When Your Husband Doesn’t Understand: Is It Your Problem or His?

by | Jan 9, 2017 | Marriage, Resolving Conflict | 33 comments

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If your husband doesn’t understand you or doesn’t seem to care that something is bothering you, can you really fix it?

Reader Question: What do I do when my husband doesn't understand me or care about me? How to reframe the issue!Every Monday I like to answer a reader question. But this Monday–indeed, this week–we’re going to do something a little different. Last Monday I answered the question, “what do I do when my husband refuses to talk about something important?” I had so much feedback that I decided to dedicate this week to how to talk about these issues! Today we’re going to start with our own hearts. Then, once we’ve dealt with our own stuff, we can move on to how to have those important conversations. Tomorrow I’ll look at 10 ways to talk so that your husband will hear you, and then we’ll look at the only way to resolve marriage conflicts. 9 Thoughts That Can Change Your MarriageIf you really struggle with this in your marriage, just know that EVERYTHING that I’m saying this week is also in my book 9 Thoughts That Can Change Your Marriage–but that book covers it in so much more detail! We’re dealing with the two thoughts this week–“I’m called to be a PeaceMAKER, not a PeaceKEEPER”, and “I can find a Win/Win”. I hope it’s so helpful! So let’s jump in. One of the big themes in my book is that you can’t deal with problems between the two of you unless you first examine yourself. It’s like Jesus said in Matthew 7:3-5:
“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.
It’s not that you can’t confront your husband when he’s doing something wrong–in fact, over the next two days we’re going to talk about how to do that! It’s just that we’ll be much more effective at doing so when we first deal with our own stuff. Here’s what one commenter wrote last week:
I wonder how many husbands out there refuse to talk about issues, because they don’t feel safe to share their point of view or their opinion does not get heard. I think all too often the ” honey, we need to talk” means that the wife is trying to get the husband to do what she wants… No wonder he’ll shut down!
Now, please hear me: often we do have real issues that need to get talked about. A husband who watches porn. A husband who texts other women. A husband who ignores our feelings.

But to be totally honest, often when I’m feeling lonely or upset in my marriage, it isn’t these big things.

So let me tell you a story: Feel like your husband doesn't understand you? Here's how to break that impasse and start to feel heard in your marriage! (I wrote this a few years back; I’m sure some of you can relate):
Imagine that it’s a Saturday morning, and we’re planning to go cross-country skiing with the kids. As soon as I wake, I start to list in my head all the things that need to be prepared: the kids have to find their snow pants, and I know Rebecca’s been missing a snow glove since last month; we need to pack a bag with water and some snacks, and we’d better bring some extra scarves and hats in case we get too wet. A few band-aids wouldn’t hurt, either. Obviously we’ll have to do the dinner dishes from last night, since we all know I can’t leave dishes in the sink if I’m leaving the house. And since we’re going out anyway, we may as well go by the library, because the books are due on Monday! I go in search of my family, who are downstairs playing the Wii, having a grand old time. My blood pressure starts to rise. Do they expect me to do everything? Then I discover they haven’t even had breakfast yet. Why was Keith just playing with the kids instead of giving them their marching orders? Yet no matter how much I may wish it, they are never going to have all the stuff that goes into keeping a family together in their heads the way it is in mine. And maybe that’s okay. We all have different roles to play. When it comes to the kids, I’m more like the General. I’m scanning for threats, planning future battles, and mapping out supply routes. Keith, on the other hand, is the crusty sergeant. Usually he’s just goofing around with the troops, but when there’s a specific task to do, he can bark orders with the best of them. What I’ve learned is that when we have a big day ahead of us, I just need to communicate to my husband all the things I think need to get done. He crosses off what’s unnecessary, talks me down, and then organizes the rest. Instead of fuming at him for not thinking about it in the first place, I’ve started sharing the load. It works so much better.
When I used to see Keith playing with the kids or goofing off when I had a long to-do list in my head of all the stuff I had to get done, my first reaction was usually anger.
  • Did he expect me to do everything?
  • Doesn’t he care that we’re nowhere near ready to go?
  • Why can’t he ever plan for the day? Why is it always my responsibility?
But then I started to ask myself:
  • Do I really believe that Keith expects me to do all the work for the family?
  • Do I really believe that Keith is lazy?
  • Do I really believe that he doesn’t value our schedule the same way that I do?
And the answer would always be no. The simple fact was that Keith just didn’t see it in the same way that I did. And if I took the time to ask for help and laid out what I thought needed to be done, he was usually quite happy to comply, especially when I did it without any kind of blame or anger. In my case it was about stuff around the house that needed to get done. In your case it may be something different: you feel like your husband doesn’t understand you or value you because he doesn’t buy you a good birthday present; he doesn’t want to spend time with you; he doesn’t ask about your day or try to probe what’s going on in your heart. But it may not be that he doesn’t care; it may simply be that he has a different love language or values different things.

