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How to Deal With a Difficult Spouse

Relationships are works-in-progress and require a few course-corrections to reach their full potential. If you and your spouse are feeling the impact of anger issues, poor communication or an inability to compromise, you can improve your situation. Developing the tools of open and honest communication, learning to negotiate a compromise, and committing to change will get you back on the road to happiness.

Improving Communication

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    Prepare what you want to say. Write down your concerns so you can communicate them to your spouse. This will help identify specific behaviors, feelings and solutions. If you believe there is a problem, include a possible solution.

    • Write down your thoughts. It will be helpful to get it all out on paper. Writing down your thoughts is therapeutic and will help organize your emotions in a way that promotes stress reduction.[1]
    • Practice saying your concerns out loud. Don’t worry about being perfect. If it is from your heart, that is what matters.[2]
    • When you talk to someone who may overpower you with their negativity, being prepared is a good way to combat the urge to be negative as well.[3]
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    Pick a good time to talk. Avoid early morning conversations when you or your spouse might be grumpy; and try not to talk immediately when you get home from work. Relax and settle down before you approach. If you’ve been feeling the brunt of his negativity, you probably know what time will hold the most promise for a positive outcome.

    • Talking in public places might be beneficial. The person is less likely to get upset for fear of being embarrassed.
    • Align as many positive things as you can to set the stage for positive communication. Perhaps you could go somewhere that you both enjoy, or you could stay at home and have a great dinner.
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    Maintain a positive attitude while talking. Express your optimism about working together to find a solution. This is your chance to make a difference in your relationship. It is your time to speak and be heard. Don’t let your spouse deter you from your goal of having a good, problem-solving conversation. You’re on a mission to be heard so focus on what’s important: creating a change for the better.[4]

    • Approach the subject positively by saying something like, “I really appreciate the things you do for me and I really want you to be happy. I get the feeling you’re not happy with me based on some of the things you say.” This will start things off.
    • If his first response is negative, try to stop him by saying, “I want to talk about this peacefully because I’m concerned about it; and if we need to change something, then we need to listen to each other.” Diffuse his response with calm, focused discussion.
    • If he can’t respond without getting aggressive or agitated, then simply say, “Maybe we can talk about this later.” If he is absolute in his demeanor then you have got a more serious problem on your hands. Don’t put yourself in harm’s way. Do what you can to get to a safe place.
    • He may respond with an open ear and show you his genuine concern. This is your opportunity to let him know how you feel about being criticized. Don’t be afraid to tell him that it hurts your feelings and makes you concerned about your relationship and its future.
    • Keep telling him that you love him and show your support for what he has to say.
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    Figure out what is really going on. If you know that you haven’t been doing anything that would constitute your spouse’s negative responses, then it’s time to roll up your sleeves and get to work. This is the perfect opportunity to practice your problem solving skills.[5]

    • If a person is always complaining or being critical about most things in life it may be due to something that happened to him earlier in life. There could be an event or a tragedy in a person’s life that makes him behave this way.
    • You may find out that he is very unhappy with his job or with an unrelated issue that has nothing to do with you. If he thinks his life is bad because of these things, he might be taking it out on you.
    • He may be resenting you for not being perfect. You need to remind him that you aren’t perfect, you weren’t when you met, probably never will be, and neither is he.
    • Insecurities about job performance, financial independence, and physical performance can all contribute to a person’s constant complaining and negativity.[6] Depression may be at the root of the problem and needs to be dealt with accordingly.
    • He might feel the world is against him and you are part of it. You need to separate yourself from that association and reassure him that you are on his side.
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    Be honest. Lead by example by speaking your truth. This does not mean you have to be brutally honest and hurt the person’s feelings. Use your words carefully and keep in mind that you are trying to solve problem that will improve your communication.
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    Be respectful and ask for it in return. Respect is earned. If you act in a respectful manner it will set the stage for being respected in return. If you feel you are not being respected, tell the person, “I want us to be respectful to each other. I’m willing to do that, are you?”


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