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The title summarizes the issue quite well: I'm arachnophobic and my wife wants a pet spider.

She knows I'm terrified by all kinds of bugs, and she wants to buy it anyway. I know phobias are not good... But, hey! I didn't choose to be afraid of such things: I've been phobic for as long as I can remember, and haven't had any success dealing with it: therapy, counselling, support from friends... In the face of a spider, I simply freeze in panic, fighting an urge to run as fast as my legs can.

My wife is very aware about my phobia: I've talked about it with her, and (I thought) I had made clear that under no circumstance I'd tolerate a spider in my home. She told me: "instead of being terrified, why don't you just face your fear?" The intention seems noble, but it's a weak justification, given that it was said after the main intention.

Two days ago, when I arrived, she told me: "can we go to a pet store?". I told her: "sure; why", and she answered: "just to get a little animal"... It took me a second to realize what she meant, and I literally began to shake and to ask (to beg) "No! Please, don't! Not that thing!". She simply and plainly told me: "Take me there or I'll go anyway. You don't have to see it, it will be enclosed".

She bought the spider (a tarantula), despite me begging her not to. She's studying a second career, and right now she's taking a course about arachnids. She planned to buy a spider with a classmate, and the original plan was for the classmate to keep it; however, my wife changed her mind and chose to keep the spider.

I'm terrified and angry. I feel ignored. I simply want to run.

As I see it right now, I have three alternatives:

  1. Cope with the thing: The spider stays, I fix the rules about its accommodation and try not to suffer about it. That will for the benefit of my wife, but it will make me unhappy (or at least, anxious two out of three hours I'm at home).
  2. An ultimatum: Tell my wife "the spider goes or I go". If I succeed, I'll be happy, but I'll make my wife angry and resentful.
  3. Simply assume that the spider is a sign of severe insensitivity towards me and go. That would be a terrible blow for both my wife and me... it would risk my marriage; at the very least both of us would be angry at the other for a while, and the central problem (the spider at home) would not be addressed.

My main objective is for the spider to go. I simply can't be happy while the animal is here. So, the main question is:

How do I insist my wife get rid of the spider without looking like an insensitive or stubborn guy? And, as a secondary objective: if my wife does not get the message (i.e. she does not get rid of the spider): how to communicate the "ultimatum" in a respectful, but firm and final tone?

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Your wife went ahead and made an optional purchase of a pet, knowing that it absolutely terrified you. She made this purchase with no consideration at all of how much emotional pain this would inflict on you.

This is a big deal. You are right to be angry. I don't believe in a loving relationship a spouse would go ahead and do such a thing. Even though you don't indicate this in your question, there are more problems going on in your relationship.

I have some understanding of how wrong her action is because my best friend, a guy I've known since grade school, is absolutely terrified of dogs. Forcing my friend to "confront his fear" by forcing a dog on him would be incredibly cruel, and totally useless. I can't imagine doing such a thing to a friend, much less a spouse or partner.

You should get individual counseling. Not to help you with any phobias, but so you can discuss what's going on in your marriage with a neutral third party. From there you can make some decisions about what to do next. Having someone to discuss this with will help with coming up with some concrete options instead of just feeling helpless and terrified.

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So, you're saying that you, an arachnophobe, are married to a budding arachnologist, who has brought her work home with her?

As they say, "Buddy, you got a problem."

With due respect to the other answers, this is not something you can solve with a simple "let's work it out" conversation. You have my sympathy, as it seems your wife is being astoundingly insensitive, but that doesn't really help your situation.

I'm afraid something is going to have to give. Either you are going to have to face up to your fears, or you're going to have to find another place to live, and possibly an alternate way to live with your wife.

It's not her place to force you to overcome your fear of spiders. You get to decide that for yourself. It sounds like you've already tried various options, but if you really want to keep your marriage intact, this might motivate you to bear down and find a means to at least manage your phobia.

Along those lines, I find it interesting you chose to marry someone who is enamored with something that terrifies you. Perhaps your subconscious is trying to send you a message?


