My husband and I have a wonderful, loving marriage but have one major issue that we just can’t seem to fix. Anytime that my husband and I get into a disagreement my husband over reacts, even if it’s over something simple. First he becomes defensive, then he’ll put the blame on me, next he becomes irate, he then will threaten to kill himself (it used to be that I would immediately end the argument when he would do this but now I just tell him to knock it off). After going through all of this are we able to address the issue but by that time we are both so emotionally exhausted that we don’t even want to deal with the issue at hand. It’s so frustrating. For once I wish we could just talk about a problem with out all of the drama! Sometimes I just don’t even want to tell him how I feel about something because I just don’t want to go through his routine. But the problem with that is that nothing gets fixed if we don’t talk about our problems. How do I deal with his “drama queen” ways so that we can have healthy arguments and actually get somewhere with our problems?
Great question! This is really classic behaviour that many people that have a fear of conflict show. They try to deflect the blame everywhere they can, and when that doesn’t work, they grow very passive aggressive, in this case threatening suicide.
It can take on several forms: “I’m such a bad husband. How could you even love me?” Or “I’m a terrible wife. I’ll never, ever be good enough. I’m just a failure at everything.”
It deflects blame, too, because now instead of talking about the issue you end up reassuring your spouse that they’re not a failure, when the issue WASN’T that they were a failure in the first place. It was just that they were doing one thing that you wanted to talk about.
I don’t have time to write a long post on this one, because I’ve got a ton of errands to run today, but here are some quick thoughts:
I actually understand this dynamic really well, because in many ways I AM that husband (I just don’t threaten suicide). This is the biggest problem in our marriage; I have a hard time just listening to Keith when he has a simple problem he wants solved.
So let me try to spell out what the husband is doing here at each stage, because I get it. I grew up with a lot of rejection issues and I brought them into our marriage, and it’s been hard for me to learn to react helpfully during disagreements.
Why is he deflecting blame? Why tell her she has no right to feel that way? Because if he can convince her that she’s wrong to have those feelings then she’ll realize that she has no reason to be angry and she won’t leave. Now, obviously that’s not logical; the best way to deal with a problem is to DEAL with it, not dismiss it, but that is likely the core of what is going on.
Then he becomes angry to see if he can get her to stop going on about it that way.
The despondency is often a very real feeling; what he’s reacting to is a fear that she will leave, and he does feel like a failure. But he also knows that this is a powerful weapon, and so he uses it.
The key to all of this, though, is often that fear that she will leave, or stop loving him.
2. Talk About How to Solve Problems Before They Hit
When no one is angry about anything, sit down and say, “what’s going to be our game plan to solve problems? How should we talk about them?” And let your spouse have some input. Ask him, “what’s a good way of expressing that I’m upset about something without making you feel like a failure?”
3. Start Conversations About Problems with Reassurances
When you do have an issue you need to bring up, sit him down, and start with five things he does really well and reiterate that you totally love him and won’t leave him.
That’s hard to do when you’re mad, but it can stop the domino effect which is often caused by him being insecure. Deal with the insecurity first, before the other stuff, and it may be easier for him to listen.
4. Use Something Tangible
Write down what your issue is and put it on a piece of paper. It could be something simple, like, “I feel as if you don’t take my parenting concerns seriously about Johnny’s behavior”, or something. Then write on a few other pieces of paper, “I know you love me.” “I love you.” “I love how you’re romantic.”
And say to him, “all of these things are true at the same time.”
Have him write down some truths as well–some about difficulties and some about things that are going well. That helps you keep perspective.
5. Sit Beside Each Other
Here’s another tangible, practical thing you can do: sit on the same side of the couch with those issues that you wrote down in front of you, rather than between you. Now you’re going to deal with that issue together, you’re not going to let it come between you.
Those are just really quick ideas to handle the actual disagreement better. I’d also say, you’d likely really benefit from sitting down with a counselor and mentor couple and work out where the insecurity comes from, if he’s willing. And absolutely keep spending time together and working on your friendship so you feel part of a team.
Here are some other thoughts on resolving conflict that I’ve written before:
Being a PeaceMAKER Rather than a PeaceKEEPER
Final thoughts: if you can push through this, you will find your marriage closer than ever. When Keith pushed through all my barriers and all the weapons that I tried to use against him, he showed me that he loved me no matter what. And it was difficult, but I grew stronger, and he grew stronger, and we grew stronger together. And now, with God’s help, I’m better able to stop that cycle.
What about you? Are you a drama queen? Or are you married to a drama king? What solutions have you found to this cycle?
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