Why Do Some Husbands Say Hurtful Things to Their Wives? (Read the blog!)

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Have you ever had a conversation with your husband that went like one of these? Feeling hurt you say, “You don’t love me. You just want to criticize and punish me." He replies, "That's right! I just want to criticize and punish you!"

After hearing him say this you share with your BFF, “He told me that he just wants to criticize and punish me."

Or maybe during a heated conflict you tell him, “We have problems but you won’t make any attempt to change!" He replies, “That’s right, I won’t make any attempt to change!"

After hearing this, you inform your sisters, “Though I know I need to work on myself, and I am not perfect, he said he won’t make any attempt to change. I am at a loss to know what to do."

But could his words be nothing more than mindless parroting? As a parrot mindlessly echoes what another voices, we humans can do the same, especially husbands in marital conflict.

He Expects Her to Decode His Jest in His Echoing

At times, a husband can inconsiderately blurt back what he hears his wife accuse him of doing. Because he feels stunned by her attack, he feels at a loss to know what to say in his own defense, so he repeats her words as if he agrees with her.

But he parrots her words with a tone of sarcasm because he mocks what he deems as over-the-top comments about him. He intends for her to interpret his parroting as a flat-out rejection of what she claims.

For instance, a wife complains, "You think I am the dumbest person on the planet.” The husband answers, "Right. Sure. I think you’re the dumbest person on the planet.” As one listens to his tone, one realizes he is being sarcastic and does not agree with her accusation. Interestingly, for the wife who detects he is throwing her words back in her face in a flippant way, she still believes he believes she is the dumbest person alive because he did not tell her that she wasn’t.

Or maybe she charges, "You think I am someone you could never love even though you married me.” He answers, "That’s it. I married you but never loved you. You nailed it. The secret is out.” Dripping with derision, he expects her to see the wrongness of her self-pity. Instead, she takes his sneering as proof of her protestation.

Tit for Tat

How do we make sense of what transpires here? Let me give an analogy.

Marlene reaches over and places her stun gun on Darrel’s leg and shoots it. After sitting there stunned Darrel says, “I can’t believe you just did that. Here, Marlene, let me show you how that feels.” He shoots her in the leg with his stun gun.

Stunned, Marlene calls the police and tells the police that Darrel shot her with a stun gun, never mentioning, “Oh, I stunned him first."

Some wives broadcast to family, friends, and on Facebook the stunning declarations of their husbands. “He said he will never love me. He says he hates me."

But she leaves out that she first said, “You will never love me. You only hate me,” which led to him parroting back, “Right. Sure thing. I will never love you. I only hate you. You got it!"

Taking His Comments at Face Value and Ignoring Her Own

She takes his comments at face value because he never countered. “Oh, honey, I am so sorry for making you feel this way. I could never hate you. I will always love you. Please forgive me for putting you in a position to feel this way."

Yes, he should say things this way. But what if he does not? What if he fails to be articulate about his love for you? What if he allows the heated moment to get the better of him and he parrots your words mockingly? What if your indictment triggers in him a knee-jerk reaction because he is too stunned to know what to say to deflect your judgment and defend himself? What if his mockery masks his pain?

Do all women says such things to their husbands and then interpret their husbands parroting in the way I describe? No, but some do.

Do all men parrot what a wife says as these husbands evidence above? No, but some do.

I am addressing some folks. I am saying, “If the shoe fits, wear it.”  In other words, if what we say here is true about you then accept this and make an adjustment.

What Is the Way Forward?

One, though a wife recognizes her husband snaps back with tongue-in-cheek jabs, she must not believe and broadcast his rejoinders as gospel truth. In most instances he is in disbelief about her claims and intends for his response to show her just how unbelievable are her judgments.

“But Emerson, I know his words drip with sarcasm but Shakespeare penned, “Many a true word hath been spoken in jest.”

I agree. A husband can send cruel messages hidden behind his mocking parroting. He could be waiting for her allegations to afford him the opportunity to tell her that he does not love her.

