I’m in sunny California FINALLY, after about 10 days of traveling by car with Grace (the dog). Our bike rack broke when we forgot they were mounted on top of the car and went under a canopy of a hotel lobby and we were stuck in Texas trying to get that fixed.
Thankfully there was a wonderful car repair shop that graciously clamped our rack together so we could make the rest of the trip with our bikes still attached to our car roof. I also drove through my first sand storm in Arizona. It was like a whiteout with snow, except it was sand. It was scary but fascinating. I’m so glad I was inside and not outside. Sand would have been everywhere.
The sunny weather, blue skies, a view the ocean from the corner of our tiny balcony, plus the grandchildren. I’m tasting a bit of heaven.
Today’s Question: I am struggling with how to approach my husband with a request that he address the deeply rooted patterns that are distorting his life and affecting those around him. How do I pinpoint my request? How do I avoid bringing up too much yet make it clear and be calm, not emotional. How do I avoid passivity and fear in putting it off; when am I ready?
I spoke with a friend and said, it is hard to know what to say, the whole thing seems so big. She said she started with her marriage. I think I am clear that I am asking for action. Awareness or agreement, do not go far enough. I am aware of the likely words I will hear “it's never good enough” and “you aren't perfect, you have stuff too.” I know the answers to those: “I am seeking counsel and reading to gain strength and growth, I would like you to do that too.” Not “I need you to”, something seems weak in those words.
Thank you for your help and balanced, simple words.
Answer: Planning a confrontation is never easy and it takes preparation, prayer, and practice for you to do it in the way you want. I have three chapters on how to do this wisely in my book The Emotionally Destructive Marriage but let me give you some main points.
Preparation: There are several ways you must prepare for this important conversation. It sounds like you’ve given it a lot of thought in terms of what you will say when he objects or counters with your own stuff and what you’re asking for – action, not acknowledgment. That’s a good start.
Let me give you a few more ways you can prepare. First pray that God will give you the wisdom and strength you will need. Confronting someone is never easy.
You must prepare your own heart. Jesus reminds us to take the log out of our own eye before attempting to remove the speck in someone else’s (Matthew 7:5). When we confront and do so with humility and gentleness (Galatians 6:1) we’re more likely to be heard. Don’t confuse gentleness with weakness. But the goal is for someone to take action to change sinful and destructive behaviors and that’s more likely when they don’t feel shamed or attacked.
When possible, prepare documentation or proof of his destructive behaviors. Jesus tells us that when someone sins against us and we go and talk with him and they do not listen, we’re to bring witnesses to help us make our point (Matthew 18:15). In destructive marriages there may be people witnesses, but if not, you may find other types of witnesses that help your husband see just how destructive his behaviors are.
For example are there financial records of his mismanagement? Is there a video recording of him stumbling, falling down or being abusive when he’s been drinking too much? Documentation of injuries he’s caused to you or your home when enraged, such as photos of broken furniture, holes in walls or doctors reports. These witnesses are not to shame him, but to verify that this is serious and we’re not just talking about “normal” sins that happen in every marriage.
In preparation for your conversation with your husband you must also be prepared with what consequences, if any, you will implement if he refuses to take the action you desire. For example, if he’s vulnerable to road rage and refuses to take action to get help you might say, “Okay then for my safety and the children’s safety, we can no longer drive together as a family unless I drive the car. If you won’t let me drive, then I’ll have to drive us separately.” He won’t like that but you are stating clearly and firmly that if he chooses not to take action on these destructive behaviors, then you will need to do something else to protect yourself and the children.
Lastly, you must prepare what you want to say and how you want to say it.
Words are an imperfect medium for communicating deep feelings and problems and therefore choose your words wisely (tweet that).
You’re right to not overwhelm him with too much at once. But here’s what I tell my coaching and counseling clients to do. List all the incidents of destructive behaviors you are upset about. I’m talking about the one’s you feel threaten the safety and stability of your marriage or your emotional, spiritual, mental, financial, physical or spiritual health.
Once you get that list, try to group them into “themes” or “patterns.” For example you might see you have lots of incidents of destructive behaviors when he’s enraged or drinking too much. Or numerous examples of deceitful behaviors, etc. It’s the larger issue you want to speak to not the specific incidents. Use the specific incidents to illustrate that you fear his anger, or his drinking has gotten out of control, or you can’t continue to trust him when he continually lies to you.
As you prepare what you want to say, begin your confrontation with this sentence. “There is something important I need to talk with you about, are you willing to listen?” If he says yes start. If he starts interrupting you or diverting you, stop and say, “I thought you said you were willing to listen.” You want to stay in charge of this conversation.
If he’s willing to listen, begin by telling him the good things about him, what you fell in love with and how important your relationship with him is to you. He’ll likely listen to that without objection. Then move on to, “but there are some things happening that are destroying our marriage” (or your health or whatever to your particular situation).
Start with the biggest thing first. If he is willing to hear more, then you can go on to the other things. If he refuses to listen to the first one, don’t bother with the rest because you’ll be wasting your breath. Just move on to the consequences stage because your words are not making an impact.
Before you confront him, practice, and practice. That will help you feel calmer and stronger when you actually say it. Since you’ve disclosed this to your friend, role-play with her. Let her be your husband and have her object or divert, or change the subject (however he does it) and you practice what you’re going to say when he does that.
For example, if he starts to say “I’m never good enough for you.” You can say, “that’s not the issue we’re talking about. We’re talking about your lying and I can’t continue to ignore that because it’s destroying my trust.” Keep your answers short, don’t let him distract you into these rabbit trails or you will lose momentum and it will get exhausting.
Finally, it’s better if it isn’t too long. Therefore make sure you know how to stay on course and say what you want to say and then stop and wait for his response. If you have any fear for your physical safety, make sure you seek advice from an expert in domestic violence before you do this because it may not be safe for you to confront him or have any kind of conversation regarding his behavior. In those cases it’s best to make an exit plan for your safety as soon as possible. Again consult with an expert in this field as sometimes when a woman leaves an abuser, she is in more danger than ever. The DV hotline for help is 800 799-SAFE (7233).
Friend, if you had a successful conversation (confrontation) with your spouse, what did you do/say?