Remember when you first met your spouse? They seemed so alive and fearless about passionately expressing their emotions and opinions. They were the life of whatever gathering they were part of. And They seemed incredibly confident and sexy.
When this amazing person became interested in you, you were naturally and willingly drawn in to their exciting world.
But now, their exciting world is sucking you dry. You feel like you’re walking on eggshells because you’re afraid of triggering another episode. And you’re so drained of emotional energy that it’s hard to pursue the things that are important to you. You might even find yourself avoiding being anywhere near your high-strung spouse.
Making a marriage work takes a lot of effort on the part of both spouses. The trouble is that when you’re married to a drama queen (or king) it can seem like you’re the only adult since they’re so busy trying to grab all the attention by throwing temper tantrums and insisting that you take care of them regardless of what else is happening.
But it is possible to make your marriage work despite your spouse’s theatrical nature and without destroying yourself in the process.
You need to take four steps to manage your part in the drama and thereby allow/encourage/challenge your dramatic spouse to change their ways.
1. Recognize your drama queen’s (or king’s) tricks.
Here’s a list of some of the more common tactics they use:
- Worships you one minute and despises you the next based on overreactions to minor events.
- Makes over-the-top showings of vulnerability in response to minor events (e.g., crying hysterically or panic attacks).
- Avoids discussions in favor of a monologue during which they expect you to play your part (e.g., exclamations of surprise and asking “then what happened?”).
- Rarely remembers what’s going on with you.
- Dominates social gatherings with personal stories and/or demands.
- Overshares regularly.
- Betrays secrets.
- Makes threats, including self-harm and divorce.
- Takes everything personally because they’re hyper-sensitive, highly emotional and easily hurt.
- Misunderstands, jumps to conclusions and blows up, then demands an apology from you.
- Blames you instead of taking responsibility for their mistakes and NEVER forgets how you made that mistake.
- Believes that loud emotions show strength because calm people are wimps.
- Regularly tops good/bad fortune in your life with a story of their own.
All of these tactics are designed to accomplish one goal – to get you to acknowledge that they’re important. Drama queens and kings need validation and attention. And as their spouse, they see your primary purpose as taking care of this need for them. Unfortunately, over time they stop caring if the validation and attention you give them is positive or negative because either way you’re feeding their need.
2. Understand why they are so dramatic.
If you’re not of such an emotional bent, it’s hard to really get why anyone would act like this. And that’s because it’s out of your experience (and the fact that you’re not a trained therapist who knows what this stuff is).
According to Ophelia Austin-Small in her Scientific American article, there are several reasons why someone would behave as a drama queen or king:
- A personality disorder like borderline personality disorder (BPD) or histrionic personality disorder.
- Childhood trauma ranging from abuse to natural disasters.
- Childhood neglect – physical, emotional, intellectual
- Genetic predisposition
Regardless of the root cause of the overly dramatic behavior, the brain of a drama queen or king seems to be different in two distinct ways. Austin-Small reports that they seem “to have weaker circuitry for inhibiting inappropriate reactions to negative emotions, making it difficult for them to stop themselves from acting out.” She also reports that the area of the brain that processes feelings is hyperactive and could cause a drama queen and king to have more intense emotions.
Now that you understand what creates an overly dramatic person, it becomes obvious that one of the best resources they can have is a therapist. It’s true. You’re not their best resource. (Hopefully, you’re breathing a huge sigh of relief and feeling a bit less trapped.)
3. Get real about why you are drawn to the drama.
Yup, there’s something about your spouse’s behavior that fascinates you (or used to). Maybe it is how open they are with their emotions because you have a difficult time expressing yours. Maybe it’s the limelight they can draw to themselves because you’ve felt like a wallflower. Maybe it’s because you feel important since they need you so much.
By getting clear about your part in the situation, you’ll feel incredibly powerful because there’s something specific you can do to address your needs and start breaking the melodramatic cycle of your marriage.
4. Five tips for mitigating the outbursts.
1. Recognize when your drama queen/king is getting dramatic (and when they’ve gone too far). When you spouse starts using hyperbole or starts making accusations or starts trying to steal the show, they’re getting dramatic. (You might want to check out Unstuck.com’s tip card for decoding a drama queen’s language.)The trouble is that if they don’t get the attention they’re craving from you by these techniques, they’ll turn up the volume on their drama. And unfortunately, sometimes the drama crosses over into abuse.According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline “Abuse is a repetitive pattern of behaviors to maintain power and control over an intimate partner. These are behaviors that physically harm, arouse fear, prevent a partner from doing what they wish or force them to behave in ways they do not want. Abuse includes the use of physical and sexual violence, threats and intimidation, emotional abuse and economic deprivation. Many of these different forms of abuse can be going on at any one time.”If your spouse has crossed the line into abuse, you need to get help for your situation immediately. The National Domestic Violence Hotline is a great place to start looking for help.
2. Set boundaries. Your life doesn’t need to continually be hijacked by your spouse’s behavior and neediness. You can decide what you will and won’t tolerate.For example, if your spouse demands your complete attention at the drop of a hat and regardless of what you are doing, you can lay out strict criteria for when you will address their concerns because they are not allowed to hijack your life.
3. Stop rewarding their behavior. If you pay attention to them when they act out, they’re learning that they can get what they need by acting out and they’ll continue to do it.So no matter what they pull – breaking things, insulting you, making threats, throwing a fit over something insignificant – remain calm. Don’t try to fix things for them. Don’t respond with insults, threats, or a fit of your own.If they see they’ve gotten to you, they’ll know they can get your attention by continuing to behave in this way. And you sure don’t want that!
4. Practice self-care. Living with a drama queen or king is exhausting. You’ve got to spend time taking care of you especially after one of their outbursts. Learn what things help you to get back to you and out of the negativity. You might try meditation or taking a walk or getting a massage.
5. Distance yourself. Putting some distance between you and your spouse when they’re acting out is very important. Maybe by remembering what is at the root of their overly dramatic behavior you’ll be able to emotionally detach from an outburst. You might also remember why you are (or were) drawn to the drama in the first place and correct your contribution to the situation.However, if you’ve tried everything and the situation isn’t improving, it might be time to consider leaving your marriage or even separating for a time.
Being married to a drama queen or king is challenging and exhausting because you’re afraid of triggering another outburst. There’s only so much you can do to change the situation.
But that’s the good news too, there are things you can do to change your experience. And that’s what counts – making your life with your spouse less painful and worrisome.
There is a bonus to all of your efforts though. By addressing what you can, you’re giving your melodramatic mate the opportunity to address their behavior too.
Looking for more marriage advice? You’ll find what you’re looking for in Unhappy Marriage.
I’m Dr. Karen Finn, a divorce coach and advisor helping people just like you who are looking for advice and support as they decide if their marriage can be saved. You can join my newsletter list for free weekly advice or schedule a FREE 30-minute conversation with medirectly in my Time Trade calendar.
This article originally Dr. Karen Finn
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