How to Deal with My Disrespectful Wife?

09 April, 2017
Q I have been married for nearly 16 years and have a lovely family with 5 children. Recently, I have been having problems with my wife on a number of issues. First, she screams and yells at me and the kids over small things. When I try to discuss it with her, she blames it on me. Second, I have asked her several times not to watch movies that are 18 rated as our children are less than 16 years old. When I try to talk about this issue, she says she is a mother and knows what's best for the kids. Third, when I sit down with the kids to teach them i.e. reading/ writing, she always finds faults in what I do like that the material I'm teaching is too hard or they don't want to learn. Fourth, when I discuss religious issues with her, if she disagrees, she shouts back or yells in front of the kids and shows disrespect. Fifth, she doesn’t encourage the kids to pray but shouts at them, or she would rather pray by herself. (We used to stay with my parents where there were so many problems between my mother and my wife, therefore we finally moved into our own home.) Recently, about a week ago, we had another disagreement, and my wife started to show disrespect by shouting and raising her voice. I tried to calm her down, but she continued behaving like this in front of the kids, making me feel very uncomfortable, so I walked away to another room. Later, I decided to stop sharing the bed with her, and the next day I stopped eating the food she cooked. After 3 days, she realized I was avoiding her - it was quite obvious. She came to talk to me, but she still had the same, previous attitude. She said "Have you calmed down now?" Again, she made me feel that everything is my fault. I spoke to her and explained what she had been doing, and for that reason, I would not share her bed or eat her food for 7 days. She went mad and said if I can do this, she will do it, too. Now, the 7 days have ended. I tried to talk to her to make things better, but she says she is quite happy the way things are, and she wants to do the same to me; she won’t let me touch her or talk. Please, can you advise me on what to do next? Also, could you correct me: did I act according to Islam, or did I do wrong? What is my position in Islam? Can she prevent me touching her? I haven’t told my parents about this yet.

Answer

Answer:

Salam ‘Alaikum,

From the situations you have described, it sounds as if your wife is having trouble communicating her needs to you in a constructive way, and has resorted to expressing herself in anger, resentment, or inappropriate outbursts.

Of course, this is not an appropriate way to communicate with a spouse or loved one (or anyone). However, her acting in this manner does not mean that she is a bad person or has bad intentions.

It sounds as if she has tried communicating in other ways but has not been heard, so she is feeling lost, helpless, and/or confused as to what she can do to get her needs met or to communicate her needs to you, her husband. She may also have difficulty expressing her needs because of her personality, of the way she was raised, or because of things that she was told as a child. Not all of this anger may belong to you. However, the way in which you deal with her anger does not help it to dissipate. It makes it worse.

There are certainly techniques and ideas I could recommend to your wife had she asked this question. However, because you have asked, I will suggest things that you can do to help the situation. It is clear that as humans, we can only control our own behavior and cannot control that of another. We are encouraged to be the best Muslims we can be and are discouraged from judging other Muslims.

There are certain things your wife could do to improve the situation, but it could be that she is not ready or able to at this time. You could start improving the situation between you by doing some things yourself.

Communication, The Most Important Skill in a Marriage

Are You an Abusive Spouse? (Test Yourself)

When to Give Your Spouse the Silent Treatment?
In the circumstance you describe above, you chose to walk away and refuse to communicate with your wife when she expressed anger. You may have a better result if you, instead, talk to her about her anger and realize that she needs to express it in constructive ways. If you can listen to her and provide her with constructive ways to communicate with you, then she will be less likely to find inappropriate ways to express it.

Taking a brief “time out” to cool down and continue a conversation or to prevent you from yelling at her is a good idea. However, seven days is an excessive “time out”. It would be more appropriate to let her know you need a few moments to think or cool off before you continue the conversation with her. Let her know that you will “be back” in half an hour or an hour and then continue at that time. This does not excuse her behavior, of course. It is not appropriate to use anger to communicate. However, by helping her find other, more appropriate manners of communication with you, you will help your own situation and perhaps help her to start managing her anger as well.

By ignoring her or by passively resisting her clumsy attempts at communication, you are creating more frustration for her and affirming for her that she has no legitimate method of communicating with you. She may already feel very frustrated from trying many times to communicate. At this point, she may be less able to see positive options and instead may say to herself, “See? He is ignoring me. That just proves that he doesn’t want to listen to what I have to say.”

If this dynamic has been going on for a long time, she will forget about her own problems (of yelling) and will instead focus on the problems she perceives in you, which are “not being open to communication with her” or “not listen to her needs”. Instead of being able to focus on improving herself, as a Muslim woman, she will become more focused on how she is being “mistreated” in her perspective. In the same way, instead of focusing on ways you could improve communication with your wife, you will become focused on how you are being “mistreated” by your wife’s abusive language.

It is always easier for a person to manage a problem when they have help. If you could help her in some way, she might be able to do the rest of the work herself. Someone needs to break the dynamic. Both parties in this situation are at fault, but it only takes one of them to start helping the situation. If you can be that person, you may see wonderful things start to happen.

It would be best to seek counselling if you can. This would provide you both with a safe and neutral place to communicate. If you do not have access to a counselor, then it would be helpful to listen to her (without offering advice, becoming defensive, criticizing or taking anything personally). Remember, while you are doing it that you will need to be very patient initially as she has been trying for some time, so her initial conversations will be angrier.

As time goes on and she feels safer and safer to communicate, her anger will dissipate and she will be able to express herself more clearly. As you become more aware of ways in which you make it hard to communicate, you will find it easier to forgive her outbursts and will spend more time focusing on how you can be a more receptive husband.

Focus on what the core issue is here – a couple’s need to communicate -, and think about what you can do to make this happen. Walking out or refusing to speak or sleep with your spouse will not help this situation.

Remember that communication comes in many ways. Sex is a method of communication in marriage, especially for the man or woman who communicates on a physical level better than on a verbal level. Cooking can also be a form of communication and can be a way that a wife expresses love for her husband. Focus on keeping as much communication open as possible.

Salam,

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