Walking on Eggshells and Marriage Do NOT Mix

Dear Dr. Hurd,
I am a gay man. My partner of two years and I got married in Massachusetts after being together for about a year. I thought everything was perfect, but things have changed. He criticizes everything I do. I buy him flowers, and he berates me because they aren’t perfect.

Nothing I do is up to his ‘standards.’ When things are going well, it’s all about ‘us.’ When things go sour, it’s all about ‘him.’ I’m on eggshells wondering what his mood will be from day to day. I feel stuck between my desire to have a relationship and his demeaning attitude towards me. How can I figure out if this relationship is worth saving?

Dr. Hurd replies,
Sometimes we have to be careful what we ask for! You wanted gay marriage? You got it (well, partly, at least). Of course same-sex marriage is a right, and it’s nobody’s business but your own, but it’s ironic that some gay couples are now learning what at least 50% of straight couples have learned the hard way: Once the ring is on the finger, things can change.

There’s an important lesson here for gay and straight people alike, especially when it comes to marriage as we know it. The pomp and circumstance of getting married can provide an easy excuse for putting off compatibility problems that might be lurking beneath the surface. ‘We’re getting married. All is bliss.’

But the ritual shouldn’t be the primary point; it should be the icing on the cake. And, in my judgment, it should happen only after several years of loving commitment—through good times and bad. In short, marriage should be earned.

You and your new spouse got it backwards. You married, and then expected to earn it later. Or worse, you assumed that compatibility would somehow ‘happen’ via the magic of flowers and a caterer. Did you really know him that well after only a year? Apparently you didn’t, though you ”thought everything was perfect.’ Oops—given that perfection (defined as infallibility) is impossible, that should have been your first clue to delay the marriage and/or rethink your assumptions.

You said you’re ‘on eggshells.’ If I’ve learned anything from over two decades of counseling people, it’s that walking on eggshells is a big mistake. First of all, it’s inauthentic and phony—the exact opposite of loving intimacy. Second, it forces you to tolerate things you shouldn’t tolerate, especially from somebody who professes to love you. This lowers your self-respect as well as the respect your spouse once had towards you.

Once respect is gone, love is often the next thing to go. My recommendation here? Man-up and tell him, ‘You’re not what I paid for. You’re not who I thought I was marrying.’ Be blunt (obviously he has no problem being that way with you). Calmly tell him you can’t live like this. Provide reasonable examples. Stay composed and respectful. Give him a chance to reverse course, and remember that you helped create this mess through your errors in thinking.

If he truly cares for you, none of this will be the end of the world. Errors are correctable, and no matter what happens, life will go on.