Hitting a nerve with the ladies

Woman sticking out tongue © Brad Rickerby | Dreamstime.comA week ago, I posted Blindly driving a marriage to its death, and then blaming the victim . The post now has three comments from women who have said, “Yes, my husband does this” – including one who said it ended her marriage. I’ve also had a couple of very painful e-mails on this. Clearly, this is a real problem for some wives, and most of those women’s husbands would deny they were doing anything wrong. I can say this with certainty because I have dealt with it a number of times. He all but beats her for doing anything he judges as disrespectful, and then uses the Bible to try to justify his actions. 

In dealing with couples like this, I find that most of what he views as disrespect is more about his perception than her intent. He reads disrespect into something that she does not mean as such. Then her denial that she is being disrespectful is seen as lying, which is also disrespectful. The poor woman is left with a no win situation – the only thing that might calm him down is to apologise for something she did not do. In other words, either she lies or he is angry, grumpy, or abusive.

I suspect a great deal of this comes from the man’s growing up years and differences in his family of origin and her family of origin.

  • If he felt slighted as a child, by his parents, his siblings, or at school, then he is likely to be hypersensitive and see disrespect where it does not exist.
  • Laughter can mean many things, and tends to differ by family. For her it may be a stress relief tool, while he sees it as disrespect.
  • Gestures like sticking out the tongue or rolling one’s eyes can have different meanings to different people, and some women may do these as a loving thing, meaning no disrespect.
  • Certain phrases may be a way of expressing concern, but be received as disrespectful – “Poor baby” for example.
  • If interrupting someone was considered rude when he was a child, but it was an accepted part of a lively conversation in her family, then he will see her interruptions as disrespect when in fact she is trying to engage with him.
  • If he is unsure of himself, any hint that she is questioning him will feel disrespectful.
  • He may see her as not respecting him if she does not back him up in a group, but on the other hand, some men will see such support as disrespectful because he “does not need a woman’s help”.
  • Silence after he says something will mean disrespect to some men, while others may see it as acceptance/agreement and thus respectful.

If you accuse your bride of disrespect, or feel she is guilty of it, more than a couple of times a year, I suggest you think, pray and discuss this issue. Odds are at least some of what you are calling disrespect is not intended as such. If you can identify areas where you and your bride feel differentially about something being disrespectful, it is reasonable to ask if she can change. It is also reasonable to realise that she will do what comes naturally at times, even if she is trying to change. That “slip” is not disrespect, it is habit.

By the way, accusing her of disrespect when it’s not true makes you look stupid, and that causes her to lose respect for you. So, a false accusation here can result in the very thing you don’t want!

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Links to blog posts that stood out to me this last week:


Couple Things Blog

Driving Your Conversations Deeper: Seasons: A very important thing to understand – especially when iun the middle of a tough season.
Driving Your Conversations Deeper: Levels: What level are you on? Is it where you want to be?

Engaged Marriage

Win Hearts, Not Arguments: This is a must read article!

Happily Married After

Perceptions of Strength: I bet you do this …
Sense of Entitlement: I Deserve a Break: No break from marriage!
3 Ways to Put Yourself in Their Shoes : Work on that empathy.

Journey to Surrender

Surrendered Marriage – Embracing Mystery: No easy answers here!

Marriage Gems

Are Your Personality Traits (and Your Spouse’s) Viewed Negatively or Positively?: A great post with an important truth.
Do You Love Your Phone More Than Your Spouse?: Forget addiction, is your phone becoming “the other woman”?

Marriage Life

Suspicion Breeds Distrust : Do all you can to avoid suspicion!
You Can’t See My Broken Heart: Time alone does not heal.

One Flesh Marriage

5 Senses of Sex: Great ideas on making sex more sense-ual . Written for the gals, but it has some good insights.
Seduce Your Wife in 5 Senses: Brad’s take on the same thing.

The Romantic Vineyard

Sharing Musts For A Healthy Marriage – A bed: I agree 100%, and Debi gives some good information on why this is important.
Love Song Letter: Great, romantic idea.
Advice I Wish I Was Given (And Followed): If you know someone soon to be or recently wed, point them to this article.
A Fragrant Aroma – New Friends: As you read, see how a woman knew another woman was deeply in love – and learn from it!

