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Dear Doctor:

My wife wants to win every argument. She cuts in on what I am saying, she raises her voice to overpower mine, and she uses scorn, contempt, and sarcasm. How can I deal with her?

Dear Bothered:

She is trying to remake the world in her own image, starting with you. Her behavior is a sign of a controlling person. She thinks that she knows better and doesn't acknowledge your equality. She hasn't learned the equality of relationships, the right of every person to express himself/herself freely without penalty. She has a right to her opinion, but she doesn't have a right to try to control you with scorn, contempt, and sarcasm (rudeness, insults, raising her voice, etc.).

Controlling behavior can be seen every day. It begins between parents and child. Since the child is helpless and in danger, the parents exercise control over him or her. Often, they control the child longer than they should. Parents who care more about their own power than the welfare of their children fall into this trap. The child, for his or her part, instead of being - and feeling - independent, looks to the parent for direction and guidance in all things and grows up still feeling controlled.

People with some superior characteristic, such as talent, intelligence, achievement, possessions, education, good looks, athletic ability, heritage, power, position, or personality, often take advantage of the false idea that they are superior. They would rather that other people see them as superior overall. It is important for the mental health of all of us not to buy into this false idea. I can deliberately say to myself, "I abdicate making an overall judgment about the superiority/inferiority of any human being, including myself. We all have equal rights to a good life."

Since your wife feels as she does, it is up to you to work on equalizing your relationship. Avoid an argument by reassuring her: "You have a right to your opinion" (with the implication that you, also, have a right to your opinion). Don't initiate a question or comment without getting her full attention: "I have a question for you" or "This is my opinion. Are you listening?" Then, speak slowly, making sure that she is paying attention to every word: "I . . . think . . . that . . ." Don't expect her by her own will power to change her bad habit of interrupting you. It is up to you to change your style so that she responds appropriately. If she does interrupt you, continue to the end of what you were going to say, or repeat it from the beginning. If she says, "You already said that," you can say, "You cut in on me before I completed my comment."

She has a right to her opinion once, but her saying the same thing more than once is being pushy, and she doesn't have a right to that. When she repeats herself (with the intention of overwhelming you), you can say, "Why are you being so pushy?"

Don't be hung up on saying the last word. Remember, if you've said your piece, you've said it, and she has heard it. Be satisfied that you have said it.

Insist on being taken at face value. She should take your first response as your final response. She: "Would you like some more potatoes?" You: "No, thanks." She: "Have just a little bit." You: "DIDN'T I ALREADY SAY NO?" She: "Come to the movies with us." You: "No, thanks." She: "Oh, come on, you'll enjoy it." You: "DIDN'T I ALREADY SAY NO?" She: "Yes, but I still think that you'd have a good time." He: "You have a right to your opinion." Her cajoling/wheedling betrays one (or both) of two assumptions on her part: 1) you are too timid to say what you really want (and she knows better) or 2) you should please her over pleasing yourself. Either one of these assumptions is insulting. It's a compliment to be taken at face value.

Questions are less likely to energize an argument than declarative sentences, so saying, "Why are you being so pushy?" is better than saying, "You are so pushy." Similarly, saying, "Why are you so insulting?" is better than saying, "You are so insulting." Here is another example. She: "You don't love me." He: "I don't?" She: "No, you don't love me at all." He: "I didn't know that."

If you do get into an argument, watch out for her ad hominem responses. Ad hominem responses attack the arguer instead of the issue at hand. She might say, "You are always so negative" or "You never give anybody a chance" or "You don't know how to communicate." When this happens, it is up to you to say, "Instead of sticking to the issue, you are attacking me as a person." If saying this doesn't improve the situation, you can, in a pinch, turn the focus of the argument back onto her - "I'm negative? Ohmigosh. What about you?" or "I never give anybody a chance? What about you?" or "I don't know how to communicate? What about you?" You can also say, "Your modus operandi is to be rude and insulting with very little else to offer." This strategy gets her to feeling defensive and gets you to feeling more equal. Name calling is not a good idea. Instead of dealing with the issue at hand, it attacks self-esteem.

Don't get into a shouting match. If she raises her voice, say, "Why are you raising your voice" or "Why are you shouting" or "Don't you want to yell some more?" thereby putting the focus on her.

If you run into scorn, contempt, or sarcasm, you shouldn't just let it ride. Saying to her,"What makes you think you have a right to overrule me?" gets you to feeling more equal. Other relevant comments are these:

So what?
Is that the best you can do?
You've got to be kidding.
Since when?
Who asked you?
How remarkable!
What makes you an expert?
Be alert to any and all insults and respond immediately. Don't let any insult go by without an answer. If she thinks that you are touchy, all the better.

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Sometimes she will say, "How do you KNOW that," as if you had to be able to back up every opinion with facts. Don't buy into the charge that you should KNOW. You have a right to your opinion. You can say, "I may not KNOW it, but I still THINK it."

Some wives are contrary - they oppose everything that you say. When you hear her say something contrary-minded, you can say, "You can argue, if you want to [but that doesn't make me change my mind]" or "You can be rude and insulting if you want to."

It is important at the end of an argument to feel that you have not been the loser. You might not be the winner, either, but at least you are equal. Not feeling equal causes you to fret and fume later.

Getting angry is the worst thing that you can do. Getting angry reveals a lack of more self-confident responses. However, sometimes it's the most natural response. It's nothing to be ashamed of.

On your side, you should check with yourself to see if you have gotten into a "blame" mode (faultfinding mode). Since all of us are often saying and doing wrong things, it is easy for one person to find fault with the other person. No one ever has a problem finding faults! Fortunately, if you are in a "blame" mode, there is something that you can do about it. The opposite of "blame" is "praise." You can get out of the "blame" mode by finding things in your wife to praise. If your wife is in a depression, she will require much praise in order to get her out of it.

Here is my response to a woman who wrote about her rude brother-in-law: Rude brother-in-law

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