Whenever I bring a problem to my husband, his feelings always trump mine. In other words, he tells me he’s had the same thing happen to him, or that I shouldn’t feel the way I do because he didn’t mean to hurt me. At times he even turns it on me and tells me his feelings are hurt worse than mine. Can you help?
To have your spouse tell you you shouldn’t feel the way you do is incredibly painful. And when he talks about his pain instead of taking responsibility for his part in yours, he adds insult to injury.
To be understood and truly listened to are primary ingredients of a healthy relationship. We all want – and should expect – our mate to listen to and empathize with us. After all, we teach our children to listen to us and to each other. Without this basic ingredient, relationships suffer and many ultimately dissolve.
But listening to each other isn’t necessarily as simple as it seems. We imagine we’ll be nice and take turns in sharing our concerns, truly hearing each other. But it’s difficult for two people to share concerns because their feelings often collide, causing a fight. Who cannot remember having a mate share a concern and wanting to scream your feelings in response?
Perhaps this is what makes relating so difficult. It requires self-discipline and self-awareness, not to mention self-control, to listen actively, bracket your reaction, and stay focused on the other person. Yet this is exactly what must happen, and why the apostle James had this to say: “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry” (James 1: 19). These incredibly wise words will get us out of many difficult spots.
Let me offer a few additional ideas on what to do when your husband has trouble listening completely to what you have to say.
First, be sure to share feelings, not judgments. Feelings, shared clearly and directly, are easier to hear than other forms of communication. If you tell your husband you feel sad, hurt, or possibly rejected, he’ll be able to listen more easily than if you criticize or preach at him. Asking him to listen to what you’d like from him is easier to hear than having you tell him what he’s doing wrong. Imagine, for example, saying, “It would mean the world to me if you would spend a few minutes every evening talking about your day.”
If you share feelings disguised in the form of judgments – like “I feel as though you don’t love me,” or “I feel as though you don’t help as much as you should” – it will be difficult for him to hear you. Being judged or criticized is no fun; the recipient of the criticism will find it hard not to react defensively. Remember to speak clearly, concisely, and repectfully. Scripture adds, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Proverbs 15:1). A conversation that starts gently often ends gently.
Two, be sure to agree on the time and place for your conversation. No one wants to be “ambushed” by another’s feelings. We often need a little preparation time, a “heads up” on the topic and what’s going to be asked of us. For example, saying something as simple as, “Can I share a concern with you?” works more effectively than bringing up a hot topic out of the blue.
Third, be sure to listen to your husband’s feelings and needs. Make it clear you want this to be a dialogue, not a monologue. No one wants to be talked to rather than talked with. Show your husband you’re willing to listen to his feelings on the topic after he’s listened to you. Be open to him and consider his viewpoint.
Finally, thank your husband for listening to you. Show appreciation for his efforts to hear you even if he didn’t do it perfectly. If you don’t feel your spouse really listened, ask gently for him to make another effort at doing so. Listening is an art and it takes practice. Let your husband know you appreciate the efforts he’s making.