Recently a woman named Sharon told me that she had no hope of having a happy marriage because her husband hated her.
When I asked how she knew that, she said that he was always scowling at her and that he took every opportunity to say mean things.
It sounded incredibly lonely and painful. I could see why she was feeling so hopeless.
She had plenty of evidence that her husband hated her, and that he hurt her intentionally.
As I listened, I had a hunch there was an entirely different explanation for the way he was acting.
I suspected that her marriage troubles were totally solvable.
Experience told me that her husband’s hatred was more likely a symptom than the real problem.
Here’s what you need to know to heal your marriage to a hateful husband:
1. Ask Yourself if He’s Hateful or Just Hurt
When you feel like your husband hates you, it’s because you’re incredibly hurt.
Of course you are, in light of what he’s done! That’s understandable.
But if you flip the situation around for a moment and consider the possibility that he might also be hurt, it’s interesting to ask yourself if you were trying to hurt him.
Was it because you hate him?
Or was it to defend yourself, or to try to get your own needs met?
If it was the latter, then consider the possibility that he is in the same boat as you–not intending to hurt you but not knowing how else to navigate the challenges you’ve been having as a couple.
Back in the bad old days of my marriage, when I thought divorce was the only option, I spoke negatively about my husband to anyone who would listen.
I felt completely justified in doing this because I was just telling the truth–my truth, from my perspective, about all the ways he was a terrible husband.
Francis O’Walsh said that some people find fault as if it were buried treasure, and I think he might have been referring to how I was back in those days.
Now, I know that the way I spoke about my husband was deeply disrespectful, and that hurt him.
Even if he wasn’t within earshot when I was griping to my friend about him, I didn’t bother to change my tune when I was with him.
Wherever I went, I was polishing those precious fault nuggets I found.
His response, I now realize, was to be defensive.
That meant he got an angry look on his face.
Sometimes he said things that were downright mean.
And he was definitely obstinate about doing anything that I wanted.
All of which I added to my endless list of evidence of how he was a hateful, horrible husband.
2. See if You Recognize Yourself
It never crossed my mind that even big, strong men feel hurt–but they do. Especially when the woman who knows him best in the whole world speaks harshly about him to anyone who will listen.
Just listening to Sharon, who had a long list of grievances, I recognized my old self.
If she spoke that way at home, just as I had, it was easy to see how her husband might also be defending himself mightily, and even hostilely, from feeling attacked.
As painful as it was to recognize my own contribution to the hostility at my house, it was also liberating.
It meant that I could do something about it. I had the power. It wasn’t hopeless because there was plenty that I could improve on.
And once I did improve, of course he didn’t seem so hateful. At all.
Consider conducting an experiment where you clean up the criticizing and complaining to see if your husband’s hatefulness persists.
How do you do that?
I’m glad you asked!
3. Issue a Short and Sweet Apology
When I suggested that Sharon consider apologizing for being disrespectful, she was clearly skeptical that this was necessary or appropriate.
I knew how she felt–I get uncomfortable about apologizing for being disrespectful too, especially if I’m also feeling hurt.
Sharon hated the whole idea of it. Apologize? Blech!
But she decided to do it anyway.
She thought of something specific and said, “I apologize for being disrespectful when I argued with you about Sienna going to the school dance.”
She didn’t say “if I was disrespectful” or add any explanation or justification. She just said that one sentence.
Then she was quiet and waited for him to say, “Oh, you weren’t disrespectful. Don’t worry about it.”
But to her shock, he didn’t. He looked completely sincere when he thanked her for the apology.
And then something magical happened: The atmosphere between them changed.
The tension left the building.
She could see that her husband didn’t seem to hate her after all.
He looked calm and relieved.
She told me how nervous and amazed she felt, knowing just how quickly she could restore the connection once she knew what to do.
4. Empowerment Wears a Disguise
I still find myself owing my husband an apology from time to time for being disrespectful too.
It’s still a little uncomfortable getting there.
Last week while we were out to dinner at a swanky restaurant, I said something disparaging about one of his clients.
He correctly took it as me trying to control which clients he gives priority to.
He made an irritated face, and I’m happy to report that this time I quickly apologized for being disrespectful.
Other times it takes me a little while to get there. But when I do apologize, the results are always the same. Peace is restored throughout the land, and I feel connected to my husband, which I absolutely love.
I equate apologizing with empowerment now.
Want to feel empowered in your relationship?
What can you apologize for to your husband?
Think of it as an experiment and consider trying it on just to see how it goes at your house. How have you been disrespectful that you can apologize for this week?
I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below about whether there’s anything you could apologize for. Or maybe this seems too awkward or unnecessary. Feel free to share what’s true for you.