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Why Do Husbands Read into a Wife’s Words Disrespectful Meanings She Does Not Intend?

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Many wives have no idea why their husbands react negatively to their honest comments shared out of true concern. What to her is a caring attempt to offer a suggestion about something he needs to change, which would in fact be helpful to him if he listened to her, ends up hurting him.     

What else can she do but judge him as childish for misunderstanding her?

Keg’s Carrot Cake: 2,300 Calories!

However, let’s put the shoe on the other foot. Is she childish and over-personalizing for not appreciating when he blurted out, "You aren't having that dessert, are you? The Keg’s carrot cake a la mode has over 2,300 calories!"

She feels devalued, disrespected, and unloved, and tells him so. She feels he is saying, “I will only love you if you look good and hot, like the girl I dated in college."

Truth is, we both have vulnerabilities based on our gender, and women have significant susceptibilities when it comes to body image. Therefore, we would defend a woman’s reaction to her husband and blame him for his utter insensitivity and conditional love. "If she wants to eat the Keg’s carrot cake, let her and love her for it!"

Yet, she’d readily mother him and tell him to not eat the Keg’s carrot cake. And that’s because maternalism is in, whereas paternalism is out. As a good boy, he does as she says without personalizing her words to mean, "I do not love and respect you."

Be that as it may, on other topics—and this is my point—he does personalize her words.

The Masculine Vulnerabilities

I want a wife to realize she can say things to her husband that are truthful but in his masculine world he hears a message of disrespect that she does not intend to speak.

In the following statements from a wife to a husband, ask yourself if it is wrong for the husband to personalize his wife’s words to mean, "I find you inadequate as a man and feel disrespect toward you because of this inadequacy as a husband." When reading, envision the wife with a contorted face as she distressfully says in a shrill tone:

  • "You aren't going into work again on Saturday morning, are you? Can't you organize your schedule better? This is the sixth time this quarter!"
  • "You are going to need to do something work-wise; did you know we don't have enough money to get by again this month?"
  • "You aren't going to ignore your teen son's comment to me, are you? Why do you never confront him? Why do you always let him speak this way?"
  • "You actually said that to them? What were you thinking when you made that comment? This is embarrassing."
  • "You have asked me to golf with you, hunt with you, and now go bowling. No! I am too tired. I have important things to do with the kids."
  • "You aren't getting my message. I am not interested right now in having sex."

What Does a Husband Hear in Her Words?

Each of these comments sends a message to most husbands: “You are not good enough. You are inadequate. I really don't respect you."

Though the wife is not intending this to be her message, this is how he reads her critique.

I take the position based on Ephesians 5:33 that a wife needs to feel her husband’s love apart from her performance and a husband needs to feel his wife’s respect apart from his performance. She needs to hear the message, “I love who you are created in the image of God.” He needs to hear, “I respect who you are created in the image of God.”

Is There a Solution?

The solution is speaking the truth in a way that feels respectful and honoring to him. Because women are good with words, they can do this.

First, she needs to ask the foundational question, which can help with her tone: "Is that which I am about to say going to sound respectful or disrespectful to him?”

A wife can get too intense and upset, as though the topic at hand is the end of the world. When she speaks with a shrill voice, the guy feels the topic is not the real issue; the root issue is that she is using this matter to tell him she does not respect him and he needs to change as a man and be more like her.

Second, word choice matters. Instead of her words sounding like a put-down, use words that appeal to his sense of honor and her need of him.

Her Concern Expressed Respectfully

Read the previous statements again, but this time spoken with a respectful tone and a different choice of words used in some places. Ask yourself, is the wife getting across the same message loud and clear and doing so without sending the message, “You are inadequate and un-respectable”?

  • "You aren't going into work again on Saturday morning, are you? Oh, do you realize how much I look forward to being with you? I need to be with my friend."
  • "You are going to need to do something. Looks like we need extra cash this month. I am glad for your leadership. If I didn't have you, I don't know what I would do."
  • "You aren't going to ignore your teen son's comment to me, are you? I need your protection and strength. Only you can handle him at moments like this."
  • "You said that to them? How do you feel they processed that? They respect you so much, I hope they did not misunderstand your words."
  • "You have asked me to golf and hunt. I am feeling guilty with all the things related to the kids. Let's get this calendared. I want to be with you for some of these activities."
  • "You know, I appreciate you meeting my emotional needs. I want to respond to your needs. Can we be intimate tomorrow night?"

The Choice about Word Choice

A wife has to make a decision. Is she losing power by speaking this way, especially if she does not feel this is who she is? The answer to this is simple: How has your way of speaking to your husband been working?

The beautiful thing about respect and positive word choices is that a wife does not need to belabor the point. When she stays on message she can land like a butterfly, make the point, and fly off. Though he may not respond immediately, these words appeal to his sense of honor as a man. When men hear language like this, it motivates them to act, and act from their good heart.

A wife can speak the truth with respect or speak the truth in a way that sounds disrespectful. The former is always better.

-Dr. E

Emerson Eggerichs, Ph.D.
Author, Speaker, Pastor

Questions to Consider

  1. Does the Keg’s carrot cake example remind you of something your husband has said to you, possibly with good intentions, but that you interpreted differently and felt unloving? How could a few different choice words and a better tone have made it feel not as unloving as it did?
  2. What if someone secretly recorded every word you spoke to your husband? Would you want to hear it played back? If you answered no, how do you think your husband feels hearing these words spoken to him?
  3. Notice that in Emerson’s rephrased list of comments from the wife to the husband, she still brought up some uncomfortable issues and problems. Despite the topics she discussed, how was she remaining respectful to her husband?
  4. Have you ever purposefully chosen to speak disrespectfully to your husband out of fear of “losing the power” in the conversation? What was the end result of your choice to do so?
  5. Having challenged the wife with her need to discern the husband’s meaning, as a husband how soon do you need to cease parroting what your wife voices?
  6. Knowing what you know, why would an honorable man seek to reassure his wife rather than use sarcasm to correct her misinterpretation of him?