“My wife says that she can’t do this any longer…”
It is common that we get phone calls from husbands who say this exact statement.
He will start by saying, “I need to make an appointment for myself for individual counseling.” When we ask, “Tell me a little bit about what is going on that brings you to make this phone call today.”
He will go on:
- “Well…she has asked me to go to couples counseling a few years ago but I refused.”
- “Now she is saying that she cannot do this any longer.”
- “I knew that she was unhappy but I didn’t realize that she was this unhappy.”
- “She moved out over the weekend and I had no idea that she was considering taking things this far.”
It can be jolting and overwhelming to have a partner threaten divorce or move out suddenly (or at least what seems to be suddenly).
This jolt commonly “wakes up” the spouse to see that something is in fact really wrong — that his wife is possibly more unhappy that he understood that she was to begin with. The husband is sometimes reeling from the abruptness of the threat of divorce or separation while the wife may say something like…
”I have been saying for 2 years! Why haven’t you listened to me?!”
“Too little too late. You should have gone to therapy years ago when I asked.”
Often the culprit in such situations is that the couple has not established a clear way to LISTEN to one another and be SPECIFIC about their needs or wants with one another. Most couples come in saying that they need help COMMUNICATING — and yes, this is often true to some degree.
Listening is a vital part of communication — hearing what your partner has to say, getting curious about it, and integrating that information is necessary for a long, dynamic and fulfilling relationship.
Of course, it is tough to be curious when what your spouse is saying is CRITICISM, JUDGMENT or CONTEMPT.
Importance of Communication
Part of learning HOW to communicate is delivery. I’m not talking mamsy-pamsy beat-around-the-bush communicating…but I am talking about clear, kind, specific delivery that is digestible for your spouse.
Here is an example:
I’ve heard many wives say to their husbands, “You are like another kid in this house. I feel like I have to pick up after you just like our children! Why don’t you ever listen to what I am saying to you?!”
There is a lot of important information here but it would be very difficult for the most self-aware, self-assured man to hear the CONTENT underneath the CONTEMPT and JUDGMENT.
And to be fair…the contempt and judgment have likely built up over time. This is not the first time that the wife has asked the husband to please remember to put the laundry in the dryer or pay the childcare bill. There have likely been dozens or even hundreds of grievances that have been left untended which wind up with sharp words, a threat or an ultimatum.
Most of us were not taught to say to our husband:
“Honey, there is something I want to talk with you about…is now a good time?…
I notice when I walk into the laundry room and the clothes that I asked you this morning to put in the dryer are still in the washer, my blood starts to boil and I get so angry. In that moment, part of me feels so overwhelmed — another part of me feels so angry — and another part feels totally alone. In that moment, I want to scream and push you away.”
Most husbands were not taught to PRACTICE NOT TAKING IT PERSONALLY and get curious in order to connect with his partner…to LISTEN to the concern in order to create more closeness and intimacy:
“Yes, hon, now is a good time to talk. I hear that you felt super angry when you saw that I hadn’t put the clothes in the dryer like you had asked. I heard you say that you felt overwhelmed and lonely. I imagine that given all that is going on with your work right now you felt doubly overwhelmed because it may be like you have to do twice the work at home and at work. Is that what it feels like…?”
The point here is not about following a script but taking some time to connect with the emotion (overwhelm, anger, loneliness, etc) before getting caught up in the content (the laundry not getting managed). [PRO TIP: if you get caught up in the content you will likely start defending yourself and now you have a battle on your hands. Go for the emotion first!] If you are in a committed relationship, you must learn how to listen for the emotion and then do these three things (we did not make this stuff up -- these simple steps are taken from Imago Therapy Dr. Hendrix and Helen Hunt) :
- Mirror the emotion, “What I heard you say is….”
- Validate the emotion, “It makes sense to me that you would feel that way given….”
- Empathize with the person, “I bet you might also be feeling____ right now too…do you feel ___?”
Hearing and getting curious about the emotion before getting to problem-solving the content is a key component of being a healthy, vibrant couple.
NOTE: most of us were not taught how to do this! Many people learn this important skills in couples counseling.
If you are ready to have a highly trained, licensed therapist help you learn some of these skills to strengthen and improve your relationships, call us right at 720.457.3342 or book online by clicking one of the red buttons at the top of the page.