I have three children…. I worked outside the home until eight years ago, when my husband and I agreed that I should quit so that I could take better care of our children…. I have wanted to improve myself—to study, learn a craft, or even go to the gym—without neglecting my family, but my husband is always against the idea, and won’t allow me to do it…. He says, “I am the one who pays the bills, and you should concentrate on taking care of the children.” He repeatedly tries to lower my self-esteem with critical comments about what I am wearing, or comparing me unfavorably with others because I am a bit chubby. Sometimes I feel that he doesn’t love me anymore, and what I need or want doesn’t matter.

Dear Friend,

Every married couple has disagreements that have to be worked out, because no two people will ever agree on everything. The happiness of your marriage depends on how well you can work out your conflicts.

The same principles of conflict resolution that are useful outside of marriage will also be useful in your marriage. There are things that you should do to resolve conflicts, and things that you should not do. Your husband’s critical words are his way to win the argument by intimidating you, and that masculine tactic is detrimental to your relationship and does not resolve the conflict. However, you seem to have the very feminine tendency to feel unloved and unwanted when he disagrees with you, causing alienation and making the problem worse instead of better. In other words, you handle conflict like a woman, and he handles it like a man.

So how can you compromise? First of all, you must show him that the household chores and children’s needs are being taken care of on a daily basis. It is not unreasonable for him to expect you to work all day just as he works all day. If you have time left over when those tasks are done, the best way to accomplish your goals is to study or learn a craft online. There are thousands of classes and tutorials online that you can take. If your real interest is social, invite some female friends to come to your house to do exercises together, or find women who want to go walking in the neighborhood for exercise, pushing or pulling your little ones along the way. Start a book club for your neighbors, all reading the same book and getting together to discuss it. Whatever you do, make sure that your children’s welfare is your first consideration.

The best conflict resolution principle is to listen much more than you speak, saving your words for when you do have something positive and constructive to say. Wise Solomon said, “Those who guard their mouths and their tongues keep themselves from calamity.”(1) Instead of calling names or having an emotional outburst, concentrate on finding a way for both of you to get most of what you want. You each may have to compromise a little, but if you keep the conversation positive, you can agree on solutions that will be acceptable to you both.

We wish you the best,

1 Pr 21:23