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Relationship Q&A: My Husband Returned from War and Thinks He's the Boss

While her husband was away, she got used to doing it all herself. When he returned from his tour of duty, she didn't know how to adjust. Can this marriage be saved?


Q. My husband just got back from a tour of duty in Iraq. I'm so grateful that he didn't get injured or killed, but adjusting to having him here again is turning out to be tough. While he was gone, I did everything -- paid the bills, disciplined the kids, made decisions about stuff like major purchases and vacation plans, the works. Now he wants to take over and be the boss, but I don't want to go back to the way we were. How can we solve this?

A. Your situation is a classic example of what psychologists call an "accordion marriage." When couples spend long periods apart, one spouse typically makes the discovery that handling everything alone is not only possible but is in some ways preferable to negotiating decisions and dividing up chores. At the same time, the other spouse learns the hard lesson that absence can cause a person to become extraneous. The good news, though, is that you can now make a fresh start by consciously choosing the very best way to integrate your husband back into family life. The goal is that the two of you will become a team in a way that suits you both. Be sure when you talk that each of you verbalizes what you want and stays away from telling the other what you think he or she wants, or worse, what he or she should do. Start with the phrase "I would like..." rather than with the phrase "I would like you to...." For example, you might say, "I would like to keep paying the bills since that has helped me get a better idea of our financial situation." Your husband might say, "That's fine with me, but I would like to be involved when we are thinking about buying something expensive." Exchanges like these keep conversations civilized and productive. Before long, you will work out just the right plan for getting things done. What's so wonderful is that I can almost guarantee that it will be a better plan than the one you had before your husband left for Iraq.

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