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.

Step 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.

Step 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 man!  Except 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!

Step 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.

Step 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 a marital support group like the free Adored Wife Facebook group.

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


Join a community of 15K like-minded women who care about having amazing relationships. Click here to join my FREE private Facebook group.

9 thoughts on “How to Deal With Disrespect in Marriage”

  1. 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

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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!

  5. 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!

  6. 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.

  7. 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.


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