I wouldn’t be surprised if the second complaint is, “I can’t say anything to him without him taking it personal and getting mad or shutting down.” Both of these concerns can lead to relationship breakdown if we aren’t careful.
One of the great ironies in life is we are often at fault when we judge others (the exception to this is abuse: whatever the victim has done, abuse is always the perpetrator’s fault. Yeah, you shouldn’t have left your bicycle outside, but that didn’t give the thief a pass free card to steal it.). For example, the moment you say your father or mother-in-law judges you and is unforgiving, you are pointing the finger back at yourself for in saying it you are being judgmental and unforgiving of your in-laws! Saying to your husband “You taking everything I say as criticism” or “You won’t talk to me” are both criticism. There are two gut-level responses to criticism: shutting down and lashing out. Sometimes you’ll get both. In both cases we’ll have relationship breakdown. The husband thinks his wife is at fault. The wife thinks her husband is at fault.
He said/she said.
Welcome to the great mystery.
I hope you resist the temptation one client told me years ago. She told me her husband never talked to her. I said he was a pretty shy guy. And he was. In his case he wasn’t just not talking to her because he was feeling she was bracing for a fight (she was and was unaware of it). He wasn’t saying much because he was the not-saying-much kind of guy. He’d never said much to anyone. She said, “I don’t care. I’ll find a man who will.” With a spirit like that, you can bet he won’t talk to her very long!
Hey, look: the average woman speaks two to ten times more words than her husband a day. She’s articulate and can formulate thoughts and feelings in a flash, while he has no idea what to say, let alone how to say it. Meanwhile, the more he scrambles for words and doesn’t say anything, the more anxious she gets because she’s feeling a disconnect and the more anxious she gets, the more he worries about what he’s going to say so he doesn’t hurt her or set her off because the last thing he wants is a fight and he gets more self-conscious and less confident to say anything and his heart is racing and he shuts down and she tries to get him upset enough to say something, anything, just let me know you are alive and that you want to connect with me, and he’s at a loss for words, because not only does he feel boxed into a corner and judged and scorned and there’s something the matter with me because I can’t say anything, he fears most importantly, he doesn’t want to fight and he’s learned over the years that if he says anything, she’ll jump on that and ream it out from three directions and point out in ten different ways why his point of view has no merit or one or both will be sarcastic or roll their eyes and off we go to the races.
Sometimes it’s the other way around, where he’s more outgoing or more apt to bring up concerns and she’s the one to shut down. Sometimes both of them go at it and are pretty volatile and a fight is just beneath the surface. Sometimes neither of them are able to say what they need to say and nothing gets said and resentments build up like the wall of China and the two of them are roommates in the extreme.
In any case, when couples are in this quagmire it’s difficult to figure out what to do, both of them are too close, and often solutions tried end up backfiring and the couple can’t bring anything up without saying mean and hurtful things and some, out of frustration, don’t say anything at all. Then they start entertaining thoughts of divorce, and, sadly, many do, and eventually, marry someone else they think they can communicate (finally!) with and then when the newness wears off, they are right back with the same communication issues, only this time, maybe, they take on the reverse role because the pursuer or withdrawer role didn’t work before. Nobody’s learned anything and they may seek divorce again as a solution and we’ve destroyed another family in the process.
Hey, maybe you should figure this stuff out. That’s where we come in. We give you an objective, outsider’s point of view. We’ve seen these patterns, hundreds, thousands of times. We’ve helped out myriads of couples handle the communication issues wiser. We know what works. We know what doesn’t work. We can point these things out without anyone getting upset. Light bulbs go on it people’s minds. They learn different ways to handle it and instead of fighting or shutting down they actually learn to tap into each others’ wisdom and talk about it without animosity.
Wouldn’t that be nice?