Her negativity is making me miserable

You know I love it when guys sparkle.

I'm in a five-year common-law marriage with a woman I love and care very much about. We are in our mid 50s. She has chronic and sometimes debilitating physical problems, work problems, and personal estrangement issues. Her problems seem endless and often self-inflicted.

I have been there for her through it all, and consistently so. She is very appreciative of this and sees me as a "golden boy." Here's my problem. She is a kind, loving woman, but has nasty attitudes. One part of this is general sourness and cynicism. "Those people are awful." "Look at this idiot on TV." "Here's the story (again) of someone who ripped me off." It's endlessly negative and obsessive deep whining. (I've made assertive comments about it, which has improved things slightly.)

The other part is an egotistical attitude and inappropriate talk in public situations if she disrespects someone. This will sometimes be directed at me. Usually when she's having a bad day. It's not often and is usually subtle, but it bothers me.

I have tried to discuss specific incidents and the reaction is overwhelming, but generally a denial. "I didn’t say that," and "I’m not that kind of person." I’ve asked her if she's angry at me. She says she isn't and I believe it to be true. My request for counseling was dismissed. Having an argument is a very scary proposition. I believe her attitudes are basically about anger. Emotional abuse from childhood probably plays a part. (Menopause does not.)

In the past two years I've become kind of sullen, hypersensitive, and obsessed with all of this. It's a difficult undercurrent in our life, but our life is also reasonably good, too. Seems like a contradiction, I know. She is generally a good person. I was aware of her attitudes when we met, but it was very low key then.

– Sparkle Plenty, Boston

You are a golden boy, not a whipping boy, SP. I get that she has had a tough life, but she's becoming a jerk. She's abusing the guy she knows will put up with it. You're an easy target.

Tell her that her negativity is driving you away. Like – away, away. Don’t threaten to leave in some big, dramatic fashion (especially if you're bluffing), but make it clear that talking about this with a third party will help you remain happy in the relationship. It's not about her, it's about you. Assure her that you're not taking her to therapy to attack her. You're taking her to therapy to talk about how you feel.

To be honest, it sounds like you're afraid of her. That's bad. At the very least, you can start this process by going to therapy on your own. You need to figure out how to cope with your situation -- and to decide how much negativity you can shoulder before you break. I get that sometimes in life, people have the right to be miserable, but I have a problem with the fact that she's not worried about you. She hasn't said, "I know I can be a handful ... what do you need from me? What can I do to make things great for you?" Even when someone is sick, it's supposed to be a give and take.

I'm afraid that if you allow her to keep making these comments (even if you fight them by being assertive) you're going to lose your sparkle. Please don't. Take this seriously. Talk to someone.
Readers? How can he get the woman he loves into therapy? Can a negative person ever change? Does she have the right to be negative because of her ailments and problems? What should he do? Discuss.

– Meredith