Simple Marriage

The Importance of Being Playful Partners: Do you and your spouse play together? You should.

Stupendous Marriage

3 Tips on How to Initiate Sex with Your Husband or Wife: All better than a grunt and a wink! ;-)
Don’t Do This When You Communicate With Your Spouse: A chance to learn from Stu’s mistake.
To Be is to Do: It’s not what you know, it’s what you do!
Stupendous Marriage Show 016: Fit Marriages, Talking in Your Sleep and Whose Terms: Still a well done pod cast!
Why Do Public Displays of Affection Get a Bad Rap?: Do you and your bride have the same limits on PDA’s?

Winning at Romance

Are you cursing your sex life?: Not a cure all, but a valid and important point.

16 Comments on “Hitting a nerve with the ladies

  1. I wrote this in the other topic, but it fits here as well.

    So basically, whatever the guy does, he’s wrong?

    Now that I might have your attention with the previous outrageous statement it does seem that way sometimes.

    On one hand, we have read that things such as betrayal are defined by the one being betrayed. I don’t think anyone would argue that a woman who thought her husband was devoting too much attention to a woman at church or at his office felt she was betrayed would argue.

    But if a guy feels he’s disrespected he’s wrong.


    If perception works in one circumstance and is the measure, then why not the other. So my question is, is the problem that the man feels disrespected or that the woman chooses to invalidate his concerns and disregard them?

    Again, reverse the scenario. If we are reading of the woman who expresses concerns about how he speaks to the kids (not abusive, but not syrupy sweet either) then should we dismiss her perspective as we are suggesting we dismiss his, should he feel disrespected?

    Of course not.

    So the question is not just should he feel disrespected, but what should BOTH the husband and the wife do about it?

    We keep telling men that if something bothers your bride, knock it off.

    Yet if something bothers the husband, it seems the message is to the husband and it’s stop being bothered by it.

    Why not a “knock it off” to the wife. After all, if you really love someone, you’ll stop engaging in behaviors that you know bother your husband (or wife.)

    So I hope this will let both husbands AND wives see themselves.

    It just seems everything is set up for the husband to lose, and we wonder why husbands seem to disengage. Time after time, it seems there are no win-win scenarios. Just wife wins, husband loses.

    Wife leaves, husband gets blamed. Sometimes, it’s too much to bear.

  2. @Tony – It seems you have ignored my clarifications:

    I said:
    I find that most (not all) of what he views as disrespect is more about his perception than her intent.

    And I said:
    Odds are (so not always) at least some (not all) of what you are calling disrespect is not intended as such.

    I then said that it was reasonable to ask a wife to stop doing something.

    As to the other issue, and I’ve said this before, I am addressing men here. When I address women, I discuss what they are doing wrong, and what they should change. As I said a the top of the first post: “Up front, yes, I’ve seen women do this; however, it’s far more common for the husband to do it, and I have more male than female readers, so I am going to aim this at the guys.”

  3. @Paul, perhaps I wasn’t clear. Good intentions are largely meaningless. It really doesn’t matter what someone’s intentions are.

    We tell that to men all the time. Now we are telling men to look at their wives intentions. It’s a mixed and confusing and inconsistent message.

    It’s not even a matter of someone doing something wrong, it’s a matter of someone stubbornly or perhaps unwittingly doing something they’ve been told bothers their mate, and continuing to do it.

    In other words, they may have good intentions, or at the very least not bad intentions, but they keep doing it. For example, lets just say it’s something simple like a pile of shoes at the front door. You’ve told your bride that it bothers you that you have to wade through a literal sea of shoes because there is little floor space left and it’s getting hard to open the door because of all her shoes that have taken up residence at the front door. Furthermore, those baskets she wanted, that would be a great place to put the shoes sit there, unused.

    Now she and everyone else can say it’s a small thing, it really doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of God’s plan.

    My question is, if she doesn’t love and respect her husband to stop doing something he’s said annoys him, then how is he supposed to get the impression that she respects him?

    Even if it’s not active disrespect, the behavior is certainly not respect. It’s certainly not a sign that I care enough about my husband to avoid behaviors that he has clearly indicated annoy him.

