Dear Carolyn • So my wife is a one-upper, and after 30-plus years of marriage, it is really getting to me. And I know that we lost a close friendship of a couple over this issue I'm still friends with the husband and it's been brought up by other friends, too. I don't want to be the corrector, but it's gotten like fingernails on a blackboard to me. She gets very defensive about it when I do, and I'm sure I leave something to be desired in the diplomacy area.
A Hot Place
Dear Hot Place • The facts you provide are tips of icebergs. Your wife is a one-upper and defensive when challenged (tip), which says she's a deeply insecure woman (iceberg). Friends have complained to you about her (tip), even though you haven't solicited such complaints (tip), which says your receptiveness to third-party wife-bashing is apparent in other ways (iceberg). You are long married (tip) and beyond diplomacy (tip), which suggests this has metastasized into generalized alienation of affection (iceberg).
It doesn't take much imagination to envision an insecure mate reading your negative body language and ... saying, "Oops, you're right, I'll stop dominating conversations!!!" No she's going to fortify her defenses, and churn out one-uppings to keep pace. If my interpretation is accurate, then you have only two choices: perpetuate this cycle, or break it.
To break it, drop your defenses, and keep them down no matter how loudly nails meet chalkboard. Force yourself to set aside your anger and your hopes she'll transform.
From there, the most straightforward approach is to look at your wife not merely as the host of this conflict, but instead as the whole of the person you love. Unfortunately, looking for what's wrong with other people tends to comes naturally, especially when you're trying to justify your side in an ongoing conflict.
So try instead to forgive her insecurity as her built-in flaw the kind everyone has, the suck-it-up yin to her lovable yang. In fact, as a thought exercise, think of your own best qualities and the baggage on the flip side of each.
Carolyn Hax's column runs Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.