If overcoming your fear is just not an option, then direct confrontation, and perhaps an ultimatum, is probably your best bet. Something along the lines of:

Either the spider goes, or I go

Sadly, this forces your wife to choose between you and something else she loves, but you have to make it clear that she can't make these kind of unilateral decisions about the home you share. Sacrifices are not unusual in any relationship, after all, and sometimes we have to give up on something we want in order to get something we want more.

It's possible this is a "watershed moment" for your marriage, but I would have trouble with someone who didn't respect my feelings before introducing something so upsetting into our relationship. Marriage is about partnership, and if your wife can't let you be an equal partner, then there are deeper problems than those created by one solitary spider.

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Your wife probably doesn't understand the extent of your phobia, judging by how adamant she is about getting a spider. I think the best way to address this is make sure she completely understands your phobia and why you feel the way you do. Tell her how hard you've tried to overcome your phobia without success. Explain to her that her insistence to get a spider makes you feel disrespected and ignored. Firmly insist that you will never change your mind about spiders, and that her tricking you into being around one isn't going to make a difference. Tell her that you aren't choosing to be scared of spiders in an attempt to spite her or derail her wants, and that you have little control over your phobia. Remind your wife that you are both equal partners in deciding your living environment and what lives in that environment. You have the right to feel safe and comfortable in your own home.

You should also try to better understand why your wife wants a spider so bad. Even if you aren't at all open to getting a spider, understanding why she wants one might help you empathize with her. Also see if she would be willing to get a different pet that doesn't scare you quite so much.

Also, work with your wife to come up with another way for her to have a pet spider in her life. Perhaps one of her friends or family members could get one with her and keep it at their place.

Good luck!

  • Thank you for your answer. I'll try to talk with her considering the points you offer. I've added more info to the question, in case it's relevant – Barranka Aug 25 '18 at 17:00
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    @Barranka I'm sorry to hear she didn't listen to you :( Going forward, if you aren't able to convince her to reconsider, I recommend setting up concrete rules with the spider in the house, such as she's not allowed to have it out of its cage while you're home, or that the spider stays in a certain room. – zanahorias Aug 25 '18 at 18:24
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There is no way for me to know exactly what is going on through your wife's mind but I believe it might be a misguided attempt to help you face your phobia. She knows you had tried to deal with it unsuccessfully in the past and she wants to help you face it through exposure. Though it is a valid way to get over a phobia it is not suitable for every case and definitely isn't something you should just force someone into without their consent.

The first step to dealing with the issue is figuring out why she wants the spider.

If it is just something that she just wants for herself Zanahorias's answer gives a good suggestion how to deal with that and there is no need for me to repeat it.

If it is indeed because she is trying to help you get over the phobia then you need to have a whole different conversation. First you need to understand that she is coming from a good place and she isn't ignoring your needs but is trying to help you overcome something that might cause some more serious issues. I don't know to what extent your phobia is and I really hope something like that doesn't happen to you but I have found a spider in my car while driving and I jumped a little without having arachnophobia. Might have ended up in crash if I did.

That's all good and all but you need to explain to her that trying to overcome this fear should be done on your terms and not hers. Hear her out why she things she needs to do this. If you don't want to work on this issue explain your side, tell her that you appreciate her concerns but it is something that you have dealt with up till now and you don't want to try and overcome it.

If you do want to work it out set some clear terms and do start slow. Maybe once a month you can go to the pet store and just look at the spiders. Then try going more often. The pet store should be willing to let you touch one of them after some time if you feel ready. Having one in your house as a pet might be the last step towards a solution but definitely not the first one. Come out with a plan together and try to follow it as best you can. It is not going to be easy but with your wife supporting you rather than just ignoring your concerns it should be easier.

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    Thank you for your answer. Unfortunately, the primary intention of my wife's desire to get a spider are not related with helping me, but with her own personal priorities. – Barranka Aug 25 '18 at 17:03
  • @Barranka I am sorry to hear that. Are you interested in any way in working on the phobia issue or you have given up the efforts on that? I might add another answer to reflect the update and your actual goal. – Ontamu Aug 25 '18 at 19:44

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