Dear Dr. Deb,
I have been following your columns for a while now and I have to say, they are a little bit “fluffy.” I don’t mean to be rude, but you make everything come out so easy, as if all problems can be solved in the course of one column. And life just isn’t so simple. For example, my husband actually went on Amazon (at my urging) and bought your book, The Healing is Mutual: Marriage Empowerment Tools to Rebuild Trust and Respect—Together. He tends to blame others instead of taking responsibility so I thought reading your book would help.
He read it, or says he read it, and didn’t like it. He didn’t like the idea that you mentioned the word, “abuse” somewhere in there. He said the following: “Anyone can say they’re abused. Maybe they are just too sensitive.” How can you help someone like me who is knocking my head against the wall trying to get through to my husband?
You are correct that my columns can’t tackle the essence of individual problems. All I can do is write general principles that seem to work for many people. The same would be true of reading self-help boks. They are good for some people; others need a therapist.
In the case of my book, I’m guessing that your husband didn’t actually read it because there is a chapter in it called, “My Partner is Hypersensitive.” Had he read that, he would not have made the comments about people being “too sensitive” since that is the very thing that chapter addresses.
Had he read it, he would have learned that people who feel their spouse, boss, co-workers, or relatives are hypersensitive may have toughened up early in life due to difficult childhood circumstances. They therefore have trouble relating to people who are sensitive. The chapter helps people see this and appreciate sensitivity in others. It also helps people access their own sensitivity. Had he read it, it might have opened him up more to your words.
- Why Would Your Husband Have Not Read It?
I am going to venture a guess that it is not because the book and this column don’t give enough concrete advice. Rather, it may be something more unfortunate than that. It is altogether possible that your husband doesn’t want to understand the material. One would think, logically, that he would be thrilled to learn how he could be happier in life and happier in your marriage. But we humans are not logical.
- Why We Rationalize
Or rather, we sometimes use logic to do what we wanted to do in the first place. That is to say, we rationalize what we emotionally want: our emotions take charge of our thinking making irrationality the master. We would then bring reason into the picture to explain our actions to ourselves. This is where the word, “rationalization” comes from. It is a word that does not mean we are rational. Rather, it means that we use what appears to be reason to explain what we really want to do.
So, I am saying that your husband may not want to really hear what you, I, or the book is saying. This is why you experience your interactions with him as so frustrating: Whatever it is you’re saying is really not penetrating.
- But Why??
This, however, doesn’t get to the heart of the matter. Why doesn’t he want to hear what you’re saying in the first place? Why must he substitute what he wants – the rationalization – in place of really taking in your concerns and letting them work on him to effect change?
What I have found is that this self-work is painful. It is very painful to look at your behavior having thought it was coming from a good place and then discover that you made some mistakes that hurt others. It calls into question the assumptions and reactions of a lifetime. To honor the person telling you that you have hurt them means to recognize the possibility that you caused them pain.
I am guessing that this is your husband’s problem because he latched onto the word “abuse” as bothersome. He doesn’t want to consider the possibility that he caused you pain. To do so is to recognize that he made some serious mistakes, perhaps many times. This is just too painful for him to bear. Rather than face it and say to himself, “What can I do now to correct these things?” it becomes easier to reject the idea that he did something wrong; it must be your fault or someone else’s fault, but not his.
My premise in my book is that when a person is in too much pain to take this step, he must first heal. The book has tips and ideas for healing but, again, it must begin with an honest look at oneself—without rationalization. A person who is unable to take this step all by himself, needs more than a book. When you see you are not getting anywhere, there is no point in knocking your own head against the wall; it will only hurt you and it will not work. That is what competent therapists are for.