How Do You Speak to Your Husband?

So here’s the frightening thing I stumbled upon last week: according to Patricia Love and Steven Stosny in How to Improve Your Marriage Without Talking About It, the worst thing a woman can do to a man is keep hounding him to talk.

Why is that?

Because we’re hard-wired to respond to stress differently, the authors say.

“If there’s a conflict, girls and women want to talk about it. Boys and men, however, need to pull away. A man’s greatest suffering, Stosny says, comes from the shame he feels when he doesn’t measure up—which is why discussing relationship problems (i.e., what he’s doing wrong) offers about as much comfort as sleeping on a bed of nails (Barbara Graham, O, The Oprah Magazine, Feb 2007).”

Wait!  There’s more!

Words hurt. Words destroy. Words can kill a relationship (66).”

Ack! as a writer, I immediately want to argue this one.  Words are awesome!  Words kick-ass!  Words can save your soul!  (Read Suzita Cochran’s post on the Power of the Written Word if you don’t believe me.)

But Love and Stosny do have an interesting point, so let’s keep going.

In their book, Love and Stosny say that most women don’t realize how much it pleases a man to please a woman.

Now think about that one for a moment.  If that doesn’t throw you for a loop, this next one will:

“What women often interpret as withdrawn, uncaring men, for the most part, are men overwhelmed by the criticism and unhappiness coming from their partners (66).”

Oh, boy.

We women sure can be critical at times, can’t we.  If you’re not already horrified, read on.  They’ve compiled a checklist of all the different ways we shame our men.  Here are a few highlights:

  • Robbing him of the opportunity to help (by overfunctioning and overdoing): “Don’t bother. I”ll do it.”
  • Correcting what he just said: “It was last Wednesday, not Thursday.”
  • Excluding him from important decisions: “I told my sister we would vacation with them this year.”
  • Making unrealistic demands of his time and energy: “After you rotate the tires and paint the shed, I want you to listen to how my day was.”
  • Overreacting (which is a form of criticizing his choices or behaviors): “I can’t believe you voted for him!” (69)

Uh-oh.  Please tell me I’m not the only one who’s done some of this stuff.


I’ve been thinking about this a lot since I read this passage, and it’s shaken me a bit.  I’m sure it comes as no surprise that I’m a loud-mouth around here, but let’s just say I didn’t realize quite how over-the-top I’ve been at times.

What does help?

Compassion.  Asking clearing for what you need instead of assuming and then criticizing when he doesn’t get it right.  (Wait, but isn’t that another version of talking? Sigh.)

Oh, you got me.  I haven’t finished the book yet.  I got too thrown by this shaming thing.  So let’s get back to that fun little ‘ole list.

  • Ignoring him: Choosing friends over his company.
  • Expecting him to make me happy: “If we just did more fun things together…” (70)

What do you think about those? I’d argue with the “ignoring him” point, myself. After all, isn’t it important that we have our own friends outside of a relationship in order to keep ourselves sane?

I suppose what they really mean is that it’s fine to do our own thing as long as it’s not at the expense of spending time with our spouse.  That’s what I’d guess, anyway.  How about you?

That last point, however (expecting your spouse to make you happy), should be required reading for anyone ever considering getting married.  If there’s one thing I’ve learned while writing this blog, it’s that you can’t be happy in a relationship if you don’t get your own shit together first.  And yet, so many of us expect our spouse to be the glue that holds us and everything else together.  Talk about pressure!

I would love to hear your thoughts on Love and Stosny’s ideas.  Are they on to something, or are they just insane?

Have you (like me) inadvertently done some of the above?  If so, how did they work out for you?

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2 Responses to How Do You Speak to Your Husband?

  1. Kristie July 4, 2012 at 11:54 am #

    I feel like it’s a total role reversal at our house. I keep telling my hubby “I’m such a dude.”. Because he loves talking and hashing out emotions and I often feel shame for not being all the wife he needs if he feels unhappy. I have a hard time expressing my more nuanced emotions and when he tries his best to interpret them for me (are you upset because xyz?), I get more frustrated. I prefer to end the conversation. I don’t think it’s gender specific. It’s just different communication styles. We’re always working at understanding each other better. Honestly I think I just didn’t grow up in a household where we discussed how we feel, or if we did it was dismissed as pointless complaining.

    • tpajevic July 4, 2012 at 3:48 pm #

      That’s really interesting–that even though the roles are reversed in your house, the emotional piece is similar (as in: you mentioned feeling like the guy and feeling shame, which the author attributed to the men in the equation).

      This is probably a crazy generalization, but it seems to me that a lot of couples have some version of these dynamics–that there’s usually one person who’s more into the “feeling” stuff and one who’s not. And it doesn’t matter who’s what, as long as you figure out how to communicate with each other.

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