    I think that’s a lot of what folks are calling disrespect. It may not be a contempt based disrespect, but it certainly doesn’t convey respect by any stretch of the imagination.

    We keep reading how men are to open up and to share. So the guy shares, “I feel disrespected.”

    What do we tell him? “She doesn’t mean to disrespect you.”

    Is that supposed to make him feel better? Will it work? Of course not. So what is the point of telling the guy that her intention is not to disrespect?

    All that will do is send him the message that even though he’s told she wants you to share your heart, don’t do it. Because when you do, instead of her validating your concerns, she’ll just tell you with word and deed that you really shouldn’t feel that way.

    Her intentions may get a pass for the first instance. But if the annoying habit or behavior continues after being told, it goes from not knowing to not caring enough to avoid a clear annoyance.

    I can see how someone would correctly classify that as being disrespectful. To continue the annoying behavior conveys the message that there is no regard, no respect for his take on the matter.

    So to be clear, intent really doesn’t matter. We read so many times about it’s all about perception. Intent may explain why something happens the first time. But intent takes a back seat to perception. The phrase perception is everything rings true. If you are trying to love and respect your spouse, the measure of your effectiveness is not a measure of your intent, but how your spouse perceives your actions.

    So I take exception to your focus on intent.

    Otherwise, you have to give cover to anyone who says they didn’t intend to hurt or annoy their spouse.

  4. Tony,

    As a wife, I read these two posts and saw a man who finds disrespect in everything, regardless of what the wife’s actions were. Her actions may not have been disrespectful at all (nor her intentions) but he finds everything a display of disrespect. The point I see Paul making is that there has to be some degree of flexibility and grace on a husband’s part. If he sees disrespect in every aspect of his life in every interaction his wife has with him, he is not showing any grace or understanding to his wife. He is, in effect, showing his wife a great disrespect. Yes, my husband needs and deserves respect – as do most husbands – but if he begins to treat me as if I cannot do/say anything “right” or respectful, he is in the wrong. There has to be grace within the marriage.

    I agree that intent doesn’t have much weight if the action doesn’t follow it. But if the husband is at an extreme in his desire of how respect is shown, he is in the wrong.


  5. @Tony – If intend does not matter, then the observer holds all the cards, and it is what s/he says it is, regardless of how reasonable or unreasonable that is. Your shoe example is an easy one, but what is the thing s/he wants is far more complex and difficult?

    What I see, from both men and women is “your doing ABC means XYZ”. This is incorrect – it means XYZ to them, but not to the one doing it. If intend is irrelevant, then we are each a slave to the thoughts of our spouse. If this was mutual, it would be bad, but usually one person (sometimes the wife, but more often the husband) is the only one who makes such claims, or allows such claims to be made. He labels her failure to clean up the shoes as disrespect, but denies that his failures are disrespecting her.

    Ultimately respect is about the heart and mind, not our actions. Our actions do what what is in our hearts, but that is filtered by both the doer and the viewer. If what is not disrespect is labelled as disrespect, that only makes things worse. If you feel disrespect that is not there, then you just look impossible to please, and that leads to giving up. On the other hand, if you can say it makes me FEEL disrespected, rather than making it a statement of fact, there is then something that can be done.

    In some ways you are hitting on what my second want’s versus needs post is about (posted tomorrow). The man in your example wants the shoes cleaned up, and it’s a reasonable want.

  6. The man wants more than just cleaning up the shoes, he wants to never have to say anything about it again.

    If it were about the shoes, then he could just pick them up.

    The example is about it’s been on-going, and instead of the behavior changing, he’s told it’s no big deal, just deal with it, that’s how I am.

    Which sends the message that my habits are more important than your preferences. Or in other words, I don’t respect you enough to not pile my shoes here even though you provided those stylish baskets I said would allow me to store my shoes somewhere other than in front of the front door.

    The guy has learned to simply not say anything at all, because he has no evidence that she even cares about what he’s said, let alone keeping her word from the previous times they’ve discussed this behavior.

    I wouldn’t say men or women do their parts in the dance more. I’d say they each do them differently.

