April 22, 2009

Reader Comment: Are You Good At Being Wrong?

Several months ago I got a response to an article I wrote called Are You Good At Being Wrong?. One anonymous reader left the following comment, and I'd like to get everyone's input on it.

I had a terrible row with my wife yesterday. It's a long story and there are two sides. 

In short she got stuck at the airport in bad weather. She called me in a very angry state and asked me to look at other flights on the net. I was in a rush to get to a meeting (in a pub as it happens) so I looked quickly and saw it would cost another €75 to change her flight. She wanted another flight only two hours earlier than the one she was on. At this stage her later flight had not been canceled. I argued that it was an expensive two hours. She swore at me and put the phone down. I sent her a text asking if I should book the flight. She sent another back saying I had to be kidding, so I went out to my meeting.

Half way through the meeting she called to ask me to book the flight. Her flight had now been cancelled. But I was half an hour away from the internet and she had ten minutes before the booking slot ended. She flew off the handle and cursed me in every horrible word she could think of.

It turned out the flight that she missed was the only flight that left until 9pm that night (neither of us were aware of this at that stage). She called me again. I cut my meeting short, went home and booked her on the later flight. But by now the damage was done. In her mind I had gone off down the pub and left her in her hour of need. I was the villain.

Personally, I have apologised but I'm lying. I still think she should accept some of the blame. But in her mind she's the victim. Now she is still punishing me but I feel empty because I will never be heard.

I feel that she is never wrong. In this case I think one could argue that the whole mess is her fault and due as in so many other cases to her anger problems. As usual I am the doormat. I pretend I am wrong and apologise until she 'forgives' me.

I can't go on like this. What should I do?

I'm afraid that this is more common than I might think. Though many of our problems will be taken care of by admitting our own blame, what do we do when our wives refuse to acknowledge that they've made some mistakes as well?

I want to pose this question to all of you. How can we positively encourage our wives to acknowledge their mistakes when it seems like refusing to do so is one of their major character flaws? Remember, we're coming at this from the angle of helping a marriage. Rude or sarcastic comments are not appreciated or welcome here.

I have a few thoughts of my own, but I'll wait a couple days to share those.


  1. I don't think that refusing to accept responsibility is unique to women. It goes both ways in my marriage. Both of us have a hard time apologizing or letting our guards down and owning our mistakes.

  2. PDawg, Though that's true, that still doesn't help our brother here. Yes, both men and women are both wrong and pride makes it hard to admit that when it happens, but how can we positively encourage our wives to acknowledge their mistakes when it seems like refusing to do so is one of their major character flaws?

    This isn't about human beings' problem with admitting their guilt, it's about how a husband lovingly deals with this problem as it relates to his wife.

  3. Well, no answer I can think of will work in all situations, but I can tell you about what happened in mine.

    I was in a state like the one described for over 3 years in my relationship with my wife. She'd get mad about something, I'd apologize, but over time things got worse. She would get mad about things that should be nothing or that were her fault, but she would invent reasons why it was my fault. I felt terrible for making her feel that way, and would try to apologize and do more to appease her. In the end, though, this is a failing strategy, because it only encourages this sort of behavior.

    What finally worked for us were two things. One, she went on an antidepressant to help her deal with depression issues, partly self created in reaction to me, but mostly to deal with family issues (her mother was physically and emotionally abusive, and is still emotionally abusive). This gave her the ability to control her emotions. After she started on the drug she admitted to me that she often wanted not to get mad at me and she knew that she was getting mad at me for things that she shouldn't, but that she had been unable to stop herself.

    The other thing that helped was that I finally got to a place where I accepted that I had nothing left to lose. She was on the verge of leaving me, and she said several times that she would have if she could have afforded it. So I finally just told her my view of the situation. I made sure she knew that my focus was not on placing blame or seeking retribution, but on rebuilding our relationship. It wasn't easy, but over time we have rebuilt a lot of what we had lost.

    For me, to make all of this work, I had to understand why my relationship was failing. Not everyone is this way, but I have a hard time doing something if I don't have a good reason to be doing it. What helped me to understand came from three sources: MarriageBuilders.com, the Marriage Builders forums, and evolutionary psychology. The marriage builders website gave me some insight into how and why relationships work, succeed, and fail. The forums gave me a place to discuss with others, to see how things worked for them and to let them know how things worked for me. And evolutionary psychology allowed me to get into the real guts of understanding things (I came in already familiar with the field, but not with its direct application to relationship building).

    I hope some of that helps. Good luck.

  4. I'm on the other side of this. I'm the wife who sometimes feels like a victim, who sometimes lashes out at my husband in a stressful situation, and who isn't always respectful of the man to whom I am supposed to submit. It sucks that we're like that sometimes, but it's just who we are as sinners.

