Learning to Communicate Effectively with Your Husband
- 2007 29 May
Hello Dr. David,
I am heartbroken. Every time I become angry or upset about a situation, my husband will NOT speak with me. In the past I used to become extremely upset and livid when I thought he wasn't listening to me. I don't blow up right away anymore, but it's like trying to scale Everest. Sometimes when I try to get him to listen to me, he says I only "find things wrong" with him when I am mad....this does tend to be the time when most people see each other's faults.
I have written down on paper (when I am not angry) the issues that are really on my heart, and I think we should possibly get counseling for these problems, especially since we have a small son. But he thinks I have an attitude problem, and that all these other "problems" will be solved if I first get my attitude right. I know I need to change (this is easier said than done), but at the same time, I still see marriage as a two-person effort. When I do have a good attitude, none of these problems seem to exist anymore, and nothing ever gets said or done. I don't know whether it really is just me, or how or when to appropriately bring up my husband's issues. I have sought help from my mother, who says that the best thing a wife can do for her husband is to quietly seek God and pray for change, not out of spite, but out of love. I was wondering what your thoughts were? ~ Heartbroken
You make some good points and in the process have answered many of your own questions.
You appropriately note that in the past you have become “extremely upset and livid” when you thought your husband wasn’t listening to you. One wonders whether he clammed up before you became livid, or whether his clamming up was at least in part a response to your intensity. Either way, you’ve become caught in a vicious cycle: you get angry, he clams up, making you even angrier, while in the meantime communication totally stops and problems don’t get solved.
While your mother offers helpful counsel, it’s not enough. Seeking God and praying for change are great places to begin, and the very act of bathing marital issues in prayer brings a change of heart and attitude, not to mention bringing God’s grace and wisdom to bear on the problems. However, after receiving God’s wisdom, action and changing destructive patterns are also required.
Since most men have a low tolerance for emotional intensity, women need to learn how to say things calmly and clearly, ideas completely developed in my book Saying It So He’ll Listen. When women approach men with a cooperative spirit, seeking to understand them while also dealing directly with problems, they’re more likely to receive a listening ear. When communication is calm, and spoken to benefit those who listen, (Ephesians 4: 29) the results are much more productive. You may also need to be consistent in your approach, letting him know that you intend to manage your anger, avoid lectures and outbursts, but need him to problem-solve with you.
You are right to note that both partners need to work together on issues. Many men avoid conflict to the point of sticking their head in the sand—this, too, is intolerable. Consider making a pact with your husband: you’ll work diligently on lowering your voice and managing your “attitude,” and want him to make time to solve problems. This is a win-win solution, likely to bring very positive results.
Dear Dr. David,
I need advice. I’ve been married to my husband for 10 years and in that time he’s abandoned his family three times for other women. The time frame of his absence would be two years and then he returns and, crazy me, I accept him back. I believed that he would change his ways because at the given time I believed that nothing was too big for God to handle.
Now, I’ve lost hope and I’m about ready to give up. I’m hurt, though I can’t really say that everything was his fault. My jealousy, my family and his family have a lot to do with our problems. My husband uses drugs when he is depressed and our economic status was also a factor. We both come from broken homes. There is a lot more negativity in this relationship. Right now he is living with another woman. I haven’t considered divorce because my heart is still with him. ~ Lost and Lonely
You are right about no situation being too big for God. However, God expects us to be wise, and when we don’t use wisdom, we often struggle with the consequences. The Scriptures are replete with examples of people using poor judgment and suffering consequences because of it. God expects us to do our part. Let’s consider what your part is in this situation.
First, as is often the case, you have layers of problems, confused thinking and behavioral problems that aggravate the issues. There is no indication from your letter that you’re setting any boundaries in your life—leading to chaos. Good judgment suggests letting your husband know you cannot, and will not, be a participant in his unfaithfulness. His chronic unfaithfulness indicates a very destructive pattern, one which you should not tolerate. It seems that he believes you’ll always be there to take him back, and so he continues with his outrageous behavior.
You’re not ready to seek a divorce; that’s fine, but you do need to let him know he has a time limit to decide between you and the other woman. Remember, however, that a boundary without a consequence is not a boundary—it’s a wish and a hope, and lacks any kind of effectiveness. You must be willing and ready to take action, perhaps even a legal one.
Second, even if he came back to you, he has issues—serious issues that must be addressed. He uses drugs when depressed, which, incidentally, only exacerbates his depression. So, in addition to drug addiction, he has untreated depression. His drug use must be addressed along with his depression.
Add to these issues your own problems which include codependence—a willingness to ignore, and thereby reinforce, his issues—and enmeshment with your extended family. Both you and your husband need to work on setting healthy boundaries, and would benefit greatly from reading my books, When Pleasing Others is Hurting You, as well as When Trying to Change Him is Hurting You. Both address the issues you’re talking about.
While it is commendable that you still love your husband, sometimes love must be tough. Love doesn’t mean we tolerate everything, any more than God’s love for us means He tolerates everything we do. There are consequences to our actions, and this is often how we learn tough lessons.
Consider getting counseling and support for yourself so you can be firm and loving with your husband. People tend to respect us more when we respect ourselves, and command respect from others. When you set healthy boundaries with your husband, you’ll discover very quickly how much he truly loves you. God bless you as you make courageous decisions in the future.
David Hawkins, Pd.D., has worked with couples and families to improve the quality of their lives by resolving personal issues for the last 30 years. He is the author of over 18 books, including Love Lost: Living Beyond a Broken Marriage, Saying It So He'll Listen, and When Pleasing Others Is Hurting You. His newest books are titled The Relationship Doctor's Prescription for Healing a Hurting Relationship and The Relationship Doctor's Prescription for Living Beyond Guilt. Dr. Hawkins grew up in the beautiful Pacific Northwest and lives with his wife on the South Puget Sound where he enjoys sailing, biking, and skiing. He has active practices in two Washington cities.