How Do I Get Someone to Care How I Feel?

Morning friend,

We had an amazing staff retreat last weekend and for the first time, some of the women who work with me met one another in person. It was wonderful to have everyone hug and love on one another, hear one another’s stories, and talk about how we can make our impact with women in destructive relationships stronger together. 

The last night, sitting near the hot tub, I received an unexpected surprise. A bite of some sort that I’m still battling a week later. Initially, I thought it was a scorpion, but the wound is too big and tender. 

Here’s a picture of my leg a week later.

Still feeling the pain of it when I touch it or lay in bed. But I’m grateful it wasn’t worse or hasn’t traveled up my leg. Prayers appreciated.

Today’s question: What are your suggestions for when you are in a relationship with someone and they do something that upsets you and when you try to address it with them they say this. “Don’t you know when you get upset with me it pushes me away?”

Or when I say something bothers me, they turn it back on me and say, “what you are doing is bothering me.” Essentially, I never get my feelings heard or needs addressed by the other person. I struggle with how to respond because I can't figure out whose needs are more important. My feelings or the fact that my feelings are upsetting the other person. Thank you for your help. Hopefully, this question is not too confusing.

Answer: Your dilemma is a common experience in relationships and when it becomes a pattern it does leave you feeling confused, angry, and devalued. 

I’m going to give you a few things to reflect on, try differently, and then you’ll better be equipped to evaluate the health of your relationship and what you want to do going forward. 

1. Reflect: Jesus reminds us that before we seek to take the speck out of someone else’s eye, we first need to reflect on our own self. (Matthew 7:3-5). How we say things matter. The Bible reminds us that life and death is in the power of our tongue. (Proverbs 18:21). 

When we need to bring up a sensitive issue that probably will be perceived as a criticism, it’s wise to give it some thought to how we say it and when. Saying hard things in the heat of emotion or while arguing may feel better to you, but usually does not result in a positive outcome even in normal relationship troubles. The only part of a conversation you are in control of is your side of the street, so when you need to bring up something that may elicit someone’s defenses and shame, it’s best to give it some thought and prayer. 

2. Try saying it differently. Read through these two ways of sharing what’s bothering you and notice the difference:

“You’re being a bully when you keep talking over me.”  Or

“I feel like I can’t get a word in when you talk over me, will you please stop.” 

“You’re treating me disrespectfully right now.” Or

“I feel dismissed when you won’t listen to my side of the story. I’d like you to listen.” 

One statement starts with the word You or You’re and the other starts with I. When you speak up for yourself, you’ll usually have a better chance of being heard if you start with your own feelings (I) rather than what they did wrong (you). No guarantees, but see if you can try I statements vs you statements when you share what’s bothering you and see if they are better able to listen and hear you.  

3. When nothing changes. You CAN say things perfectly clear, kind, and gentle and the other person may still be unable to listen, reflect, or show any remorse for what he/she has done to hurt you. I believe that’s why Paul reminds us, “As much as it depends on you, be at peace with people.” (Romans 12:18), and Jesus tells us that “if they refuse to listen” (Matthew 18:15-20) after you have shown them what they did that offended you, understand that the relationship changes.

You can’t make another person care about how their actions impact you, but you can care how their actions harm you. That does not mean you don’t care about them, but it does mean that you may no longer give them access to you in ways that will continue to harm you. 

You asked whose needs are more important here. Your need to share, or their need to think they are wonderful all the time so that they never feel upset by what you say? Any meaningful relationship requires the ability to be honest. There are no perfect people and therefore no perfect relationship. We will upset each other, offend each other, disappoint each other, and misunderstand each other at times. That’s why we need to be able to talk it through so that we can forgive each other, understand our differences, and make accommodations and changes in order to get along with one another where possible. 

Therefore, I’d encourage you to move into curiosity by asking this last question, “It seems to really bother you when I try to be honest with you about something that bothers me. What hurts you so much when I am hurt or bothered or disappointed by something and want to talk about it?” Then stop and listen. It may take a moment for them to reflect on what you’ve said. Or they may mock you, shut you down, ignore you, or somehow make it seem like you’ve done something hurtful to them again. If the latter happens, now you know. This person is incapable of self-reflection or honest feedback and therefore unable to grow or change. What that means for your continued contact and level of relationship with this person is up to you. The truth is, you cannot maintain a healthy, safe relationship with someone who is unwilling to hear, listen, change, or grow. 

Friend, what have you done when someone won’t/can’t hear your concerns?

