“You don’t know what you are talking about.”
“You need to get a sense of humor.”
“You have it all wrong. Can’t you think?”
“What planet are you from?”
“It’s all in your head.”
All these statements and many more along the same vein are commonplace in relationships: marriage, politics, business, media, etc. Conflict arises from differences. In any given society there are differences of opinion, perception, experience, internal and external cultural interpreting, gender, age, race, economic, educational and many others. Even in a marriage there are basic differences that contribute to the potential for ignoring, marginalizing or even attacking the “other” person who is not seeing things the way we do (the correct way of course).
Differences, inevitable as it may be, is not itself bad. It is how the challenges are handled. When women frequently have their feelings and views denied by statements first typified in this article, then they are suffering verbal abuse. For a spouse to deny the feelings of the other, or tell them what they think or what to think, or to ridicule and attack the other for having differences, then this is abusive.
I often hear, “But everyone does this. Are you saying everyone is abusive? Are you suggesting that we be perfect?”
If everyone does something it does not make it right. I have talked to many women who hurt a lot and suffer from these words. Problems arise when the woman’s perspective on life and her natural abilities to feel and to engage in events is attacked and denied as though she does not have feelings or views or even the right to be different. Some of her best aspects lie in her differences from men. Sensitivity is a wonderful attribute that can show the better side of humanity. A woman’s sensitivity and emotional character are certainly different than most men. Abuse occurs when a husband shuts down his wife for feeling things he does not understand or agree with.
So how do we stop denying or proscribing what others think and feel, and labeling others for differences? The first step is to be aware that this is a problems and it is a serious offense. Second is to question the people who practice this abuse. I like Patricia Evans’ suggestion of asking the man if he has suddenly become a woman and can tell what a woman is thinking. At first I thought that statement was a bit strong and would provoke the person into attacking. On one occasion when I was being degraded and I felt like my sense of self was shattering, I was willing to try anything to stop the verbal missiles. When I asked this person if he had become a woman since he knew all that I was thinking, it stopped him from continued harsh words. He paused to think. I don’t know if this will stop that behavior or attacks from coming my way again, but I do know that every time I feel that I am getting told who and what I am and what I think I will call it in action.
From my experience, unless the person who is saying those statements is past feeling or purposely trying to hurt another, they don’t like the reflection that questioning puts on them and they will stop the behavior for the moment. Try it. See what results you get. I would love to hear your experiences.
If we become more culturally conscious of what the words we use do to another we can help in our small way stop verbal abuse from spreading and harming the identity of others. Many of us are guilty of defining others. I know I have done it, probably more than I want to think I have. I am going to stop my contribution and I invite you to consider watching your words, and to help others realize that denying someone’s reality is destructive and can lead to more covert acts of violence. It is better to cultivate practices of seeing someone else’s differences as an opportunity for gaining another perspective that has value, for respecting others as we would be respected if our roles were reversed. Differences do not need to lead to damaging conflict; they can lead to increased skills and maturity with diverse enrichment. Communication with kindness and love is a better method when dealing with differences. Now some suggestions that can be shared and practiced with a spouse that contrasts the opening phrases:
“Wow. That’s insightful of you to notice. How do you see it?”
“It sounds like you don’t have the information I do on this matter. Would you like to hear what I know?”
“Really? Is that how you see it? Could you explain more so I might better understand where you are coming from?”
“Could you tell me more or clarify?”
“I don’t see it that way. Tell me more how you see it. ”