How Do I Get Through to My Spouse?

Happy New Year, Friends! Susan here with my first blog entry of the new year. Even though we are a long way from spring, January seems like a good time for fresh starts as we step into 2023. As much as I’d like to hunker down and hibernate all winter, I feel God moving me to be diligent in my growth and productivity. Those are not easy words for me to soak in. There are several areas of my life that could benefit from diligent effort and I want to be intentional about where I invest my limited and precious energy.

I am a person who values beauty and nature. I used to live in sunny, southern California and I found much peace and enjoyment in the gorgeous year-round flowers and the stunning coast of the Pacific. It might be easy for me to ruminate over the reasons that led to me moving away, the lack of sun in January where I live now, my great distance from friends, and how professionally and financially challenging it would be to relocate. However, I know putting much energy toward those thoughts would not help me. Yet, it has been beneficial for me to recognize how much God’s beautiful creation and healthy connections positively impact me. While honoring my needs and accepting the reality of my current geographical coordinates, I can put my energy toward meaningful change. A useful plan of action for me has been to build new connections, find and create beauty where I am, and begin building the resources I may need to one day make a move. This has allowed me to have a sense of satisfaction and control.

In my work, I see this as something human beings struggle with quite often. In lieu of putting energy toward things they can actually control, anxious thoughts and feelings prompt people to exert effort that does not create change or growth. It can be helpful to pause to notice feelings and to reflect on what needs can be met before choosing a useful plan of action.

Today’s Question: How do I get through to my spouse the gravity of the pain & trauma our now grown daughter feels, due to growing up on the emotional roller coaster of his inconsistent moods and his emotional unavailability/often coldness? He doesn't show her enough compassion for her emotions & her need for love and approval from men, due in part to the lack of his efforts to bond more with her as a father when she was growing up. It's so painful to hear him make light of her emotions whether it be from their relationship or any heartbreaks she feels from her own destructive relationships with men.

Susan’s Answer: Thank you for submitting your question. Many women have similar questions that begin with, “How do I get through to my spouse”. That beginning leads me to believe there has already been an effort that has not created the outcome you have hoped for. I will assume that you have already had a kind, respectful, assertive conversation about your concerns. If not, that would be a great place to start. That conversation might sound like, 

“It is painful for me to hear about our daughter’s heartbreak. I would love her to have good, healthy interactions with men. I know you love our daughter very much so it is confusing to me when I hear what sounds to me like you making light of her emotions. I imagine that is not intentional, but I am concerned that it may not be helping her. Is there anything I can do to better help support your relationship with her?” 

Be prepared to give specific and concrete examples of what you have heard that cause you to believe he is making light of her emotions. Also, be prepared for him to say “no” to wanting more support. If he does not want support in being more compassionate, it won’t be beneficial to try harder to get him to want what you want for him.

If the response you get from having an initial conversation is dismissive, your spouse may not be interested in understanding the gravity of the pain and trauma he has caused. People with a growth mindset are open to hearing hard feedback from trusted others. Other people do not want to accept feedback and do not want to change no matter how lovingly and skillfully it is delivered. It can be very hard to accept this reality. 

Whether or not he invests in personal growth is outside of your control. Even still, you have the opportunity to make sure you are a trustworthy person in his life and a safe and secure person for your daughter. A safe and trusted person is one who wants the best for the other without being coercive or demeaning, one who can be curious, steadfast, loyal, encouraging, and shows loving-kindness.

You may be fearful for your daughter and I can understand why. Seeking love and approval from men creates discontentment. In Galatians 1:10 Paul states, For am I seeking the approval of man or of God? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.” Your daughter’s value comes from God the Father, not from any earthly man.

You mentioned that your daughter is an adult. It is now her responsibility to find healing, have assertive conversations, and create healthy boundaries for herself. Her father may not offer her the apology, the understanding, or the change she longs for. Even so, healing is possible. Many people grow up with insecure attachments to a parent. I am sure it is painful for her to experience and for you to witness. As believers, we can find security in our attachment to a perfect and loving Father God.

Your pain may be prompting you to pour your efforts into getting through to him in ways he is not ready to accept. I wonder if there might be a better way to expend your energy that can help you with your pain. It sounds like your husband has shown inconsistent moods, has been emotionally unavailable, and has appeared cold for much of your daughter’s childhood. Has this only been true in the relationship with her? Have you experienced that as well?