21 Comments

  1. Caroline Abbott on November 15, 2023 at 9:56 am

    Wow, you are so right Leslie. If this person cannot really hear you and deflects your feelings by becoming the victim, this demonstrates an inability or lack of desire to hear, listen change or grow. If you are married to this person and have children you may feel stuck to stay…forever. But, you still have a choice. If not married, I suggest leaving the relationship as quickly as possible.

  2. Jen Schretter on November 16, 2023 at 8:21 am

    I didn’t understand the true harm being done until many years had accumulated. This kind of response was so common to my experience. There was always an underlying assumption that I needed to just get over it and move on. Some people just never take responsibility. But the pattern of behavior described is very damaging and wrong. If you grew up in a similar environment you really do think it’s just something you need to deal with. It feels so familiar on some level. Anyway, recognizing the pattern and understanding how toxic it is can be a first step in changing your side of the dynamic. Real relationship just isn’t possible under these circumstances.

  3. AG (Quebec) on November 16, 2023 at 9:08 am

    This is what I have lived for 23 years of marriage. I tried and tried to say things differently believing I was the problem and the way I was saying things was the problem. The more I tried harder and harder and continued to be dismissed, the more frustrated I became. Theore I but effort into finding a time to say things well and couldn’t so it came out sideways, the angrier I became. Much of that spilled onto my kids damaging my relationship with them. Seeing that and feeling like I wasn’t a good Christian because I couldn’t “forgive and forget” filled me full of shame that spilled out as more anger.
    A couple of years ago a friend pointed me to your material and I devoured tons of your free material before joining Conquer. My eyes were opened to how this destructive dynamic works and the steps I needed to take. I am now in-home separated and working on making that a real separation. More importantly I have been working with a counselor to learn how to detach, set healthy boundaries, take care of myself and undo the false beliefs that held me captive. I’m sadly still working with a pastor who doesn’t think this behavior is “bad enough” to warrant my leaving. I chose to stop marriage counseling sessions with the counselor he recommended as she was not seeing the patterns and it was just a forum for my husband to continue to play the victim, but because of that have lost his support. I am praying for God’s direction as I know He sees and understands my heart. He knows the hurt and pain even when so many around me don’t. He is restoring my relationships with my children. As I get healthier, they see it and see my husband’s unhealthiness all the more. I have decided not to enable his behaviour and protect him from the consequences of it. As a result they better understand the dynamic that I was trying to protect them from and I can use my energy for more positive change.
    I’m so grateful to you, Leslie,for your wonderful material that helped me to find my way to healing. I’ve got a long way to go and difficult decisions ahead, but I have been able to rest in God because you helped me see Him more clearly as the loving Father who wanted my healing, instead of the judge I had failed. I am forever grateful for that.

    • Andrea on November 19, 2023 at 7:10 pm

      I am so proud of you for being brave and making these changes! Seeking answers and growth, leaving abusive relationships—you’re courageous!! Keep going! 👏👏

  4. Cheryl on November 16, 2023 at 9:21 am

    Going through this process with a spouse really wears on you. Unfortunately, I begin to feel guilty after not getting results or expecting a change and move forward into the years without what I need, a continual mutually reciprocating relationship to work out all things in a relationship. I do have this whenever he chooses to do so, but now when he does not to choose to embrace this process. Probably, getting over the guilt that I may be responsible, which I truely feel that I am not, is the most important thing for me to find resolve. I’m thinking there are many, many people out there that are at this spot in some form or fashion.

  5. Mary Drontle on November 16, 2023 at 9:24 am

    Leslie I don’t want to scare you but you might want to get that leg checked out. A friend of mine and her husband in mn. got bit by brown widow spyders .
    It looked just like that.
    Her husband ended up in the hospital.
    His kept getting bigger
    I think he had antibiotics.

    • Leslie Vernick on November 16, 2023 at 9:59 am

      Thanks. I did start medication and prednisone and it’s a bit better today. Thanks for caring.

      • Andrea on November 19, 2023 at 7:17 pm

        Leslie, that looks painful! I’m sorry that happened to you. Isn’t it weird how you just had this amazing retreat with so many blessings but yet this occurred? Life is so weird! I’m happy to hear the meds are helping!!

    • Ellen A Johnson on November 16, 2023 at 12:48 pm

      Looks like brown recluse spider. I second your suggestion that she see an MD asap. Brown recluse spider bites kill flesh and can damage muscle if it goes on too long….