If you struggle with anger as your first response, here are some other posts that can help:

BUT–perhaps you ask those questions and the answer is actually YES! I do believe that my husband doesn’t understand me and doesn’t care about me. That may be true. But most guys really aren’t that mean. So can I suggest something?

If you think your husband doesn’t understand you and doesn’t care about you, try asking for what you need.

Say it like this,
Honey, I’m so excited about today’s outing with the kids! I’ll get the lunches and the snacks ready; how about you grab the snow pants and extra scarves and hats?
Don’t give him a lecture or get angry, because that’s disrespectful and what often causes guys to withdraw. Just be kind and straightforward. And if you ask him with the starting point that you he is irresponsible while you are responsible, then it will sound like an attack and that will NOT help your marriage. So refrain from giving him a lecture, like:
Why are you playing games with the kids when there’s so much to do? Are you just waiting or me to do it all? The kids need their snow pants and scarves!
Just ask him kindly. If you have trouble with that, here are some extra posts that can help: What if that doesn’t work? Don’t worry, we’ll get to that in the next few days! But for today, remember this:
  • When I feel angry at my husband, do a reality check: “Do I really believe that my husband thinks that way?”
  • Look at the situation and ask, “do we simply see things differently?
  • Ask kindly and simply for what you need.
Sometimes that’s all it takes for things to turn around! Tune in tomorrow when we get really practical with 10 ways to talk so your husband will hear! Let me know in the comments: Has asking for help simply and kindly ever brought surprising results in your marriage?
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Sheila Wray Gregoire

Author at Bare Marriage

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

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  1. Angie

    “Has asking for help kindly ever brought change in your marriage?” NOPE. Throwing horrifying fits has been the only way. Believe me, I’ve tried sweet and nice. The request gets ignored. I’m looking forward to your posts coming up on what to do in my situation. But you have a husband who has tried hard to woo you and keep a relationship with you the whole marriage. Can you really understand and advise on a situation where the husband is practically nonexistant emotionally and relationally? It’s so different when you have a husband who shows love and respect to you.

    • Mike S

      Could be that he has withdrawn from you because he knows you will throw a fit, and are always right, so he just tries to minimize the inevitable. Not saying that harshly, and he may not be able to verbalize it, but it may just be protecting his psyche, and he may have been raised to avoid trouble. This emotional withdrawal is a bad sign, and both of you may need to change in order to move forward.
      Are you always right? Do you always know exactly how he should react and feel? Or the best and only way to do everything? Men just back away from this, especially when you throw fits. To confront it and deal with it is too painful and disruptive. Not saying this is you but he is probably opposite of you in every way.

      • Angie

        No Mike. I am often wrong as are all people, and try hard to freely admit when I am. He checked the minute we got married. 12 years and 3 therapists later, he will change for a week or month then go back to his same old self.

        • Angie

          Checked out is what I meant to say.

      • OlderMarried

        Great comment Mike. Maybe you understand women really well…or maybe my wife and yours are just REALLY good friends. Mine, for instance, doesn’t like me to leave stuff out. I try to “disappear” from her wrath, by never leaving a stray sock out. My clothes are put away, hung up or folder and placed in the dresser, the one small one I am allotted. I made the error of leaving my Bible study binder on the dining table. We don’t talk about her latest crossword puzzle which now occupies not one but two cardtables, which I stumble over to get to the upstairs office. (Luckily, she isn’t healthy enough to navigate the stairs or she’d be screaming about a stray coffee cup or something. But really, dude. It’s not about you. It’s about them.

        • Angie

          I’m sorry your wife is like that. I don’t care about stuff strewn everywhere, I have been begging for emotional and relational connection since we got married. We haven’t even had sex in almost 6 months now. This is typical for us unless I initiate. He’s probably initiated 4 times in an 11 year marriage.

