Q: After 19 years of living on the crazy cycle and after months of counseling, I have no hope due to my husband’s narcissism. I talked and talked until I don’t want to hear myself. He says I have driven him away and his “friendships” … his criticisms of me have left me wounded and hurt and nagging to just stay together when I know it’s God’s plan for this to not just exist but to thrive as an example to our children of His love.
He is ready to file for a divorce because he says he has tried everything and he just despises seeing or hearing my voice…he has shut down. He said he is ready to have a woman to have fun with and to not fight with.
By your own admission, you are talking and talking until you are tired of hearing yourself and he despises hearing your voice.
While it is harsh of your husband to say such a thing, this doesn’t make him a narcissist. That is a pretty serious label to put on a person. First let’s try to understand what is going on in his head.
Men process things differently than women. While most women remember details and want to talk through every incident until it’s resolved, men can feel overwhelmed by this. First of all, he doesn’t remember most of these incidents and secondly, he feels that she is bringing them up in order to prove how awful he is. He loses energy and wants to quit.
Both have good intentions.
He does so not because he doesn’t want the marriage, but because he feels defeated. Obviously, he misunderstands his wife’s heart behind her comments. He thinks she intends to reinforce to him how inadequate he is and that he is not to be respected.
Truth is, she is seeking reassurance that he loves her!
You said your husband has shut down. Consider this: he is overwhelmed by the thought that you do not like him, and that you think he is a bad man.
Though you feel vulnerable and like the victim, he sees you as a person who flat out does not like him. Oh, you may love him but you do not like him.
When a man feels his wife is not his friend, he locks up. He fears opening up will result in you judging him.
He fears your contempt, and I can tell you this: No husband feels fond feelings of love and affection in his heart toward a woman who he thinks has disdain for who he is as a human being.
He won’t move toward her to connect, but will pull back. Both die a slow death.
Are you willing to try a new approach?
If a husband shuts down on his wife’s words altogether, God is calling her to go quiet (1 Peter 3:1,2). She has apparently developed a pattern of words or a tone that results in him shutting down on her.
This is unfair to her based on her need to be loved. However, in all probability she has come across disrespectfully. As I say about the Crazy Cycle: when a wife feels unloved, she reacts in ways that feel disrespectful to her husband; when a husband feels disrespected, he reacts in ways that feel unloving to his wife.
Round and round it goes.
Ask yourself this question: Does my husband have confidence that I am his good friend and that I like him as a person?
To understand this question, study male friendship. Look at how men interact with each other and then look at how women interact with each other. Women get together to talk about their heart issues and relationships. Men, on the other hand, get together to do or watch some activity. As these men do shoulder to shoulder activities, they relax and eventually feel comfortable talking about deeper issues with a trusted confidant.
For example, think back to when you were dating. Chances are you were willing to do anything just to be with him, whether that meant doing something you liked to do, or simply joining him in one of his activities. Little did you realize, that was why he opened up to you. He came to trust you as his friend.
Nineteen years later, do you ever simply sit next to him enjoying something he likes on TV, with no agenda to talk? Do you enjoy being with him, just because you like him?
I am sure your husband knows the answer to this question. This is why he says he wants someone to have fun with, not to fight with.
Can you become that person again? I’m sure you were when he asked you to marry him. He saw you as someone fun to be with, and someone who liked him for who he was.
Walk by faith, not by sight.
To stop this cycle, the mature wife moves first. She makes this move out of her trust and obedience toward God.
If she disobeys God here, what right does she have to judge her husband as disobedient?
For sure, she responds to God’s command to do something that is counter-intuitive and counter-cultural. This is why we are called to walk by faith not by sight.
Somehow we have overlooked the application of this to marriage.
None of this is fair to you – I am not saying it is. You have emotional needs that are not being met. But if you are more mature than your husband, are you willing to try the quiet, friendly approach? I am not talking about the quiet angry approach – that is something quite different.
Can I guarantee that he will respond? No. Perhaps he is the narcissist that you say he is. But the fact that he has gone to months of counseling with you (many men would not) and feels as though he has tried everything, and finally has shut down, says to me that this is about disrespect.
Focus on being his friend.
If he is a good willed man, he’ll come around as you go quiet more often and focus on being his friend. Think back to the woman you were when you were dating.
One woman I know prayed, “Lord, give my husband a new wife, and let it be me.” You can be that fun person your husband longs to be with.
Are you willing?
If you are willing to try a new approach, start with these two things:
- Read the Love & Respect book and focus on the section on CHAIRS, especially the “R” which is Relationship. There you will find practical ways to become your husband’s friend again. Do not ask him to read the book, and do not tell him what you’re doing!
- Claim 1 Peter 3:1,2 consistently for at least 3 months: a wife can win her disobedient husband with her quiet and respectful behavior. I’m not asking you to be a doormat, but you have admitted to nagging just to get him to listen. This isn’t working, so try the quiet approach and you will eventually win the right to be heard if you are consistent.
Is your marriage worth this effort? Are your children?