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How to Deal With Disrespect in Marriage

Turn His Rudeness into Respect in 4 Simple Steps

If your husband criticizes you, it hurts.  You’re doing so much, yet somehow it’s not enough.  No matter how hard you try, your parenting, your housekeeping, or your work just don’t measure up–or so he would have you think.

Or maybe he tries to control how you do things, like “correct” grocery storage or underwear rotation.

Worse, he speaks to you like he wouldn’t even speak to a dog, yelling, swearing or calling you names.  Having such a verbally abusive husband is a devastating red flag.

Perhaps he just keeps getting annoyed with you for no apparent reason at all, making you feel like a supreme irritant who’s worthless and totally unattractive.

That is such a lonely place to be.

I know because I used to be there.

The good news is that if you’re seeing any of these troubling signs of a disrespectful husband, there is still hope for fixing your marriage.

Here are four counterintuitive secrets for dealing with disrespect in a relationship so you can get the respect you deserve.

1. Change the Dance

How to deal with disrespect in your marriage

If you have no power to prevent your partner from being verbally disrespectful or exploding on you, what choice does that leave but divorce?  Or staying a victim.

Actually, there is an alternative.

As a woman, you are the keeper of the relationship.  That means YOU have the power to set the ground rules for respect.

Your man’s filter could be very different from yours (or seemingly nonexistent).  He may not even realize that his words hurt you.

Fortunately, you can teach him to treat you, in a hurry.

When he says something hurtful, say OUCH and leave the room.

If he does something angering, say OUCH and leave the conversation.

He might not like it at first.  At all.

He may say “Ouch!  What’s ouch?”  He could make a weird face.

In my experience, such reactions are a good thing.  They confirm that you are changing the dance.  Chances are it’s an old dance, and it’s courageous of you to teach him new dance steps.  That’s why I get a perverse pleasure from watching husbands squirm.

It’s also because I know what happens when a wife continues the new dance steps.  What happened for me is that 99% of the hurt is gone.

There’s no more choosing my battles.  The battle days are gone.

2. Learn the Magic Words to Restore Respect

How to deal with disrespect in your marriage

There is a catch.

“Ouch” will not work too well if you have already been disrespectful yourself.

I know that being respectful sounds easy enough.  In the bad old days, I would have told you I was totally respectful to my manExcept for how he watched too much TV, ate all that junk, was such a slob, and didn’t make enough money.

You see, I had no idea what respect looks like for a man.

I didn’t know that when I rolled my eyes at him, contradicted him, or told him what to do, I was sucking the oxygen out of our relationship.

As much as I wanted to point the finger at him for being mean, I myself said horrible things to my husband to lay him low.

If there’s hope for an ex-rageaholic like me, there is definitely hope for you.

Today I get to show up dignified.  But that doesn’t mean I’m perfect.

When I do criticize his client, like I did recently, trying to control his business decision (which is really none of my business), I have a magical phrase for that too.

Are you ready?

“I apologize for being disrespectful when I…”

Fill in the blank with what you did, leaving out any if’s, and’s, or but’s.  “Sorry if I hurt you” or “I’m sorry but I felt hurt when YOU said…” completely undoes the apology.

Sure, this phrase will probably feel like sand in your mouth at first.  But having the accountability and humility to clean up your side of the street turns out to be enormously empowering.

It also restores the intimacy in a hurry so cold wars are a thing of the past.

Just ask Kelly.  When her husband seemed annoyed by her very existence, she got pretty annoyed herself.  How could he treat her so disrespectfully?

Since she was feeling disrespected, she decided to look at how she had been doing when it came to showing respect.  Sure enough, she’d been trying to control how he handled their extermination, trying to get it done on her schedule before they left town by asking “helpful” questions like “Do you want me to call the exterminator?” (with the subtext that he wasn’t capable).

Once she used her magic words to restore respect, her husband’s entire demeanor changed.

He thanked her for doing so much to prepare for their trip.  He insisted she relax and go get her nails done.  Being stuck in the car with two little ones for fourteen hours ended up being a romantic road trip, where he couldn’t do enough for her!

3. Lead By Example

How can I deal with disrespect in my marriage

What if your husband is complaining about the messy house, as if you haven’t been working all day yourself, or the kids’ behavior, as if you’re now falling short as a mom too?

It’s hard not to take such complaints personally.

If you’re reading this, you know by now that taking his bait and explaining, justifying, debating, or defending the kids or yourself will only escalate things.

If his words are not hurtful, why not simply say “I hear you”?

You’re not agreeing or disagreeing.  You’re simply listening respectfully.

And that is attractive.  If you’re missing the deep talks you used to have, there’s no surer way to create the safety to bring those back.