On the other hand, he could very well be sending the message, “Lighten up. This is beyond the pale. I am speaking with tongue in cheek because you just verbally slapped me on the cheek. I am feeling inadequate and that you don’t respect who I am as a person because you view me as an unloving human being.”

Two, be fair to yourself, your husband, and others. Suggesting that his comments came out of the blue is not true. In each of the examples I offer, the husband says “hurtful” things to counter the hurtful words said to him.

A wife needs to honestly represent the nature of the conversation by saying, “Well, every hurtful comment he made came in reaction to the exact comment I made to him. He turned my words back on me. In fairness to him, he would claim he was pooh-poohing my words as nonsense. But his scoffing insulted me. His stinging words did not reassure me of his love. If only he had confessed his sorrow for making me bring up these matters in the first place, I could have moved forward. Even so, I need to be honest. I started the exchange and he felt damned as inadequate and unloving.”

Three, express your sorrow to God and to your husband. After reading Love and Respect, a wife wrote me, “I reflected on conversations and things I did [and said] that were totally disrespectful but I thought I was being helpful. I cried in total repentance before God because my eyes were finally opened to the magnitude of his pain and hurt. I knew how rejected I felt by him so if not respecting him [as Ephesians 5:33 commands] yielded the same feeling in him then how could I hurt him like that? I confessed my sin to God and called him and confessed my sin and apologized.”

The good news here is that most husbands humbly respond. She added, “He said, ‘let me borrow that book after you.’”

Four, move forward without beating yourself up. The fact is you were feeling unloved and were crying out for reassurance that your husband loves you but did not realize that you delivered that message in a way that felt hugely disrespectful to him. One wife wrote me, “I disrespected and dishonored my husband out of my own pain, never even realizing that it was equivalent to his not showing me the love I needed in the way that I needed it. I am ashamed and so remorseful especially after reading how much I’ve hurt him by my lack of respect. I just didn’t know . . . I was hurting and so I hurt him terribly. I just didn’t know . . .”

Five, when telling your husband of your needs ask him, “How do I tell you that I need the strength of your love without you feeling I do not respect you?” Get him to coach you on this. This does three things. One, it clearly lets him know you do not intend to be disrespectful. Two, it frames your need for his love around his strength not inadequacy. And, three, it opens the door for you to communicate your needs without him parroting.

Discussion Questions

  1. Have you ever had an argument with your husband where he parroted back your disrespectful comment in an unloving way and you took it as truth? If so, did you honestly believe he felt that way or did you recognize his sarcasm?

  2. Why would a husband find accusations such as these (i.e., that he doesn’t love you, that he still loves his high school girlfriend) so disrespectful?

  3. Do you believe there is always a bit of truth to jests like the ones we’ve discussed? Explain.

  4. Has there been a time where you have mislead someone to believe a jestful comment from your husband was spoken to you as actual truth? Does a confession need to be made?

  5. How will you communicate to your husband that in moments like these you need his actual verbal reassurance that he does not feel the way he is being accused, and that his jestful reactions only make matters worse?

  6. Comment on this and explain how each person can interface with each other differently. The next day a wife engages her husband, "You want me to do all the work in this relationship, meeting your every need, but what do I get? Nothing!” He says, "That's right. I want you to do all the work.” Later she calls her mother, “He told me that he wants me to do all the work but could care less about meeting my needs.” He comes home that evening with the Love and Respect, book on marriage to which she vents, "You only want me to read the Love and Respect book to tell me that I am disrespectful.” He replies, “Oh, brother. Yeah, that’s right. I only want you to read that book to see how disrespectful you are. She tells her pastor, “He told me that I have all the problems and that I should read the Love and Respect book because I am so disrespectful." These conversations leave her in shock and pain. Dazed by his replies, she feels deeply hurt. Why could he not hear what she was saying about her need for love? Why wouldn’t he say he was sorry for making her feel this way?

  7. How could this conversation be approached differently? She whines, "You think your high school girlfriend was perfect.” He retorts, "Yep. I did. In my view, she walked on water.” He intends for his wife to see how ridiculous her allegation is. Yet, to her there is truth in all jest, so he must still have feelings for her.