I know, I know, I haven’t posted my Alaska pictures yet. Some of you have gone to see them and have been disappointed. I’m sorry. I am not computer savvy yet and I confess – I don’t remember how to do it. My secretary was swamped with other things and so I couldn’t ask her this past week. But hopefully this week she will have some time to put them up.
Have you had a good 4th of July? This weekend I loved just sitting in my garden. About twenty years ago I planted lots of perennials but in the last few years I’ve been too busy writing books to tend to them properly. So this summer I put an ad on Craig’s list for someone to help me with the weeding and trimming and it has made a big difference. In a little corner of my garden I have a water fountain that I found at Ollie’s, a swing hanging from my deck, a hummingbird feeder plus my beautiful flowers. Only heaven could feel sweeter.
Over the past few weeks I have received many e-mails from hurting people struggling in destructive relationships. I want to answer them all but fear that I will start to sound repetitive. Yet, this morning I was reading through the book of Colossians (which I’ve read many times before) and it touched me in a new way. God reminded me that I need regular reminders of truth because in our humanness, the lies are easier to believe. Here is this week’s question:
Question: How do I talk to my husband when he is always right and I’m always the bad one that needs help? He can put me down but I better not ever put him down. He can disrespect me, but I better not disrespect him. He can say bad things about me and my work, but I better not say anything about him?
Answer: The short answer is that it is impossible. You can’t have a meaningful conversation with someone while he or she is putting your down, disrespecting you and saying bad things about you. As you have already discovered, the solution is not to retaliate and respond in kind, which most of us are tempted to do when being treated in that way. That only leads to more strife, abuse and arguments.
So what is the answer? Change begins with you and if you want to change this destructive pattern with your husband you will need to learn to do some new things. First you must accept that this kind of conversation is not only destructive to you as a person, but your marriage and you will have to learn to set limits on his behaviors and disengage when he refuses to stop.
I know you already see the evidence of this destruction but from your question I can see that your responses to his behavior only add more fuel to his fire. Second, ask God to help you be the kind of wife your husband needs. Ask God for his wisdom and help to speak the truth in love and to not be overcome with evil, but to overcome evil with good. God doesn’t want you to be a doormat for your husband to wipe his feet but rather a helpmate to your husband so that he can also grow and change to become the man and husband and father God wants him to.
Next time he starts with his pattern of putting you down or blaming you for something, instead of having an argument, or pleading your case, or asking him why he thinks you’re the only one with the problem, put your arm out and hand up like a traffic cop and calmly say, “Stop putting me down or disrespecting me. I am not going to allow myself to be treated this way anymore. We can’t talk when you treat me like this” Then you must disengage and walk away. Conversation over.
When your husband says that he’s always right, you simply state, “That’s your opinion.” Then end the conversation.” This begins an important shift in your relationship patterns. You are no longer allowing yourself to be his verbal punching bad or taking total responsibility for everything that goes wrong in your relationship and either trying to fix it or blaming him as he’s blaming you.
As you continue to distance yourself from abusive conversations and refuse to engage, your husband may start to be more careful with words if he wants to talk with you. If there comes a moment when you see that he is more open and less hostile, you can affirm that you’d like to have a real conversation with him and ask him if he’d like to talk about . . . . . . . . . However, the minute he starts with his abusive patterns, call him on it and say, “We can’t have a conversation when you think you’re always right.” Or “We can’t talk about this if I’m the crazy one and needs help.” Or “We can’t talk about this together when you keep disrespecting my feelings or opinion.” Then walk away.
You must understand that your husband’s strategies are meant to control you, manipulate you and keep you compliant (whether he realizes it or not). If you’re afraid of him or don’t contradict him or speak up with a different opinion because you’re bad or wrong, then he gets to have his way all the time. Instead of being an adult in your marriage you’ve allowed yourself to function as a child – a compliant child, a sullen child and/or an angry and rebellious child. But a marriage will never be healthy if one person is the powerful adult and the other is the fearful child. Therefore, to change this pattern, you will have to start being the adult and responding in a healthy, mature and godly way when your husband is acting out. This is the best chance you have to influence your husband and inviting him toward healthy change.
You can read more about these strategies in my book, The Emotionally Destructive Relationship: Seeing it! Stopping it! Surviving it!
This week’s challenge: How have you have learned to respond differently to an abusive or disrespectful person? Has it influenced him or her to treat you differently?