This is my 150th weekly blog. I can’t believe I’ve been writing these for three years. To celebrate you, I am going to give the first five (5) people who respond to this blog, a free copy of your choice of any book, CD or DVD in my current inventory. I want you to respond with some suggestions to help the person who is asking the question in this blog, “How can I respond to my husband’s defensiveness?”
So give her some suggestions, and then e-mail me at email@example.com with your snail mail address and what book or CD or DVD you’d like. We will sign it and send it off to you as my thank you gift for being such a great community.
I am back home now after a week in Florida, refreshed and rested, ready to begin writing my new book, The Emotionally Destructive Marriage. This next year I will be focused on this topic, especially in this blog, and I’m looking forward to your feedback as I write.
If you have questions that you wish were answered in this new book, please send them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. As I am able, I will answer some of them in this blog throughout the year so you will actually have a sneak preview of the book to come. Also, please forward this blog to anyone else who you think might benefit from having some practical and biblical answers to marriage’s most difficult dilemmas. We will be having some contests and free give-a-ways throughout the year to keep it interesting.
And just a few more newsy items:
My December newsletter will be out Tuesday and it’s on a lesson God showed me this past week, called The Gift of the Sand Dollar. You won’t want to miss it. If you haven’t signed up yet, go to my website home page and sign up. It’s not too late.
For those of you who are e-reader fans or will be receiving an E-Reader such as Kindle or Nook for Christmas, my current book, The Emotionally Destructive Relationship will be offered at a special discounted price of $2.99 from 12/22 to 1/3 only. It will be available for Kindle, Nook, Kobo and Sony Readers.
In the new year, I will be doing some free webinars on various topics. The first one will be in January and will answer the question, Does God want me to be Happy? One of the things I’ve really recognized this year is that people struggle with issues about being happy. This is a huge challenge and I’ve decided to do something about it.
So e-mail me and let me know what struggles you are having that prevent you from being happy or experiencing the joy, peace and love God desires for you.
Today’s Question: Whenever I say or do anything, my husband’s immediate reaction is defensiveness. For example, on Sunday I did two loads of laundry, we went to church, when we got back we ate lunch and I did the noon dishes (washed them)…I went for a walk, came back, took the recycle bins out of the van, put them in the garage, moved a wheel barrow that was still in the yard from Friday, took the laundry off the line and came in the house…dishes still in the same spot and our utility room floor needed sweeping. So I went to my husband who was watching football – and I just mentioned this to him. “Do you know what would really turn me on and make me happy? If when I’m out for a walk or when I’m running errands for you to take care of some things for me…like doing the dishes or sweeping the floor…”
Instead of a kind response like, “Oh I’m sorry. Did you want me to do that for you?” His response was the following. “You KNEW I liked football when you married me…huff…why are you making such a big deal…nothing is ever good enough for you…”
This is how he responds to everything I say or do. I feel I can’t do or say anything right in our relationship without a negative, belittling, blaming response…
He knows that when he responds to me this way it just makes things worse, but he keeps doing it. I try to express how I feel, use “I statements”, and express to him what I need and would like, and he gets defensive every time.
What do you suggest short of hitting him over the head with a bat or getting a divorce–neither one are good options.
Answer: Before I even attempt to answer this, I want to invite you, my readers–both men and women–to chime in here and help this woman understand why her husband may be defensive and to give her other suggestions that will help their communication style. I’m sure she’s not alone in this merry-go-round, and so let’s put our collective wisdom together to help them break this cycle. Remember, the first five people who respond, receive their choice of a free book, CD or DVD.
First, let me say that most people (men and women) get defensive when they fear they are being criticized. Whether you are saying it nicely or not, you’re husband’s statements to you indicate that he feels you think he’s regularly letting you down and not measuring up to your expectations of a good husband.
As I’ve said many times in my writing, the only person you can change is you, so let’s begin by looking at what kinds of things you can do differently.
You wrote, “He knows that when he responds to me this way, it just makes things worse, but he keeps doing it. I try to express how I feel, use “I statements”, and express to him what I need and would like, and he gets defensive every time.”
