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My Husband Does Not Understand Me

Question:

My husband does not understand my emotional needs and is not supportive of me. Whenever I try to tell him this, he gets a look on his face and says “there is actually no issue, you are overreacting.” He also holds grudges and brings up old resentments when we fight instead of listening to me or trying to understand me. In return I forget my anger and issues and start apologizing to him. I am fed up of this cycle. I don’t know what to do. Should we take a break from each other?

Answer:

Let me start at the end and address your question of whether or not the two of you should take a break from each other. This is an extremely personal question that nobody can answer for you because only you know your own needs, and what you are willing – and not willing – to live with. In general, I would say that before you give up, try everything in your power to work things out. That way, if and when you end the relationship, you’ll know that there was nothing else you could have done to save it. Having said this, let’s look at some of the individual statements you’ve made and examine them.

He tells you that there is no issue and you are overreacting

This is a classic example of gas-lighting which I’ve written about before. If one person in a relationship thinks there is an issue, then obviously there is one! Nobody can make problems just go away by denying they exist. Next time he tells you there is no issue, tell him there IS one for you. When he tells you that you are overreacting, ask him how he can be sure that he’s not the one under-reacting.

Let me give you an example to make some sense of the above. Imagine this scenario: Let’s say you meet someone at the grocery store today and you feel super attracted to him and you start having an affair. Let’s say that you were raised in a family in which affairs were common and nobody really minded them, so you don’t even try to hide it. Your husband finds out and confronts you with anger and pain in his eyes. You look at him completely puzzled and say “what’s the matter honey? It’s just a little fling and it means nothing to me. You know you’re the one and only love of my life. This is not an issue at all, and frankly you are totally overreacting.” Do you think he would agree with you and apologize for feeling hurt and confronting you? Isn’t it more likely that he will think that you are crazy for not thinking that this can be an issue to him even though it’s not an issue to you?

The point is, just because he doesn’t have an issue with a particular scenario, doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t have an issue with it either. The most successful relationships are ones in which both parties know what is and isn’t important to their partners, and respect the other person’s feelings even if they can’t understand them or relate to them. Tell your husband that you need him to understand what is an issue to you, rather than dismissing you.

He holds grudges and brings them up in a fight

This must be very difficult for you. I imagine that in the middle of a fight you are trying to get him to understand why you’re upset, and out of the blue he’s bringing up something completely unrelated. Partners do this all the time. It confuses the situation and takes the focus off of them. I would say they do this because they are feeling criticized and feel that they have to defend themselves. Think about it with compassion; when someone is criticizing you, how hard is it for you to just listen and take the criticism without interrupting the person and defending yourself, or even interrupting and retaliating by criticizing them back?

Here are some tips for avoiding “fights” and having “discussions” instead in which you make sure you are getting your points across:

  • Make “I” statements instead of “you” statements. People are much more likely to listen to you without getting defensive if they don’t feel accused. So instead of saying “you are scary when you raise your voice,” say “I feel really scared when you raise your voice.”
  • Give specific cause and effect statements. For example, instead of saying “you are being so mean,” say “when you tell me that there is no issue, I feel misunderstood and alone.”
  • Stay away from the words “always” and “never.” Instead of saying “you always come home with a bad attitude,” say “you seemed very upset or angry when you came home today.” Instead of saying “you never understand me,” say “I feel like I’m not getting my point across right now.”
  • Don’t raise your voice. When you yell at someone, you are automatically triggering their instinctive fight or flight response. All they hear is the noise, they don’t hear the words very well. Ironically enough, if you want someone to actually hear your words rather that just your sounds, you need to lower your voice and speak calmly.
  • Don’t have the discussion when you are upset. Wait until you cool down a bit so you can talk calmly and can articulate what it is that’s bothering you.

Give the above tips a try and you will see that your communication improves drastically. Of course, all of the above advice will not work if your husband is not open to communicating, but you won’t know that unless you try.

You start by trying to bring up something that’s bothering you, and end up apologizing for your past behavior

This one is completely on you. Your husband seems to have a pattern of turning the conversations around to something you did wrong in the past, and you seem to allow this pattern of behavior to continue. This is an excellent way for your husband to deflect any potential blame off of himself, and turn the attention back to you. Before you can change this pattern of behavior, make sure you are trying to communicate effectively by using the communication tips I gave above.

If you are using all of the above communication tips, and your husband still continues to try to deflect blame by turning to conversation to past behaviors, simply point it out. You can try saying something in the line of “I know that my past behavior has bothered you and I have already apologized for that. We are talking about another issue right now, and I like to keep our focus on this one now.” If he continues to try to go back to other subjects, just point that out as well and say “I feel that you are trying to change the subject. Let’s finish talking about this subject first and then we will get to that one.” Continue to bring the subject back to what you are talking about. You can continue to make “I” statements by saying something like “I really need to stay focused on this subject for now, otherwise I will leave this conversation feeling like I can’t get my point across.”

In conclusion, if you love your husband and think you two have a good relationship, make sure you try everything in your power to address the problems you see before leaving. That way you will always know that there was nothing more you could have done to save the relationship. When trying to communicate, don’t “fight” and don’t accuse. Instead, use some of the skills I suggested to improve your communication. Don’t let your husband deflect responsibility by changing the subject. If you do, you will end up feeling unheard, not validated, and ultimately alone. Always remember that communication is essential to any relationship.

Good luck,

Doctor Life Advice

Sayeh Beheshti, M.D.

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