If you want to supercharge your new Intimacy Skills, how about appreciating something you do respect about him?

Sure, it’s tempting to call him out for spending extra hours at work when you need help at home.  What would happen if you were to nix the complaining, instead telling him how grateful you are for him working so hard and being such a provider?

Or to express gratitude for his unique way of showing affection?  Maybe he isn’t a whiz with his words but he makes your coffee every morning, with two sugars just the way you like it.

Not only will he be inspired to please you even more, he’ll start expressing the appreciation you so deserve.

4. Show Up as Your Best Self

How can I deal with disrespect in my marriage?

Such experiments may be a stretch for you.

But if you’re as stressed, exhausted, or overwhelmed as I used to be, they’ll be more than a stretch–they just ain’t gonna happen.

When I’m depleted, self-care is the first thing to go out the window.

These days I make it a point to do at least three self-care activities a day, like playing volleyball, having lunch with a girlfriend, napping, singing, bike riding, getting a facial, or going to the bookstore for tea.

When I’m filled up, I can show up as my best self.

I’m not alone either.

Rita was terrified when, after twelve years of marriage, her husband became a selfish, grumpy workaholic who insisted on the house being tidy at all times–even though they had toddlers!  But he was too busy working to help with the family, so Rita was stuck being responsible for everything.  Any attempt to talk about it would result in a cold war for days.

After a few weeks of piling on self-care, the next thing she knew he was asking her out on a date with a shy smile.

Yes, yes, yes.  I felt on a high!” she recalls.  “I was so excited about it that I couldn’t stop smiling the whole evening out with him!”

What self-care would fill you up?

Especially if you are feeling disrespected, what personal de-escalation tactics would work for you?  Taking a walk, listening to a guided meditation, or punching a pillow?

For me, social self-care is a must, including surrounding myself with like-minded women as committed to marriage as I am.

If it’s hard to come by women who support your vision for your relationship, check out my FREE Roadmap.

Now that you have the tools to create mutual respect in your marriage, which one will you try first?

By Laura Doyle

Hi! I'm Laura.

New York Times Bestselling Author

I was the perfect wife--until I actually got married. When I tried to tell my husband how to be more romantic, more ambitious, and tidier, he avoided me. I dragged him to marriage counseling and nearly divorced him. I then started talking to women who had what I wanted in their marriages and that’s when I got my miracle. The man who wooed me returned.

I wrote a few books about what I learned and accidentally started a worldwide movement of women who practice The Six Intimacy Skills™ that lead to having amazing, vibrant relationships. The thing I’m most proud of is my playful, passionate relationship with my hilarious husband John–who has been dressing himself since before I was born.

23 replies on “How to Deal With Disrespect in Marriage”

I’m at a loss. He snaps and gets angry which makes me feel heartbroken and I start crying. As soon as I start crying he gets more angry and then very calm telling me I’m the one making a problem when there is none. I feel so heartbroken that he snaps and is so rude and doesn’t understand why I get so hurt. Often he snaps when I’m still mid sentence and when I tell him I wasn’t finished he tells me what a sh—ty communicator I am. It just hurts so much and I can’t stop crying. He says it proves I suck at communicating cause all I can do is cry. How do I stop crying when his hurtful words and tone cut so deep? Tears are just streaming down my face as I type this.

Noelle, I’m so sad to hear you’re crying even as you write this. You shouldn’t have to deal with being snapped at and heartbroken. Or criticized on top of it. This sounds so hurtful.

I remember the hurt when I couldn’t seem to communicate with my husband and how frustrating that was! That’s why I’m so committed to empowering women. And I would love to get you the tools to be treated with the respect and tenderness you deserve so you can feel heard and cherished.

Here’s a free Roadmap of 6 simple steps that have helped thousands of women fix their relationships so you can turn this around too!

Hi Laura,

I don’t know what to do. My husband gets so angry when I disrespect him and I do feel that I have been. However, I’ve apologized many times and then he says I go back to disrespecting again. He said he’s done with this and wants a divorce. I don’t want one. He says that I don’t love him because I show the disrespect but I don’t feel that way.

Victoria, especially after all your beautiful accountability and vulnerability, this is so frustrating and painful. That must hurt so much to hear! You shouldn’t have to hear words like that from your man. That’s not right.

I still remember thinking my marriage was hopeless and being scared to try, which is why my coaches and I have helped over 15,000 women fix their relationships, even after he said he was done. We can help you too!

I’m so glad you reached out–your timing is perfect. The 5-Day Adored Wife Challenge starts today! You can join us for FREE at I can’t wait to empower you to save your marriage.