You can start breaking the cycle by asking yourself what’s your part of making things worse? You said, “He keeps doing it,” but you didn’t mention what your part is of making things worse. So begin by examining whether or not your negative statements, your “I statements” about what you’re unhappy about with him outweigh your positive statements to him. In any relationship when our negative statements are more frequent than our positive statements, it deteriorates.
Sometimes we believe that if we use “I statements”, they should always be taken positively. Let me give you a few examples of “I statements” and “you statements” that both sound critical, or like “you’re not good enough.”
For example, “I’m so tired of doing everything myself” verses “You never help me around the house.” Both statements are critical, one is a more direct attack; the other more implied.
A more positive “I statement” is, “I’d really like you to help me today get the house straightened up. When would be a good time, because I know you like football.”
Here’s another example: “I feel hurt that you never finished cleaning the bathroom like you said you would” verses “You’re so irresponsible, you never finish anything you start.” Again, both are critical.
A more positive “I statement” would be, “I’d really like you to finish cleaning up the bathroom today. Is that going to be a problem?”
Second, when your husband reacts defensively to one of your comments, how do you make it worse? Are you overly emotional? Do you give him the silent treatment? Is there an endless argument? Is the rest of the day/evening ruined?
In your e-mail to me, you implied a few times that your husband feels you’re overreacting to things. I don’t know whether or not that’s true, but ask yourself are your expectations realistic? In other words, it may not be unreasonable for you to wish or hope that your husband would jump up while you were out on a walk and notice what needs to be done around the house and do it for you while you were away, or even to apologize to you when you call him on it, but is it realistic to expect that knowing who your husband is? Perhaps you’re setting yourself up for disappointment and for him to fail you when you expect him to do things that he’s probably not going to do at least without you directly asking and perhaps even reminding him to do it.
Third, it seems like you’ve lost sight (as he has) of the bigger picture at stake. The problem is no longer whether or not he helps you or finishes the chores he says he’ll do and then doesn’t. The problem is that you can’t talk together in a way that feels good for him and good for you. Does that mean that you just keep quiet and accept that you will do 90% of the work while he watches football? Or that you divorce?
I hope not, but I think you might try to talk with him in an adult to adult way about how you can’t talk together about things without him getting defensive and you getting sad, critical, or angry. Describe what happens between the two of you when he finally says to you, “I should just leave.”
I wonder what would happen if you changed two things in your approach to your husband. First, instead of talking about his defensiveness or lack of follow-through or lack of help, ask him what he means when he says, “nothing is ever good enough for you.” You say this is his standard response, but instead of getting defensive yourself, what would happen if you stopped and said, “What do you mean? How do I tell you nothing is good enough?” And then just listen to what he says.
Second, I wonder what would happen if you didn’t do it all yourself, but instead made every effort to look for the positive things your husband does do and share that for a while, leaving off the negative comments. See if his mood toward you changes and his defensiveness lessens. If it does, then understand you may be part of the problem. If it doesn’t, then you may need to take other measures to talk about the health of your relationship and what it means that you can’t have a normal conversation without some sort of put down, or belittling remark.
Most of the men that I’ve talked with throughout the years in counseling are not monsters who don’t care about their wives and only want to live selfishly and self-centeredly. I’ve found most of them deeply want to make their wives happy and proud of them, but never quite know how to do it. As soon as they think they’ve succeeded in one area, the rules change and now there’s another area that they need to change or do better. Over time when this cycle continues, they begin to feel hopeless, like I will never make her happy or proud of me and they begin to get cynical, resentful and bitter.
Please hear me, I’m not saying you are to blame you for your husband’s defensiveness. As human beings we ARE defensive. But when we feel unsafe and attacked, it usually gets worse. So if you don’t want to hit your husband over the head with a baseball bat and you don’t want to divorce him, you must try a new approach. Don’t do everything yourself, but instead try encouraging him in the things he does right. That may motivate him to do those kinds of things more often. Give it some time and see what happens.