It seems that I am forever doing something to irritate or offend my husband, and I guess I need to learn to better control myself so that I don’t come across in such a rude, insensitive, belittling, controlling, and just plain offensive way. For example, our daughters had a head start on a visit to my side of the family, and when he would talk with them on the phone every evening, he would ask them if they had kept up with their scripture reading. When they said they hadn’t, he would admonish them to get caught up. I made the mistake of suggesting they were probably so busy that they weren’t getting time, and that he should perhaps let the matter drop for the time being, and we could all catch up together as we drove home by listening to the recording in the car. I apparently did it in a rude way, because he got angry and said that I was belittling his priesthood role as the leader of the home as I always did, and that I was trying to undercut his efforts to have our family read the scriptures. I felt bad that I came across that way because it wasn’t my intent at all. I apologized and told him just that, and he said that he accepted my apology, but he was understandably upset for a while.
I seem to always be doing things wrong. If I mention to him that I’m bothered by something, he helps me see that the way I say things is what’s causing me problems. He says he wouldn’t do whatever it is that bothered me if I weren’t so rude and insensitive to him. So I know now that whatever is bothering me is, at the root of it all, my fault, and I rarely talk about anything that bothers me. Instead, I try to think of ways I can be less of a horrible wife. It’s amazing to me that my husband continues to put up with me.
Can you suggest some techniques for me to learn so that I communicate in a less offensive manner? I need to change my behavior so that I am not offending or irritating my husband so much. Where should I start? I really do love my husband and I don’t want to be such a hardship to him.
First, you’re not a horrible wife. I’m not sure where that label originated, but please know that anyone who is willing to improve his or her marriage is hardly “horrible.” In fact, your willingness to look at your own behaviors is the only thing that will make things better. You are a wife who makes mistakes. You also have a husband who makes mistakes. Neither of you is a horrible person. You’re two fellow travelers struggling to get things right in your marriage.
The way you portray your husband’s reaction to you is cause for concern. Granted, I’m only getting your view of the situation, so I’m cautious in proceeding. However, the unilateral conclusion from both of you that you are the source of all marriage woes doesn’t seem accurate to me. I hope he’s also open to looking at how he might be feeding this unhealthy interactional pattern. If he’s not willing to see his influence on the situation, please hold in mind that your marriage struggles are more complex than the simplistic and one-sided explanation of you being a bad communicator.
No doubt you both have your struggles in the marriage. You might actually be a meddling parent who micromanages every interaction your husband has with the children. Chances are, he might be a blamer who believes he’s never wrong. I’m certain you both do things that drive each other crazy. Every marriage, to one degree or another, has dynamics that are hard for each partner. I think you’ll make more progress as a couple when both of you accept responsibility for the impact you’re each having on the relationship.
If every disappointing interaction truly ends up with you carrying the blame, no amount of feedback about your communication style is going to improve things. I’m not suggesting you have nothing to improve. We all have things to improve. My concern is that you and your husband have both convinced yourselves that the real problem is you.
I’d like to share counsel from Elder Jeffrey R. Holland on the importance of creating safe conditions in marriage, especially when we make mistakes. Consider the following statement:
Life is tough enough without having the person who is supposed to love you leading the assault on your self-esteem, your sense of dignity, your confidence, and your joy. In this person’s care you deserve to feel physically safe and emotionally secure.
Members of the First Presidency have taught that “any form of physical or mental abuse to any woman is not worthy of any priesthood holder” and that no “man who holds the priesthood of God [should] abuse his wife in any way, [or] demean or injure or take undue advantage of [any] woman”-and that includes friends, dates, sweethearts, and fiances, to say nothing of wives (James E. Faust, “The Highest Place of Honor,” Ensign, May 1988, 37, and Gordon B. Hinckley, “Reach Out in Love and Kindness,” Ensign, November 1982, 77).
Moroni 7:45 says that true charity-real love-“is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil, and rejoiceth not in iniquity.” Think of how many arguments could be avoided, how many hurt feelings could be spared, how many cold shoulders and silent treatments could be ended, and, in a worst-case scenario, how many breakups and divorces could be avoided if we were not so easily provoked, if we thought no evil of one another, and if we not only did not rejoice in iniquity but didn’t rejoice even in little mistakes.
Temper tantrums are not cute even in children; they are despicable in adults, especially adults who are supposed to love each other. We are too easily provoked; we are too inclined to think that our partner meant to hurt us-meant to do us evil, so to speak; and in defensive or jealous response we too often rejoice when we see them make a mistake and find them in a fault. Let’s show some discipline on this one. Act a little more maturely. Bite your tongue if you have to. “He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty; and he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city” (Proverbs 16:32). At least one difference between a tolerable marriage and a great one may be that willingness in the latter to allow some things to pass without comment, without response.
It’s good practice for you, or any spouse, for that matter, to take an honest look at the ways you impact the relationship.
I hope you’ll continue to ask such honest and heartfelt questions. My concern is that you appear to be the only one in your marriage asking those questions.
Ask your husband if he’s open to a discussion about how you both get stuck in your attempts to communicate with one another. If he continues to insist that you’re the only problem in the relationship, then please go back and re-read Elder Holland’s counsel about true charity in marriage. If your husband can’t see the two-way interactional patterns that keep both of you stuck, your marriage can’t move forward.
If you still find yourselves stuck after such a discussion, it’s a good idea to get some help from a marriage counselor who can help you both understand how to heal these unhealthy patterns. I recommend you check out the directory of therapists at http://eft.ca/index.php/find-a-therapist to see if you can find a qualified marital therapist near your home.
Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday. You can email your question to him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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 and currently serves on the high council of the St. George, Utah young single adult second stake. He is married to Jody Young Steurer and they are the parents of four children. You can connect with him at:
 Jeffrey R. Holland, “How Do I Love Thee“.