If you’ve ever seen your husband throw a “hissy fit” – then you know what it feels like to stand there and watch it happen. It feels awful. You want to jump in and order him around, you want to stand between your husband and your children, you want to shame him and all of a sudden you feel alone in the marriage – like you’re the only sane grown-up around.
Since I happen to LIVE with a man (my husband, Jeffrey Levine) who’s a marriage and parenting coach as well as an executive business coach (and we can talk about what that’s like…), I asked him to answer the question for us (I love having a man’s point of view, and this was the perfect question for it):
Last night my husband threw a hissy fit (it started with our son who who has been having some trouble with his homework) and when I tried to talk to him he would NOT listen – kept cutting me off, telling me “I don’t want to hear it” and that he already knew what I had to say. I know more about what’s going on with my son’s school work than he does, but he had his mind made up about it. He made me so angry and I realized I was never going to get him to listen so I clammed up.
Later he tried to be extra nice (his way of “apologizing”), took me out to a neighborhood bar to get a couple of drinks, but I was just seething inside. Sat there at the bar and barely spoke to him the whole evening…then we come home and he’s all over me and wants to make love. Blech. That just made me angrier with him and pull away even more.
I said he’s been trying, which he has, but last night was a major slip up on his part. I don’t know how to handle it when he doesn’t listen – a bad, bad habit of his. It’s the same routine….he interrupts, cuts me off, yells. Then I start yelling because I want to be HEARD…but of course that never works anyway. The only response I have is to give him the silent treatment…and it’s not really conscious, it just happens because I get so mad. It’s so frustrating not to be listened to.”
Here’s Jeffrey’s reply:
Certainly one of the most frustrating feelings is when we feel like we aren’t heard. When someone’s yelling, it’s impossible for them to listen. And ironically, yelling is also a sure way to NOT be heard. When he was yelling he obviously couldn’t hear you. When you were yelling at your husband, were you listening to him? Most likely not.
So, how do we get heard, if volume isn’t the answer? The formula is: Timing plus Authenticity minus Blame equals Effective Communication (T+A-B=EC)
You mentioned that he took you out to a bar and you were “seething inside” and that you “barely spoke to him the whole evening.” This behavior is your attempt to get back at him. Lord knows he deserves it. Yet, what is it you really want? Do you want to be heard? Do you want your husband to “get” you?
In that place where he’s most vulnerable, when he knows he messed up, is the place he is the most approachable.
Men are predictable in this way – when we know we messed up we are very poor at knowing how to fix it, so we are open to hearing you.
It’s at this point that you have a decision to make. That is the decision to express your feelings, your needs, and your frustrations, in a way that doesn’t blame or accuse him. If you choose to lash out and treat him as badly as he’s treated you, you will compound the problem.
The last thing I want to do here is excuse his behavior. However, what you might not realize is that you had far more power in this situation than you thought. We guys, after we act boorish, are often apologetic and try to make “nice nice.” When this happens, that is your opening.
The most powerful way to do this is to use “I” statements and avoid all versions of “you did this to me.”
For instance, you might say: “Sweetheart, I know you’re trying to be extra nice to me, and I appreciate that, but I still feel hurt about our little episode earlier. Can we talk about that?” If he’s open to it, make sure you stay with “I” statements: “I feel completely disrespected when we have that kind of exchange.”
If he shuts you down, yells again, storms off, then he isn’t ready. Express to him that you’re ready and willing to talk when he is.
In my ebook I discuss in depth how to identify the actual problem and then how to articulate it to him without blame and judgment.
For now, the answer is to NOT give him the silent treatment, but instead to speak your pain honestly, authentically without blame.
The amazing thing to notice about Jeffrey’s answer is that he, as a man and a long-time personal coach, has the exact same answer I would give – only with a man’s “energy” coming through in a very firm way – he’s very, very clear about a man’s behavior – and what’s so powerful for me is that he’s saying men KNOW what they’re doing.
They KNOW when they’re being jerks, or “messing up.”
It’s like they ASSUME they will do these “boorish” things.
And also, his “I” statements are exactly what we’re talking about as “Feeling Messages” – and so you get a great idea of what a man can and can’t HEAR.
Let me know how this post relates to the more everyday issues you’re facing with your man – even if children aren’t involved at all.