About 5 years ago my husband and I moved in with his parents so we could save up some money to buy a house. Turns out his mother is an emotionally abusive narcissist, which I kinda had a hint of from early in our relationship, but thought it wouldn't be a problem since we were gonna be living in a basement apartment separate from her.
Well turns out they wanted us to integrate and made sure to keep their computer, tv, couch, etc down there to use whenever.
Fast forward a year, and I had basically become enslaved. My husband’s mother says things to keep me down, makes me cook dinner for everyone, clean up the whole house, take care of the dogs, take her younger kids to school and pick them up. She knew since we were living there she could basically do whatever she wanted. I was extremely depressed, basically wanted to die all the time and eventually found a meetup group to go hang out with to give myself something to do.
I was in a really dark place, I acted out by doing something inappropriate -- I didn’t sleep with anyone but I flirted with someone, and my husband found out. We worked it out, I was very sorry, and have pretty much spent every day since then trying to be a better person, which made it easy after we moved out of his family's home.
Fast forward four years, and he's still holding on to his trump card. Every time we have a major fight he brings that up, and I feel like I can't even say anything after that, even if I'm right. Our relationship is overall really great, and we don't hold on to resentment towards each other, but this keeps coming up every time we get into a really bad fight. What should I do?
Emily R. — Online
Here’s what you do. You go to your husband when you two are in a really good place and you say, “Hey honey, so four years ago I made a mistake. And I thought we worked through it together. But I want to check in with you to see if there is something else you need from me around that incident to put it behind you. Can you share that with me?” Then patiently wait for his answer.
If he immediately offers up something about what will help him get over it, awesome! You can then use that to work together to really and truly get past the roadblock. However, if you catch him at a time when you’re not already in conflict, most likely he’ll say something like, “Oh no, love. That was a long time ago, and we worked that out,” to which you can say, “I’m so glad to hear you say that, but there’s something I need from you on this. I need you to never, ever, ever throw that incident in my face again when you’re mad at me. Ever. It’s done. Can we agree on this?”
Hot tip: When trying to work out disagreements, don’t try to figure out who’s “right.” Instead, look for where your needs have clashed, then see if you can provide what’s missing and see if he can do the same for you. If you’re trying to win the fight based on who’s right, what you’re going to learn is that “who’s right” is an empty victory.