Q. My wife regularly tells me to “shut up”. I don’t like it and I’ve told her that I find it disrespectful but now she barely speaks to me. When I asked her why she isn’t talking she said she doesn’t want to be disrespectful but she was sarcastic when she said it. I don’t know how to break through this stalemate. Any suggestions? Mike
A. It’s good to get a question from a male reader. Whether we’re a man or a woman, we often have a difficult time seeing ourselves clearly when someone else gives us feedback on our attitude or behavior. Your wife may be feeling defensive or justifying herself that she didn’t really act disrespectfully. It may be that the words “shut up” were common responses in her family of origin and that she does not see them as disrespectful and believes you’re making a mountain out of a molehill.
That does not diminish your feelings but I’m trying to explain what might be going on with your wife. But at this time, her pride is keeping her from hearing your feedback and humbling herself to correct the way she speaks to you.
If you’ve read my blog you know that I tell people that you can’t change other people. You can influence them, but the only one you can change is yourself. Therefore I’m going to give you some suggestions how you might turn this stalemate around so that communication between you and your wife improves.
Sometimes hard words are felt as harsh words. That does not mean you should have not told your wife your feelings, but it may mean you need to say how you feel differently so you have a greater likelihood of being heard and understood. Your goal isn’t to prove that she is disrespectful, your goal is to be understood and for your relationship to be safe and loving and respectful for both of you.
Whenever we need to confront someone, at least initially it’s usually easier for the person to receive our words if they’re spoken in love, with humility on our part. Galatians 6:1 says if we see someone caught in a sin, we’re to try to restore him or her in a spirit of humility and gentleness. When my husband has shared his feelings about something I’ve done with a tender attitude instead of being critical or judgmental I’ve been able to hear him much easier.
To turn things around, initiate a special date night with your wife. Go to dinner, a movie or take a walk. Enjoy the evening together and don’t bring up this issue. Then toward the end of the evening, tell her that you had a great time with her and that you want to be better friends. You want her to be able to be open and honest with you and you want to be honest and open with her. Ask her if she wants that too? Your tone and non-verbal language will be critical here to create an atmosphere of safety and openness. Then wait and listen to her response.
If she wants the same thing as you do, then ask if you can talk about what happened a few weeks ago that caused this distance in your relationship. If she is unwilling to talk or go out with you, then you have a much bigger problem than you indicated and you have more work to do to figure out why she has closed off her spirit toward you.
This may seem unfair that I’m recommending that you do this work since she is the one who wronged you. But if you don’t take the first step toward peacemaking and reconciliation, your relationship may not turn around anytime soon. Through your godly responses to her you may pave the way for an improved relationship. You cannot make your marriage great all by yourself, but you definitely can make it better than it is right now all by yourself. You will also find additional help in my book How to Act Right When Your Spouse Acts Wrong.