Elizabeth stood back and looked at the job she had just completed. She had created a display for her work team and it was clear and well organized. But Elizabeth walked off in disgust, thinking it was awful. And no one could convince her otherwise. She came home depressed.
Childhood Origin of Insecurity
Elizabeth’s insecurity is clear from her childhood. She grew up in a home where no matter what she did or how she did it, it was never good enough. Her parents would say that since they knew she was smart, they were sure she could “do better.” This is not a formula to bring out the best in a child. Instead, it’s a formula for insecurity.
Being married to Sam didn’t help. It seemed she could not meet his expectations. However she did things, Sam found a reason that they could have or should have been done differently. In other words, Elizabeth married her parents. Sam deserved a big bright award called the “Aiding and Abetting Insecurity” award. For some peculiar reason, he thought that if he told Elizabeth how to do things “better,” then she would mind-read what Sam thought was better in the future.
That’s a good trick: Get annoyed at your spouse for doing something you didn’t agree with so that miraculously she (or he) will (a) know next time what you wanted and (b) actually agree with you that it is the better way.
So here’s the question: If we could wave a magic wand over Sam to be a nicer, kinder, gentler, more supportive husband, would that take away the insecurity that he gave her and the insecurity with which Elizabeth came into the marriage?
All the gurus say you have to do your own work on yourself. If you want to be emotionally stronger, no one can do it for you. I say they’re part wrong. Here’s why.
Why Some Divorces Are Ugly
There’s something that couples do automatically whether they have a good marriage or a bad marriage: They bond. See, that’s why there are ugly divorces. Think about this: If two people are through, wouldn’t they be better off just splitting, saying ‘goodbye,’ and being done with it? But no, some couples fight and fight after the divorce has been finalized. The reason for this is that they are still connected. They’re angry because they didn’t get what they wanted from one another. If they were really through, they wouldn’t care. But they’re still connected.
That connection is powerful. It’s the energy behind all the negativity. You know very well that love and hate are just a hair’s breath away.
Why not take that powerful energy and turn it around? Make it work for the marriage instead of against it.
How A Husband Can Learn to Be Supportive
Let’s see how Sam’s eyes can be opened and he realizes that he’s going about this all wrong. Here’s what Sam needs to do to become supportive, affirming, and validating. He must begin by getting realistic about how superior he is and how much Elizabeth is lacking. I’d ask Sam to write a list of his own good points and a list of his flaws. Next, those two lists for Elizabeth.
He needs to take a good look at the flaws on both lists and see if they can be boiled down to a couple of categories. For example, instead of “Elizabeth never remembers to pick up the dirty laundry; she forgot to get an item from the grocery list; she was late picking up our son at school; and she didn’t put the correct seasoning in the roast,” he could reduce that to, “Elizabeth isn’t into housewife stuff.” In this way, Sam really gets a better understanding of who his wife is. If that’s what she isn’t into, he can now focus on what she’s good at.
Next, he needs to make the positive lists long, at least 20 items. He needs to read them over, slowly, every day, recollecting specific events in which he or she demonstrated the items on the list. All this is meant to give him the humanity he is missing. He needs to get both his own and his wife’s “failings” into proper proportion. He needs to appreciate Elizabeth’s strong points and come to realize that although she may not measure up in areas that he used to think are important, her strong points are worthwhile.
Finally, he has to make a practice of stating the items on the list directly to Elizabeth, such as, “When it comes to building your team, you are one of the top.” She may deny this and he can bring proof from the stories she tells of her work experience and what her co-workers have said. That doesn’t matter. He must continue this practice.
This is just one of many tools that Sam can use to bring his vision of his wife into proper perspective.
How A Supportive Spouse Fixes Insecurity
And what happens to Elizabeth while Sam is working on himself? For the first time in her life, she gets positive feedback from someone she’s deeply connected to.
She won’t become a confident person right away, that I can tell you. But over time, it will work. As the number of times grows that Elizabeth hears positive things about herself, it will speak louder than the old voices in her head that told her otherwise.
Will it help if she works on herself, too? Absolutely. But when she builds her esteem for herself with his positive feedback in mind, she can’t deny the truth of his statements. That’s powerful. And that is how she will heal.
Why do you think marriage was invented anyway? Remember, we were supposed to help each other. That’s what we’re here for.