Happy Wednesday friends,
At least I hope it’s happy for you. But if it’s not, can you embrace your pain without adding more suffering? You see, many of us run from pain, avoid it like the plague. And because we refuse to accept pain as a normal part of being a broken human being living with other broken human beings in a fallen world, we create more suffering. We tell ourselves things shouldn’t be this way, or it’s not fair, or God doesn’t care, or it’s all our fault, or we’re just a miserable failure for letting this happen. When we do this we only add more suffering to our pain and sometimes becomes more than we can bear. So friends, listen to your self-talk when you’re in pain. If you recognize some of the words I mentioned that signal resistance, stop. Instead tell God you accept this pain in this moment and ask for the wisdom to know what to do with it.
Today’s Question: Last year, I was trying to figure out how to approach my husband to ask for action for him to take responsibility for a frustration pattern in our marriage.
I tried to learn about consequences and boundaries through your blog; strengths I lacked and didn't understand well. I had that conversation with my husband in October. He agreed to do an anger course to look into the problem. I was prepared for the flak and held my ground. He said, ‘this isn't what I wanted in a wife.'
My counselor helped me nail the truth that this problem isn't what I wanted in a husband either. He always wanted unconditional love in our marriage but towards the end of our conversation he said, “well, I guess if I robbed a bank, you wouldn't have to accept that” which was clear insight.
The problem was that he did some emotional withdrawal the whole week I was waiting for his answer. Then he kept cool and more withdrawn for several months afterwards. He didn't sign up for two months. After one month, I asked him if he had, he said no he hadn't. I told him I was disappointed (a verbal consequence). I told him it was all I wanted for Christmas (which basically said, I'm not interested in anything else) and I'd be happy to go up to the little cabin up north once he had it done (a positive way of saying, I'm not interested this winter unless it is done).
He approached a friend to get the info on the course and his wife knew; she encouraged me to give him a little space in December to do it. My friend is concerned because he did not get accountability along with doing it and I was not strong enough to keep asking for both things that week.
Do you have any thoughts on follow through?
I know it is a marathon not a sprint. What do we do when we take one step but it is more of a process? He did sign up and give me that certificate at Christmas. I guess I'm letting my fear get the better of me on this. It isn't any fun to talk to him in this area or letting his emotional withdrawal win but I haven't been able to ask him if he's started.
After knowing how he's avoided this over the years, put off signing up, and uses work and being busy as an excuse in general, I'm doubting he's done much if any. Now what?
Answer: I see two problems here. One is your husband’s resistance and the other is yours. Let’s focus on yours first. You seem apprehensive about being straightforward with your husband about what you need from him to feel safe and cared for in your relationship.
The example he cited of robbing a bank being unacceptable was spot-on and was a perfect opportunity for you to communicate clearly to him that his outbursts of anger (or whatever happens that scares you when he’s angry) are equally unacceptable to you and damage the long term stability of your relationship.
You’re also reluctant to ask if he’s followed up and actually attended the class although he presented you with a certificate at Christmas. Ask yourself what are you avoiding? More anger? Withdrawal? Does he communicate with you non-verbally that if you ask the hard questions, he will retaliate against you? If he does do those things, what does that mean for you? How do you handle his immaturity, and sinfulness against you? Do you shut down? Keep silent? Lose yourself in the hopes of saving your marriage? Retaliate with anger of your own? Is this how you want to be and respond?
When he gave you the certificate back at Christmas what was your response? Did you show him that you were pleased that he took that step for you? I know it’s tough to feel happy about his gift when you want so much more from him than a reluctant agreement to attend a class. You want to see him be aware of how his anger has affected you and repentant for his behaviors. Sadly, to you it looked like the only reason he signed up to take the class was to please you, but were you pleased?
The reason I ask that is when a man does something for the sole reason to please his wife, especially if he didn’t want to do it in the first place, and she doesn’t act overly happy about it, he usually feels any more effort isn’t worth it. On the other hand, if he sees that his efforts pleased you, that might give him more motivation to actually follow through. And hopefully if he does follow through, his motivation might shift from pleasing you, to actually getting something useful for himself out of the class.
Your husband’s resistance is kicking in here too. Most angry people also exhibit a good deal of pride and they don’t want to admit, especially in a room full of strangers that they have a problem. A lot of men don’t want to ask someone else for help and so resist admitting weakness or failure. He avoids taking the class and says he’s too busy as well as withdraws from you so you don’t ask.
To face your resistance you must face your fear instead of allowing it to rule you. Name your fear out loud. His anger? His withdrawal? His disapproval? His refusal? If those things happen, think about how you will deal with it in a wise and godly way. Walk yourself through it in your imagination, thinking about what you will say and how you will act.
My guess is your husband’s fear is kicking in too. He may fear other things. Fear of humiliation, fear of being wrong, fear of feeling stupid and fear of failure. What if he goes to the class and still has problems with anger? Then what will happen?
So before you take the tough approach, (which may be necessary at some point), try first the soft approach. Say something like, “I was so happy when you gave me that certificate for Christmas that you were going to take that anger class. I want our marriage to be better and I just can’t feel close to you when you get so angry all the time.” (Or whatever is specific to what you are feeling). “But you haven’t mentioned it since Christmas and this is March and so I’m wondering if you started yet?”
If you’ve noticed his anger has been better lately and he did complete the course, then tell him. You can say, “I’ve noticed that you’ve caught yourself lately and are trying hard not to blow up like you used to. I’m so glad you took the class.”
On the other hand, if you don’t notice any change at all and he took it, you can say something like, “I see you’re still struggling with your anger. It must be discouraging after taking the class but I feel afraid when you act this way and I need you to get more help if the class wasn’t helpful to you.”
Finally, when do you push for more and when do you let go? I think that depends on you and the effect his anger has on you and the children and how destructive and dangerous his anger is becoming. If you’ve been physically harmed by his outbursts – either directly by him hurting you or indirectly by him throwing things and you being injured, call the police. That is your best protection as he will be mandated into a batterer’s intervention group which is much more comprehensive than an anger management class. If his anger is contained to emotional battering, bullying, and bravado, develop a safety plan for you and your children to exit the house so that you are not victimized by his rages. If he refuses to get help or change, your last resort is separation. You can say, “I’ve asked and asked and asked you to deal with this problem and you’ve refused. I will not continue to allow myself and the children to be a victim of your inability to manage your temper. Your behavior is unacceptable to me, to God, and to anyone else who would witness it. I will not live like this. Until you get help for your problem, we will have to live separately.”
This is a strong step, not to be taken for trivial matters, but when used appropriately, it often wakes up a resistant, prideful, unmotivated person to get help in order to not lose his family.
Friends, how hard have you pushed, and what was the result?