Imagine you’ve just fought with your mate. You said things you regret in the midst of the argument. Your mate also said things that hurt your feelings. The tension is high until one of you finally ends the drama and retreats. The conflict left both of you nursing your wounds.
Following the fight is the time often called the “cold war,” as you both deliberate about who is going to be the first person to apologize. If you’re like me, this can be a tricky time. Part of you says, “Get over it. Go and apologize and own your part of the struggle.” However, another often equally strong part says, “You were wronged. You don’t have to apologize. You were right and they were wrong. Wait until they say they’re sorry.”
Being relational and sensitive, you decide to be the first person to hold out the olive branch. It’s no fun fighting. You want to end the struggle, and decide to make things right. However, approaching your mate you quickly realize they are not ready to make up. They’re determined to pout for a while longer. This is a common problem in many relationships, and the following story illustrates the dilemma.
Dear Dr. David. My husband and I seldom fight, but when we do, the fight lasts far too long. I’m ready to apologize quickly, while my husband holds onto grudges. He withdraws for hours and sometimes days, even if I apologize and reach out to him. When I approach him, I ask if anything is still bothering him, and he tells me ‘no.’ I know this isn’t true because he is distant, cold and detached.
Lately I’ve begun developing an attitude about my husband’s pouting. I hate him punishing me this way and am sick and tired of it. I’m getting angrier and angrier when he withdraws from me. I can understand giving him an hour or two to cool off, but a day? Come on. Why does he need to be so immature? What can I do to pull him out of his pouting? Please help because this problem is creating more and more problems in our marriage. --Tired of Pouting
I can certainly sympathize with you about living with a pouter. There is little more infuriating than trying to negotiate a problem with someone unwilling to talk about the issues in a straightforward and honest way.
Here are a few things to consider:
Try not to get hooked in the chaos. Remember you can never control the pouter. You can only control your part in the equation. You can’t make him open up or talk about the problems. Trying to pry him open will likely end in even greater frustration.
Never, never humiliate or act aggressively toward his pouting. Even though his behavior is irritating, attacking him or putting him down for his behavior will only drive him further into his shell. Work on healthy boundaries where you manage you, and let him manage himself.
Invite him into sharing with you. Assuming your husband feels unsafe sharing his most intimate feelings, do your part to create a container for his pain. He is likely feeling angry and possibly ashamed. He is aware of his behavior and probably feels badly about it. Let him know he is always safe in sharing with you.
Let him know how you feel about his pouting. While you should never get into a power struggle with him over his pouting, you should let him know that his withdrawal, coldness and detachment are hurtful behaviors. Make certain he is clear about the impact of his behavior.
If your husband takes a long time to come out of pouting, insist on him making amends to you for his actions. While it is important to be quick to forgive, there need to be consequences for his immature actions. Let him know you will expect an apology and some sort of amends.
Insist on counseling if the problem continues. Your husband has practiced this behavior for a long time and needs help in overcoming it. You may also need help to ensure you’re not reinforcing his behavior in some way.
I’d love to hear from you about these strategies for dealing with the pouter. Share your opinion or send a confidential note to me at TheRelationshipDoctor@Gmail.com.