Dr. Val Farmer
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Rural Mental Health & Family Relationships

Advice To Farm Women: Try Honey Instead Of Vinegar

July 26, 2011

The scenario: You are unhappy with the amount of time and attention your husband pays to you and the family. He is wrapped up in his work. He brings his work home with him. His mind seems to be elsewhere. He claims to have little control over his schedule. Things come up. He is always gone. He is inconsiderate. He refuses to break his pattern for special events, children’s activities or things that are important to you.

He makes half-hearted attempts at a social life. He can justify everything he does. He feels that because he works hard and brings in an income that he is doing his part for the family.

Your attempts at reasoning fail. Your anger puts him off. Behind your anger is a plea for him to recognize the problem and to do something about it. He promises a lot but doesn’t change a thing. Calculated indifference doesn’t get his attention either. He doesn’t even notice.

The vicious cycle: What is wrong here? For whatever personal reasons he has for being a workaholic, your dissatisfaction with him is becoming a part of the problem. Your reactions to him make him feel unloved, inadequate, isolated and unappreciated.

What is his solution to these feelings? He affirms his worth by throwing himself into his work even more. You feel even more neglected, unloved and lonely. So you express your unhappiness in even stronger terms. "If I get angry enough, he will eventually get the message and get more involved with me."

Wrong! The angrier you get, the more he prefers to work. He resists your demands to prove his sense of independence and self-respect. He either fights back, gives more lip service, or simply ignores you. Things are worse than ever.

The strategy: So what is the answer? Go against the flow. Lure him with honey instead of vinegar. Create a safe and more appealing environment for him at home. Acknowledge how hard he works. Show gratitude for the things he has provided or is trying to provide the family. Let him know how important he really is.

Try to empathize with his concerns and sense of fatigue. Notice and draw him out on his worries and struggles. Really listen to what he has to say. Be affectionate and considerate. Invest at least a month or two in being consistently warm and cheerful. Plan a few surprises. Do his regardless of how he acts. See what happens.

How do you behave in a warm and loveable manner when you feel angry and abandoned by him? By acting, that’s how. Set aside the bitterness you have been feeling. Look at it as conducting an experiment to see if his negative actions are in reaction to your anger and displeasure.

By taking the lead and being different, perhaps your behavior can change the work/anger/withdrawal/more work cycle. Maybe he will respond in a loving way once he feels loved and appreciated.

Is this manipulation? No. You are causing a change. The difference is that both of you will benefit by what you are doing. You aren’t doing this to hurt or take advantage of him.

But isn’t this rewarding him or letting him get away with neglecting you? No. This is temporary. This is changing a bad pattern that wasn’t getting results anyway. This is an attempt to get your foot in the door so that a genuine dialogue can take place. It is about what might you learn from him when he feels safe enough to talk to you. For instance:

- He is wrapped up in providing a sound future for the family.

- He feels pressure from other family members.

- He feels irresponsible when he hasn’t done everything he should.

- He feels helpless to control his work schedule.

- He feels his work is hard and that his self-esteem depends on his success.

- It is hard for him to relax.

- When he isn’t doing or accomplishing something, he feels worthless.

- He finds you unpleasant to be around.

- You don’t appreciate him enough.

- He is intimidated by your anger and withdraws to avoid confrontation.

By talking about himself, he learns that both he and his feelings matter to you.

The negotiation: Now that an atmosphere of goodwill and leverage has been created, it is your turn. You state your needs dispassionately and matter-of-factly. If he listens and understands you, he may be willing to cooperate and commit himself to meeting your needs. You negotiate for a solution that meets both of your needs. He can no longer point to your behavior as a reason for holding back.

If this works, you have broken the pattern of anger, work, withdrawal, more anger and more work. You have a new pattern to build on. He is more secure and interested in being around you. You are more appreciative of him. He enjoys you more.

What if this doesn’t work? What if his withdrawal, anger and indifference aren’t a reaction to your actions? What if his workaholic tendencies are so strong that what you do doesn’t make a difference? You have taken yourself out of the equation that you are to blame for his attitude. Professional or pastoral counseling may be your next step.