Monday 14 October 2019

My husband belittles me in front of kids

QWE are married 20 years, I am 42 and my husband is 45. We have three children, the eldest is 13 and the youngest seven. We have a small business, started shortly after we got married, in which I worked full-time until our first child was born, after which I cut it down to thr

QWE are married 20 years, I am 42 and my husband is 45. We have three children, the eldest is 13 and the youngest seven. We have a small business, started shortly after we got married, in which I worked full-time until our first child was born, after which I cut it down to three days a week as I did not want to leave my child all the time. I'm still working those three days.

The business has taken up a lot of my husband's time over the years and I have always supported him as much as I could, even though I felt frustrated at times that he was out so much. I've also always done everything in the house, despite working three days a week, and never really minded that, though it would be nice to get some praise now and again for all I do to make things run smoothly. We have a holiday each year, which I plan and organise, but seldom go out otherwise.

The real problem is that my husband wants me to agree with him all the time, especially in relation to our children. Our eldest is quite headstrong, and will question things when told what to do. My husband thinks this is wrong while I believe children are individuals and need things explained to them. I also think it's normal that they will rebel and be cheeky at times. I am always blamed when our daughter is cheeky, which is not very often as she really is a very loving girl who has just finished her first year in secondary school and got glowing reports on both her work and her behaviour. She is also very popular. Our other two are also considered by their teachers to be polite and well-behaved, so I must be doing something right.

If my husband does reprimand them and I think he is being a bit harsh or over the top, he'll sulk for a day or two because I disagreed with him. What he forgets is that there are plenty of times when I do agree with him giving out to them. This situation is getting worse because in addition to sulking, he's now started to criticise me in front of the children. This upsets me because I believe arguments should not take place in front of the kids.

I lived with warring parents, as did my husband, and I don't want that for my children. He has blown up a few times in front of them, and even mentioned separation in front of them, which I think was disgraceful. He has even run through every row we ever had before they were even born and called me names in front of them. I have tried not to fight back while the children are around, but the anger and sense of unfairness is building up inside me and I feel my head will burst soon from all the stress.

I know my husband is very stressed in his work, but that's no excuse. I don't know whether he has a poor self-image which makes him want a wife who agrees with him all the time, but whatever the reason, this is not normal. How do I get through to someone who replies "rubbish" to anything I try to say, someone who simply won't listen to me? That's the way it's always been and I can't take it anymore.

He says he feels unloved, but frankly I find it hard to show affection to someone who criticises me in front of my own children and who sulks when he thinks he has been wronged when that is simply not the case. My main worry, however, is the effect this is having on the children. My eldest daughter now goes round thinking that every time there is an argument we could be separating. I can't sleep at night and really feel I'm going crazy.

AIT'S difficult when a couple also works together. And that's not just because work worries are more likely to spill over into domesticity. The real problem is that the demarcation lines between you are harder to define, both in terms of input and achievement. The chances of competing with each other are thus much greater.

Instead of your husband being the valued and acknowledged breadwinner and you the valued and acknowledged homemaker, or both of you having your own jobs and sharing domesticity, you're part of his show as well as running the home.

And the long hours he spends out on the job don't earn him additional brownie points but are a source of frustration to you, and result in him being somewhat on the fringe of the family, simply because he isn't around enough.

Such a scenario can lead to a man feeling very vulnerable, unappreciated and unloved, because it makes him potentially too dependent on you. He needs you for the job and he needs you to keep him integrated into family life. And that, in turn, makes him very sensitive to criticism or disagreement or disapproval from you.

What makes all of it worse, is the fact that your husband works for himself, has no colleagues who could be a sort of sounding board for him. On top of that, both of you seldom go out, which means he has no friends he joins in free-time activities. And you are not a part of a vibrant social circle as a couple either, which makes you all the more dependent on each other. All of which makes it more likely that both of you will lose perspective on your problems.

You speak of your husband's desire to have you agree with everything he says as being abnormal. I don't think it ever helps to talk of behaviour in terms of normal. It hinders us finding a solution to the problem. The fact is, he's sensitive to your criticism of him in terms of how he deals with the children. As a result, he's attempting to show you up in front of them, to cut you down to size by criticising you in their presence, or trying to turn them into allies against you. This, of course, is inappropriate behaviour, the mark of a man who feels weak and 'one down'. It should not happen. But since the only behaviour you can directly change is your own, wouldn't it be a wise idea to see what you could do to leave your husband feeling less vulnerable?

Why do you have to disagree with him when he corrects the children? He doesn't beat them, is not verbally abusive either, and doesn't seem to indulge in long and harsh tirades. He's not, in other words, seriously damaging them. He just reacts more strongly when challenged cheekily, particularly by your eldest daughter. And a lot of the time you think he's right too. So why don't you keep your thoughts to yourself on the occasions when you think he's wrong? Why have you taken this role of mediator between him and his kids? Why do you create the impression that they need to be protected from him? Because that's what he's reacting to.

I know you had a painful childhood and want your children to be free and strong. They will be. In fact, they already are. So you don't have to worry. They don't need to be protected from their father. Your attempts to do just that are not only unnecessary, they are creating the very environment you wished to shield them from. Because your criticism of him is not just declaring your husband to be an incompetent father, it also emotionally aligns you with the children against him. In that scenario, your husband has three choices. He can ignore your criticism, can opt out of parenting, or fight back. He's fighting back, and doing so inappropriately.

Stop criticising him about his attitude to the children. Find an unobtrusive way of leaving the room instead like urgently needing to go to the bathroom or whatever. Just don't be around to witness it. And keep your mouth shut. You can have an opinion, certainly, but you don't need to voice it. Keeping your mouth shut includes non-verbal behaviour. Just stop criticising your husband in terms of his parenting. Start praising him instead, about all the things that you can think of.

Praise the good things he does as a father. Let him know you appreciate how lucky you and children are that he works so hard to provide for you all. Talk to him in positive terms of the two of you together as parents, whatever it is you can think of like maybe how well holidays as a family work, or whatever. And praise him in more general terms about all the good things. Yes, I know it will be hard, but it will also succeed. Low self-esteem is not improved by criticism, it's improved by judicious praise, and love and affection.

You get the picture. Someone who feels good about themselves is unlikely to need to put their partner down. Your kids are fine and very robust. They don't need to be protected against their father.

You need to stand up for yourself, which means leaving any scene where you are being put down. Staying in the room and not arguing back because of the children simply means you're taking the punishment, which is wrong. Take a walk, put on the washing, ring a friend to go to the movies instead.

You have it within your power to reduce family tension by giving up on the criticism. No, you're not responsible for your husband's behaviour. And no, I am certainly not blaming you. Blame is as inappropriate as notions of normality. I'm simply acknowledging the fact that human beings respond to others, which means we have influence not control, but influence. You're suffering, so why not try a change of tactics?

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