Silent Treatment

30 Jul

Dear LetterBalm: My husband and I have been married for five years, mostly happily. But we do have one problem communicating. When I tell him how I feel, he gets defensive or he starts in feeling sorry for himself or he asks sarcastically what I want him to do about it. We tiptoe around each other for the rest of the day. I find myself withdrawing and being extra quiet around him because I don’t want to be blamed for expressing my honest feelings. I don’t say anything to him – I just don’t want him to make me feel uncomfortable. If I can’t express my feelings to my husband, who can I talk to besides a shrink?

–Tiptoeing

Your dilemma may be solved by simply taking a slightly different angle. You may not be aware, but your statements of how you feel may be coming across as blaming your husband for your problems – which is not what you intend at all. You may be inadvertently signaling that he’s to blame, and he’s picking up on this. He thinks he has to make some kind of reparation, and his defensiveness or self-pity is understandable. Ms. L.B. advises that you learn a new way of communicating your feelings to your spouse. First, tell him you’re distressed. Then, tell him your problem, clearly and simply and why it upsets you. Lastly, make it clear that he didn’t cause the problem and thank him for listening. Simply by listening, he’ll be the sympathetic ear you need to work through things. Here’s an example:

Honey, I’m worried about something, and I want to share it with you. If I can talk it out and you can listen, you can really help me work through it. I’m worried about my mother because I think she’s giving money to my brother. As you know, she’s on a tight budget and can’t afford extra expenses. This makes me anxious and not a little annoyed at Harold because I don’t want us to end up being responsible for Mom’s care. I know that you don’t necessarily want to hear about this because it’s an uncomfortable subject. But I know you love me and I want to thank you for listening – I’m not blaming you at all. In fact, just saying the problem out loud and having you listen really helps.

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