  6. Keri Cleverly on November 16, 2023 at 9:42 am

    Hi Leslie- also want to comment about the bite. I agree with the previous commenter lot, that bite looks very serious, and may be from a brown recluse- or the like. Please consider medical attention. Those types of bites slowly create more damage unless treated.
    Great post about communication. Learning to be direct and assertive relationally is a change agent. Effective communication of wants and needs often addresses and corrects a power imbalance. That doesn’t ensure a rosy outcome- but it does foster self- empowerment. And when a person is self- empowered, they can conceive of many different options that they may have felt powerless to consider.

    • Leslie Vernick on November 16, 2023 at 9:59 am

      Thanks Keri, I did start meds on Tuesday. Improvement already.

  7. Kim McCaleb on November 16, 2023 at 10:10 am

    Your leg… might be brown recluse spider, also known as fiddleback. They are sneaky and like to hide in dark places, especially in clothes. You may not feel the bite, but within hours it starts doing what yours did. Topical collodial silver will help with infection. I would go to the doctor, their bites, the poison in them can go systemic easily. IF it is warm to the touch, is puffy, is oozy, any indication it is getting larger, then get in to the doctor. Nothing to mess with. It can spread and eat into muscle tissue, etc. IF it is starting to try up, then epsom salt soaks, and espsom salt poultices can help. It looks exactly like a brown recluse spider bite I got on my thigh… praying it heals soon.

  8. Sheri on November 16, 2023 at 12:15 pm

    I have been married almost 32 years and realize this has been happening to me as well, but more covertly. It could be that he knows his responses will make you feel like you’re doing something wrong and this allows him to totally avoid dealing with “the hassle” of having true connection. This has been the case in my marriage and through the years it has made me less healthy in all aspects of life. I allowed it to happen and now I’m having to figure out what to do next and how to do my own work to get healthy. Not sure if this is what you’re dealing with but sounds a lot like it. Please take care of yourself. Your needs and you matter tremendously! Plus valuing yourself is the right thing to do for your kids also to model how to live Biblically and healthily. Praying for clarity for us all!

  9. Heidi Hewitt on November 16, 2023 at 12:27 pm

    Leslie, that bug bite looks so painful! Praying for your leg to heal quickly!

    Also, thank you for this article! It can be so frustrating when someone can’t seem to hear you or take input on how they have hurt you. I’ve experienced this and, sadly, had to pull back from the relationship.

  10. Caroline on November 16, 2023 at 1:34 pm

    Hi Leslie,

    Glad to hear that your leg is improving. Both my mother and husband were bitten by brown spiders at different times. Both ended up getting MRSA (mercer infection). They both noticed that there wounds looked like they had a hole in their skin. Please continue to keep an eye on your wound and if you see a hole developing please seek medical attention immediately. Continual prayers 🙏🏾 lifted for healing.

  11. Carol Perry on November 16, 2023 at 11:30 pm

    Thank you, Leslie. I can see the resemblance in my marital relationship. I have been married for 29 years and I have always tried to approach the issue with respect for my husband. However, no matter which way I approach, he would make it seems as if I had the problem. At the end of the day, nothing got resolved. Yes, I feel like I was devalued because I was not heard.

    I was confused and was loosing a part of who I was created to be. I am learning to write down what I want to say to help me stay focused when I address an issue. This is a Good question….

    Again, thank you.

    • Leslie Vernick on November 17, 2023 at 1:34 pm

      And I’d encourage you Carol, to show care and compassion for your own self and needs, even if he does not. And look for healthy friends who can provide care and support for you as well as you for them. We all need caring individuals in our lives and sadly it may not be from our family or spouse, or even adult children, but there are caring people out there.