    As a wife, I think the best thing that my husband could do for me in this situation is wait a while for me to cool down (while not forgetting about the problem entirely - that's where we go wrong sometimes - I stew and he forgets and by the time I'm ready to talk about it his response is "what fight?" But I digress), and then approach her in a non-confrontational, loving way. No accusations, just honesty. Start with what you could have done better. "Honey, I'm sorry I was short with you and that I didn't pay the extra money for the flight in the first place when I realized that it was important to you." Then, you can transition into what you were feeling about how she responded "The way you lashed out at me and cursed at me really hurt my feelings" then a non-accusatory way that perhaps she can improve next time "If you can try to explain things in a calmer way next time, we can probably communicate better and I'll know what you need." I realize this all sounds kind of cheesy, but I think the WAY you confront her is more important than the actual words you use.

    The other thing that we learned in premarital counseling that has helped us a little (again, sounds pretty cheesy) is using active listening. This includes summarizing what you just heard with a "so you're saying..." Then, if you interpreted it wrong, she can correct you. You can google active listening for more examples, but it does make a big difference in avoiding misunderstandings in the first place.

    Ultimately, she has to get to a point where she WANTS to change. Just like I can't change my husband and the habits I don't like about him, he can't change me unless I am willing to. Your goal should be to love her despite mean things she may say to you, just as her goal should be to submit and respect you despite what she thinks about your final decisions. Just talk it out. Hopefully after she cools down, she will be nicer.

    Above all, remember what Proverbs 15:1 says about it: "A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger."

  5. "Personally, I have apologized but I'm lying"

    I think that an apology that is secretly insincere does both parties a disservice. It sends a signal that the issue is resolved when it is not. It robs one of the opportunity to be heard, and insults the other with the assumption that they somehow cannot handle another person being upset with them.

    I think that apologizing before you mean it hurts the situation more than it helps. It buys a moment of peace at the expense of your own integrity and the respect of the other individual.

  6. Wow, I'm glad I'm reading this blog wayyy before I get married. I'm learning so much. Sorry, just had to say this. Please, continue the conversation.

    Just a side note - I've come across a lot "crazy" girls. I've always been sort of psychologist, and I'm a good listener. So girls talk to me. I find that all these insecurities are eating them up. We all hae insecurities, but some deal with them better than others. I have yet to come across a normal, sensible girl who can deal with her own problems without causing self-harm - mental, or physical.

    I'm starting to think that a girl like that does not exist. I'm also starting to think that single athletic girls are rare, but I digress - maybe - you should look into the connection between physical activity and health. The more inactive a girl is, the more mental problems she seems to have. No place to vent except MTV. (Does that make sense?).

  7. This happens to millions of husbands.. but does she know about your blog you write..

  8. Wow. What a great question. An angry woman can be more than a little scary, especially if you don't understand what is truly being asked of you.

    First, stop apologizing when you don't mean it.
    Second, do you realize that under her anger is hurt? And that it probably has very little or nothing to do with you? Don't bother telling her this (she doesn't want to hear it), just stop taking it so personally.

    Next time she's irrational and angry, see if you can care for the hurt. You don't even have to really engage the anger.

    What she REALLY wants from you is to feel safe and cared for. She wants to know you are stronger than her anger. Create a container of safety for the storm. Don't be blown over by it, don't resist it. See it for what it is... a test.

    What's up with you wanting her to accept "blame?" That's not going to get you anywhere. Let go of who's right or reasonable or to blame and focus on creating safety for her. Only then will she relax enough to start working through the real issues and taking responsibility for her feelings and actions. I know it's a lot, but that's what is being asked of you.

    And friend, next time she's stuck at the airport in bad weather and wants to spend 150 bucks on a new ticket, buy it for her! Don't grumble and drag your heels, step up and do it powerfully. Be her Hero. Treat her like she's the most precious and delightful woman in your world... and that's what she'll become.

  9. If she was at the airport why did she need you to book a flight? If she couldn't get a hold of you or since you were in a meeting and couldn't get to a computer why couldn't she go up to the desk for the airline and book the flight herself?

  10. I think the book Real Love In Marriage by Greg Baer could shed some light on this issue. My husband and I learned how to deal with each other in a much healthier way from this book.

    An example from the book that I particularly liked (I may change some of the details I can't remember):

    You meet a friend for lunch at her hotel that has a pool. As you eat lunch you start getting splashed from the pool, the splashing continues, but you can't see who is doing it. You get angry and decide to go tell whoever it is off, but as you get up you realize the person splashing you is drowning. Immediately you no longer feel angry, instead you want to help the person to safety.

    When your spouse snaps at you nine times out of ten they aren't mad at you, but at the situation. They are stuck at the airport, busy with the kids, running late for work, etc. We all snap sometimes, but as spouses we should learn to recognize this for what it is - a cry for help. Throw your spouse a lifeline when this happens. The more you show your spouse unconditional love, the more they will do the same for you.