was doomed out of the gate because he just never thought of her as an “equal.” Not only is he the man, he is also 20 years older. He feels like her father; and she feels like a baby next to him.
And that is the rub, right there. I pointed out that maybe he treats her like a child because in the beginning of the relationship, she probably acted like a child because she was in awe of the magnitude of the 20 year difference in age.
It is so important, I think, in these May-December relationships where the man is considerably older for the woman to assert herself and set the tone for how the show is going to run. Otherwise she will get trapped in this role of child which is very destructive to a marriage. It is not that she will emasculate her husband, but certainly she can’t play this baby/damsel in distress who can’t take care of herself initially, and who defers to him on every important decision (and not take a part in making the decisions) and expect that during the marriage, as the marriage matures, that he is going to view her any differently, or treat her any differently than as a child.
And one of the primary ways he’s going to treat her like a child is this use of the “punishment” mechanism to exact compliance with his wishes. Because that is what we do with children, isn’t it? We train them with this reward and punishment for good vs. bad behavior. It’s very Pavlovian.  “He wants to make sure that I never do that again,” she told me, “so he punishes me, like I’m his daughter. I’ve had enough of it. I want my life back. I want my identity back.”
You can’t control someone’s behavior all the time. But I think that with this issue, you see signs of it before marriage and you nip it in the bud immediately, or you suffer the consequences later in the marriage that you are trapped in this unwanted role. And some  men can’t let up, so you have to let them go. You don’t marry such a person. You will be miserable.
Not to let the husbands off the hook, though. Guys, you are the only ones who can control your own behavior.  This way of using crime and punishment as a mechanism to control your wives is not cool. She’s your wife, not your child. Treat her the correct way, or run the risk of losing the best thing that’s probably ever happened to you.
Something to think about.
foto credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/istolethetv/2794322027/sizes/m/in/photostream/