My husband yells “enough” when I tell him he needs to change

That phrase makes me crazy. It happens anytime I point out something to my husband that he needs to change, such as looking up from his iPad long enough for me to tell him the grandbaby almost pulled the shelf unit over or explaining to him that I got all the things he needs to bake a pie. Another example is when he opens the front door, the dog runs out if he doesn't pick him up. Over and over again, he lets the dog run out, and I am afraid he will get hit by a car.

Ariel Sheeger
Ariel Sheeger
“In any given moment we have two options: to step forward into growth or step back into safety.”~ Abraham Maslow

It can be maddening when it seems like our partners or spouses are unwilling to hear us—especially when we have been trying for so long to be heard. Being cut off, shut down, or turned away from is very hurtful, particularly when it is a loved one who is doing the turning away.

I’m sure you have found that the harder you try to make him hear you, the further away he seems. There are a few things at play here and the situation can be looked at from a few different angles—

First, no one likes to hear that they “need to change”. Being confronted with something that someone feels we are doing wrong feels like being criticized and judged—and who responds perfectly to that? The hackles go up, the defenses start rearing their ugly heads, and we dig in our heels. So how do you deal with someone who puts up an instant wall when you are asking something important of them?

Consider the tone of your “startup”. When you begin your ask of your husband, is it light and friendly? Is it approachable and warm? Or are you angry, fed-up, and anxiety-ridden from moment one? The way you start the conversation sets the tone for the rest of the conversation, so if you are hoping for a successful conversation, a harsh start up is a poor strategy. 

Try instead to begin in a way that sets a warmer tone for the conversation. There is no need for you and your husband to be adversaries, is there? You both probably want the same things in many of these interactions at the end of the day, after all. How would you want to be approached? How would you approach a good friend of yours or a work colleague? Is there any reason you should be speaking to him with any less warmth then you would a co-worker or friend?

This by itself is not the whole story of course—you may have even tried this. Although, I must say it takes some persistence. Which brings me to the next point—it sounds like you and your husband have already established a push-pull pattern where you push for something and he pulls away and the more you push the more he pulls away. He is likely (as you might be too) already expecting this kind of interaction. This pattern has to be broken. Remaining calm and warm and empathetic to his position (that he is about to be criticized and judged and must therefore defend himself) throughout the entire conversation will help to break that pattern.

 Imagine his surprise when, where he was expecting an exasperated sigh or a raised voice you instead respond with a kind “yeah, I get that it’s hard to remember to pick up the dog every single time you get the door. I just worry about the dog, you know. I know you care about him too, so I just thought I’d remind you”. And then leave it at that. 

The next part can be very tough—you really leave it at that. In all likelihood, he is aware that your grandson needs to be looked after or the dog needs to be picked up at the door. Your telling him doesn’t make him any more aware. It only serves to frustrate you, and him, and drive a wedge between you. This is where you get to do the hard work of managing what you can control and what you can’t. You can’t make him pick up the dog any more than you can make the dog sit and stay at the door. But you can control yourself. You can control whether you drive that wedge further between you or let him be responsible for his own actions (or inactions as the case may be).

Also, look out for the times when he does something that is “right”. You don’t have to throw a parade every time he remembers to be attentive to your grandson but a simple “thank you” or “that was really nice of you” can really enforce “good behavior” and strengthen your bond. If you find that it is difficult to find times like this right off the bat, look harder. Not only could this do something to brighten things between you from his perspective, it can also help you to feel a little better about things when you are searching for positives as opposed to negatives.

Couples counseling can be very useful for understanding these patterns of relating, how to reset them, and gain control over what is available and empowering for you to control. Best of luck!

The information above is intended as general information...  (more)The information above is intended as general information based on minimal information, and does not constitute health care advice. This information does not constitute communication with a counselor/therapist nor does it create a therapist-client relationship nor any of the privileges that relationship may provide.   If you are currently feeling suicidal or are in crisis, call 911 or proceed to your local emergency room.

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