July 19, 2024
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July 19, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

How Can I Get My Spouse to Understand My Perspective?

Dear Dr. Chani,

I would love to hear your advice about an issue I have with my wife. It is not so much what she does, but what she does not do. Every so often, I desperately want her to see my point of view, and she simply cannot. It drives me crazy!

Here is an example. We were recently on vacation, and we were having a beautiful time together. We were enjoying the day and having meaningful conversations. Then we took an Uber to a destination 15 minutes away. The driver was exceedingly nice and courteous. As we left the car, I asked my wife how much she thought I should tip him. She responded that he was so nice, so she thought we should give him $20. We quickly reached the entrance to our destination so we could catch the next tour. As the guide was beginning, I surreptitiously went on the app and gave him the $20 tip.

When the tour finished an hour later, I told my wife that I had already tipped the driver. She asked me, “How much?” I looked at her a bit quizzically and responded, “Twenty dollars like you said.” She looked at me shocked, and said, “What? I said 20%!” I was crestfallen. She then raised her voice and said, “I can’t believe it. You gave him $20? How could you give him such a large tip?” I responded that she told me to give him $20. She insisted that it was 20%.

I was then indignant. I could not believe that she was raising her voice at me and getting upset over less than a $15 difference. Was it so important to yell at me and criticize me? And on such a beautiful vacation? I told her that I thought she said $20. She simply could not hear me. I was so insulted. Not only was she raising her voice over a few dollars on our vacation when we were having such a nice day together, but she could not even hear where I was coming from! I honestly thought she said $20. And I was trying to respect what she said. She just could not hear it. She kept on responding that she never said that.

What hurt me most was not her raising her voice or disappointing her. It was that she could not even hear where I was coming from. She was able to understand my point of view on many of the more personal issues that we discussed together. I really felt that we understood each other in the meaningful conversations we had during the day. But when it came to a small mistake that I made, she just could not see my perspective. I was very hurt. Eventually, we got over it and continued to enjoy our vacation. But that example is seared in my brain as a time that my wife could not make the effort to see where I was coming from.

I think it is harder when I consider our general relationship. My wife and I are usually there for each other. We put a lot of effort into our relationship and we both emphasize having quality conversations where we try to communicate and understand each other. So when these things happen I am caught off guard. Where did I go wrong? How can I help my wife become a better listener?

Uber Tipper

Dear Uber Tipper,

Your question is very understandable and relatable. You wish that your wife could hear your perspective and you feel hurt when the opposite occurs. It sounds like you are wondering how you can help her understand your pain and get her to listen to you.

One way for you to deal with this is to discuss your feelings with your wife directly. It seems from your description of your relationship that you and your wife generally have a strong connection. You are able to have emotional conversations and you try to understand each other. Take the opportunity when the time is right for a deep conversation to bring up what is bothering you.

It is important to think about the timing of such a conversation. Ironically, it is often helpful to hold off and bring up your frustrations with your relationship when you are not feeling them so intensely. It is best for you to discuss your issues with each other when you are not in the middle of a disagreement. You can speak about it from your heart in a calm and balanced way and express your feelings more gently when you are not overwhelmed by them. Similarly, your wife will be able to understand you better and accept what you are saying if you talk about it after the immediate cause of the conflict has passed. When you are both emotionally charged like you were in your tipping fiasco, it can be hard for you both to express yourselves sensitively and to listen to each other.

There is another angle to consider as well. Have you thought about how you contributed to the unraveling of your enjoyable vacation moment? A good rule of thumb to keep in mind is that when you feel the urge to improve your spouse, it often reflects a need to look inside and improve yourself too. You describe your relationship as strong. At the same time, you got memorably shaken when your wife made a mistake in response to your mistake. It sounds like you both made mistakes in the situation. You might have misheard your wife or maybe she was not clear in her comment. Then she reacted to your actions in a way that was overblown and insensitive. Ask yourself: What prevented you in the moment from allowing her overreaction to pass and refocusing on the connective experience you were having up until that point?

To be clear, I am not defending your wife and saying that she is acting appropriately. The way you described the interaction, your wife did escalate the conflict by raising her voice and criticizing you. She did make a mistake. If this is a recurring and frequent pattern, it is important for you to resolve what is going on either through conversations between the two of you or with a therapist too.

Yet, given the context of your relationship and the way you describe it, your reaction does not seem to fit. Your wife getting upset and yelling at you sounds like a relatively rare occurrence that should not define the rest of your relationship. The fact that you feel so deeply hurt calls attention to something that you might like to explore about yourself. Why do your wife’s occasional overreactions bother you so much?

There is something about the way you described the situation that signals a possible sensitivity on your part. It almost sounds like your wife’s mistake in reacting so strongly knocked you over emotionally. That does not seem to fit with the general context of the way you describe your relationship with her. Think about it: Why did her behavior upset you so much?

One reason that might cause you to be extremely hurt by your wife’s behavior can stem from your relationship with yourself. For example, you might have an insecurity that causes you to have a deep need for your wife’s approval. This would make you take your wife’s criticism very seriously and personally. It might be worthwhile for you to explore and understand more about your own responses to your wife’s disapproval or criticism of you.

It is almost inevitable that you will continue to encounter situations where you and your wife have different perspectives and you disagree. Yet, I hope you find that with a combination of introspection and discussion you are able to effectively de-escalate and manage these situations and you grow to understand each other even better.

Wishing you much success,

Chani


Dr. Chani Maybruch is a social psychologist and relationship coach, specializing in teaching emotional connection and communication skills for over two decades. She coaches individuals and couples, and teaches online courses to help you create your ideal relationship. Get free relationship resources and contact her at www.chanimaybruch.com.

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