In a good marriage, we would do just about anything for our spouse. A marriage is a relationship where, ideally, you would go to war for your spouse if you had to. People who are happily married generally have the outlook that they and their spouse are a pack of two and that they will defend that pack should anyone threaten it.
However, it can be difficult to stay with this stance throughout the course of your marriage. And when you see it starting to fade, you can feel resentment and confusion. A wife might say: “I never let anyone bad-mouth my husband. If someone insults him or criticizes him in my presence, I always defend him. The other day, my mom commented that he had not been very helpful when it came to my son’s birthday party. I immediately informed her that my husband had worked nearly two days’ straight and that he offered to help, but I told him to get his rest. However, when the roles were reversed, he did not do the same for me. I heard his mother criticize me at that same birthday party. She made a snide comment that I bought the cake instead of made it. This infuriated me. And my husband looked at me as she said it and he knew I was angry. But do you think he defended me? Nope. He just changed the subject. My anger would probably be petty if this was the first time that this has happened, but it is not. He really never stands up for me. At least not anymore. He will not join in the criticism, but he never corrects or shuts down the person who is criticizing either. It makes me very angry and it hurts me. I feel that it is your duty to have your spouse’s back. Even when I don’t agree with my husband, I always have his back. Always. It makes me wonder if he loves me as much as I love him. It makes me wonder if he is weak and cowardly. I don’t respect this about him. And I want to change it. How can I?”
I am not sure that you can (or should want to) change your husband’s core personality. But I believe that there are things that you can do to encourage him to display more of the behaviors that you are looking for. But first, I’d like to discuss why you might be seeing differences in attitude about this between yourself and your husband.
Differences In Temperaments: Just because two people are married, this does not mean that they look at life and at circumstances in the same way. Some people are just not confrontational. I know because I am one of these people. Now, I would always defend someone who is helpless and I would not stand by if the person doing the criticizing was being malicious or cruel. However, in some instances, I feel that it is best to just let things go. For example, my mother is a pretty negative person – about everything and about every one. She will criticize the most wonderful things, just to stay in her negative comfort-zone. I love her, but it is just in her nature to point out the negative instead of the positive. At this point in her life and mine, I no longer point this out all of the time. I have learned to tune this out. And I made the decision to let most of it go. Who knows how long I still have with my mother on this Earth? I don’t want to spend all of that time arguing with her about petty things. If she lived with my husband and I, and her attitude was affecting my marriage, then of course I would have to say something. But since I only see her occasionally and her comments do absolutely nothing to affect my bottom line, it is easier (and in my opinion more productive for everyone) to just let it go.
I make this point because I want you to consider that your husband’s non-confrontational temperament does not mean that he doesn’t love you. It might mean that, like me, he has chosen to just ignore the slights. He might feel that his mother is old-fashioned and although her cake comment was ignorant and catty, he is choosing to let an old woman have her opinions and not cause a big issue about it on a day that should be happy for his child. I understand his thought process somewhat.
Knowing When It’s Appropriate And Necessary To Speak Up: At the same time, sometimes someone is truly disrespecting your spouse and getting into a habit of treating your spouse badly. I believe that in this case, it’s appropriate to speak up. And the person who should speak up should be the person closest to the offender.
For example, early in our marriage, one of my husband’s uncles stayed with us for a short time. This uncle was a bit of a chauvinist. I was sick with the flu. But that didn’t stop the uncle for expecting me to wait on him. My husband ignored the request and got up to fix the uncle something to eat. The uncle replied that this was my job. And my husband – not in a nasty way – replied that in our household we both had that job, that I was sick, and that while we were in our house, we were going to do things our way. The uncle shut right down and he has never treated me that way again.
The point is, there is a fine line between things you can let go and things that are mean-spirited and likely to continue if you say nothing. If you feel strongly that you in a situation that just can’t and should not be let go, you can try something like: “honey, I feel that this is very disrespectful to me and harmful. I think that one of us needs to address it. Since you are closest to this person, I suggest that you need to be the one to address it. But if you would prefer it be me, then I will.”
This is usually enough to inspire your spouse to address things that just can not be ignored. But keep in mind that you have to be careful in these situations. Sometimes, saying something can start a war amongst family and friends and make things worse. So it’s important to choose your battles. But if the issue means a lot to you, there is nothing wrong with communicating this to your spouse.