Janet asks: My husband indulges in a behaviour that I find rude, hurtful and disrespectful. I have told him how I feel and asked him to stop many times over the last two years. He denies that he does it, even said on occasion that it was in my head. I told him that if it happens again I will simply leave the situation/event.
We were out with friends last week and because of his behaviour, I left halfway through. He keeps asking why I left but I know that he will deny said behaviour so don’t see the point of going through it again only to end up arguing. I told him that it was about me taking control of me and it was not about him.
Here is my question: Should I explain why I left? Or did I do the right thing?
Hope you can help. We have another event coming up soon and I’m planning on responding the same way if he shows inconsiderate behaviour again (which he probably will as I think it’s a habit now).
One of the fastest ways to leave someone feeling as if their feelings are invalid, to crazy-make them, and to wear down their last nerve, is to have a stock answer to concerns or a particular concern that pretty much amounts to saying, “Problem? What problem? You are the problem” and then whistling and looking in the other direction.
When we are told that we are “too sensitive”, “too needy”, “making a big deal out of nothing”, that we’re a “drama queen/king”, “psycho”, “looking for trouble”, “making a fool out of ourselves”, “being insecure”, “jealous” and the list goes on, it’s a dismissal. The fact that it’s being done by someone with whom we are supposed to be sharing an intimate relationship where there’s a need to treat each other with love, care, trust and respect including seeing and hearing each other even when there’s a potential for criticism or conflict, puts us in a precarious place.
Maybe it really is just me, we wonder. We fear pushing the issue in case it breaks the relationship, not realising that denying our feelings and not addressing the problem will lead to far bigger problems.
But here’s the thing: Our problems in relationships are shared. When one wins, both win. When one loses, both lose. It’s part of being on an intimate team.
Sure, it’s not easy to self-reflect and see ourselves through another person’s eyes but it’s what’s needed in order to empathise—empathy is a critical ability in healthy people and healthy relationships. The alternative is to dismiss our loved one’s perspective and be self-aggrandising. And we shouldn’t be comfortable with our partner’s repeated discomfort nor is it a good idea to take the dismissive stance because it’s a major breach of trust.
Our partners don’t need to agree with every feeling and perception that we have but in any relationship where we want it to grow and deepen, each party needs to be open to hearing the other person out, respectfully. Crazy-making you just isn’t cool.
Now Janet, you don’t say exactly what it is that your husband does when you’re out but suffice to say that it’s big enough to drag on for two years.
Take this piece of advice and hold it close:
Tell him what you see. Tell him what you hear.
He can’t tell you that the description of what he said and did is in your imagination. He can query your interpretation but not the existence. What he can deny is your feelings because he’s not feeling them and they’re easy to run rings around. He immediately blows a hole in your argument by basically going, “I deny that I’m making you feel that”.
He’ll also reason that he’s not trying to hurt you, you know, that it’s not his intention, but when you start talking in the lingo of outcomes, suddenly your position is clear.
Let’s be real: if your husband was a feeling and perceiving kinda guy, you wouldn’t still be trying to explain your feelings to him about this issue two years down the road.
This is why I teach people to deal in facts—The Be Factual Approach, something I teach on Embrace Healthy Boundaries.
What people cannot argue with is facts or certainly how their behaviour looks through another person’s eyes. They have an opportunity to clarify their intention and meaning, or light dawns on marble head and they suddenly grasp what the issue is. It also means that you take responsibility for your side of the street where you acknowledge your part no matter how small. That might not be about the situation/event per se—it might be about owning your boundaries. Sometimes we substitute showing through boundaries with repeatedly talking about something.
Talking about feelings, while it’s something that so many of us in this world avoid, it’s actually the one thing we do during conflict and it misses the point.
Facts first, then feelings.
Describe the actions. Be specific. Be factual where possible.
Repeat what was said and try to be verbatim. If he corrects you, he can always tell you exactly what he said and meant….
I get walking out because you probably feel as if you’ve been explaining yourself until you’re blue in the face and there’s a lot to be said for positive reinforcement (exiting the events is your way of creating consequences), but aside from reaching an impasse in your relationship, is this going to change how you feel? Is this the action that’s going to allow you to feel happier and empowered?
It is important to take command of you and part of that is making yourself clear–no hinting–and following through with consistent action.
Example: “Over the past couple of years, I’ve attempted to get you to understand that some of the things that you say/do when we’re out at events feel rude, hurtful and disrespectful. As you know, I left [the event] halfway through and it was because the same thing was happening. The reason why I left is because you were ___________ [describe the specific behaviours and try to be as close to verbatim about anything that was said]. When you [summarise the overall issue, for example, flirt with others, put me down] by doing [and briefly highlight no more than 3 examples] or saying [and briefly highlight no more than 3 examples], this doesn’t feel respectful or fair. To add to this, when I have previously attempted to broach the issue with you, you refuse to acknowledge where I’m coming from, even saying that it’s in my imagination.
I love you and it’s because of this and the fact that I value our marriage, that it’s not only important for me to say this to you but also that we do our best to come together to resolve this issue. I don’t want to be walking out of events but it is what will happen if this issue continues. It’s important to me to be in a marriage where I feel acknowledged, respected, and valued, which is not how I feel at these events. If I haven’t been clear in the past about exactly what has been a source of pain for me, then I apologise. If I have misunderstood something, I am open to hearing your side of things, but what I don’t want is for you to dismiss what I’m saying. We can try to sort this out alone together or I am more than happy to go to couples counselling, but either way, we have to sort this out.”
This is also a good time to step back and ask yourself: What’s behind my choice in marrying this man? Is anything that I am experiencing here pinging on something from the past? If what he’s doing is an isolated issue, that can help you rebuild confidence in your relationship. If what he’s doing is emblematic of wider issues, then you can understand the bigger picture. It’s not your fault that he behaves as he does. What you need to take responsibility for is how you show up in your relationship and what you will do next. If what you’re experiencing here links up with something or someone from the past, it also points you to where you can heal old and present wounds by evolving in this situation.
And it’s not about whether you did the “right” thing; it’s about doing something.
No, leaving events isn’t a long-term solution but the consequences are clear. Now he knows you’re definitely not OK with something and that’s not in either of your imaginations.
Have you dealt with someone who denies the existence of an issue that keeps cropping up? Have you been in a situation where the same boundary keeps being crossed despite you expressing your hurt etc? What did you do? What would you suggest to Janet?
Each Wednesday, I help a reader to solve a dilemma. To submit a question, please email advicewednesdayAT baggagereclaim.com. If you would prefer your question to be featured on the podcast, drop a line to podcast AT baggagereclaim.com. Keep questions below 200 words. For in-depth support, book a clarity session or coaching.
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