A week or so ago, I wrote about the 7 things men do to contribute to their marriage crisis.
Ladies, now it’s your turn.
Because of how you’re wired, you bring your own unique dynamics to a relationship in crisis.
You may not have all of these, but chances are, if your marriage is in a really bad place right now, you’ve been guilty of one or two of these things.
Ready? Here we go…
1. You Say Mean Things
Women, when you are hurt or scared, you say things to your husband that he would never consider saying to you.
You probably don’t know it, but one of the most common weapons a wife uses against her husband is to attack his character—who he is as a person.
Here’s some of the more common things I’ve heard women say to men while sitting in my office:
- “You’re acting childish.”
- “Grow up.”
- “When are you going to start acting like a man?”
- “Why don’t you grow a pair.”
- “You’re the only man who …”
These comments have a way of cutting a man so deeply that, often times, it is hard for him to recover.
Once your husband is in that place… instead of him lashing back with the same type of verbal attacks, he’ll start to go underground. He’ll start to pull away, physically, emotionally, relationally, sexually, just to keep himself out of the line of fire.
Why does he go silent?
Because he is wired for respect (even when he’s not acting respectfully, he’s still inherently wired for it).
Out of respect, he would never consider saying those type of deeply hurting things to you. In fact, he’d rather take the verbal hits from you, and then internally justify his pulling away from you. (see #2 in this list to understand the importance of respect.)
When he starts to pull away, that makes you want to start pushing even harder to get him to engage (see #3 in this list). And then the cycle continues.
If you recognize that you’ve been guilty of verbally tearing down your husband, here’s a couple things you can do to start to change.
First, always talk about your feelings, not his character.
Here’s what it sounds like:
“When you do…” (talk about the observable facts of the situation) “… it makes me feel hurt, sad, misunderstood, frustrated, or all of the above plus some.”
It’s going to be tempting to talk about his motivation or the reason why he’s doing what he’s doing. You’re going to be making some big assumptions about his heart or his thinking when you do that, and nothing frustrates a husband more than being told what he his thinking.
Talk only about the observable facts, tell him how it affects you. And then close your mouth.
Let it sink in for a moment.
He still may not get it, but at least you’re not making the situation worse by attacking his character. He’ll be able to stay engaged longer, which gives you more of a chance of being heard and understood.
Secondly, if you have done this in the past—apologize.
Taking responsibility for your poor behavior towards your husband is a huge sign of respect. It makes it feel like everything isn’t being blamed on him and you’ll have a more captive audience because he’ll be willing to listen more.
And here’s a tip—when you do say sorry to him, there is one essential element that needs to be included—actual sorrow.
Your apology needs to be authentic. He needs to see your sorrow for him to believe you or else he’s just going to feel like he’s being manipulated.
Tip #2—any apology that is followed with a “… but…” is not an apology.
The word but is actually used to contradict whatever it is modifying. As soon as you add a big but to your apology, you might as well say, “Ignore everything I just said in that apology and listen to what’s really important to me right now.”
Words are very important to men. Choose them carefully and you’ll get much farther much faster in the restoration process.
2. You Haven’t Learned How Important Respect Is To Your Husband
It’s something of a mystery for most women, but respect is the life blood for men.
As a woman, you are inherently wired for love, so you have to learn how to do respect. It doesn’t come naturally. It’s something you have to work at.
Tip #3—Respect is defined as unconditionally accepting your man, even when you disagree with his position or behavior.
When one man is debating another guy, they might speak strongly, passionately, intensely— even attackingly with each other. But they tend to only attack the issues. They rarely attack their opponent themselves. (At least not to their face).
In fact, the harder the opposition fights, the more respect men have for each other. (I know it doesn’t make sense. Just trust me on this.)
Because you’re a woman, your emotions are integrated into every area of your life. Issues are hard to compartmentalize. (Put another way, if someone doesn’t like your idea, it feels like they don’t like you.)
What this means for your marriage, and the fight you had with your husband last night is this… When your husband disagreed with your position on that thing you were discussing, you took it personally—as if he was rejecting all of you. And when you felt rejected, deeply and personally, you responded as if you’d just been shot through the heart. And because he rejected you (or it felt like he reject you), you lash back quickly and deeply with an attack on his character (see #1 in this list).
When this happens (and all of this happens in about 1.3 seconds), your husband is standing there wondering what the hell just happened. He’s saying, “I thought we were talking about the thing, and now you’re attacking me?”
Tip #4—Ladies, being able to separate out issues from personhood is essential if you’re going to be speaking to your man.
It is a little known fact, and something most guys won’t admit to (or are even aware of), but, “The most fragile thing on the planet is a male ego.”
