Happy January, friends! I hope you all had a safe and enjoyable holiday season. I was able to take a little time off to be with family and friends. The pace of life slowed down a little bit, but in some ways, it seemed busier than usual. Now that I am back to the normal routines of my life, I am finding it hard to remember to make time for the changes and intentions I set for this year. I am blessed to have a supportive community to help keep me on track! We can be stronger together and help one another be at our best. I am glad you are reading; I pray you find love and support here with LV&Co in 2024.
Today’s Question: My husband grew up in a home with very critical parents who never told him they were proud of him or loved him — their principal interaction with him was to point out his faults. Because of this, he is very critical of me and the children. It's extremely rare if he ever shows or expresses appreciation to me, but it's very common for him to “get on to me” or point out my faults or his disappointment in me. I feel that I can never please him no matter what I do. It's discouraging to constantly try hard to please him only to have him get on to me for something he doesn't like that I did. I may do 100 right things a day, but he points out the 1 thing I didn't do well. I feel like I might as well stop trying because even when I do try, the result is the same — he's disappointed.
Susan’s Response: Those initial relationships that we have in childhood are so impactful. They often set the standard for what feels normal in relationships as well as relational patterns that come naturally. So while you are seeing the relational pattern of criticism your husband learned in childhood as unhealthy, it may feel very typical to him. I wonder if the pattern of criticism is something he has been open about and if he is satisfied with the way he interacts. The question I would ask you to ponder is, what did you learn in your family of origin? Was it expected of you to focus on the needs and feelings of others above your own?
If you have strong tendencies to please in your significant relationship, it is possible that you learned this as a way to cope with your early environment. Perhaps you were encouraged to be a good girl or rewarded as a compliant child. Maybe you were expected to be a high achiever. Or maybe you had an unpredictable parent, therefore you kept focus on how to keep things calm and your parents appeased. These skills were likely useful at one time in your life to provide safety. As an adult, you may recognize that these fear-based coping mechanisms are no longer serving you well. Are fears about disappointing others driving your behaviors? Could your efforts to please your husband be desperate attempts to earn his favor and appreciation?
It can be a real challenge to not feel appreciated in a significant relationship. You didn’t mention it in the details you included; I’m curious if you have initiated a conversation about your feelings and concerns. Your husband may not have self-awareness in this area. If he is the kind of man who listens to you and trusts that you are for him, this may be a good first step. Your feedback may provide him with some insight that could help him improve his health and relationships.
The conversation might sound like, “I tend to feel really discouraged when I hear about my shortcomings so often. Would you be willing to help me see what I am good at as well? I think you can understand how hard it is to be criticized regularly. I find positive and supportive comments more energizing” If he is a man that won’t receive your comments or you have already tried to have a discussion, you may decide not to directly mention this issue. Even so, you can still do some things to better support yourself.
You may be tempted to give up when you are not getting the response you expect from your husband, but what are your expectations for yourself? What is your goal in working hard? As believers, we are instructed in Colossians 3.23-24, “whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.” In your service of the Lord, certainly, you will disappoint others.
Instead of going to “I might as well stop trying”, what if you decided to be the person God calls you to be and practice not worrying about being what your spouse wants you to be? What if you could allow your husband his disappointment without feeling pressured to live up to his expectations or take his emotions away for him? With training, you can disappoint others with integrity and without losing your sense of self.
Here are some practical tips to help you. Be kind and respectful but don't apologize if you haven’t done anything sinful, even if others are disappointed with your choices. Stop trying to resolve others’ feelings by over-functioning for them. Do your best to resist defending yourself or over-explaining. Don’t make someone else’s feelings of disappointment be about you; allow them to have their feelings and offer empathy and validation. If feelings of disappointment turn into abusive behavior, keep yourself safe by leaving the situation.
Let me give you an example of how you might choose to respond with empathy when your husband continues to be disappointed in you. You could validate his feelings of disappointment in the moment and learn how to tolerate the discomfort you feel as a result of his emotions. Validation doesn’t mean that you agree with him or that you are in the wrong. What it does mean is that you are willing to hear and understand where he may be coming from. Take a moment to consider that it may not be completely about you and your behavior. His feelings may be coming from a deeper, more complex reaction to his history or assumptions.
Validation without losing your sense of self might sound like, “I hear that you're disappointed that I didn't get the house in the order the way you wanted me to; could you be more specific about your expectations of me in the future so we can discuss it beforehand?” Or, “I hear that you're disappointed that I didn't get the house in the order the way you wanted me to; I chose to spend time with the kids and I couldn't do both” Or, “I hear that you're disappointed that I didn't get the house in the order the way you wanted me to; It seems like our expectations are different. Let’s talk about how we want to handle our differences in that area.”
Here are some tips to handle the discomfort when experiencing someone else's disappointment. Take care of yourself by learning to tolerate distress. Breathe, ground yourself, soothe yourself in a healthy way through something like movement, singing, or spending time with a loved one. With compassion, understand that disappointment is a natural part of life.
If you struggle with the fear of disappointing others, keep these things in mind. Although it is a healthy relationship skill to care about others' unpleasant emotions, it is not your responsibility to manage or fix them, including those unpleasant emotions belonging to your partner. When you operate under this belief, you are actually doing that person a disservice because you are not treating them as an equal or a mature human being. Lastly, letting go of the fear of disappointing others frees you up to be who God calls you to be.
Beloved reader, How do you manage the tension that arises between being your best, authentic self and not being all that your loved one wants you to be?
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