I am having a great time on a much-needed vacation. I am sitting on the deck of my cruise ship in Barcelona, Spain while I am writing this. I know I know, I shouldn’t be working, but I wanted to get this new blog out to you for this week and I didn’t get it finished before I left.
The Internet has been sketchy overseas but I saw some of the great dialogue on Angela’s blog post on peace. Thank you for responding.
Today’s Question: What do I do when my husband hurts my feelings but does not apologize?
When I tell him what the facts are and what caused him to hurt me, he either denies something was said or done or says to me I am sorry you are feeling that way. I do not know how to respond. I do not know what to do or to feel or think.
Answer: I chose this question for this week because I think this problem is pretty typical in many marriages as well as other relationships.
Our pride is powerful and makes it hard for us to admit that our behaviors or words harmed another person. Click To Tweet
|Pride is exactly what causes our downfall, personally, relationally and spiritually. Even with God, it’s difficult for people to admit they are sinners, confess that they did wrong, and ask God for forgiveness.
Ideally in any relationship, when you express to someone that he or she has hurt or harmed you in some way, that person shows concern. Even if he or she did not mean to cause harm, concern, and compassion should be expressed. For example, if I accidentally step on someone’s toe, I don’t make excuses for my actions, even though they were not intended to cause that person harm. I demonstrate care for that other person’s hurt toe and apologize.
Your husband’s apology, when he does give it seems backhanded. He’s sorry that you feel upset, but not because of anything he’s actually done to cause you to feel hurt but just because you are overreacting or misinterpreting. By doing this he appears to care about your feelings, but not because those feelings are linked to anything he’s actually done to cause them.
Therefore, for you to gain clarity on what is going on, think over the general pattern of your marriage over the past months, past year, past 5 years. Does he generally demonstrate genuine concern for you as a person and for your well-being and overall welfare? Is he compassionate when he unintentionally causes harm to you or others in your family? Are there times when he intentionally causes harm? Harsh words, physical abuse, reckless driving or financial mismanagement? Are these the kinds of things he denies happened?
You don’t share a lot about what’s going on in your relationship but I do sense confusion. When you say “ouch, that hurt me,” you say his pattern is to deny what he did to hurt you. You say, “Here are the facts. When you walked by me just now you stepped on my toe. That hurt.” And he says, “No, I didn’t. That never happened.” When that pattern happens repeatedly in a relationship, it’s called crazy-making. You begin to doubt what happened. You start to question your own reality.
But here is something else you said that may add to the confusion. You said when you share the facts and what caused him to hurt you he denies it. What I wonder is whether or not he is denying the second part. For example. “You stepped on my toe right now and I know you did it because you were angry with me.”
The first part states what happened, the second part is your interpretation of why he did what he did. “He did it to purposely hurt me because he was angry at me.”
This is where (in normal relationships) we get into trouble because we are firmly convinced that our interpretation of why someone did what he or she did is accurate. Let’s put the shoe on the other foot. If you forgot to do something that was important to someone, he or she would probably feel upset or hurt. But if they added something like, “You’re passive aggressive and that’s why you forgot,” you might not be so willing to admit to or apologize for that part.
Is he denying the facts of what he did or your interpretation of his motives?
The second part of your confusion is that you don’t know how to feel or think when he denies his behaviors or tells you he’s sorry you feel that way but he doesn’t take any responsibility for contributing to why you feel that way.
If this pattern had been happening to your daughter or a dear girlfriend of yours how would you think or feel about it? Sometimes asking yourself that question helps you see how disconnected you are from how you really DO think and feel about things but are afraid to face our own honest feelings.
It sounds as if you feel dismissed and uncared for. It sounds like you feel confused because the man who promised to love and cherish you doesn’t seem to care that he has done things that have hurt you whether intentionally or unintentionally. It also may be that you feel angry because when he does apologize, it feels false and insincere to you. That he’s not sorry he hurt you but is sorry that you feel hurt about something that never happened and it’s all in your own head.
So here’s your dilemma. If your husband evidences a general pattern of showing care and compassion towards you and your welfare but has a hard time specifically apologizing to you, perhaps it’s his immaturity and pride at work, and for now, you can work on forbearing this weakness in his character, knowing that he is a caring husband.
However, if the opposite is true and his history shows a pattern of not caring about your feelings or your well-being, let’s look at what your next steps might look like.
Trying to wrangle an apology out of him won’t help you feel better about what’s going on. Your problem isn’t that he doesn’t apologize. Your problem is that he doesn’t care that he hurt you. He doesn’t care about you the way you want him to. And you can’t order someone to care about you. So what does that mean to you?
It may mean that instead of telling him he hurt you and asking for an apology, you need to have a much tougher conversation with him about the state of your marriage and where it’s going. Here are two different sample versions of what you might say next. First, “I am not happy in our relationship. I feel unheard and dismissed. I feel uncared for. When you do things that hurt me you deny them or make it seem like I’m imagining them. That’s not okay with me. Not only do you do things that hurt me, you do very little to show me you care about who I am, how I think, what’s important to me, or how I feel. I had hoped our marriage would be a loving partnership where both of us feel cherished, protected, and connected. I don’t feel that with you and haven’t for some time. Does that matter to you?”
“I’ve come to understand that you don’t care about me the way I want you to. You don’t want to hear me when I talk to you about things you have done that have caused harm to me and to our marriage. You don’t want to look at those things and apologize nor have you changed them. I can’t change you. I can’t make you feel love for me. Nor can I make you feel sorrow or compassion when you hurt me. But I do know that I cannot feel close to a person who shows no care for my welfare, my feelings or my personhood. I have some tough decisions to make about what I’m going to do from here, but I’m done trying to get you to apologize or to care.”
Friends, when you have come to understand that your husband doesn’t care if he hurts you, doesn’t care if you feel unloved or dismissed, what has helped you get strong enough to take the next steps forward?