In this counseling answer:
• You can kindly but firmly let him know that speaking about another woman hurts your feelings and is not acceptable.
• Start practicing sharing positive stories, positive comments, and seeking to discuss beneficial topics.
• Invest time and energy in doing things that make you feel great.
Thank you for your question and reaching out. I hope you can find some tips here to help you start bringing about some change in your marriage.
Let’s first begin with you honoring your needs in your marriage beginning with the jokes your husband is making which are hurtful.
Break the cycle of low significance seeking.
You both chose to marry each other and Allah has brought you both together for a reason. If your husband wanted to marry someone else, he could have done that but he did not. From this point forward, you can kindly but firmly let him know that speaking about another woman hurts your feelings and is not acceptable.
You could say something like this: “When you joke about another woman or call me an average wife it hurts my feelings. Allah has chosen for us to marry each other, and you chose to marry me and I chose to marry you. Moving forward, please refrain from speaking about other women or me in a disrespectful manner. Instead, let’s focus on building a beautiful marriage with each other where we both feel loved and admired.”
Sadly, a man may joke like this in order to create some jealousy in you so that you’ll recognize how “great” he is or express a desire to be protective of him. He is looking for ways to feel significant around you. Remembering someone else who once made him feel great is one way to do it. It’s a poor choice and meets his need for significance in a small way which is why he keeps doing it.
You have the opportunity to change that by focusing first on expressing your hurt but second on the desire for you both to invest energy in your marriage and each other.
You may wonder why you have to be the person to do that and why he can’t just shape up and recognize his poor choices. While it may not be fair that you have to make this stop, it’s even more unfair for it to continue. When you learn how to stand up for yourself gracefully, he will recognize that he is being immature and hurtful insha’Allah.
Switch from chronic complaining to consistent connection.
You have also mentioned that you have a habit of complaining a lot. It’s also likely that this happens because when you have a problem to complain about you feel a degree of low-level significance because it also captures his attention in one way or another.
When you are complaining as a habit, it’s because you aren’t sure how to connect as a habit. Instead, start practicing sharing positive stories, positive comments, and seeking to discuss beneficial topics.
Of course, at some point in time, you’ll need to discuss problems and issues but the goal is different. You can discuss because it’s needed to find a solution instead of just complaining because you aren’t sure how else to speak to your husband.
In my counseling work with couples, I’ve found that many fall into a pattern of complaining then fighting because they don’t know how else to create some form of connection and intimacy.
You also can influence a change here.
How do you start connecting with a disconnected man?
You mentioned that your husband doesn’t always seem present in your conversations. If it’s the complaining habit it may be that he has started to tune out. Who wants to listen to a constant stream of criticism?
But even on a light-hearted topic, it may be a number of other issues.
#1: Men have shorter attention spans. Generally speaking, men can stay focused on detailed conversations for five to ten minutes. After this, they need to take action, discussion something solution or action oriented. Women, by nature, tend to enjoy longer conversations that are detail oriented. You may be just dealing with his masculine nature.
#2: He is burdened by something. It’s highly possible that he does have other important things on his mind. Work issues, family struggles, financial concerns, a spiritual emptiness which leads him to feel restless or anxious. He is a human being. He can’t show up perfect all the time.
#3 He is waiting for the complaints. Because you mentioned complaining a lot, it may also be that he dreads conversations in general because he assumes it’s going to turn negative until you finally push him his breaking point and he gets angry.
We’ve already addressed breaking the complaint pattern. Second to this is to speak with him in short bursts and then let the conversation be what it needs to be naturally. Let him bring up a topic, ask him about something you find interesting and get his insight, etc.
Being a priority may look different.
While every spouse should make an effort to make their spouse a priority, women often have a very narrow definition of what that looks like for them. A man is not going to be a male version of her female best friend. He may show that he prioritizes his wife by working hard, providing for her financially, picking up the groceries, taking her out, being kind to her family, leading her in salah, or bringing home something she likes to eat.
It doesn’t always show up in conversation.
Build in a system to honor your needs and talents.
When it comes to meeting your strong emotional needs for connection, I do want to encourage you to make sure you are regularly meeting up with other positive women who are good for your Deen and your emotional wellbeing.
Get out often, socialize, have fun, and come back home full of life. Your husband doesn’t have to be your entire world. Just a part of it. And vice versa.
In time, he can learn how to take better care of your emotional needs but it’s going to take some training from you. Men do not come hardwired to know how to honor a wife’s emotional needs. We each, men and women, often give to others in the form that we need most.
Also, invest time and energy in doing things that make you feel great. Whether that is a hobby, a class, spending time on an activity which is meaningful for you – make sure there is time built in for you. Areas of your life that nurture your confidence, self-esteem, and your iman.
Make a habit of gratitude.
You have also mentioned that your husband has many good qualities which you do appreciate. Make a challenge with yourself that for the next 21 days you will thank him for something each day or say a kind word. Start looking for the good in him and when you find it share it with him.
In time, this will likely soften his heart and he will return the kindness with more kindness.
It was narrated from Abu Hurairah that the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said:
“Allah is Gentle and loves gentleness, and He grants reward for it that He does not grant for harshness.” (Ibn Majah)
You can also share the above hadith at the right moment to encourage your husband to speak sweetly to you and refrain from hurtful jokes or harshness.
All of this being said if at any point in time you feel that the negatives from your husband, even after you work really hard at making some shifts in how you connect, continue to dominate your marriage and you find yourself feeling lonely, depressed, and unloved then I highly encourage you to reach out for some outside counseling support.
Marriage can be tough, but it should not be consistently miserable. Do your part and then measure his response. If you are pleased with the small shifts, keep going. If it makes no difference or things get worse, get help.
May Allah bless you with the guidance and support needed to improve your marriage.
Disclaimer: The conceptualization and recommendations stated in this response are very general and purely based on the limited information provided in the question. In no event shall AboutIslam, its counselors or employees be held liable for any damages that may arise from your decision in the use of our services.