    Men will complain more about not being respected. Women will complain more about not being loved. In the aggregate, it will probably add up to a similar number of complaints. But the subject of the complaints will tend towards more men than women complaining about a lack of respect, and more women than men complaining about a lack of love.

    Is this a perception problem, or a problem in how men and women each play out their roles in a marriage?

    I say it’s the latter. I doubt it’s a problem with faulty perception on either side. Instead, I believe it’s a problem of right intentions, ineffective or poor implementation.

    All the good intentions in the world will not make up for a bad or ineffective execution.

  7. @Tony – What you say is valid – but the woman could just as validly say that he could respect her by not pushing her to change.

    It requires give and take, by both. If either is giving the majority, or either is taking the majority, there is a problem.

    Ultimately one issue means nothing – it’s the marriage as a whole, the balance, the give and take.

    The problem is that we all tend to over estimate what we do, and underestimate what our spouse does. This can result in a couple where each is convinced they have done more, and their spouse is the one who needs to step up.

    • Why estimate? Why not just communicate with your spouse.

      What I like about what Dr Harley teaches is that you do for your spouse the things that builds your balance in the love bank. In other words, you meet your spouses emotional needs. You also stop doing what makes withdrawals from the love bank. You end any behaviors that your spouse tells you are destroying romantic love.

      It doesn’t take estimating if you and your spouse sit down and describe to one another both types of behaviors, what they look like and mutually agree on how each spouse will implement this.

      A key part of that process is the Policy of Joint Agreement. You don’t do anything without the enthusiastic agreement of your spouse. In other words, you avoid independent behavior.

      He’s not talking about being co-dependent. He’s talking about being interdependent. Which if you think about it, is the way God designed marriage to work. One part is not better than the other. They simply have different roles.

      Just as the Body of Christ has different parts, but Christ is the head, marriage reflects the same concept on earth. Different parts, different roles. One not better than the other, but if done right, with Christ at the head.

      No sacrifice either. Neither is to sacrifice. Instead, both are to negotiate a solution that works for both. That’s the POJA. Instead of telling one spouse, or the other that they are unreasonable, or their concerns are small, or they have too many concerns, you negotiate everything to be a win-win.

      That way, you don’t end up with folks estimating that they’ve given enough, they don’t have to give anymore. Making sacrifices is a sure way to breed resentment.

      Instead, negotiate for win-win solutions. That way, the number of wins always remains the same for bother husband and wife, and the number of losses is always ZERO.

      If you both agree to use the POJA, the concerns about score-keeping go away because you always negotiate for win-win solutions.

      If you do this, I contend the man will always feel respected and the woman will always feel loved.

      If you get away from this and begin to use sacrifice, then someone will feel like they’ve lost and you get the lopsided perceptions about which you are rightfully concerned.

      It’s interesting you use the terms giving and taking, because that too goes hand in hand with what Dr Halley teaches. He indicates we all have both a giver and taker. If they are not both present during negotiations, then you will end up with resentment.

      I believe the POJA avoids resentment because it ensures that all givers and takers are at the table, that there are no sacrifices, simply agreements that are mutual and enthusiastically embraced by both the husband and the wife.

  8. I should say mutual and enthusiastic agreement of BOTH spouses. If you have reservations, don’t just give in, hoping to get it back at some other times. I.E. I did this for you, so you should do that for me. That doesn’t work and leads to the type of estimates that cause problems.

    Instead, what are you enthusiastically willing to do, or what would it take to be enthusiastic.

    Let’s take an example. Let’s say a husband wanted to buy a motorcycle, but his wife wasn’t sure if she wants to go along. She’s not saying no, but she’s not enthusiastic.

    So he would ask, she would be honest and say she’s not sure.

    He would ask about her concerns.

    She might say she’s worried about his safety, how he’s going to pay for it, and where would he park the bike.

    He might counter by saying if he takes a Motorcycle Rider Safety Course, always rides with leathers, boots, gloves, a helmet and a high visibility vest, would that address her concerns about his safety?

    If she’s convinced that he is taking the needed precautions, then he can address her concerns about paying for it. Perhaps he agrees not to buy until he saves the money, or sells some other “toy” that she agrees he can sell ,or what ever.