Respect is that thing that says, “No matter what, you are okay. You are accepted. You are wanted. You are special.”
A man needs to hear a respectful tone in every exchange. It’s what keeps him grounded. It’s what keeps him connected to what’s happening in his world around him in the here and now.
(As a quick note… the reason men need so much respect as adults is because, as small boys, the message they heard the most was, “Your feelings really don’t matter.”
Boys are typically not allowed to express their feelings because it is seen as weak or feminine. Yet, when their feelings were dismissed, the only conclusion that 7 year old boy made was, “I’m being rejected.” And so, he spends the rest of his life trying to find unconditional acceptance.)
3. You Fight About The Fight, Instead Of About The Issue
It’s been two hours, and you and your husband have been walking around each other, avoiding eye contact and not saying a word. The tension is so thick you could cut it with a knife.
Finally, your husband approaches you and awkwardly tries to reengage.
As the conversation starts to roll again, he lets out a big sigh and drops his head.
And you become instantly triggered.
You stop talking about whatever it was you were talking about, and you let him know just how annoying his sigh is. While you’re at it, you might as well point out that the last two hours wouldn’t have been so quiet if only he hadn’t rolled his eyes after you shared your idea.
And the original topic of the fight is lost forever.
Once you change the subject and get several layers down into this pattern of conflict, it’s almost impossible for a man to climb his way back out.
And it’s usually at this point that you hear him say, with deep heaviness in his voice, “Just tell me what it is you want me to say so we can get this over with.”
Now I want to be perfectly clear—How a man communicates with you is just as important as what he is communicating about.
I don’t want you, wives, to have to endure passive aggressive behaviors, overtly aggressive behaviors, cutting and tearing remarks, invalidation, dismissive attitudes, and/or any sort of abuse.
You deserve to be treated with love and honor and care and compassion and tenderness.
It’s when those small hurtful behaviors show up in your husband and you instantly shift from the topic of the fight to how he’s behaving poorly that you’re going to start losing ground.
As soon as you point out the bad behavior in your man, he’s going to take it as a personal attack and his defenses go up. Anything you say after that is going to be dismissed or debated.
And the conflict will start to escalate.
This sudden shift in topics not only confuses your husband, it rarely makes it possible to find resolution to the original problem.
And that doesn’t work well for either one of you.
4. When He Pulls Away, You Start Pushing Harder
When your husband starts to pull away from you emotionally, either because things are getting to intense or he just doesn’t know what to do, you start to feel scared and worried. This is because your safety and security are threatened—one of the worst feelings for a woman.
You start to see him as the problem and blame him for putting you in this situation. After all, “if he wouldn’t have pulled away or avoided the stuff that needed to be done to fix the situation, everything would be okay. Right?”
And so you start pushing him to fix his problem.
You start giving him self-help books. You schedule counseling sessions for him (most of which he cancels or no-shows). You leave him notes and quotes and scripture verses reminding him of how he is lacking in his husbandly duties.
You start reminding him, at every possible opportunity, just how bad things are. You point out exactly what he’s doing wrong and what he should do to fix it. You start to see how his “problem” is affecting every area of your home and so he becomes the villain as soon as he walks in the door.
Your attempts to “help” him by pointing out his flaws does exactly the opposite.
It pushes him further away. He realizes it is safer to put as much emotional, physical, and relational distance between the two of you so he doesn’t continue to get attacked. He digs in and becomes highly self-protective. He covers his head and vows to say nothing else, because “he doesn’t want to make things worse.”
Ladies. The intensity of your assault is fueled by your own fear.
It is your active panic that puts a huge burden on your man.
When he senses that he is now responsible for your emotional stability as well as his responsibility to fix the original problem, it becomes too much for him, and he starts to implode.
If you truly want to help your husband, work on dealing with your own fear and emotional intensity without putting it on him. Vent to your friends (as long as they are safe, healthy friends). See a counselor yourself. Journal. Run. Exercise. Whatever. Just don’t put it on him directly.
Tip #5—Believe it or not, the best way to get him to change his behaviors is to start working on your behaviors.
Take responsibility for the things you’re contributing to the problems in your marriage. Say nothing about what he is doing and only fix your stuff.
Be patient. Give him some time to notice what you’re doing.
By doing this, he’ll actually start to feel respected and cared for. And when your man feels respected, he’ll rise to the occasion and become willing to admit the wrong stuff he’s been doing.
5. You Forget About Your Husband’s Feelings
Every woman I have sat with in couples counseling has this overwhelming desire to be understood.
You ache to be heard.