I can imagine your marriage is not what you had hoped. Is it possible that it is easier for you to try to get your husband to change for your daughter than to talk about how you are being affected in the marriage by his moodiness, emotional unavailability, and coldness? Perhaps you have needs that are going unmet. Even if he does not change, what useful plan of action could you make for yourself to ensure that your needs do get met?

Beloved reader, what do you do to help yourself accept the truth and disappointment when a significant person in your life does not want to hear your concerns nor wants to change?

14 Comments

  1. Hope on January 11, 2023 at 11:02 am

    Thank you so much for this! I can so relate. “Your spouse may not be interested in understanding the gravity of the pain and trauma he has caused…” He may not “,,,want to accept feedback…or want to change no matter how lovingly and skillfully it is delivered. It can be very hard to accept this reality.” Coming to accept this (and it’s taken a very long time with many tears) finally freed me to say to myself, “Since I know now that this what he’s choosing, what choices do I now have? Am I able to live with the effects of his choice and stay healthy and growing myself? How long am I willing to do this? Can I stay in this relationship and stay well–or is this destructive (beyond disappointing or difficult) to me? Though the clarity that he doesn’t want to hear input or change or grow is painful, it’s also freeing because it helped define the questions I needed to ask myself and God….I’m in my late 60s and in the process of separating after 30+ years. I’m having to put my “brave” on every day and appreciate any prayers. SO grateful for the support and clarity of Leslie and all of you wonderful women on her team. Thank you!

    • Jenny on January 12, 2023 at 9:12 am

      Praying for you sweet sister! May God give you blessings, wisdom and discernment in His direction for your life and your new path.
      Jenny

    • Jo on January 13, 2023 at 8:52 am

      Hope, you have spoken my exact life, heart, and response to this blog post. This where I’m at in my healing and therapy at this very moment. Thank you for posting, Ditto the thanks to Susan and Leslie’s team for touching so many areas that need clarity. Blessings and prayers.

    • Laura Smentek on February 21, 2023 at 8:43 pm

      This whole discussion is difficult for me. I am that adult daughter. This was my parents marriage. My mom was a Christian mom who raised me in Jesus… (which I am so grateful for). But she enabled my father and I took on a ‘scapegoat’ role in the family. I then ended up in a destructive marriage and I stayed for 12 years. The Lord led me to recovery groups where the lightbulb came on. I then had ‘language’ for what I grew up in and explained why I ended up in a emotionally destructive marriage myself. With the tools I was given I was able to learn to set boundaries and to stop playing the ‘scapegoat role’ I was put in. This has all taken a lifetime of walking out. But what the serenity prayer says … “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change.” I had parents who did not like the changes I made. A mother who didn’t like my boundaries and did not think they were ‘unconditional.’ I began to do what I needed to do to detach with love. Trying hard to accept what I could not change and listen to the Lord as I continued to watch the destruction unfold before my eyes.
      In the past two months at the age of 78 I watched the emotional abuse finally start to take a time on my mothers body and mind as she had to be home with him 24 hours a day. In December she ended up in the hospital. I watched as she was relieved and in a safe place with people who took care of her. They then sent her home and I knew she needed to be in hospice. At home… again she did not get the care she needed. On January 4th she ended up back in the hospital and she died on January 17th which was also my Birthday. When she went back into the hospital on in January she said to me; “I will never go back home again.” Meaning that she could no longer take it anymore in that emotionally abusive situation. They were married for 60 years. She continued to believe that she should just continue to submit and and do everything his way and it would be okay. In the end … her way out was to die. In her mind at least she ‘had kept her vows until death us do us part.’ My heart is so fragile right now. I … can’t even… this post is my story. She was so relieved to go to Jesus. I … don’t even know what to say. I am crawling up into Jesus’ lap and just asking Him to help me process all of this. It’s going to take a while. And now my brother and I are trying to navigate my dad who has no clue. Still no clue as to his actions. He believes they had a wonderful 60 years. I sat there for two months in and out of the hospital watching her pain. He didn’t come up to the hospital hardly at all during the entire time. I have to guard my heart and keep my boundaries firmly in place with him moving forward. I am that grown daughter learning to let God be my father. Trying to understand what it means to be His daughter. That He loves me and I don’t have to perform for His love.

