Dear Dr. Norquist:
I come from a family where for the most part, everyone was kind and reasonable towards each other. I know that sounds Pollyanna but it is true. When I married last year, I assumed that would be true in my marriage as well. I have found my husband to be very unreasonable and unkind whenever we disagree on something. He absolutely demands that we proceed according to what he wants and believes to be true. I don’t know what to do about his lack of consideration of my feelings and needs. I wasn’t prepared for this. Now I’m left wondering what is reasonable to expect in a marriage. In general we get along well and have a lot of fun together. We enjoy similar activities and are in the same profession. I don’t what to be trapped in a situation where I have to stifle who I am and what I think is right when he disagrees – but is this enough to doubt my marriage? Or am I the one who is being unreasonable in my expectations of him?
Dr. Norquist responds:
It’s a gift that your family is so kind and reasonable with each other. However, it didn’t provide you with opportunities to learn how to assert yourself and fight back when you need to. It sounds like your assertiveness muscle needs strengthening! There is an imbalance in this area of your relationship. Your husband asserts his will (perhaps in a bit of a bullying way) and you freeze or back down. You are lacking practice in how to deal with this kind of behavior – especially from someone you are close to. Consequently, he gets his way. This behavior gets your husband what he wants, so he employs it when he feels he needs to. He is likely not aware of the hurt, resentment and damage he is doing to this relationship with you because of his behavior.
It is your job to learn to stand up for yourself here! You need to access your inner warrior, the part of you that knows when and how to stand firm and protect your right to be heard and to be treated with respect and consideration. This is the part of you that pushes back when necessary and defends your rights and your boundaries. How would you respond if you saw a boy bullying a little girl? My guess is that you would feel outraged and you would step in and give that boy a piece of your mind. This is the protective stance that you need to access to stand up for yourself when your husband is disregarding your feelings, needs and opinions.
Respect is an essential foundation in any healthy relationship – the cornerstone or the bedrock of a healthy relationship. Once you start standing in your power and refuse to accept his disregard of your feelings and opinions, your husband’s capacity to change his behavior will become clearer. If things are not changing for the better at this point, I recommend considering marital therapy.
(Dr. Sallie Norquist is a licensed psychologist (NJ #2371) in private practice and is director of Chaitanya Counseling Services, a center for upliftment and enlivenment, in Hoboken.) Dr. Norquist and the staff of Chaitanya invite you to write them at Chaitanya Counseling Services, 51 Newark St., Suite 202, Hoboken, N.J. 07030 or www.chaitanya.com or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by fax at (201) 656-4700. Questions can address various topics, including relationships, life’s stresses, difficulties, mysteries and dilemmas, as well as questions related to managing stress or alternative ways of understanding health-related concerns. 2012 Chaitanya Counseling Services