- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 5, 2009

Dear Ms. Vicki,

I’m always arguing with my husband and we cannot resolve problems. He can’t say one positive thing about me or to me. Sometimes I just want to stay away from him and sometimes I want to hit him because he just won’t listen.

I know he is trying to force me to slap him or something. He keeps giving me this stupid, smirking look on his face just to agitate me.

We can argue about anything. If I say left, he says right. If I say blue, he says green. I can give the OK for our children to do something, and he will come right back and undermine me. I know he is just trying to push my buttons.

He’s been in combat many times, but I feel like I’m the one with combat stress. Ms. Vicki, I want my marriage to work but I’m tired of the arguing. Is there a good way for us to talk about all of this?

- Spouse with Combat Stress

Dear Stress,

If a man with combat stress told me he wanted to hit his wife, I would reprimand him. I would let him know he is responsible for his behavior even if his wife is “pushing his buttons and upsetting him.” Women can be abusers, too, and I don’t condone their behavior either.

Here’s the deal: I hear that you are very stressed. Let me say that you are not alone. Deployments and combat stress are difficult for family members, too. Each time a service member deploys, changes occur in everyone, i.e., the service member, the spouse, the children and other loved ones.

As a result, there must be great reintegration efforts to help relationships and marriages succeed.

From your report, you and your husband are stuck in the cycle of arguing about everything and anything, and pushing each other’s buttons.

As a relationship therapist, I can tell you that you are not getting to the heart of the issue with these conversations. On the contrary, it’s getting worse.

My first suggestion is for the two of you to stop talking for now, until you can get an intervention from a professional counselor. You need a time out! Someone has to walk away and take a break instead of adding fuel to the fire.

In my professional opinion, I can tell you right now that I’m sure what you are arguing about has nothing to do with the “real” problems or issues in your marriage. You both must begin to listen and respect the other’s opinion and resolve problems without verbal fighting. You are only skimming the top right now and not discussing true concerns.

You and your husband also have to learn healthy communication patterns that involve zipping your lips, listening, paraphrasing what you’ve just heard your partner say, and eventually coming to an agreement. Again, you need professional help to do this.

Please contact Military OneSource at 800/342-9647 to be connected to a therapist in your local area.

I know you are stressed, but please don’t hit your husband, OK? Stay in touch and let me know how you are doing.

Dear Ms. Vicki,

I am proud of my son, who is a specialist in the Army, but he refuses to pay about $1,500 that he owes me.

I’ve tried to be supportive to him over the years, even though his mother and I divorced. He has been deployed twice and I know he makes good money. In fact, I know he was earning more than me while he was deployed with all of his entitlements.

The money I loaned him was out of my household income, not all at once but over the course of a year. My son said many times he will repay me, but he never does. He always comes up with a different excuse about the payments.

This debt is making my current wife very angry. My son’s mother told him not to repay me because I never did anything for him when he was growing up. She tells him that I owe this money to him because of back child support, et cetera.

I don’t think I owe my son anything. He is a grown man now, and I have a family of my own.

But this is causing problems in my marriage and my wife is threatening to contact his commanders if he does not pay. I told her I would rather take him to court before I involved his unit commanders. I don’t want him to get in trouble; I just want my money back.

I need your advice because I need to find a way to tell my ex-wife to stay out of this issue, since it is none of her business. Is this an issue for the court?

- Proud Father

Dear Father,

Some proud father you are.

I don’t think you want the money back, I think you just want to get your wife off your back.

I’m guessing your wife is in her 20s? I have a 20-year-old son. Do you think I’ve ever given him anything as a loan? Yes, indeed, and I know I will never get it back, so I don´t expect it. I take it as a joke when he says, “Mom and Dad, I will pay you back.” We say, “Yeah right, whatever.”

You said you are proud of your son and his accomplishments, and you should be. He’s done more for his country at his young age than I have. I know you could use the $1,500, but in the big scheme of things, is it worth taking your son to court and possibly severing what relationship you have with him? I don’t think it is.

I agree with you about your ex-wife; I don´t think she has anything to do with this. I don´t think your wife does either. She especially doesn’t have the right to make a decision to contact his commander about this.

Have a father-to-son conversation with your son. Remind him that he said he would repay you, and that you expected the money back because you need it.

Set up a repayment schedule again. If he doesn’t pay you, simply continue a relationship with your son but don’t lend him any more money. Keep the courts and commanders out of this issue.

Money shouldn’t separate a father and son. I hope this helps.

• Vicki Johnson is a licensed clinical social worker, military spouse and mother of three. Her Dear Ms. Vicki column runs in The Washington Times on Thursdays and Sundays. Contact her at [email protected]

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