    He also addresses the where to park it by noting if he sells the snowmobile or whatever, and further cleans up the garage, then would that address those concerns.

    If those steps address her concerns and she enthusiastically agrees with the plan, then he can proceed to buy the bike as he complies with the agreed upon steps.

    If at any time she’s not enthusiastic about it, even after he gets the bike, she can request to renegotiate the arrangement.

    So if she thinks about it more, or something happens to change her view, such as he has an accident, then she can request to renegotiate for something both are enthusiastic about.

    It might require a substitute. If she doesn’t feel comfortable with owning a motorcycle, she can ask about a suitable substitute. Is there something similar that he wants that both can agree upon. So instead of the motorcycle, they get a used Miata and take trips together in that.

  9. Thanks for the post and the others I have just read on respect. Very insightful.
    I wonder if you have some more insight as to what many husbands view as disrespectful. PLEASE.

    My husband is very much this way and our marriage stays in a cycle of this very argument.
    I have stuck thru some very difficult times and one would think my love and loyalty should add up to some grace now and then but I only get accusations that I am disrespectful. Truth is I love him but all of this is adding up to great disappointment and little trust for his treatment of me, when I only have good will for him.

    I believe you are correct that he may be taking out his disrespectful past childhood and work frustrations on me and the family. How am I to put a stop to this? I cant get him to tell me what it is that I am doing that is so disrespectful. He says I should know how to be respectful and that he shouldn’t have to tell me.

    I know I am far from perfect but I do not feel I am being this person he is making me out to be. I am the only one who trys to work on our marriage.What am I to do to keep it? I dont see it lasting thru many more years if this continues as I am shutting down and withdrawing from the constant hurts.

    I am more than willing to admit my guilt on anything (you are correct- I am one of those who have lied on many occasions to “apologize” for disrespect I do not feel I even did- to end a fight) but I NEED to know what it (disrespect) IS so I can correct this path we are on.
    I really think he is confused on the issue of respect and sees any thing I say or do as disrespectful. How do I get him to list out for me what he needs without another argument where I come out to be the disrespectful wife trying to tell him what to do? Any wording advice would be appreciated. Thanks

  10. I’m not sure how to follow this wall of comments, but I wanted to say that I am guilty of this.  
    However, there’s also a saying, that “perception is reality,” or also, “your impact is what is felt, not your intent.”   In other words, as a man, sometimes something my wife does feels like the equivalent of a punch to the gut.  When I ask her, she clarifies and promises there is ZERO mal-intent present.  I take her at her word, but the reality FOR ME is that I basically just got punched.  
    In this case, there’s burden on both parties – the husband needs to somehow adjust the sensitivity, and the wife can also help by recognizing the impact that some of her actions have on her husband regardless of what her intentions are.

  11. I’m not sure how to follow this wall of comments, but I wanted to say that I am guilty of this.  
    However, there’s also a saying, that “perception is reality,” or also, “your impact is what is felt, not your intent.”   In other words, as a man, sometimes something my wife does feels like the equivalent of a punch to the gut.  When I ask her, she clarifies and promises there is ZERO mal-intent present.  I take her at her word, but the reality FOR ME is that I basically just got punched.  
    In this case, there’s burden on both parties – the husband needs to somehow adjust the sensitivity, and the wife can also help by recognizing the impact that some of her actions have on her husband regardless of what her intentions are.

  12. If a couple communicates and finds that they differ on wether something is disrespectful or not, why is the woman the only one that has to change? Shouldn’t they meet in the middle and BOTH shift their thinking?

  13. If a couple communicates and finds that they differ on wether something is disrespectful or not, why is the woman the only one that has to change? Shouldn’t they meet in the middle and BOTH shift their thinking?

  14. MikeAndLauraBayird I think I covered that with “It is also reasonable to realise that she will do what comes naturally at times, even if she is trying to change.” – Maybe I could have been more clear. Beyond that, while both need to work on their side, it is usually far easier to change actions than long held internal beliefs.

  15. echu888 Absolutely right. I can know she did not intent disrespect, but that does not change how I feel. I am all for not being ruled by our feelings, but it take a good deal of effort at times.

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