He’s your emotional punching bag; work stress, home stress – you offload it all on him. But are you delivering the knockout blow to your relationship?
At home one evening, parttime lecturer Stephanie Chia did something every married woman has done before: she bitched about her day to her husband.
She had to cover for two colleagues who were sick. Her mother had complained that she wasn’t visiting enough. And she was on the verge of falling out with a group of friends.
It was routine for her to share her gripes with her husband Francis*. His reaction that night, though, was anything but.
“When I was done talking, he sighed and told me that my constant negativity had become emotionally draining,” shares the 35-year-old. “I was dumbfounded.”
He then went on to accuse Stephanie of “making mountains out of molehills”, and said that all she did was “bitch and moan”. “He’d started to dread talking to me because he said that I complained about the same things all the time,” she adds.
Francis finished by saying that they never talked about anything positive. He felt like an “audience” for Stephanie’s never-ending outbursts.
Their cold war lasted a couple of weeks and they ended up seeing a relationship counsellor.
SOUNDING BOARD OR PUNCHING BAG?
Talking about problems. Analysing problems. These are the things women do to de-stress, says Ho Shee Wai, director and psychologist at The Counselling Place. “But for men, talking about a problem can create additional stress and helplessness, especially if he feels it can’t be solved,” she explains.
Nicholas John, 42, who is self-employed and married, agrees: “It feels a lot like being nagged at, creates unnecessary drama and gets tiresome. Are you just complaining for the sake of complaining?”
What’s more, when stress hits, some women don’t just talk it out. They lash out, making their men the target of their frustrations, putting them down, making unreasonable demands and throwing tantrums when they won’t give in.
Granted, not all of us go that far. Most of the time, we just need a listening ear. So how do you make sure you treat your man as just a sounding board and not a punching bag? We outline some strategies:
Tell him straight up that you’ve had a bad day so he knows what to expect (and if he’s smart enough, he’ll postpone that soccer session). Make it clear that your mood has nothing to do with him; you just need to decompress.
KEEP IT BRIEF
If you must vent, keep it to 15 minutes or less, says Shee Wai. That should be enough time to get a problem off your chest and will reassure your man that there’s an end in sight. After the time is up, move on and discuss other matters.
DIAL DOWN THE DELIVERY
Your tone makes a difference. During couples counselling, Stephanie realised that Francis was affected by her brash communication style – which involves the use of expletives, yelling, and loud, exasperated noises.
She also learned to be more focused when sharing her problems. The couple, for instance, discuss solutions so Stephanie will feel like she has the issues under control. Francis, too, tries to listen instead of shutting her out.
PUT A POSITIVE SPIN ON THE CONVO
“Your man will be motivated to listen if he knows that the conversation will yield a favourable outcome,” says Shee Wai. Knowing that you’ll feel happier after talking, for instance, or that you’ll be appreciative of his listening ear, or even that talking it out will help you find a solution, will make him more receptive to such convos.
A tip: frame the conversation as a discussion where you solicit advice. “You could say, ‘Someone treated me unfairly at work. I’ll tell you what happened and you can let me know if I overreacted’,” suggests relationship coach Cindy Leong, co-founder of Relationship Studio. This signals the kind of response you want, and he’ll be pleased that you value his feedback.
The Gloves Are Off
There are many ways your man could unwittingly become your emotional punching bag. Do these scenarios sound familiar?
The fight is on! You text your husband furiously about how your boss saddled you with more work. He barely has time to reply to your vulgarity-filled diatribe.
Deal with it: Says Cindy: “This may be therapeutic for you, but you’re not giving him the chance to respond with uplifting words. The vulgarities may make him feel like you’re taking your anger out on him. Instead of rambling, just state that you’re mad at your boss, and leave it at that.”
The fight is on! You come home from work annoyed that you had to work overtime. The kids haven’t been fed and the laundry isn’t done. You accuse Hubby of being unreliable – does he expect you to do everything?
Deal with it: The real issue is that you’re exhausted and stressed, says Cindy. Your husband not pulling his weight at home is a separate matter. “Tell him that you’re tired and ask if he could help feed the kids,” suggests Cindy. “When you’ve calmed down, bring up the issue of the chores with him.”
The fight is on! You just received a whole stack of bills. You complain to your man about the skyrocketing costs of everything and nag him about wasting money.
Deal with it: Drill down to a solution. Marketing executive Amanda Wong, 35, suggests saying: “These bills are crazy! I’m not sure how I’ll be able to pay for them all. Can we talk about how we can manage our bills better, like setting up a separate account for them, or taking turns to settle them?”
The fight is on! You arrive late for your date, and vent about bad traffic and inconsiderate drivers.
Deal with it: Nothing wrong with unloading your road rage, but darling, it’s a date – don’t spend the whole meal whingeing. “Make light of what happened and laugh about it with him,” suggests Carolyn Koh, a 32-year-old teacher.
When you hit below the belt...
Be wary if you constantly take your frustrations out on your hubby. For instance, if “you pick on him or use your moodiness as an opportunity to start a fight over things that you’re not happy about with him or in your marriage,” says Shee Wai. This constitutes emotional abuse. Set boundaries and never make him the target of verbal attacks.