Q&A with Geoff: How do I deal with my socially inappropriate husband?Dec 21, 2022
For the past several years, we’ve been losing friends and family due to the inability of my husband to keep his mouth shut when he’s given information and gets involved in other people’s relationships which are none of his business. It’s caused us to lose family, friends and acquaintances because trust is broken.
I cannot fix his behavior of making people uncomfortable with his actions. What can I do to detach from that type of relationship-killing behavior?
You’re right that you can’t change your husband’s behavior. Accepting this reality will not only save you a tremendous amount of energy, but it will also empower you to focus on what you can do. Let’s talk about how you can respond to his challenging behaviors.
Therapist Matthias Barker shared three ways we can respond when confronted with someone’s difficult behaviors. He taught that we can 1) confront them, 2) cut them off, or 3) consent to the behavior. Let’s talk about each of these options for your marriage
Confronting his behavior doesn’t have to be done in an aggressive and demeaning way. You can be clear, direct and firm about the impact these behaviors are having on you and your relationships. Speak for yourself and share the impact it’s having on your relationship with him. You don’t have to use threats or ultimatums to get your point across. Instead, describe what’s been lost due to these patterns and how it’s not something you can tolerate any longer.
You asked about how to detach, which is a variation of the second option listed above. There are lots of ways you can detach from these behaviors. You can stop talking with him about other people. You can build relationships that don’t include him. You can stop apologizing for his behaviors and allow him to face the impact of his own choices. You can leave if he starts to be socially inappropriate. You can refuse to socialize with him. If you choose to stay in the relationship and want to minimize the impact on you, then continue to cut off the interactions and situations that create the most pain. You can’t change him, but you can change how you interact with him.
If his behavior is becoming so harmful that you need to detach from your actual relationship with him, then when you confront him about the impact on you, make it clear that it’s having such a strong effect on you that it’s difficult to be in a relationship with him. If he’s motivated to stay married to you, then hopefully he’ll seek help for his poor behavior.
Detaching from his behavior also means that you don’t take responsibility for the consequences he creates. You can make it clear to others that you will not participate in criticism or gossip. You can reassure others that their information is safe with you. You don’t have to criticize him to others, but you can make it clear that this isn’t something you support. Choosing to stay in a difficult marriage doesn’t mean you have to be loyal to unhealthy patterns.
If you choose to stay in the relationship with him and decide to do nothing about it, then you can essentially consent to how he shows up in relationships. This isn’t the same as agreeing with his behaviors but, instead, it’s accepting that this is how he chooses to live his life. Consent means that you stop complaining about his behaviors and carry on with your life. It’s perfectly healthy in a marriage to consent to things that we recognize will likely never change. For example, your partner may always run late or is disorganized. Of course, if the behaviors are destructive and harmful to us or others, consenting isn’t a healthy response. Consent works best when we accept our partner’s quirks and foibles as part of being human.
You might feel powerless to respond to his behaviors, but you have several options to help you reclaim your emotional balance. You don’t need to spend any more time believing that you’re unable to respond. You have options, even if they’re not ones you prefer. Thoughtfully moving into action will help you decrease your distress.
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