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Ask Julie: Sharing Difficult Feelings in Marriage

“My husband and I have been married for almost 4 years. My problem is that I have always had a really hard time sticking up for myself and when we get in arguments he tends to say things that really hurt my feelings. I have never had a lot of confidence in myself and when he says hurtful things it brings me down more. I have always had a hard time with holding things in since I grew up in a family that didn’t really talk about our feelings we always just kind of held things in. I need some advice on how to learn to stick up for myself so that I can feel more confident in myself?”

 
 

Identify Your Feelings, Thoughts, Needs

Before you can get comfortable expressing your inner experience with your husband, it’s important to get acquainted with your own inner life.  Ask yourself daily, “How am I feeling?”, “What am I thinking?”  & “What am I needing from my husband?” A helpful place to start in identifying your emotions is ask yourself which one of these 4 feeling words describes what’s going on inside:

happy     mad      sad      scared 

Knowing how you feel, what you think is the first step to developing the confidence to share the deeper parts of you with your husband.

Explore Family Patterns

Great job recognizing the impact of your family on your emotional tendency to hold things in and challenging yourself to express when it doesn’t come naturally to you. Since you didn’t learn the skills to express emotions and thoughts it may take some time to get comfortable sharing your inner experiences with your husband. Often we apply our family of origin relationship rules to our current relationships, whether or not they actually apply to the current situation. Ask yourself the following questions:

“How did my family manage intense emotion?”

“How does my reluctance to express myself make sense, given my life experience?”

“What am I afraid will happen if I speak up now, in my marriage?”

Revisit the Hurt

Once you’ve identified what’s going on inside of you, during a calm time sit down with your husband and revisit a time when he has said something that hurt you. This is not  an opportunity to prove him wrong, but to share your feelings with him when neither of you are emotionally escalated.  You might want to say something like, “Remember last week when we were talking about the money? I know we were both upset. I wanted to tell you that I felt hurt when you said that I my poor budegeting is the reason we are in debt. Can we talk more about that? I need you to hear how hurt I was and I want to understand better where you are coming from.” 

Trust Husband’s Positive Intent

Assuming your husband is a nice guy, he may be unintentionally saying hurtful  things to try and get ANY kind of emotional response from you to prove that you are still invested in marriage and that you still care about him. His jabs may be a way of trying to reach the deeper parts of you and to connect with you when you start to shut down emotionally.  If you have a pretty good relationship overall, it’s best to assume the best, instead of the worst, about your spouse’s intentions, even if it doesn’t appear that way on the surface. Hold on to his positive intent to help you gain even more courage to share more of yourself with him.

I welcome questions and comments about this topic. Please use the comment box below (your email address will not be made public).

About Dr. Julie Hanks, LCSW:
Dynamic self & relationship expert Dr. Julie de Azevedo Hanks, LCSW loves to make a difference for women. She owns Wasatch Family Therapy and regularly contributes to KSL TV's Studio 5, and her advice has been featured nationally including Wall Street Journal, Parenting, Fox News, and others. Connect on Facebook & Twitter. Her books The Burnout Cure and The Assertiveness Guide are now available.

Comments

Joni Allen

Married 26 years, and this was what I needed to hear today. Thanks!

Doug Brinley

There are a number of issues in this example. First of all – what is it they ‘argue’ about? Is it a reoccuring argument (sex? money? children? parenting?) Let’s deal with why arguments are going on in the first place between these two. If we could eliminate the arguments in the first place, we could resolve her feeling put-down by the way he ‘argues.’ Secondly, there is a need for meta-communication on the wife’s part with her husband. (When times are good, she says something like this: “I need your help with something that seems to come up a lot when you and I disagree on something. I always feel like you come on pretty strong and put me down when I am sharing my honest feelings, and I need to understand why you are willing to do that…..(or whatever describes what he is doing to her and her feelings about it). If her husband understands how he affects his wife so negatively, perhaps he would not go that route (if he has any humility and wants to be a better husband himself.)
Thirdly, she needs to share with him what affect his put-downs, sarcasm, criticism, etc., are having on her.
But I think the first problem to resolve is to know why they are fighting/arguing in the first place. Despite common perceptions that fighting may sometimes be valuable, it has no place in a loving marriage. Discussions, yes, but not hurtful arguments/put-downs. Where is the respect/love/appreciation, etc? They need a little conflict resolution review.
Perhaps she is not good at complimenting him – and he shows his ‘need for them’ by fishing for them in the wrong way which ends up in a confrontation.
Most couples that I know who are fighting/arguing have stopped complimenting each other and ‘love feelings’ are diminished by the lack of positives.

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