When your spouse does something that you don’t agree with, that hurts your feelings or that worries you, how you express your concern makes a big difference. There are lots of different messages you can offer to your spouse to express your concern. Finding strategies to reduce the likelihood that your spouse will become defensive is important.
Using “I” messages is a good way to start a conversation. Start the conversation in a positive way and invite your spouse to participate in a discussion with you. Identify what you are concerned about and who you are concerned about.
Before expressing your concern, decide who you are concerned about. Are you concerned about your spouse? Yourself? Your marriage? Other people? Identifying the people who are impacted can help you identify your specific concerns. Then stating who you are concerned about can help open the door to communicating about the problem.
I’m Concerned About You
If your spouse has been exhibiting any self-destructive behaviors, a message that says “I’m concerned about you” may be warranted. It may also be an appropriate message to offer if you have noticed any changes in your spouse’s mood.
For example, if your spouse has not been feeling well for a few days, the approach you use in expressing your concern is important. If you say, “You need to go see a doctor,” your spouse may react defensively and argue about how seeing a doctor is not necessary. However, if you say, “I’m concerned about you and the fact you haven’t been feeling well lately,” it can start a conversation. Your spouse can’t argue that you don’t “feel concerned.”
I’m Concerned About Me
Sometimes it’s important to offer a message that says “I’m concerned about me.” Often, people feel guilty giving this message. In fact, sometimes people avoid saying this because they don’t want to sound selfish. However, if you are feeling concerned about how your spouse’s behaviors are impacting you, it’s very important that you express your concern.
Take, for example, Diane and Rob. Diane had been working late steadily for the past couple of weeks. Rob was feeling exhausted. He had to rush to get out of work to pick up the children from daycare and after they went to bed, it required him to put in several hours of work from home. He was concerned about his stress level. Initially, he didn’t say anything. However, one day when Diane came home he exploded and said, “You never make it home in time to help me with anything. I can’t take it anymore!”
If he would have talked to her about his concern early on, he could have said, “I’m concerned about my ability to handle the stress of work, the household, and caring for the kids all by myself everyday.” This may have offered an opportunity to talk about their feelings and engage in some constructive problem-solving.
I’m Concerned About Us as a Couple
There may be times that it is important to point out how your spouse’s behaviors are impacting your relationship. Instead of saying, “you’re never home,” talk about your concern. Saying something such as, “I’m concerned that we aren’t spending enough time together.” Paying close attention to your relationship and pointing out your concerns when you have them takes courage but is important to discuss.
I’m Concerned About Us as a Family
If your spouse’s behaviors are impacting the children, express your concern about what might happen to the family. Common family concerns may include things such as your spouse’s parenting, not spending enough time with the family, or not role modeling healthy behaviors.
I’m Concerned About Them
There may be times that you are worried about how your spouse’s behaviors are affecting others. Perhaps your spouse behaves rudely to co-workers, is demanding toward her mother, or constantly asks friends for favors. It can be helpful to point out your concerns about what you see to your spouse.
- “I’m concerned that your friends are afraid to say no to you.”
- “I’m concerned that your co-workers may feel like you treat them rudely.”
- “I’m concerned that your mother feels like she has to do whatever you tell her to do.”
Expressing a Combination of Concerns
It’s likely that there are times that you are concerned about a variety of people at the same time. For example, if your spouse has been drinking a lot lately, you might express concern about how this causes you to be concerned about him, yourself, your marriage, and the family. It is important to discuss everyone that you are concerned about.
When expressing your concern, remember that your spouse may not share the same concern. However, showing that you are concerned may help your spouse to see the situation from a different perspective. You cannot force your spouse to make changes but expressing your concerns offers your spouse the opportunity to create change.