If you and your husband have repeating arguments or you’ve noticed that you get frustrated or ‘retaliate’ when he doesn’t do things or act the way you think he should act, you may need to break what I call the ‘cycle of retaliation’ in your relationship. Here are some steps you can take to help break the cycle and minimize resentment toward each other.
- Notice the unspoken rules you have for your husband
If you get upset with your husband for playing tennis with his friends on the weekends, it may be due to thoughts such as, “We don’t get enough time together as a family on weekends–a man should put his family first.”
- Notice the rules, or the ‘shoulds’ that you have for your husband. These are the things that he does or doesn’t do that bother you. Make a list and write down how you’d like him to act instead.
- Pay particular attention to the rules that are secret. In other words, do you think your husband should just automatically know this rule?
2. Examine your rules and what you are making them mean
Besides noticing whether the rule is secret or not, ask what you are making your husbands actions (or inactions) mean. Does him spending time away from the family with his friends mean that he isn’t a committed father just like your dad who left the family when you were a toddler? Is it possible that your husband has an unspoken rule that opposes your rule? Can you see where a problem could arise when you think that your husband should jump in without asking to help with the kids but he might think that if you wanted his help, you shouldn’t expect him to read your mind and should ask for help?
3. Start reacting differently and make requests with no strings attached
Stop punishing your husband for not following your rules–this includes the obvious such as yelling and talking harshly but could also include withdrawing, sulking, or some other ‘get him back’ action. Remember, he might not even know what rule he broke or what he did ‘wrong!’
Try making requests that have no strings attached. Remember, he’s a human being and humans don’t typically react well to attempts to control their behavior. You will know when you are making a request without strings attached because although you might be pleased that he followed your request, you won’t get upset or make it mean something about YOU when he doesn’t.