Hi Lara

I have read your book and follow the steps and most of the time they work really great, honestly the new perspective and way of wording things has been life changing! However, my husband is still very disrespectful when he doesn’t get his way and continuously violates my boundaries and values. I am struggling to find the right words to stay respectful when I speak to him while still letting him know what I want. I cannot stand the way he talks to me and our kids when he’s angry and I am not ok with it. Do you have any suggestions that might help the situation and restore the intimacy and respect on both ends?

Brittany, congratulations on the life-changing steps you’ve taken! Still, you shouldn’t have to have your boundaries or values violated, or be spoken to that way. That must be so frustrating and painful.

Sounds like you could use some support saying what you want in a respectful way. I love your question! And I would love to get you the support you’re looking for. I hope to see you in the Ridiculously Happy Wife so you can stop feeling disrespected and start feeling connected and adored!

My husband disrespects me “behind my back”. He flirts – disrespectfully to the lady he is talking to – when I’m not around. But when I’m around, he’s the most lucky guy on the planet to have me for a wife. The things he says to the women he flirts with aren’t just compliments, they sexual innuendos. So how do I stop that?

That must hurt so much! You shouldn’t have to deal with such disrespect. That’s not right. I still remember how disrespected and scared I felt when I thought my marriage was hopeless, which is why my coaches and I have helped thousands of women fix their relationships, even when there was flirting with others. We can help you too! Here are the 6 simple steps you can take to turn things around:

If my husband starts blaming me for something (that I know for a fact is not my fault) am I just supposed to say “I hear you”? It’s not small things either. Just last night he blamed me for my sons fever. He gets a fever around the first of the month because of teething. Even he knows this.

Even the other day we were choosing somewhere to eat and I really didn’t care where we went but he keeps saying “I am not choosing. You choose.” He was being so stubborn over something so small. He hadn’t eaten all day (by choice. He doesn’t take his lunch and neither will he buy something for himself) and then blames me for not caring whether he eats or not, yelling at me. I really want to believe the Six Intimacy Skills could help me…..but I really don’t know if they will ????

Shala, that sounds tough! How frustrating that he keeps blaming you even though it’s not your fault. You shouldn’t be yelled at, period, by the man who loves you. I remember when I didn’t know if anything could fix my marriage, and it was lousy. You’re reaching out at exactly the right time to see how the Skills can help you repair your marriage. Join us for the 5-Day Challenge starting today! You can register for free at Hope to see you there!

Detaching and self-care are wonderful ideas, but make sure you do it with love and not make a point of ignoring your husband and putting your needs above theirs. If they feel at all that you are prioritizing yourself above the marriage and family, it can backfire. Make sure there is a balance and they know that self-care is to make you a better wife and mother to the family and not just a selfish thing you are doing because you deserve it and they don’t.

I have the same question as above. Are there other words you can say besides Ouch? I try only to use it when he doesn’t know what he said or did was hurtful and it blatantly was. And then let the small
Stuff go. But it does get repetitive and sometimes he tries to argue you with it or he just gets more mean.

I have always had the husband of my dreams – just did not know how to be an uncontrolling wife. What’s sad about that – I did not know I WAS a controlling wife so there was no chance I was going to fix it on my own. I am still as controlling as ever – but learning to control what I can, me. I slip off my paper still – but catch myself and scoot back ASAP. My side of the street still needs some pothole repairs – but grateful for a forgiving and patient husband as I strive to be better. He is not perfect, our marriage is not perfect either – but we are perfect for each other.

Something strange I have noticed since reading your books – when I see a wife roll her eyes or otherwise disrespect her husband and hear his reaction – my thought is “I would not want my husband to talk to me like that” and I immediately see why he did it and pray that I will never lose my supply of duct tape! Thank you so much for your mission to end world divorce!

BTW, married 31 years to my high school sweetheart and I still smile every time he kisses me – and that is a lot more often these days thanks to you and the six intimacy skills!

Hi Laura, Hi Friends

I’ve read your book, joined your group, and listened to your podcast. This is great advice that I’ve been trying in my marriage. However, I communicate with my husband in French, so while I “get” the meaning behind words like “ouch” and “I hear you” and agree that the power of words is so important, simply translating them hasn’t really carried the same meaning. How do you all deal with this in your own lives, when you aren’t with someone who is a native English speaker ? Laura, do you have foreign coaches who may be able to provide insight on interpreting this for other languages ?

Thanks and have a beautiful holiday season.


