My marriage started out difficult. My husband was always doing something: working at his job or on a project, watching TV, or spending time with his dad.
When I communicated to my husband that I was unhappy, he told me to figure it out on my own and that I had nothing to be upset about. At first, I responded by doing a lot of talking. I followed that with a lot of lecturing, then a lot of labeling and diagnosing, and then threatening to leave.
My husband didn’t listen to my lengthy verbal attacks and quite honestly, I just said the same thing over and over.
When you’re unhappy with something in your marriage, do you speak? Or not speak? That is the question.
The answer is – sometimes you speak and sometimes you don’t speak.
Here are some guidelines to help you figure out which to do:
1. You need to speak your truth because you need to for you. Instead of having conversations geared toward getting your husband to change, focus on what you need to say to make sure your feelings are communicated, regardless of if your husband chooses to listen or hear them. We cannot force our husbands to hear us – but we can communicate our feelings clearly in love and pray for God to open their ears to hearing.
2. You need to be accountable for yourself and your own actions. It is hard to apologize to someone who doesn’t apologize to you, yet this is what we are called to do. Keeping your side of the street clean enables you to hold your head high. You are also setting a good example.
3. You are ready to say it clearly, directly, and lovingly, while owning your feelings and opinions. It doesn’t help to spew out everything going through your mind when you are mad and just want to vent. Wait until you can say it succinctly without blaming him for what you are feeling. You will have a better chance of being heard with short, direct statements. Even if he doesn’t respond like you hope, he will have a better chance at hearing you.
Don’t speak when:
1. You have already said it and it didn’t do any good. Saying it again will cause you and/or the children to be upset. If you’ve communicated something time and time again and didn’t get anywhere, why create more drama to get the same result?
2. You are angry, reactive, intense, or threatening. When you speak under those conditions, you say things you don’t mean and will either need to apologize or retract what you said. It is better to wait and process what you are feeling so you can say what you mean in a way you won’t regret.
3. You can see he is busy. Men have trouble processing what you are saying when they are doing something else because their minds’ focus on one thing at a time. If you want his attention, ask him when it would be a good time to talk and wait until then. If he doesn’t give you a time, wait until he isn’t busy.
4. You know he is in a bad mood, drinking or anything else that will interfere with his ability to listen clearly. He will react to you based on what is going on with him instead of on what you are sharing. It is more important that he hear you than when you say it.
As wives, we control the way we communicate with our husband. Communicating the same way we always have won’t bring a happier marriage. Sometimes we need to speaking less and when we do speak, speak differently.
- Review the lists of when to speak and when not to speak.
- Identify one thing you can put into practice and purpose to do it.
Karla Downing, the founder of ChangeMyRelationship.com, offers Christian marriage help and Christian relationship help as a speaker, author, counselor, and Bible study teacher. Karla grew up in a dysfunctional family and then found herself struggling with Christian codependency in her own difficult marriage. Through her personal struggles, she discovered biblical and practical principles, which she now teaches to others. She also trains counselors, pastors, women’s ministry leaders, church leaders, small-group leaders, non-profit ministry leaders, and individuals to minister to Christians in difficult relationships. Karla’s passion is to see individuals, marriages, and families set free from the chains of dysfunction, misunderstanding, and emotional pain through a correct understanding of what the Bible teaches about relationships.
Karla Downing is the author of the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association 2004 Silver Medallion Award winner, 10 Lifesaving Principles for Women in Difficult Marriages. Her second book, When Love Hurts: 10 Principles to Transform Difficult Relationships, applies the same principles to all family members. Her third book, The Truth in the Mirror: A Guide to Healthy Self-Image, offers a unique and life-changing approach to looking at self-image.
She holds a Master of Arts in Marriage and Family Therapy from Hope International University. Karla also holds a Bachelor of Arts and Master of Arts in Communicative Disorders from California State University, Fullerton. She is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and a licensed Speech Language Pathologist. Karla was also the director of Friends in Recovery, a Christ-based, Twelve-Step recovery program.
Karla lives in Southern California. She has been married for over thirty years and has three adult daughters.