You share over and over, in 23 different ways, what it is you’re thinking and feeling, in the hope that your husband will finally get it, connect to it, internalize it, and then magically communicate to you how important your feelings are to him as well.
Your desire to be known is deep.
Yet, at the same time that energy within you is striving to be validated, you often forget that your husband also has intensely strong feelings.
Every intense feeling you are feeling—he is feeling. It may not be the same emotion, but it is the same intensity.
You might be sitting in strong sadness. He’s sitting in strong frustration.
You’re sitting in intense hurt and confusion. He’s sitting in intense frustration.
You’re experiencing deep loneliness. He’s experiencing deep frustration.
Somehow, men’s feeling have been forgotten. They have been ignored, minimized, trivialized, mocked, rebuked, and shamed. Their intense and very real experiences have been denied. And so, men have learned to ignore, minimize, trivialize, mock, rebuke and shame themselves.
Wives—your husband needs an advocate in you.
Tip #6—Your husband needs to know that you know that he has feelings and that they are just as important as your feelings.
He needs to know that, sometimes, you will listen to his feelings first instead of pushing to have your feelings heard first.
Sometime, not every time, but sometimes, you might offer him the gift of not even sharing your feelings and only trying to understand him.
Again, you’re going to have to be patient. Men have forgotten how to talk and open up and share those things about themselves. Sometimes men themselves have no idea what they are experiencing.
That’s okay. Just the gesture of you attempting to validate his emotions will go a long way.
6. You Expect Your Husband To Read Your Mind (Just Because You’re Able To Read His)
Women have this weird, sixth sense thing going on. You’re able to perceive things that men are generally clueless to.
I can’t tell you exactly why you have it, but I suspect is has something to do the the high level of emotional integration in your brain. Whatever the case, because you’re able to do it, you expect your husbands to be able to do it too.
Not so the case.
Tip #7—Men don’t normally pick up on the signs that something is wrong. They need to be told directly, in short, simple sentences, what you’re feelings and thinking and experiencing.
When you’re upset, and your husband asks, “What’s wrong?” and you give the answer of, “Really? You don’t know what you did?” it immediately frustrates and handicaps your husband.
It forces your husband to play defense. It produces a profound shift in power, because you hold more information about the situation that you’re not willing to share.
What’s even more tragic is when you respond as if he’s done something wrong for not being able to read your mind.
When you feel hurt because “he should already know what he did” and treat him as if he’s insensitive or clueless, you’re making a huge, and often wrong, assumption about his motivations.
Punishing your husband for something he is unaware of is not helpful to your marriage.
When he asks you, “What’s wrong?”, answer him in a kind, but direct tone.
Tell him, “When you did ________ it makes me think or feel ________” Be specific about his behavior, but never assume about his motivation, or why he did what he did.
Give him the benefit of the doubt.
7. Forgiveness Is A Hard Thing To Do
A fight is hard enough when you have to deal with the one issue at hand.
When you bring in unresolved issues and situations from years-gone-by, it’s almost impossible to find true resolution.
Bringing up past wrongs never lets your husband move past his mistakes and make a new name for himself.
It’s like telling Michael Jordan, “Yeah, you’re a pretty good basketball player now, but that doesn’t really matter. For a while back there, you really sucked. And that’s how I’m going to choose to remember you.”
A practical definition of forgiveness is: No longer holding past wrongs against someone.
It means that, even though they messed up, you choose not to use that information against them. You take the loss, and never try to get what is rightfully owed you.
That is not an easy thing for everyone, not just you.
But, being able to offer forgiveness is essential if you are going to change your marriage.
When you use all the past mistakes as ammunition against your husband, you once again start tearing down who he is as a person. You are using those past wrongs to define who he is. You are shaming him.
Your husband needs to know that, despite his mistakes, he is still going to be unconditionally accepted and appreciated. He needs to know that he is okay even when his behavior isn’t.
When your man knows he’s safe, he’ll turn the world upside down for you. He’ll live up to the full potential he has as a man. He’ll be the first one to admit when he is wrong, and then do everything in his power to change it.
He’ll finally be the man you want him to be.
And maybe, just maybe, you’ll have the marriage you’ve always wanted.
One Last Thought
I know that your husband has hurt you in the past (or maybe just a few minutes ago).
If he feels safe enough and strong enough, he can also be the person who provides healing for you.
Give him the opportunity to try.
Don’t perpetually punish him. Don’t put him in the dog house. Don’t make him sleep on the couch. Don’t shut him out.
Be open and receptive to him, even while you’re hurt. Your softness will more than likely help him become softer towards you.
Someone’s got to go first. Why not chose to be that person.