My husband gives me zero help or support. I love him, he seems to love me, but we’ve been together for 25 years and nothing has ever changed. No matter how much I beg, shout or plead for him to help out, he just ignores me. He won’t help out with chores, he shows little interest in my work and he’s reluctant to do the smallest of favours for me. He calls me an ‘old nag’ and is very hostile and disrespectful when I challenge him. Honestly, he just constantly fobs me off and laughs when I get angry. I used to moan about it, but that’s settled into deep lying resentment and I find myself snarking at him and putting him down. I don’t like who I’ve become. I’m also suffering with stress, IBS and other health anxieties. My confidence is so low and I’m wondering if I should stay or go (although I don’t really want to divorce him if I can help it).
Is it possible to change him and if not, how do I deal with the situation?
Resentment is a natural feeling that eats away at us, when we don’t release our true thoughts and feelings. It’s very important that you find a way to tackle your husband’s disregard for your support needs.
I guess I don’t have to point out that after 25 years, the dynamic between you and your husband, has become pretty ingrained, so it’ll take a bit of skill to turn things around.
But it sounds like you’re ready for change, so let’s see what your options are.
It would be helpful if you spent some time considering what you want to happen. This can take the form of making some boundaries for your relationship. This doesn’t’ need to involve your husband in the first instance. What you can do is consider the ‘rights’ you are claiming for yourself as a human being first and a wife second. That might be:
‘I claim the right to do only my share of the work’.
‘I claim the right to be respected and heard’.
‘I claim the right to a healthy life, free of resentment’.
You need to decide what you feel is healthy for your own happiness and well-being. If you expect your husband to support you, then it seems sensible to start supporting yourself. That starts with drawing some lines in the sand and deciding what you will and will not tolerate.
Once you decide on your bottom line, then you can approach your husband and discuss it.
Now before doing so, it’s important to also decide the consequences of him not listening to you, or respecting what you say. It’s likely that after 25 years of laughing it off, he may not take you seriously.
If that’s the case, what are you prepared to do? What action would you take if you knew for sure he was never going to support you?
Because that’s what it all boils down to when we are in relationship with another.
And you have 4 choices:
- Carry on without support and keep getting upset.
- Carry on without support and accept things as they are without getting upset.
- Be equally unsupportive and see how he likes it.
- Leave the relationship.
Now number 4 might seem drastic and might only be an option you’ll consider way down the line when all other options have been exhausted. Or maybe that will never be an option because you’re in this for life. But at least you know it’s an option.
You don’t have to tolerate behaviour you don’t like. It’s also important to realise that changing the behaviour of someone else, usually involves changing ourselves first.
That means getting our values and boundaries in place and being prepared to stick by them.
Below are some DO’S AND DON’TS when it comes to attempting to change the behaviour of someone else. Everyone’s personality and situations are unique, so you can see what resonates, take what you want and leave the rest.
HOW TO INFLUENCE SOMEONE ELSE’S BEHAVIOUR
One problem that comes along with resentment is that we can stop recognising and appreciating the positive qualities of another. We end up focusing only on the negative and as the saying goes, ‘Give a dog a bad name and he’ll live up to it’.
You can reflect on whether this is the case with you. If you feel you’ve been overly critical, then you can make a list of his positive qualities and start reflecting these back to him. When people feel appreciated and their positive behaviour is acknowledged, they can actually respond very well and improve in other areas as well.
You can also sit down and calmly explain to him that the situation is upsetting you and you’d like to ask his point of view. If he’s willing to discuss it, then you might be able to resolve the issue with some ongoing adult conversation.
However, if you’re way past that, then it’s time to take some action based on the boundaries you’ve made for yourself.
DON’T behave in any way that didn’t work in the past. If you’ve been moaning, sulking or shouting, then don’t do that. It hasn’t worked up until now so it’s unlikely to work in the future. He’ll also have tuned you out and won’t hear it anyway.
DO – Keep your communication clear, precise and calm. Tell him exactly what is bothering you and what changes you want to see. Tackle ONE issue at a time, don’t throw a whole barrage of stuff at him, he’ll just shut you down.
That might sound something like this:
‘When I asked you for help this morning and you told me to stop nagging
I felt really upset and disrespected by that
When I do ask for help, I’d like you to take my needs seriously
If you can do that, then our relationship can get back on track and I can start supporting you in return.’
Now notice something about the above.
- It will be conveyed in a calm tone, with steady eye contact and non-aggressive body language.
- You’re taking responsibility for your own feelings using ‘I’ messages, instead of ‘you make me feel upset’.
- You’re being clear on one specific situation, rather than a barrage of different things or a vague statement about his lack of support.
- You’ve laid out what you want to happen in future, trying to make it a win/win
Another thing to notice is the last sentence, ‘If you can do that, then our relationship can get back on track’. I just need to point out that giving a ‘win’ for behaviour change is always going to sweeten the pot for the other person, but it needs to be something they see as valuable. Before you approach the person you want behaviour change from, you need to sit down and think about what would appeal to them. If they don’t feel the relationship is off track, or they don’t care…then it’s pointless offering this as a sweetener.
The sweetener can either be a positive gain or the removal of a negative.
‘If you can do that, then I will remain in the relationship and we can stay in the home together’.