  12. Michele Nelson on November 17, 2023 at 11:02 am

    Leslie,
    I am in a whirlwind of pain and this article has really made me realize how much I need help in this area. It started as a child where my feelings were never valued and my words were invalidated. I grew up thinking that I didn’t really matter, and became a people pleaser. That led to a bad marriage in which I survived once again not seen, not heard, and not loved. After I found out about my now ex husbands affair that sealed the lid on the end of that destructive relationship. I was able to end it, with the help of your books, blogs and Conquer membership. Everything happened so quickly with me needing to sell the house for financial reasons, and I had worked for my ex husband’s business, so I lost my job, and currently have no income. I had to move back in with my parents because the inflation of housing and rent in my area. I have a German Shepherd and can’t find one apartment or townhouse that will accept him. It is so hard and challenging for me going back to the dysfunctional home I grew up in. I have all the same issues, because my parents have never heard me or allowed me to tell them my true feelings. I am so hurt because they go on and on about my brother who interfered in my divorce at the most difficult points when I was moving, and caused a huge family rift between everyone. He is in a mental facility and is there because of his violent behaviour and almost killing our father twice. But all I hear is poor him , how bad he has it, and how they are doing so much for me. I appreciate them allowing me to live here, but please pray for me to be able to get back on my feet and get out of here. I don’t feel safe, and they make me feel guilty if I try to tell them my feelings, I am the only sibling that has ever had to pay rent living here and I help out financially as much as I could but my funds are running out and I am suffering physcial ailments that are making it difficult for me to focus on what my next steps are. I am so exhausted emotionally, physically and spirtually from the divorce and moving. I feel they are taking advantage of me because they are in financial trouble at this time in their lives. I don’t expect them to ever change how they have treated me and I am afraid me living here is taking such a toll on my health. I need prayers that I can find a job and another place to get out from under my parents. It’s really sad that at a time when I needed them to be understanding and caring of my situation , they failed again. I can’t express my feelings to them and it just causes me to bottle up the pain. Unfortunately, this doesn’t feel like a safe place for me to be while healing from 32 years of a passive aggressive covert narcissist husband. How can I survive here?

    • Leslie Vernick on November 17, 2023 at 1:32 pm

      Michele, you are in a very tough situation and one with no simple answers. Staying with your unhealthy parents allows you to keep your beloved pet. Leaving may require you to rehouse him which is heartbreaking. There is no easy solutions here but start with valuing yourself and your needs. What do you need to stay sane and strong, even in an unhealthy environment? For right now (probably not sustainable forever this way) but is it possible to accept reality. That your parents are incapable of giving you emotional support? Therefore you do not keep casting your “pearls” looking for some compassion or understanding or support from them. Is it possible to simply appreciate that you DO have a home for yourself and your beloved pet for a season until you can get back on your feet and leave it as that is the best they can offer you right now? And begin to develop other forms of support – either from a support group like Divorce Care, Celebrate Recovery, Co-Dependents Anonymous, or a church bible study, small group, etc? It might be as you stretch out and seek a healthier support system you may also be able to find new resources for housing for yourself and your pet. Take small steps to rebuild your life by continuing to do your own work to get healthy and to build the healthy support you need from caring people.

  13. Cathy on November 26, 2023 at 2:23 pm

    Hi Leslie. I don’t know if anyone has been in a situation that I’m in right now. 18 months ago I discovered my Husband had been sexting with another woman which he
    says he has stopped. I do believe him about that. But, while checking his phone I discovered texts (nothing sexual, but very friendly & concerning) with a woman that lives and works on our dairy farm. They would joke around (even about me a couple times) and he would express sympathy and be overly concerned about her health and
    wellbeing. I found out around 18 months ago that when he would stop for groceries when I would be unable to go, that he was buying some food & drink for her, also & once I found out he would try to hide it from me. Then, I began finding receipts that dated back 2 years ago that he had been doing it, and I never knew anything about it. When I tried talking to him about it, he would get defensive. I’m going to a Christian counselor myself because he refuses to go. Right away she said it was an emotional affair which is exactly what I thought. In August, I had to get away for 3 weeks & tried explaining why I had to leave & how it was making me feel. I told him every time he cares for her & buys her things, it’s feeding her emotional bond with him. He doesn’t see it that way. He said she pays him back. Well, I wasn’t back more than 2 months (and I’ve only been back for 3 months) I found he bought her a couple more things & tried to hide them from me. He said he wouldn’t do it anymore, but last week he bought him & her a raincoat for work. I think he thinks since it’s for work then he thinks it’s ok. It still makes me uncomfortable. He said at least I didn’t hide receipt from you. I don’t know what else I can do to get him to understand why all this is making me sad & really affecting my emotional & physical health. I literally get sick in my stomach sometimes. Any input would be greatly appreciated.
    was gone he acted so nice & different & asked me to meet him to get something to eat which I did. I wasn’.

    • Leslie Vernick on November 28, 2023 at 11:25 pm

      Cathy, you’ve done what you can. You’ve shared how this has impacted you, your concerns about his attachment to her, his lying to you and hiding information. Now it’s tme for you to decide. You cannot change him, he’s unwilling to change. Therefore, what must you do to take care of you? If your mental/emotional well-being is dependent on him changing, then you are sunk. But what might be possible if you accepted (not liked, but accepted) that he is choosing his relationship with her her over his marriage to you. How might you make different or new decisions for yourself? I highly encourage you to continue to talk this over with your counselor so that you get strong enough to have a tough conversation.

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