How to get his respect and his love
John starts shouting almost before he closes the front door.
Whatever he’s got to say, has been building all day. As he shouts, red faced, squint eyed, scowling at his wife Carol, she says nothing. John even pauses at times to wait for her response. Still she says nothing. Finally, he stops and asks her if she isn’t going to say anything.
Carol calmly replies, “Yes, I am. I was waiting for you to finish so I could make sure I heard your important points.” Carol then restates the points she heard her husband make. She doesn’t defend herself against his accusations, she doesn’t try to explain her behavior, and she doesn’t give counter-arguments. She has practiced this way of responding to the emotional abuse in her relationship coaching.
If John starts shouting again, she won’t try to calm him down. When he stops, she will simply restate his points again. This is indeed what happens. Hearing his points spoken back to him makes him feel understood, but gets no answers to his questions and he is not satisfied. So, John does what he knows how to do–he demands answers from his wife.
“I will answer all your questions,” she says calmly, “but not right now. We can set a time when we are calm and I will answer everything. From now on, whenever you come at me, shouting like that, I will listen, but I won’t give you answers at that time.” Carol has already prepared for the explosion that’s likely to follow, and she remains calm.
“To hell with that!” John replies, and storms off.
Carol does NOT follow him. And, for the first time in 5 years, John’s shouting did not lead to an argument. He was emotionally abusive, but Carol has taken control. What to most people looks like a failed attempt to talk to her husband is actually a success for Carol. She has learned in our coaching that difficult husbands never cooperate at the beginning of change. That’s an unrealistic expectation. But, less than two weeks from now, the shouting will be over. Even if Carol got nothing more than this out of her coaching, she will feel like it was worth it. But, for her, it’s just the beginning. And, for her husband, too.
Carol’s situation is typical of the many distressed relationships I work with each day.
The severity of the situation varies from person to person, but they all have two things in common: 1) they love their husbands (or wives, as the case may be), and 2) their husbands are driving them crazy. Carol is learning how to stop her husband’s emotional abuse from working anymore, one of two keys to changing his behavior. For John, it’s a stressful time, but an important one for his own happiness. He doesn’t realize it yet, but Carol is being both tough and loving. If she didn’t do that, both of them would just be in for tougher times ahead. More than likely, their relationship would come to an end.
The other key will be helping John to learn a better way–one that actually builds the relationship.
It will be hard, but Carol has me to help her. And as she has proven to herself on this first day of change, she can do it! She will be eager to share her success with me. Next, she will learn how to talk with John and help him to talk to her, something we will practice in our work together. Carol will learn to expect John to resist at first and to not be upset by that. Eventually, John will become as motivated to work on the relationship as she is. Because, the truth is–John needs the relationship as much as Carol does. And, given a choice, he doesn’t want to continue to be emotionally abusive either.
Many women (and men) are learning that there are more than two choices when it comes to a difficult husband.
It’s not just a choice between being “patient” or leaving. They can help their husband to change through learning to be tough and loving at the same time. “Tough” doesn’t mean nagging or complaining, either. Tough means no longer playing unhealthy games. And “loving” means making your husband feel wanted at the same time. It’s a new paradigm for most people. But it works.
Later on, husbands get on board.
Two months after I started with Carol, John joined Carol in coaching. I asked him what went on in his mind when his wife first started to change the way they interacted. “At first, I didn’t take her seriously, but when she didn’t stop I got kind of worried about it. But, I realize now that what she did gave us a chance to really talk [instead of fighting].” I asked him if he was glad now, that she did that. “Oh yeah.”
(John and Carol’s names and identifying information have been changed to protect their confidentiality).
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