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Question

My husband is often under a lot of pressure between his job, his church calling, and trying to meet his responsibilities at home. He has good social skills when interacting with people outside of our home. However, when he is with his family he easily gets upset and treats us with passive aggressive behavior such as the silent treatment or just being overall impatient. He often leaves a wake of heavy hearts from interacting with his family with such behavior. When I try to talk to him about it, he says it’s because he is stretched so thin, and he can’t be expected to be perfect in all areas of his life. I don’t expect perfection, but I would like to see our family treated with the same courtesies with which he treats everyone else outside of our home. How can we encourage him to be more emotionally positive when he is with his family?

Answer

This is a difficult situation. You can see his strengths in treating others with respect and consideration. You see him giving others his best self. However, when he gets home, you and the children get his leftovers. It’s unfortunate he can’t see the discrepancy and repair it.

I’m glad you’re trying to talk with him about it. I recognize there are only so many of these difficult conversations you can tolerate. I encourage you to continue visiting with him about it as long as the conversations don’t leave you feeling more diminished. If he becomes verbally abusive or aggressive with you, then talking about it further clearly won’t help.

However, if he’s simply saying that he doesn’t know what to do, then perhaps he might be open to your influence. While I certainly understand that you want him to be nice and positive with your family, when people are overwhelmed, they generally can’t start with an emphasis on positivity.

It’s natural to want to pull away from someone in this situation until they can be polite. I recognize that ultimately pulling away and protecting yourself may be your only option if things don’t improve. However, in the meantime, if he’s willing to stay in the conversation with you, there might be more you can do.

Sometimes when we focus on the outcome we want, such as emotional positivity, the person struggling may believe you don’t care about their struggles. It’s human nature to want someone to accept us where we are before we are willing to go somewhere new with him or her.

Instead of focusing on achieving the outcome of emotionally positivity, see if you can spend more time working to understand his experience. He’s performing for the rest of the world, but he’s showing you the truth about how stuck and helpless he feels.

This is a great opportunity to invite him to share all of the ways he’s feeling stretched thin. Listen carefully and avoid giving advice or pushing him to see the bright side of things. Sister Neill F. Marriott taught that “love is making space in your life for someone else.”[i] You may be so desperate for him to be nice to his family that it makes it hard for you to care about his struggles.

I think of the Savior’s visit to the Nephite people and how he stayed with them longer and offered healing to their sick and emotionally troubled. He saw their tears and his bowels were filled with compassion. Christ was deeply affected by their pain, which caused him to stay with them longer.[ii] If your husband is willing to show you his struggles in a soft way, I’m certain you can offer him the compassion and support he needs. The hope is that when he feels understood, he can make room for the impact he’s having on his family.

I’m certain he already feels overwhelmed with letting his family down. He sees the look in your eyes and knows that he isn’t his best self. You might be surprised at how much of an influence your interest in his struggles has on softening him toward you and his family. If you have the emotional resources to offer this to him, this is where I encourage you to begin.

 

Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday. You can email your question to him at geoff@lovingmarriage.com 

About the Author

Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in St. George, UT. He is the owner of Alliant Counseling and Education (www.alliantcounseling.com) and the founding director of LifeStar of St. George, an outpatient treatment program for couples and individuals impacted by pornography and sexual addiction (www.lifestarstgeorge.com). He is the co-author of “Love You, Hate the Porn: Healing a Relationship Damaged by Virtual Infidelity”, available at Deseret Book, and the audio series “Strengthening Recovery Through Strengthening Marriage”, available at www.marriage-recovery.com. He also writes a weekly relationship column for the St. George News (www.stgnews.com). He holds a bachelors degree from BYU in communications studies and a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy from Auburn University. He served a full-time mission to the Dominican Republic. He is married to Jody Young Steurer and they are the parents of four children.

You can connect with him at:
Website: www.lovingmarriage.com
Twitter: @geoffsteurer
Facebook: www.facebook.com/GeoffSteurerMFT

 

[i] https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2016/04/what-shall-we-do?lang=eng

[ii] 3 Nephi 17:5-7