I often hear from folks who are having various troublesome issues within their marriage. One relatively common theme is when one spouse gets in the habit of throwing out hurtful comments or words so often that it almost becomes a habit. This can very negatively affect their marriage and compromise the way that their spouse thinks of both them and the future of their marriage. That’s why it’s so important to address this and stop it as soon as possible.
I recently heard from a wife who had noticed her husband’s hurtful comments becoming more and more frequent and personal over the last several years. This was both troubling and surprising because she could not remember anything similar to this while they were dating. She said, in part: “within the past couple of years, my husband has started constantly saying hurtful things to me whenever I do something that he doesn’t like. It’s as if he knows exactly what button to push that is going to make me the most upset or hurt me the worst. For example, he’ll talk about my family in a very demeaning way when we’re around other people. My family was very poor when I was a child but they are good people. He will tell our friends that it’s a good thing that his job pays well because mine doesn’t. Sometimes when we argue he will say things like ‘it’s a good thing you found me because I’m not sure anyone else would put up with you.’ He always insinuates that I’m so lucky to have him, almost as if he thinks I could never survive on my own. He says that if he were to leave me, I could never attract anyone else. This makes me feel awful and it’s wrecking my self esteem. Deep down, I know I’m a good person but he makes me feel as if he doesn’t agree with my own assessment of myself. What can I do to stop this? Every time I try to address it, he says I am being too sensitive and should just lighten up.”
I will try to address these concerns in the following article by explaining why husband’s sometimes get in the habit of saying hurtful things and then offering some suggestions on how to address this.
Some Possible Reasons Why Husbands Say Hurtful Things: There are actually many reasons that husbands use words or phrases meant to hurt deeply, especially if this is a new behavior for them. Sometimes, for whatever reason, they are just trying to get your attention and they know that this is the easiest way to get a reaction out of you. Yes, this is a very passive aggressive way of stopping you in your tracks, but sometimes men do not have the communication skills or the emotional skill to tell you what is really on their mind.
Another reason that the man you love will try to hurt you with their words is because of their own insecurities. Sometimes, especially in this situation, a man will say the exact opposite of what he really feels. It was quite possible that this husband was (at least somewhere deep down) afraid of losing his wife. So his hurtful verbal phrases were one way to ensure that she didn’t leave him because he was making her believe that she would never attract anyone else. Men who engage in this type of behavior often have low self esteem. Making you feel bad is an attempt to make themselves feel better. I’m certainly not trying to excuse their behavior, but I am trying to give you some possibilities as to the cause of it.
A final possible reason that husbands say hurtful things is because they are harboring some resentment or anger that they aren’t addressing in other ways. They might perceive that you have hurt or slighted them in some way and, rather than just addressing the issue at hand, they are trying to get back at you over and over by pushing the buttons they know are huge issues for you. This certainly doesn’t make it right and again we’re talking about passive aggressive behavior, but at least if you can understand the reasons behind his behavior, you can begin to address and stop it.
How To Handle It When Your Husband Constantly Says Hurtful Things To You: The wife here had gotten into the habit of ignoring her husband. For self preservation reasons, she had taught herself to tune him out. But, this was becoming very damaging to her marriage and she missed the man who used to be very sweet to her when they were first dating. I felt that she should address this every time her husband said something hurtful because ignoring it was just going to ensure that it kept happening.
A lot of the time, the hurtful words came when other people were around so that the wife felt uncomfortable addressing this in front of others. So the option became asking to speak to him privately for a minute, or addressing the issue later when they were alone. (Often if you wait to address it, your response loses some of its immediacy and the results are not as good. You can always ask to speak to your husband alone for a few moments.)
I suggested that the next time her husband said something offensive, she might respond with something like: “I can’t keep allowing you to speak to me in this way. When you speak to me like this, it hurts me deeply. It affects our marriage and my ability to feel close to you. I’m not sure if you realize how hurtful your words are or if you realize how they sound to me. That’s why I’ll be bringing your attention to this from today forward. I’d like to think that you don’t mean to hurt me and that our marriage and my well being are important enough to you that you will stop this. And, if there’s some underlying issue or something that you really want to say to me, then by all means say it. But, every time you say something that hurts me deeply, I’m going to bring your attention to it because it needs to stop.”
Notice that I was very careful to try to make sure that this didn’t sound too accusatory. Instead, you’re focusing on a way that you can work together and fix this in a positive way. You’re giving your husband the benefit of the doubt and trying to have faith that he will work hard to change. If he doesn’t, then you will need to continue to address it and insists that it stops because hurtful words can cut quite deeply and are not in any way healthy for you or your marriage.