One of the common complaints I hear in my office when someone first comes to see me is “My husband does not hear me!” Okay, so let’s be honest that it is not always the wife that feels this way, there are often times that a husband does not feel heard as well, but for simplicity purposes we are going to look at this issue through the wife’s eyes. One of the first pieces of feedback that I give the wife that feels like she is not being heard by her husband is that this issue is always 50/50. Often the wife wants me to “fix” her husband and to make him start to listen to her. This is not the way this works. It is half the husband is not very good at listening and half that the wife that is not good at having a voice.
Let’s start by trying to understand why a husband might have a hard time hearing his wife. The first thing to look at is his background. This can really give us insight into why he struggles with this issue. For example, I had a client whose parents got a divorce when he was a young child. His father moved away and left him in the sole care of his mother. She remarried a man that had several children and she completely threw herself into their lives. The son was forced to live in a different area of their house and had to worry about getting himself to school and practices. This man as a little boy learned that I need to only care about myself and my life is about taking care of me. You put him in a marriage and of course he is going to struggle with hearing his spouse. In saying this it does not make it okay, but it can help his wife see that his not listening is not always intentional or malicious. This was just one example, but many childhood issues can cause difficulty in marriage.
Another perspective we need to look at is that we teach people how to treat us. It happens quite often that at the beginning of a relationship the woman is very conscious of “doing everything” or “taking care of” their spouse. Often somewhere along the way they have learned this is how they are lovable or this is how they should be in a relationship. They often go along like this for a while in the relationship but it eventually can cause her to be angry and have resentment. It is hard to go back and change the dynamic the relationship has had since the beginning. It took two spouses to create the dynamic that is present in the marriage.
Now to look at issues they may contribute to the wife’s 50%. First, it is often modeled to women to not have a voice (again remember this can also be the same if the husband is struggling with not being heard. He could have been modeled to not have a voice). Often the woman may have watched her mother not have a voice in her parent’s marriage. We often model what we see. We are products of our environment.
There are also issues that can occur in ones childhood that can cause them to feel like having a voice is a bad thing. If a woman grows up with an angry rage filled parent she often learns to lay low. Having an angry parent is unpredictable. You are never sure what might set that parent off. Often kids will learn to be quiet, lay low, and to not cause any conflict because they do not want to add one more issue that may cause the parent to get angry. This behavior can help a child stay safe and out of the anger’s way during childhood, but does not work so well as an adult. The issue is that it is very difficult to change the behavior later in life.
So now we know some of the reasons this may happen, but how do we make it better? There are three steps. Of course hearing that there are three steps may make it seem simple, but it is not a simple process. It absolutely can be done though. First we really need to dig into why the problem exists on both sides. Second, we need to learn to not feel like a victim of the spouse who does not hear us. This is a long complicated process, but remember it takes two to create this dynamic not one. Third, after the first two steps are worked on we can start to change the dynamics in the relationship and create better boundaries.
If you are not feeling heard by your spouse it is time to learn why this dynamic is occurring! The first step to healing and improving your relationship is insight. Get started right away.