AmericaninParis, This is a great question. We do have foreign language coaches for Spanish, German, Bulgarian and a few other languages, but I can’t think of a French speaking coach on our campus right now. There is a translation of The Surrendered Wife book in French, which might be some help. I will say also that women often tell me that they are looking for a different phrase in English because the ones I suggest are not how they talk at her house, or it feels too awkward, or it doesn’t “work” with her husband. “Ouch” feels vulnerable and even awkward, but even a toddler knows what it means. What do toddlers say in French when they are hurt? It might not feel any more comfortable to say in English, as it takes courage to say. Same with “I hear you.” It’s a little awkward to neither agree or disagree when that has been your habit. It might get you a funny look at first, but in my experience, we all like to be heard and therefore once you’ve made the leap into the practice and the phrase it does wonders for the connection. I love that you’re wanting to figure this out and apply it in your relationship! It takes courage. You are brave!

I’m a husband and have always craved everything this blog is stating, I keep reading for hope in my own situation…

Heavy (sigh)…this was my comment from my wife when I mentioned I’m reading this blog…”I’m not surprised you go with Laura Doyle. She totally enables men…try looking at Gottman…teaches men how to be men. Both genders…sorry it should never just be on the woman. Have a great day!! Pout & hold grudges all you want & pretend to be a God fearing man but your gonna get out of our marriage what you put into it. Make sense??”…

THANK YOU Laura for keeping the fight going for marriages!
Pray for me and our marriage.

It makes me so sad to read this, Mr Tracy.

It is really strange that you mention that specific other relationship expert your wife likes. I read that seven principles book, each chapter over and over, did the exercises, and really really REEEAALLY tried everything in there. The result? Our “marriage in crisis” got even worse, my husband dug in his heels even more and we ended up discussing divorce. He – my darling, wonderful, amazing husband – then recommended I read Laura’s Empowered Wife, and assured me he was willing to be my husband if I was willing to stop thinking about divorce. And our marriage was transformed.

Do I feel I’m the only one working on the marriage, that it’s all on me? Certainly not. I am relaxed, I have more free time than ever before. My husband is more relaxed. I receive compliments, gifts and help every single day. He shares his visions and ideas with me, and he listens when I talk about my feelings and desires. We haven’t had a fight in 4 months. The BIG SECRET is… wait for it… There’s really no need “to work on the marriage”, neither man nor woman. Working on your relationship is just a fool-proof recipe for exhaustion and resentment – at least, if you’re a woman.

Oh, Mr Tracy, I admire your patience and love for your wife. May she realize how lucky she is one day.

PS: My husband had also read the seven principles book.

I really wish there was a version of the book for husbands. Some husbands want to work on their marriage but don’t know what to do. Some of the skills can totally be done by either sex. You can work on self-care, keeping your side of the street clean, practicing gratitude and appreciation for your wife, not trying to control your wife, and spending some time listening to her without inserting your opinions. But I’m sure there are husband specific skills that would be different, and that’s where I’m at a loss. I’d love it if Laura teamed up with a man who would write “The Empowered Husband”! One thing I keep reading is that while husbands prioritize respect, wives want to know they’re loved and secure. Many times when wives are disrespectful, they’re feeling alone, unheard, and/or unappreciated. Good luck!

C, thank you. I hear you! I love your vision–that would be amazing. In the meantime, here’s something I wrote for men that may interest you. I admire your commitment to being your best self and working on your marriage.

Hi, I have read your book several times and have been faithfully following the steps, and they have been working. However, whenever I say “ouch”, my husband does not respond well. He gets angry and says that he absolutely hates when I say ouch because it is very passive-aggressive. He always withdraws after I say it, even when I am keeping my side of the street clean and being respectful to him and say ouch kindly. Is there an alternative to ouch that I can use when he is insensitive? Should I just say nothing? I have tried ouch for a few months and it just seems to make things worse.

I tried saying ouch for a few months too. And my husband never seemed to get what “ouch” meant or even heard me say it. So recently I starting saying “That was hurtful.” And he has responded every single time to that! He will take a breather to cool down from being frustrated, then apologize for hurting me or being disrespectful. I don’t say anything beyond “That was hurtful.” I just say it calmly and let him get out whatever else he needs to get out. Then I listen to his heart message, do my self-care, and when he comes back to apologize I accept his apology.

Kristina, kudos to you for experimenting with the Intimacy Skills! I’m glad you found an approach that works for you.

This last two days I listening to your podcast The Empowered Wife, could stop ! keep listening …. I laugh, cry and laugh and cry…. its me ! its totally me whose causing all these problem in my marriage .I learn so much from all these woman whose become coach! I want to learn more about how to empowered and surrender myself so I can have more intimacy in my relationship with my husband. we are going through the “crisis” of our relationship the past two years .. its full of anger and hurts. I will start practicing your map. Ps: you are so happy and funny and full of joy ! listening to your voice make me laugh again! thank you

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