Relationship Connection: Dealing with a Disrespectful Spouse


Most of our marriage has been unpleasant, but we are working on it.  The issue that really hurts me most is his lack of respect towards me.  I’ve told him many times that he is very disrespectful towards me, but he doesn’t seem to understand.  How can I talk to him productively about this and help him to see just how hurtful it truly is?


Here are some thoughts on how break through to him:

1.     Prepare for the discussion in advance by letting him know that you want to talk with him about a marital concern that is causing you great stress and anxiety.  You don’t want this to be a surprise discussion.  Tell him that you need his undivided attention and get a commitment from him that he’ll be available to listen.

2.     Plan for success by picking a time and place where you can both feel relaxed and have enough time to talk about your concerns.  Make sure you don’t need to be somewhere so you don’t feel rushed.  It also helps to be fed and rested so you can both feel stable and fully present for the discussion.  You want to eliminate any potential distractions.

3.     You’ll want to begin with what Dr. John Gottman calls a “soft start-up.”  This means addressing your concern calmly and respectfully.  A soft start-up means you avoid using character attacks and exaggerations that often surface when we’re stressed and resentful.  For example, asking him “what’s wrong with you” or telling him that he “always” disrespects you, are only going to make him more defensive.

4.     Consider sharing what you think he might be trying to say to you when he’s being disrespectful.  Sometimes our frame of reference from our upbringings or differences in personalities makes it difficult to see that how we say things could be hurtful to others.

5.     Don’t be alarmed if he becomes defensive.  Stick to your explanation of how this feels for you and don’t make excuses or apologize for how you feel.

If your husband is able to hear your concerns and cares how you feel, this will be the beginning of a long conversation on how to improve your connection as a couple.  If he doesn’t care how you feel, then it’s important to do more to seek more structured help.

Most couples wait an average of 6 years after problems begin before seeking help.  By this time, most people are in the throes of despair and use counseling as a last resort.

If your husband refuses to get help with you, I recommend you step forward and seek help alone.  Either way, you will benefit from the added support and direction.  Make sure you select a marriage counselor who will be supportive of your goal to stay married.  Some therapists unintentionally undermine marriage by encouraging frustrated partners to only “do what’s best for them” without considering the cost of divorce on others.

Keep working to save your marriage.  Despite the years of frustration and disconnection, I am convinced that the two of you working together can improve your relationship.  Hopefully he takes your concerns seriously and joins you on your quest for a healthy marriage.

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