      • Chris on February 23, 2023 at 9:43 pm

        I’m so sorry Laura. Losing a parent, our mama, can be especially painful. I too lost my mom 5.5 months ago. So many dynamics… so many feelings…so lost. I’m so glad you have your Heavenly Father to walk you through this journey.

  2. Coach Susan on January 11, 2023 at 11:24 am

    Thank you for your comments. May God bless you and give you courage, Hope!

  3. Anne on January 12, 2023 at 8:24 am

    Thank you for this. This is exactly what I have been going thru and now that my daughter is getting ready to leave the house, many of these issues have been surfacing. The comments about how it is most likely happening to the wife is very appropriate too and I am glad that you bring that up! I often get the dismissive response or even worse, that I am to blame for his behavior with her. When I ask why, he says I am not supportive and that I have encouraged the behavior that he is angry about. I am open to hearing exactly whathe means but I also realize that his behavior towards her, name calling and demeaning way is also what he does to me and that it is not healthy. I have put out boundaries for him to have conversations with myself and my daughter so that it can not be as damaging as it usually is. This way as soon as he crosses one, we end the conversation. Also, therapy for her and encouraging her own spiritual journey has been important. Thank you again!!!!!!!!!!

  4. Sad on January 12, 2023 at 8:41 am

    Coach Susan, my adult daughter and I are in a similar position with my exhusband. He won’t talk to me at all and our daughter is desperate to rebuild the relationship with her father. I agree there are better ways to spend one’s energy than chasing a person who doesn’t want to hear how hurtful they are behaving (in my daughter’s case, her father crossed the line into verbal and emotional abuse numerous times when she was a teen and that’s partly why he and I are no longer married). But my daughter has been depressed for several years now and professional help hasn’t helped her. I honestly believe her father might be willing to change a little and listen to her telling him about the pain he has caused her and what to do to change, is a Christian professional bluntly explained to him the damage it does to kids (even after they become adults) to have a father who is cold, unwilling to acknowledge or admit any callous behaviour or even to accept that what they did was not an okay to treat anyone, even (especially) one’s own child.
    Her father has Asperger’s syndrome. This is not excusing his behaviour. Many people who have Asperger’s are not cold and cruel like him. And most people with Asperger’s are very open to having it explained to them if they have hurt people’s feelings without realising. But due to his upbringing, where he was raised in a very sexist household where he had it drilled into him that women and girls are never to challenge men in their family (husbands, fathers, brothers) and that women and girls are inferior, he won’t listen to females if they are related to him (other than his mother because the bible says to honour your mother).
    I don’t think my daughter will ever heal unless her father accepts how he treated her was wrong and says so to her. Of course he won’t listen to me, but if you had a man like this come to you, willing to listen to what you had to say, what would you say to this type of cold man?
    I know we can’t make hurtful men change, but by the same token, we can’t expect cold men to change if no one other than their wives or ex wives, and their daughters tell them the way they are acting is cold and hurtful.
    I have approached our church but they are all into telling people that family situations are none of the church’s business.

    • Anita on January 13, 2023 at 10:11 am

      Hi Sad, I have no idea if you will receive this reply, but I feel the need to respond. I can very much relate, as my ex-husband sounds very similar to yours and my daughter also experiences depression partly because of it. I’m not sure how old your daughter is, but mine is 26. She also goes to counseling, but I think it’s the anti-depressants that have made a world of difference for her.
      But she also had to learn that how her father acts is all about him and his problems, and is not a reflection on her value and worth. It doesn’t mean his behavior doesn’t’ hurt her – we know daddy’s are important to their daughters self-image – but I hope you come to believe and help your daughter believe that her healing is not dependent on whether her father changes. It takes work,but she does have control of that, just like the father has control of whether he decides to hear and change. My guess is, he knows exactly what he’s done and is not willing to humble himself and make amends.
      My daughter has not had communication with her dad in almost 9 years after some ugly things he said to her. She misses him at times, but for now, she realizes her life is much healthier without him in it.
      At one point I was going to intervene for her, but I had to realize that until my daughter is emotionally healthy enough for whatever reaction she might receive from her father, than she is probably not emotionally healthy enough to reach out to him or for me to initiate that contact.
      For now, be there for your daughter in encouraging ways. I hope this helps.

