What to Say When Your Wife Is Urging You To Show More Ambition

Man of Steel

Welcome to my blog. I’m a psychologist and the co-author (with Gary Chapman) of When Sorry Isn’t Enough. I share tips about What to Say When challenging conversations arise and I welcome your thoughts and questions. I’ll check back in frequently to chime in on the conversations here.

Scenario:

Scott’s wife is at it again. She fussed at him for not pushing more for a promotion at work. Scott doesn’t know what to say. As usual, he feels a mixture of guilt (not very strong) and annoyance (growing by the minute). For their entire 15-year marriage, Jane has pestered him to work harder and be a better provider. Scott wonders if she even notices his strengths, such as he goes to work without fail, he treats Jane with kindness, he buys gifts for her when he goes on business trips, and he likes washing her car for her without being asked.

What to Say:

Scott: Sweetheart, you know you are the love of my life. I want to please you in every way. However, I am tired of you pushing me to make more of myself in the workplace.  When you say that you want me to be a more successful businessman, I shrink to about two inches tall.  I’m content in my hourly job and as long as we can combine our income and pay our bills each month, I feel that I’m doing my part.

Jane: Yes, you are doing OK, but I want to see you do more. I’m worried about the future and I just don’t feel secure in your ability to provide for us. I want you to develop greater ambition and be a star player in your office.

Scott: You’re doing it again. I’ve asked you to stop pushing me and just LEAVE IT ALONE. I’m a “human being”, not a “human doing.” Please don’t measure me by my career success. Let me feel your love and respect for who I am; not for what I do.

Jane: I can see that I’ve hurt you and I never meant to do that. Old habits die hard, but I’ll try to stop pushing you. I married you because I love you. While I might try to change you into a hard-driving career guy, I recognize you have many other gifts. I won’t do this perfectly, but I commit to back off and accept you as you are.

Kids Day - Dress upWhy This Works:

Scott takes the bull by the horns and addresses the problem. He lets Jane knows that he’s heard her message loud and clear. At the same time, he calls Jane on her actions and asks her to back off. Finally, he remains committed to Jane. He doesn’t threaten to retaliate in any way. He wants to work things through with his wife and he’s putting in the effort to talk about their problems.

What Doesn’t Work:

Feeling frustrated by your spouse and bottling up your anger is a recipe for an explosion. Remaining silent when you feel pushed will only backfire on you. While you might avoid some conflict in the short term, your spouse won’t realize that you want her (or him) to back off and you’ll grow a big head of steam. When you can’t take it any more, you’ll blow your stack and your spouse will be left wondering, “Boy! What got into him?”

Your Turn:

What things are really hard for you to say to others?

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  • Mark Clark

    I hate it when my wife agrees with me then says but, right before totally disagreeing with me.

    • jenniferthomas

      Mark, good point here. Thanks for chiming in!