How to talk to a resistant husband?

Have you ever despaired of being understood, repressing those feelings of isolation and despair inside you? And why? Because you are afraid of creating a worse conflict if you speak up!

My best friend, Anne, was at the end of her rope. Of course she was developing ulcers and was taking some kind of pills for the rest of her life. Of course she was unable to sleep and would toss and turn the whole night, thinking that perhaps a new pill will provide relief!

It took me some time before I had the courage to ask her: What is happening to you? And she said “I'm sick and tired of the things my husband does each day...but I don’t know how to face him and make him stop such nasty behaviors, and I’m so angry at him that I could explode any time!”

What happens is that  she is afraid of his resistance and probably strong denial and thus she leaves a bad situation to escalate into a worst one, where her anger sits in a bed of despair and contempt. All because Anne doesn’t know how to confront him!

Or course, at this time, there is little love or respect left in her for him, who is oblivious to the depth of her negative feelings... He thinks that she has stress ulcers! Of course, he could ask the question: “what are the things that cause you so much stress…?” but he is avoiding exactly this kind of conversation! It is obvious how they are colliding in the same denial.

It took some private meetings with her to get to the bottom of her feelings and for me to be able to ask the question:

“Why is that you don’t confront him with his negative behavior”? And her answer was: I never learnt how to face him! Because I was only told to be always nice and polite, I don’t know how to confront anybody when they do things that upset or damage me! And now, I’m scared of his reaction…

Is this a picture that you recognize? How far in the path of self-destruction are you willing to go, only to continue thinking about yourself as a “nice person, never aggressive”? Could you identify with this situation, where you have neither the permission to confront, nor the skills to do it in a safe way? Are you afraid of any kind of confrontation, even a healthy one to defend yourself?

This is partially true: if you confront without knowing how to, in a respectful but firm way, you can get a worse response, and so confirm your fears. But, where does not doing a confrontation leave us? If we can’t confront, we stay frustrated and resentful, and the anger eats at us inside.

Meanwhile, the other person continues the offensive behavior as before, because nobody told him/her not to do so! When at last we do confront, we do in such state of frustration that results are not encouraging, and the other person, taken by surprise, can react very strongly.

If you don’t tell the other person when and how she is infringing on you:

* You are not in control of your life,
* You have a lot more stress.
* You begin carrying the emotional baggage of resentment.

The relationship deteriorates and the other person never has the opportunity to improve his behavior. Then, one day when "out of the blue" you decide to leave him, there will be a great shock!

THEN, if you confront:

* you get the control of your life back.
* You are not a passive victim.
* Stress level improves.
* Mental health goes back to balance.
* There is no build up of emotional baggage.

So, HOW do you confront someone about his/her inadequate behavior? It is simple, not by reproaching the wrong behavior, but asking for the right one:

If you are tempted to say something like:
“You are always a careless person! How do you dare to use my money without asking me if I could afford this expense! You are hurting my pocket in this way”

It is better to say:
“I need you to take better care of our money. When we have decided that this money should be used to pay X bills,, it would be better for us to stick to the plan, because there is no extra money now to pay for X. In this way, I will feel that we are really doing things together in a responsible way.”

Main parts of this new response are:
Focus is on “I” and not on “you,” because this expression is usually received as accusatory, and because it helps highlight the issue of what are our needs that are being frustrated now. You say it in a way that describes the problem’s impact on you, while providing a solution.

Three take away ideas:

1. It is best to confront soon, letting things fester is wrong.
2. It is best to confront skillfully, using this model.
3. Behavioral change requires that we keep confronting about the wrong behavior up until the moment when it improves, and then we praise the new behavior.

NoraNora Femenia is a well known coach, conflict solver and trainer, and CEO of Creative Conflict Resolutions, Inc. Visit her blog and signup free to be connected to her innovative conflict solutions, positive suggestions and life-changing coaching sessions, along with blog updates, news, and more! Go now to "From Conflicts to Love, a new guide to Interpersonal Conflicts."
  1. mom, 03 December, 2010

    What if the spouse has stated that they will never change the obviously negative/hurtful behavior, and you can’t afford to leave or divorce the person?

  2. Nora, 03 December, 2010

    Well, it depends…you can believe what the person says, but probably this phrase about not changing is valid now…and it can change tomorrow. It is obvious that the phrase is a defense against: “You are asking me to change, and as it is coming from you, I need to resist the change.”
    What you can do, if really is impossible to leave, is to detach. It is a progressive removal of your affection from his person….you begin to focus more and more on your children, or your own family, or yourself. Please, find here some postings about how to detach.
    Meanwhile, doing appreciation will not hurt, and sends the right message: “even when you are being stubborn and change resistant, I will treat you well as to prove that I’m a good person, and that is healthy for myself.”
    and of course, finally he will notice that you are detaching (without accusations or reproaching) and this will call his attention. If he is an intelligent person, will see the connection between his stubbornness and lack of cooperation with you, and his growing isolation inside the marriage.
    Now, he has a choice: does he continues resisting you (which of course is damaging his own happiness) or decides to go along with the change program? At this point, who knows what he will decide! in this choice is pivoting your whole marriage! Good luck, dear mom.

  3. Mearns Fry, 14 September, 2011

    I lived 44 years with a man like you describe and not realizing it had a name I nevertheless did many of the things you propose.
    Sadly, taking a hands off approach meant that I did not stop him from going out in a canoe without a life jacket, when he could not swim and had passed his 70th birthday. He drowned.
    It has been 6 years now, and while I do not feel guilty. I did my best for a long time. I wish I had understood more. Before he died we spent most of 5 years saying almost nothing to each other. It was so horrible. 
    He lied a lot too, e.g. he was paying life ins. No, none existed, he never paid health ins. I did it through my job. He had not paid his taxes so I got stuck with them too. I was left only with debt.
    Beware out there. Sometimes you need to insist on answers and  investigate yourself because you do not get honest answers. I was much too polite. But when I was not, I was a screaming hyena and made a fool of myself.
    He told me often nobody liked me – and now, with no family or friends, I find myself believing it, since there is little positive feedback in my life.

    Ho, hum, hope this helps some of you.

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