Bryce Mathern helps a GMP reader by teaching her how to stay present when her husband exits.
Like every marriage, we have our ups and downs. But when we have our downs, he shuts down and either gives me the silent treatment or states how this marriage is never going to work. I never know for sure if we are going to pull through or if I should expect a process server at the door to serve me divorce papers. I’m not sure how to handle it at all.
I can’t talk to him because he becomes verbally explosive. The house is tense and I feel extremely uneasy. Both of us have been divorced before and there are no kids in our marriage other than from the previous marriage so it would be so easy for him to walk. Half the time, the thought devastates me and the other half, it sounds like a relief to not deal with the rollercoaster.
The exacerbating details are I am in school to advance my career because I can no longer do my current career following an injury, and am not working. I know this puts stress on him. I don’t want to stress him out. I love him or I never would have married him, or married at all for that matter. I don’t want our marriage to fail. How do I help us?
Bryce Mathern, Brass Ball, Tender Heart, replies:
It seems as though your husband is struggling with engaging his inner experience. This makes it difficult for him to acknowledge what is really going on. He may be feeling some anxiety from having to take on all of the financial responsibility of the family. For many men, this is burden is something to be experienced alone. Whether this is right or wrong, I want to make it clear that what he is feeling is not your fault. You are not the cause of his feelings.
It sounds like what would be helpful is for your marriage is to create a safe space for your husband to talk about what is going on inside of him. This would alleviate some of his struggle and make it a lot easier for you because you wouldn’t be left in the dark.
I realize it is really hard for him but I also think you can really help your husband. When your husband shuts down or tells you “this marriage is never going to work,” how do you react? What feelings come up for you? It is really normal for people to get defensive and to push back.
Although this is normal (meaning this is how most people respond) it isn’t very helpful. The really difficult challenge for you is to stay in relationship with your husband when he is giving you the silent treatment and pushing you away. I know that feels hurtful.
So, before you reengage take some time to put together a strategy of how you want to be with your husband. If you’re feeling really emotional wait until you have calmed down. Then, I encourage you to try and stay with him (stay in relationship). Acknowledge the pain this causes you, “when you pull away and shut me out it really hurts.” Try to stay away from any blaming or judgmental language. Try and empathize with where he is at, “You seem to be really struggling right now, and I can feel that.” “Can you give me a chance to know what you are struggling with?” Show that you care…”I really love you no matter how you’re feeling,” (some men have a belief that sharing their true selves will end their relationship).
Let him know you really believe in him, “I can see how hard you are working and all the things you do to take care of us financially.” “I really appreciate this.” Some men can feel as though their only value is their ability to provide. Let your husband know that you appreciate that part of the relationship but also that he means so much more to you.
When you do this, go slow. Talk from your heart, not from your head. I can imagine that he won’t feel safe the first few times you do this. Don’t give into this. Keep going. You are in love with this man and I’m guessing he really loves you.
Stand in this love and acknowledge it over and over again. Human beings are designed to connect with each other. Your commitment to this relationship will help to slowly melt away his defensiveness.
However, and this is important, your intention is stay in relationship and show your husband you love him. If you go into this attempting to change him, he will, at a subtle level, feel this. Be careful that you are not trying to control him. You are opening your heart to him so that more love can flow between you.
I wish you the best.
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