Readers: Should She Set Him Straight?
I got this question from a reader:
Recently, my husband has made comments that insinuate that he is smarter than me, and that his job is more important and worthwhile. He is in his final year of medical residency. I am a caregiver and have not completed a degree, although I have made it almost halfway through several. We had a fight today during which I asked if he thought he was better than me. He replied “Yes, but only a little.” I am very hurt by this. He thinks I am overreacting. Am I? I can’t help but be worried that, as he gets older and continues his career, his opinion of himself will continue to go up and his opinion of me will go down. What should I do, if anything?
Readers: I’d like you all to weigh in here. This reader needs your insight and advice. Have you ever been in this situation before? Have you ever thought you were smarter than your spouse? Or has your spouse indicated that he or she is smarter than you are?
My take is that your irritation with his comment says more about you than it does about him. I sense that you already felt insecure about your intelligence long before this conversation. In my opinion, the solution here isn’t about getting him to see you as intelligent. It’s about getting you to see it. If you felt secure about it, then his comment wouldn’t have bothered you. To the contrary, you’d probably find it amusing. So I would recommend sitting with it for a bit. Why do you feel inferior? What is causing this lack of self confidence?
I also, in situations like this, recommend a Buddhist strategy called “Accepting Defeat and Offering the Victory.” I’ve written about this in the past here, here, and here, among many other posts. The idea is that you just allow him to have his belief, by saying lovingly and sweetly, “You’re right. You are a little better than me. That’s why I fell in love with you and married you.” I know. It’s dang difficult because a part of the mind wants to scream, “But he’s not smarter! And I should put him in his place! He needs to recognize my intelligence!” And, in a perfect world, he would. In a perfect world, he would bow at your feet and tell you that you are the smartest person he knows. But this is not a perfect world. In his world, he wants to feel smarter. This belief makes him feel good. You can try to prove that you are smarter, but the effort will probably be frustrating, futile, and lead to more fighting. It won’t get you where you want to go.
To help reduce the mental resistance to accepting defeat, try to see things through his eyes. Take your mind and put it inside his head. Think about his perspective. Why might he need to feel smarter? What is that about for him? If you do this, you just might be able to develop some compassion and that compassion will lead to the humility it takes to hand over the victory.
Or perhaps you should just play Jeopardy together and you should cream his ass. I don’t know.
Readers: what do you all think?
A professional journalist, Alisa Bowman is the author of Project: Happily Ever After, a memoir of how she saved her marriage, and coauthor of Pitch Perfect, a must-read if you've ever had a sense of dread tie up your insides before a speech, presentation, or conversation. If you enjoyed this post, you will no doubt love her updates on Facebook and Twitter.