My husband is never satisfied. He complains about his work, our house and our kids, even though he’ll occasionally admit it’s all fundamentally OK.
I keep trying to tell him he’s depressed and occasionally he’ll kind of acknowledge it, but real soon he’ll go right back to blaming everyone and everything else for his woes.
I’m blue in the face from telling him he’s stuck in a bad pattern. How can I get him to address this?
A man named Salvador Minuchin tells this story: A farmer had a donkey that would do anything he was asked. When told to stop, the donkey would stop. When told to eat, he would eat. One day the farmer sold the donkey. That same day, the new owner complained to the farmer. “donkey won’t obey me. When you ask, he will sit, stop, eat – anything. When I ask, he does nothing.” The farmer picked up a two-by-four and walloped the donkey. “He obeys,” the farmer explained. “But first you have to get his attention” *
The parable is a little crude and of course it’s not to be taken too seriously. But the point is that no communication is effective unless the receptivity is there. My guess is your husband is not in a receptive state when you talk with him, and maybe this can be addressed first.
The “two by four” can be as direct as actually saying something along the line, “I want to talk about something critically important to me. Could you promise to hear me out?” This is followed up later with something like, “It’s so important to me that I get this message across in the right way. Would you indulge me please by summing up what you heard me to say, so that I can check out your understanding?”
Another way to increase his receptivity would be to recruit others in this man’s life who have the clearest channel. Does he tend to listen to a favorite uncle, or a minister? You can also recruit the whole “village”, including his M.D., his barber, neighbors, people at work, his religious community, great aunt Gertrude and so on.
There are many other ways improve the receptivity of the listener. But you might also check to make sure you’re not inadvertently using something which is backfiring. We all fall into this – repetitious nagging, shouting, sarcasm or shutting down in the hopes that he’ll pry in just the right place…these are 2×4’s which will not budge anyone’s ass.
*Families and Family Therapy, 1974