‘If you can do that, then I’ll no longer have to shout and scream all the time’.
DON’T – Make any threats you’re not fully prepared to carry out. When we do this, we’re not taken seriously…ever.
DO – Seriously consider your bottom line and what you are fully prepared to do. If you say you’re going to withdraw all your help, or you’re going to leave, or you’re going to stop contributing to finances, or whatever…. make sure you’re geared for action. This is not a time for false claims. This is where you show you’re serious and you want him to take you seriously in return.
DON’T- Blame yourself. It’s easy to start criticising yourself for being soft, but this will only eat away at your self-esteem. Right now, you need to be on your own side.
DO – Realise you made mistakes long ago and got into patterns and habits that no longer serve you. It’s normal to get into ruts and holes we make for ourselves. Now you’re older and wiser. Congratulate yourself for taking a step in favour of your own needs. Be proud that you’re a nice enough person to help him in the first place. Feel good that you’re moving in the right direction.
DON’T – Blame HIM. This might be a tough one, but dynamics in relationships are always about two people. There’s the one with the bad behaviour and there’s the one that’s putting up with it. We actually train people how to treat us, with our own consistent action.
DO – Start to be consistent with new thoughts and behaviour. When your husband sees you mean business, or realises he doesn’t like the mess he’s living in, or doesn’t like it when you don’t support him anymore…he’ll start to notice the status quo has altered. At this point, he’ll need time to process what’s happening. It’s going to take repetition to get him to see that the ‘new you’ is not going away…ever.
DON’T – Keep mulling over the problem. If you keep telling yourself it’s all so unjust, he’s a rat, he doesn’t care, he’s a lazy loser etc…you’re just eating mental poison that will make you sick. This is how stress and IBS and all kinds of physical symptoms develop. Of course, this is not a medical diagnosis of your particular ailments, but it is based on a large amount of research that shows a strong connection between stress and symptoms such as yours.
DO – Get your mind focused on the solution you want and put all your attention there. If you catch yourself ruminating over his negative behaviour, STOP, get quiet and ask yourself, ‘Is what I’m thinking right now part of the problem or part of the solution’?.
DON’T – Go in with the worst bottom line, unless you’re so fed up, and he’s in The Last Chance Saloon! E.g. If you don’t change I’m going to divorce you.
DO – Have an escalation process that will allow you try out softer consequences first and if there’s no response, you move down to the next level consequence, all the way to the bottom line.
This might have final assertive statement such as…
‘I’ve asked you many times to start helping me and I’ve withdrawn my support from you already. It hasn’t made any difference and I don’t feel you care. I feel totally ignored and I feel you don’t care about our relationship enough to try. I want to tell you that I’m going to ask you one last time to start acting on my requests for help and if you ignore me, then I’m going to seriously consider if we have a future together’.
That’s just an example. Your bottom line will be unique to you. I’m not in any way advising you to leave your marriage. Just be clear on what your line in the sand is going to be.
DON’T – Expect miracles. 25 years is a long time and your husband is in an unconscious state of expectation…about you and your habitual behaviours. It’s probably going to take you a few times of being assertive, before he will respond. He might even get WORSE. When we first challenge the unwanted behaviour of another, they can get very uncomfortable about it. People can get defensive and act out in all kinds of ways, to show you who’s boss.
He might even tell you to ‘leave if you want‘, or ‘don’t you dare threaten me’….or some other aggressive or defensive response. Just expect some kick-back and calmly keep repeating your assertive statements. Try not to add to the drama. Remain in your new, calm resolve to get the changes you want. He might try to drag you into a conflict, because it takes the heat off him. If you start shouting or getting emotional, he can then turn around and blame you for being unreasonable!
DO – Be patient, because change will happen, one way or another. Whether that means your husband changes, or you change the way you see the situation, or you change your own behaviour towards him, or you leave altogether, something will indeed change.
Those are just some ideas around being assertive and influencing the behaviour of another. Try to keep an open mind and heart and believe in yourself as an agent of change.
Although you can influence the behaviour of another, there are no guarantees.
It depends on what they feel they have to gain or lose.
If your husband refuses to change, then you might assume, he doesn’t feel he has ANYTHING to lose… and that would be something you may want to consider.
Sometimes when we challenge others, we find out a lot about their real feelings. When they know we’re serious about taking action that involves ending the relationship (and they know we mean it), you can bet some true colours will start flying. He is either going to not care, declare his undying love, call your bluff and risk losing you, pretend he doesn’t care but secretly does…who knows?
But you’ll certainly ruffle a few things up and maybe clear the path to a better relationship based on truth.
You don’t need to feel pressured into making any big decisions. You can experiment with any of the above. You may even decide that you’re just going to tolerate his behaviour without upsetting yourself anymore.
The main thing is, you recongise your options and act in favour of your own life. Training yourself to stay calm and refusing to upset yourself about this any longer, should also help you with your stress. When you feel stuck, your negative energy, anger and anxiety can release toxins into the body that are extremely damaging. When you take back your power, your energy will start to flow in the right direction…and that is a life-giving process that can make you feel a WHOLE lot better.
To Your Success.
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Linda Bebbington is a psychotherapist & life coach, specialising in beating anxiety, building relationships and overcoming blocks to success.
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