This Saturday March 9th, I will be speaking all day at Loudonville Community Church in Loudonville, NY. It’s open to the public, and I would love to see you there. If you’re interested, call Kathy Tyrell at 518 426 0751 to register. I’ll also be teaching in their Sunday school the following morning if you chose to stay over. I believe you can also just show up on Saturday.
I am finishing up edits on my new book, “The Emotionally Destructive Marriage: How to Find Your Voice and Reclaim Your Hope.” Please pray for me. I’ve been working non-stop for several weeks now and I’m pretty exhausted. I need a fresh infusion of God power.
Today’s Question: I’ve heard you on Focus on the Family several times and have listened to see what I feel I can do to change what is happening in my marriage. I sometimes feel very confused as to what I am supposed to do and how I am to handle the situation. I have taken the test to see if I am in a destructive relationship, and I’d say that I am. I think that is why I sometimes feel like I am going crazy, because if I don't rock the boat everything goes just fine. But if I ask anything personal and want him to tell me how he feels, it ends up in a big fight. He always looks good on the outside and everyone would think that all is well at our house because when we are in public he is very loving on me. I sometimes feel like a hypocrite. Anyway, I was hoping you could give me some suggestions and help.
Answer: You haven’t given me enough details regarding what area of the test results you felt were destructive so I can’t really address that part, but how stressful it must be for you to live with a man you don’t know and who won’t tell you who he is or how he feels. Were things different when you dated? Did you talk and get to know one another?
Many men who shut down when asked personal questions about their feelings do so because they don’t know the answer and they feel stupid and shamed. Instead of reflecting why they don’t know or figuring out how to find out, they lash out and blame the person who made them feel that way.
Men hate to feel incompetent or incapable. That is just how men are wired. That’s why women often joke about how men don’t like to stop and ask for directions when they’re lost. They’d rather drive in circles for hours than admit that they don’t know or need help.
Men also don’t communicate the same way women do. Men have conversations primarily for two reasons: to give information to someone who needs to know something or to establish a pecking order of hierarchy. For example, when men gather together, they often talk about what they do for a living. This indirectly establishes a pecking order–who is more successful, who has more money, etc.
The other reason men communicate (the need to know) sometimes becomes dicey in a marriage. Women have conversation not because they necessarily need to know something, but they simply want to connect, to share or to feel close to someone. When you are asking your husband these questions, your goal is connection. However, his thoughts may be, “Why does she need to know this? Is she fishing for something? I didn’t do anything wrong.” His own thoughts immediately set him up to feel defensive when you’re asking questions simply to connect with him.
You say he is loving in public. Reading in between the lines, I sense you are feeling like this is a show, not genuine affection. But could it be that he does love you and feels safer or freer to show you that in public where you’re less likely to ask him personal questions that he doesn’t know how to answer? On the other hand, if he is cold and indifferent to you at home, you might want to have this kind of conversation:
“I’m confused about something, and I’m wondering if you could help me?” (Men love to help you figure something out so he’s likely to be less defensive.) Then continue with, “You seem very loving and attentive towards me when we’re out in public and I enjoy that, but when we get home, not so much. In fact, I often feel like I’m shut out of your world here. I don’t understand. Could you explain why you feel loving in public and not loving at home?”
Then stop and wait for his answer. He may not have realized he does that, he may get defensive, or he may need to reflect and think about what you’ve said. Don’t’ jump in with an answer for him. Let him wrestle with it himself. If he really does love you, your feedback and hurt will make him more aware of the discrepancy. If he’s just putting on a show, you’ll be able to tell by his answer.
One more thing, you took the test and feel like you are in a destructive relationship. If the conversation I suggested goes well, ask him to take the test, too. Tell him your relationship is very important to you and you don’t want it to deteriorate. Sometimes when you’ve grown up in a family that is destructive, you think that’s normal and have no idea that some of your behaviors or thoughts are unhealthy and damaging. I’ve had a number of men take that test and write me after realizing that they have been destructive toward their wives.
Rocking the boat does take a man out of his comfort zone. If you can do it in a calm and non-shaming or contentious way, he may be more willing to listen to what you have to say and realize that staying the same is not working for you and for your marriage, even if it is working for him.
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