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By Chandrama Anderson

You're Not Doing it Right!

Uploaded: Dec 20, 2013

Dear Chandrama,

My husband does things that drive me crazy, and I want him to stop! For example, he reloads the dishwasher, tells me where to turn when I'm driving, criticizes the way I chop vegetables, and doesn't want me to help put his tools away. Why does he treat me like I'm stupid and incompetent, when in fact I have a Masters degree? I am getting worn down by alternately complying or fighting back. I feel like I am walking on eggshells.

Dear Eggshells,

Sounds like your husband's attempts at 'helping' sound, look, and feel a lot like controlling behavior to you. Perhaps you feel you're being treated like a child. What he likely calls 'efficiency,' may be signs of anxiety, although he would not call it that. He learned this anxiety and these 'helping' behaviors before he met you. They are likely coping strategies to not feel out of control or anxious. He also likely has had a lot of professional success from these behaviors; if they work at work, they should work at home, right?

While you may experience the behavior he shows toward you as critical, let me assure you his self-criticism is much worse; unless he has drowned it out with behavior, will, or alcohol. He probably needs your compassion.

Most husbands are very surprised to learn that their behavior is considered critical. In a misguided way, this may be a way he's trying to connect with you.

In order for there to be an issue between you, there has to be tension ? as with Velcro. If one of you is calm and okay with yourself, you are like a smooth surface ? no Velcro, nothing to get stuck over.

We all have coping strategies, usually developed when we were kids, to manage our particular family. And make no mistake, it is a strength to develop coping strategies, and we can feel good about that.

When we are adults using children's coping strategies it doesn't always work very well, especially with our mate who grew up in a different family system. We need to examine our strategies, and create adult-based skills to deal with a variety of situations. But under stress, it is common to revert to our childhood strategies.

Here's an experiment to try:

First, remind yourself that you are not stupid or incompetent, and this does not mean something about you.

Second, check in with yourself as to whether there is something you want to handle differently with these situations (i.e., what's my contribution?).

Third, get curious as to what is going on between you. Search through what you know about both of you and your histories.

Fourth, get curious and ask your husband what this is about. For example, you may ask him (in a nice tone of voice and not while one of the interactions is happening) what he knows about his 'helping' behavior: what happened in his family growing up? Did one of his parents direct the other? How does he see it? What is his sense of it? How would he like your interactions to sound? How does he feel when you do things your own way? What does that mean to and about him?

Fifth, let him know it brings up your feelings of stupidity and/or incompetence. Let him know you realize that is not his intention; yet that is the impact on you. Ask what his intention is. Listen really well, and let him know you heard. Then give empathy. Ask that he shift into home mode when he walks through the front door.

Of course, you can always just tell him to knock it off! For some couples directness and humor, and not sorting through the cause works just as well, or even better.

At our house, my husband stacks the dishes just so. When he finishes a project, I bring his tools by the garage and he puts them away. Do any of these behaviors mean something about me? No! I tease him about it sometimes, but I also just let him be as he is.

Maybe he will change, maybe he won't. Hopefully he will work on these things because you are important to him. Maybe he will address the underlying issues, maybe not.

As long as you have addressed your contribution, and stop letting this push you into your own reactions of feeling stupid, or incompetent, or it meaning something about you, it's easier to let it go. BTW, where does your reaction come from, and what old coping strategies are you employing?

I mostly see that husbands eventually understand that their 'helping' is not helping the marriage, and having two adults in the relationship is much better than a parent/child interaction between husband and wife. Usually, both partners change their behavior a little bit, and that takes care of it.

In closing, I want to recognize that these roles can be reversed: where a husband experiences his wife as critical and controlling. In either case, try the experiments above.

And let me know how it's going.