How to Avoid Stress When Your Spouse Nags at you for Being Unresponsive

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photograph copyright, Jeanette Raymond, Ph.D.

Are you bothered when your partner blames you for being unresponsive to something they said or did, yet shuts you down the minute you try to share your feelings? You must be intensely frustrated caught in this catch twenty-two trap.

That’s exactly how thirty-two-year-old sales director Ian felt when his twenty-nine-year-old partner Chantal, an office manager, poked and prodded him about whether he enjoyed the elaborate celebration dinner she had thrown for him when he got his recent job promotion. He had been surprised and touched and thanked her during the party. But she kept on fishing for more, wanting to know every detail of his experience after all the guests had gone and well into the next week. She would bring it up out of nowhere irrespective of what they were doing or talking about. If he didn’t jump up and down with joy and praise her for her thoughtfulness she accused him of not liking the party and just pretending to enjoy himself. If he reassured her that it made him happy she countered with the suggestion that he was just saying it to be polite.

Ian felt hopeless about ever coming from a genuine place and being believed.

The harder Chantal poked him and doubted his answers, the more robotic he became, trying to deflect the irritation that may turn into a fight it he didn’t squash it. But when Chantal seemed interested and curious about his feelings he softened and felt like maybe this time she would really listen and accept his feelings without talking all over them. He built up hope, and when he was really stressed and upset he told her how he was feeling only to find that she didn’t want to hear it. That’s when she usually dumped all her stress on him, wiping out the experience of sharing. With his hopes killed, he retreated to a more solitary position, which then prompted Chantal to start poking him again.

Ian is in a no-win situation but he doesn’t have to stay there and live in this tense and unfulfilling relationship. If he understands Chantal’s needs and motives then he can eliminate a lot of relationship stress and save his relationship and his own health.

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photograph copyright, Jeanette Raymond, Ph.D.

So what is Chantal up to?

Basically she wants to know if she is having an impact on Ian in a way that is positive so that she can feel worthy of being loved and included in the relationship. So she engineers situations where she goes out of her way to make him happy. She expects that he will feel good, attribute the good feelings as a result of her positive actions, and then love her to death. But when he doesn’t react in quite the way she wanted she starts to panic and pokes even harder to find that nugget of gold that shows he recognizes her as his source of happiness.

She is attempting to control how he feels about her.

She only wants him to have positive feelings about her and that means that she cannot allow him to just share whatever he wants, whenever he wants. That would be too unpredictable, and chances are he wouldn’t be having good feelings. He would probably want to express his bad feelings and that would be devastating, so she shuts him down completely. Better to hear nothing than bad stuff – better the robot than a fully human person who has a bunch of feelings that she can’t control. Until of course she gets hungry for feedback that she is loved and valued, at which point she starts doing and saying things to get him to see her in a positive light so she can relax and feel safe in the knowledge that he won’t leave her.

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photograph copyright, Jeanette Raymond, Ph.D.

Armed with this crucial insight into Chantal’s mode of operating, Ian can now deal directly with her need to control his feelings according to her agenda. Whenever he feels that he is being manipulated, poked or shut down he can call her out. Then he is in charge and no longer in a battle that he can’t win. He needs to make her aware of her strategies, because she is blind and acting out of fear, trying to protect her place in the relationship.

Next Ian and Chantal have to openly talk about how insecure Chantal is and her unproductive ways of managing her fears. Ian can share how precarious he feels in the relationship when she strives to micro-manage his emotions. He can tell her that her tactics are turning him into a robot and discuss the implications for what started off as a dream of a warm and emotionally intimate partnership.

One of the nicest and easiest ways of making each other feel safe enough to show emotions without being provoked is to do a check in every two or three hours – just a pure and honest exchange of feelings can help Ian feel heard and Chantal get the feedback she needs so that she doesn’t have to live in fear of hearing bad things.

Copyright, Jeanette Raymond, Ph.D.

You might also like:

The secret to getting a loved one to accept and believe your facts

Save your marriage with impactful communications

How to manage conflict in a relationship so that you don’t feel prejudged.

Disclaimer: this article is for educational and informational purposes only. There is no liability on the part of Dr. Raymond for any reactions you may have when reading the material or following the suggestions therein. Interacting with this material does not constitute a therapeutic relationship with Dr. Raymond.