    • Coach Susan on January 13, 2023 at 3:35 pm

      Thank you for engaging in this discussion. I can hear in your words that you would like some relief from worry about your daughter. I am sure it is very tough to see her depressed and in pain. You said that her father is not willing to talk with you about your daughter. If she has a counselor who is informed about AS, that professional can help your daughter work on if, when, and how to speaks to her father about her experience in the relationship. I trust you have read Hope’s response to you, as she has offered some great support and resources.

      You asked, “if you had a man like this came to you, willing to listen to what you had to say, what would you say to this type of cold man?” We would begin to build trust and report. When a client comes to me, there is usually some motivation that brought him to the office. We would focus on the motivation he has to move forward toward change. And I would help him gain awareness around how his actions and attitudes impact his own life and the lives of those around him. I might even talk to him about how I experience him in relationship. If he saw the need, we might practice having warm and kind conversations in the office together. However, I don’t tell a client what he needs to change because it would likely be met with resistance and defense. It does take effort and willingness on the part of the client to make progress.

      Without willingness or effort, no progress begins and no change is made.You have not mentioned that your daughter’s father has motivation to change at this point. Sometimes motivation grows out of pain. Pain of divorce has not prompted him to change. Perhaps the natural consequences of being cold and hurtful toward others will cause enough desire for change at some point in his life. As far as you have identified, that is not the reality now.

      Prayers for you as you manage your own pain and help your daughter through hers! We can hope in God for healing!

  5. Hope on January 13, 2023 at 12:20 pm

    You’re asking Coach Susan for her advice, but just want to chime in and say my heart goes out to you, Sad. I can relate because my hubby has Aspergers and I’m the daughter of a dad I believe was on the autism spectrum too. Those of us like your daughter and me who have grow up with an AS parent have unique “gaps” and wounds that can be helped by a counselor–and esp if that counselor has experience treating AS. There’s hope! You said you don’t think your daughter “will ever heal unless her father accepts how he treated her was wrong and says so to her.” My AS dad never said those things to me, but Jesus has still healed (and is healing) me with the help of an AS-savvy counselor and others who understand AS and how it affects all the family members. Lots of my healing came when I stopped trying to fix or focus on Dad and started focusing instead on my own healing, growth and future. All Leslie’s resources have been a godsend! Along with this awesome online AS education/support community that has helped me heal: https://www.meetup.com/Asperger-Syndrome-Partners-Family-of-Adults-with-ASD/
    God bless you, Sad. You and your daughter are not alone ! Jesus can make a way!

  6. Moon Beam on January 13, 2023 at 8:49 pm

    You’ll never get through to him. He couldn’t care less and is incapable of caring if he is a narcissist like most abusers. Narcissists lack empathy. They are incapable of it. I would tell your daughter to accept her loss, educate herself about narcissists (so she doesn’t end up with one) and seek to fulfill her need for a father, in the Lord. Get her is counseling as soon as possible. There are a number of programs for adult children of abusive parents. She needs lessons in boundaries. Are you over stepping her boundaries by trying to fix her father?

  7. Caroline Abbott on January 16, 2023 at 10:14 am

    Sadly, we cannot make an abusive person see the damage they have done to others. They can only see their own emotions, and usually don’t care at all about anyone else’s. We cannot make an abuser change. https://carolineabbott.com/2020/07/how-can-i-get-my-abuser-to-change/

  8. Anne Marie on January 19, 2023 at 2:55 pm

    it is very difficult to get through to a spouse who is not hearing what I say, or what counselors have said, or even what a church clergy member has said; these posts are very helpful; Leslie’s recent podcast on ‘ Dealing with the trauma of betrayal’ ; is very helpful and it reminded me of years ago, while experiencing a miscarriage at home, my husband kept saying, ‘it is not an emergency, you don’t need to call for help’ I did not listen to that; the doctors and nurses at the hospital did not tell me that. so glad I trusted my gut. but I think this was bad enough without having to deal with emotional abuse. very glad for the podcasts. trying to stay well in a marriage that is difficult . thanks for the posts, videos and podcasts.

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