June 27 • 04:29 AM

Victim often feels guilty

October 29, 2008
1QUESTION: When my wife left me for another man, I felt like the whole thing was my fault. I still feel that way. I had never even looked at another woman, yet here I am taking the blame for her affair. Rationally, I know I'm being very unfair to myself, but I can't help it. Or can I?

DR. DOBSON: It is the typical reaction of a rejected spouse, like yourself, to take the full responsibility for the behavior of an unfaithful spouse. The wounded partner—the person who was clearly the victim of the other's irresponsibility—is the one who suffers the greatest pangs of guilt and feelings of inferiority.

How strange that the one who tried to hold things together in the face of obvious rejection often finds herself wondering, "How did I fail him? I just wasn't woman enough to hold my man. I am 'nothing' or he wouldn't have left. If only I had been more exciting as a sexual partner—I drove him to it—I wasn't pretty enough. I didn't deserve him in the first place.''

The blame for marital disintegration is seldom the fault of the husband or wife alone. It takes two to tango, as they say, and there is always some measure of shared blame for a divorce.

However, when one marriage partner makes up his mind to behave irresponsibly, to become involved extramaritally, or to run from his family commitments and obligations, he usually seeks to justify his behavior by magnifying the failures of his spouse. "You didn't meet my needs, so I had to satisfy them somewhere else,'' is the familiar accusation. By increasing the guilt of his partner in this way, he reduces his own culpability.

For a husband or wife with low self-esteem, these charges and recriminations are accepted and internalized as indisputable facts.

You must resist the temptation to take all the blame. I'm not recommending that you sit around hating the memory of your wife. Bitterness and resentment are emotional cancers that rot us from within. However, I would encourage you to examine the facts carefully.

Ask yourself these questions: "Despite my many mistakes and failures in my marriage, did I value my family and try to preserve it? Did my wife decide to destroy it and then seek justification for her actions? Was I given a fair chance to resolve the areas of greatest irritation? Could I have held her even if I had made all the changes she wanted? Is it reasonable that I should hate myself for this thing that has happened?''

If you examine objectively what has occurred, you might begin to see yourself as a victim of your wife's irresponsibility rather than a worthless failure at the game of love.

QUESTION: I've read that it is possible to teach 4-year-old children to read. Should I be working on this with my child?

ANSWER: If a youngster is particularly sharp and if he or she can learn to read without feeling undue adult pressure, it would be advantageous to teach this skill. But that's a much bigger "if'' than most people realize. There are some parents who find it difficult to work with their children without showing frustration over immaturity and disinterest.

Furthermore, new skills should be taught at the age when they are most needed. Why invest unnecessary effort trying to teach a child to read when he has not yet learned to cross the street, tie his shoes, count to 10 or answer the telephone? It seems foolish to get panicky over preschool reading.

The best policy is to provide your children with many interesting books and materials, read to them every day, and answer their questions. You can then introduce them to phonics and watch the lights go on. It's fun if you don't push too hard.

Dr. Dobson is founder and chairman of the board of the nonprofit organization Focus on the Family, Colorado Springs, CO 80995 ( Questions and answers are excerpted from "Solid Answers'' and "Bringing Up Boys,'' both published by Tyndale House.

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