If I had a dollar for every time someone has come to me and asked me to fix their partner (or mother, or child, or boss), I would be a wealthy woman. I’d be richer still if I could actually provide this service! Alas, I can no more fix your husband than I can my own (and by the way, I’ve tried; it didn’t work).
So what do you do when your husband needs fixing, but you’re the one in therapy? Work on yourself, that’s what! And by all means, get him to couples counseling if you can. But even if he won’t go (yet), what are your choices? Many people see this as a black-and-white situation: either he changes or I go. But sometimes if you change, he may change, too. Or at least be willing to consider trying …
Here are a few things to try that may bring some fresh energy and perspective to the situation.
- Stop and listen to him. Even if he complains about the same coworker day after day and you can predict the next thing out of his mouth, give him your full, undivided attention for a few minutes. If now isn’t a good time, agree on a time in the very near future when you can lend him your ear. If you model good listening skills, you may observe that he is appreciative and reciprocates at a later date. At the very least, you are building your “cred” so that when he is not listening to you, you can refer back to the other night when you fully attended to him, and ask him how he felt when truly heard. Then you can ask for the same consideration and reasonably expect him to at least try.
- Make regular time to connect without distractions. For most couples, it’s not realistic to have an hour a day to sit down and talk. But even if it’s 10 minutes and you really talk (not just plan your schedules), you will be less likely to drift apart throughout the week. Sit next to each other and look at each other, touching in some way, if possible. This “posture” will allow each of you to give and get the other person’s full attention, and makes it harder to get angry and defensive. If there are things that need “improving,” let him know how his behavior makes you feel instead of pointing fingers. Some of you may be saying that this is yet another example of you having to take the lead to bring the attention to problems in your relationship. That may be true, but someone needs to initiate the change or it won’t happen. So be willing to start the ball rolling.
- Let go of your assumptions of what his behavior means. Perhaps it does indeed mean he doesn’t care about you when he doesn’t listen, or that he’s being passive aggressive by peeing on the toilet seat. But isn’t it also possible that he is doing these things mindlessly or out of habit? Or that he is preoccupied with his fear of losing his job? Maybe you shouldn’t take it so personally this time.
- Tap into your compassion. Many negative behaviors can be attributed to the traumas and fears of daily life, if not to those suffered long ago. Take a few deep breaths and imagine what it feels like to be in his shoes. It may soften your stance a bit, enabling you to more gently convey your concerns.
- Hold him—and yourself—accountable for your actions. Although all of the above are useful, ultimately you want to be in a relationship where you can negotiate the ups and downs of daily life. If you consistently feel unheard with your concerns, then it is time to get some help and sort through the “he says, she says” stuff. Chances are you are both attached to your versions of things and the longer you wait to address them, the more entrenched they will become.
And if your husband still won’t come to therapy with you? Become the best version of yourself and see if he can reciprocate. In yoga, when we say “Namaste,” we invoke the concept of “the best of me greets the best of you.” If you greet him with your best, you can then see if he is willing to meet you part of the way and do the emotional work that will bring him—and your relationship—into a healthier place.
If he still won’t meet you, then at least you are becoming your best self. From there, you will figure it out.
© Copyright 2014 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Lillian Rozin, MFA, LCSW, RYT, therapist in Media, Pennsylvania
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