My husband constantly upstages me

He takes credit for my ideas, he insinuates himself into my work life, he appropriates my friends: What's going on?

Published April 24, 2008 11:01AM (EDT)

Dear Cary,

I have a question that I hope you can shed some light on. I am female, married for 10 years and am puzzled by my spouse's behavior.

It seems that he is always trying to one-up me. It is disturbing to me that he takes my ideas and opinions and claims them as his own. If someone asks me a question when we are in a group discussion he will jump in and answer it in a way that I have expressed earlier as my own opinion, only he will make it look like his. It is extreme to the point of whatever I get involved in or volunteer for he gets deeply involved in and tries to make people think he is the one with the idea or passion, even to the point of his asking about getting employed where I am employed. He will go to the people whom I am intimately involved with and trash my name. It even happens with church relationships. At first I thought maybe I was overreacting, but several times I have changed people groups and tried to have my own interests and volunteer opportunities but this has happened every single time I get involved in anything, even to the point of his considering asking for a job where I work. I would quit if he got hired there.

It seems that as I have become more of a whole, emotionally healthy person with relationships and a job that I enjoy or really plugged into volunteer positions or church relationships he gets even more suffocating and wants the limelight. I used to include him in most of my activities and share many of my ideas but I don't anymore as it turns into a situation where he needs to have the attention, take credit for all of the ideas and drag my reputation through the dirt. It is not out of the ordinary for my friends to let me know that my husband has let them know his struggles with me in our relationship. I have encouraged him to pursue some of his own interests and create relationships that are beneficial to him, but he seems to just want to be a parasite of my life, work and relationships.

He is very passive-aggressive and not only has he sabotaged most all of his own relationships but his business life as well.

I find it sad that I have to have a life and interests that are very limited to his involvement and that I do not share my ideas and dreams with him unless I want him to take ownership of them. I find it very disturbing. I have always been one to cheer for the bold and for those who reach for their dreams and support the ideas of others. It is to the point of sickening. I had a dream that I shared with him and others for a learning center for the homeless and next thing I know he is pursuing that dream as his own with other people. As soon as I mentioned starting the learning center he decided that he was going to be the director and was going to start pursuing the funding.

So what I am wondering is, have you ever come across this before, do you have any suggestions and can you shed any light on the psychology of this behavior? Thank you!

Wife of Upstager

Dear Wife of Upstager,

I am going to talk to you as a friend. I am not a psychologist or anything like that.

If you were my friend, I would be thinking, This is way above my pay grade. I would urge you to find a good, smart, competent marriage and family therapist.

Secretly I would be thinking many things. I would be thinking that the problem is not in your husband or in you but in the relationship between you, which has a life of its own and draws on certain weaknesses and hungers in each of you in order to survive. But if I were your friend I probably would not say that to you. It might be taken the wrong way. Our friends are supposed to support us, right? They are not supposed to make our lives more complicated.

That's the marriage and family therapist's job.

I make small joke, no?

But seriously, I would think, for his behavior to have gone on as long as it has, there must be something in the structure of the relationship that allows it. It's not your fault or his fault. It's in the structure of the relationship. And if there is something in the structure of the relationship that is allowing this to occur, then it must be something outside your conscious control. He must have gained access to you in such a way that you do not have effective defenses against him. He must be controlling you in ways that you are not consciously able to change. So you need a smart, experienced professional who can look at both of you together and analyze the patterns of behavior between you, and suggest ways -- carefully, expertly -- that you can make these patterns visible and then change them.

Perhaps as these patterns become visible you will find other, even deeper and more compelling issues and patterns. Sometimes it turns out that way.

I do not know what these deeper patterns or issues may be. I would only urge you to seek the truth. I sense only the dimmest outline of something. I am like a guy with a divining rod. I say, here, I sense there is something here. Now bring in the experts. They will know what to do.

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