When we first get married, we assume that we have just become partners with someone who is always going to have our back, who is always going to be our biggest supporter, and who is always going to treat us kindly. We assume this because, in the early days, most of us are on our best behavior (and that behavior doesn’t change when stress shows its ugly face – because our love is in its early phases.)
Oh, the sweet naivety of youth or of the newly married. The truth is, despite our best intentions, even the most loving and committed of us are short with our spouses when we have bad days or we say things that we desperately wish that we could take back. If we are lucky, these things only happen occasionally and it causes no real damage. Other times, the stressors are so constant that this can almost become a habit. And that is when the real damage is done.
A wife might explain: “when I first met my husband, he treated me like gold. He always complimented me and spoke to me sweetly. We are quite different. He is more academic than I am, but he seemed to love teaching me things. He was always very patient and he would always defend me if any one dared to criticize me. The man I see before me these days is so different from that man who used to act like he treasured me. Lately, my husband is so condescending to me. He has been going through something at his job. It’s not really a demotion. It’s just a difference in the way that he can bill and can therefore be paid. It means that we will have to adjust our lifestyle a little bit. Obviously, I need to understand everything that I can about this. But when I try to ask questions, he acts as if they were the dumbest questions he has ever heard. And then he gives me this slow, drawn out explanation, as if the slow pace is required so that someone as dumb as me will have a chance to understand. And it’s just not all about his work. A couple of weeks ago, we were planning a short vacation (we can’t take a regular one because of his work.) I was trying to give my input about the things that I wanted to see and do, and honestly, his tone and his body language totally dismissed me. He booked what he wanted to do and didn’t seem to give any thought about my input. I’m starting to get the feeling that he doesn’t respect me. I suspect he thinks that I am not his intellectual equal. It was never a problem before, but now it just feels condescending. And I do not want this type of marriage. I still love my husband, but I can not let him talk down to me. I don’t want to be married to someone who treats me this way.”
I don’t blame you for being upset. We expect our spouse to be our soft place to fall. We expect to feel safe and heard when we talk to them. When we feel disrespected and dismissed, then it feels like a betrayal and like we’ve lost something that is so very important.
However, it’s also important to note that, when we feel this way, we can lose our objectivity. We focus on what is wrong without digging to determine what could be making it wrong. That’s understandable. It’s human nature to focus on the hurt and not the cause. But I bring this up because it seems that, from your earlier description, it’s not in your husband’s nature to be this way. When you met him, he was gentle and kind. Which means that there could be a recent development that is contributing to his condescending attitude now.
I am not excusing him. No one should be condescending to their spouse. But if he is acting this way out of stress and you still love him, then at least to me, it makes sense to explore how to make this better before you make a rash decision like ending or pausing your marriage before trying to fix it.
The first suggestion I would have would be to draw his attention to it. He may not even realize that he’s doing it and it is likely not his intention. However, you want to be careful that you aren’t making it sound like you’re attacking him or saying he’s a bad person. You want to make it sound like you concerned for both him and you.
So a suggestion might be something like: “honey, I know that you likely don’t mean to, but your tone is upsetting me. I know you’d never hurt me on purpose, but it sounds like you’re talking to a child when you talk to me sometimes. And it hurts my feelings. It makes me feel like I’m not important to you. I don’t mean to add to what you’re dealing with because I know that you have a lot going on at work. I want to help you. But it’s harder to do that when your tone is almost telling me to stay away. I wanted to make you aware of this because it’s not getting us anywhere. We’ll make more progress if we pull together and are kind to one another.”
You may find that he immediately apologizes to you and was completely unaware that he was coming off in the way that he was. Or, he may get defensive and tell you that you were imagining it. If so, at least you would have put it out there and hopefully, he will be more careful with his tone. But try to keep in mind that the stressors he is under are probably contributing to the way he speaks to every one. You have every right to ask that he not speak to you in this way. But be careful that you don’t just add to his stress level and that you make it clear that you want to support him. All of this is easier to do that if you’re both communicating in a loving and supportive manner.