      • Ashley


        I’ve read this blog and enough of her comments to know that she’s in a really difficult place. Let’s give her the benefit of the doubt.

        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          Yes, I’d agree.

        • Angie

          Thank you Ashley.

        • Mike S

          Thanks, but I really wasn’t trying to pile on. Just coming at it from the other side. Angie, it sounds like you have a husband who is closed off to emotional connection.That is painful for both of you. Any clues in his past as to why?

          I’m sorry if I added to your pain, but these blogs can be good at doing that to everyone.

          • Angie

            Thank you for clarifying Mike. There’s no past with him to explain it, other than his dad who is a complete narcisist (and my husband has admitted that for years). The lack of relationship doesn’t seem to be painful to him at all.

    • Hannah

      Angie, I’m so so sorry to hear about this difficult and hurtful place you are in. I will be praying for you both, that God would open your husband’s eyes to your needs and what you care about and need support in. My husband was sooooo just…oblivious and un-involved for the first year of our marriage (compound that with sex issues and him still struggling with after-affects of a porn addiction) and it was the most frustrating thing I have ever experienced. I am his opposite in every way…where he stays silent or says a simple ‘I’m sorry’ I get angry about it when people have been wronged. I am a passionate individual – he is a quiet individual. And so often he just wouldn’t say ANYTHING or just wouldn’t LISTEN…and I am like you. I tried sooooooooo hard to be sweet and nice. But then I got sick with a thyroid disease and got on about 10 different medications. And suddenly that part of me that hated confrontation was gone. And that day when I rather dis-compassionately laid it all on the table and finally showed him how ANGRY I really was and how he was destroying our relationship (between lust, lack of interest in sex & communication and well…lack of interest in EVERYTHING). That’s when he finally started listening…I’ve had to put things out on the table like that multiple times to get him to face them. I’ve since learnt that when he doesn’t know what to do about something he ignores it (which is INCREDIBLY irritating, but I can work with it because I can tell when he’s sticking his head in the sand). I’ve also learned that he had a very difficult childhood where he came from a very apathetic and unloving home that was very isolated and dysfunctional. So he stuffed his feelings of extreme loneliness and learned to just ignore his feelings and his family’s problems and never deal with any of it. That loneliness led to his porn addiction. He’s free of actually watching it, for which I thank the Lord!! But the road after is still hard with changing his brain back to a healthy view of women that isn’t lustful or sexualized. It’s been rough so far.
      It sounds like your husband just, from appearance sake, doesn’t really seem to…care. I’m so so so sorry. It is one of the most heartbreaking places to be in…to be the one that always cares more about everything. Being the ONLY one that cares in a lot of situations. One of the things that really helped me was just to continually pray for God to open my husband’s eyes. And I remember the day that he came home from work and said he’d been working and thinking about what I’d said in our arguement earlier that day, and that all of a sudden he just…got it. And when he realized how I was feeling, he got really upset at himself for causing it. That was about 8 months into our marriage, and things have still been hard. But I believe that prayer and also God helping me to continue to lay out things that we need to deal with and refuse to ignore issues has really helped. We’re both learning…
      I pray so much that God will open your husband’s eyes and heart to you and to the pain he has caused. I pray God will humble him and give him a heart of compassion and that he would HEAR you. If I could hug you, dear soul, I would. Courage, dear heart, courage.
      “The Lord is near to the broken-hearted, and saves those crushed in spirit.” Psalm 34:18.
      If you’re like me, you’ve been angry with God for allowing you into such a hurtful union. But I believe that God puts us in these men’s lives (and not in our cases but in others it’s the men who aren’t put in the woman’s life) to help them become the men that God created them to be. Now God just help us love ’em till they finally see.
      Psalm 46 and 62 are also wonderful. 62 stresses that God ALONE is our Rock and Fortress. Sorry this comment was so long and probably not that helpful…but know that you are not alone, and that you are precious and so so so loved. You will be in my prayers<3

      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        Hannah, thank you so much for sharing your story. It’s wonderful, and thank you for pointing people to God–the right place.

    • Joe

      I think I need your help. You sound like my wife in a lot of ways. She says I’m checked out. She says I don’t care. I do care. I feel hurt. I know she is hurting and I want to please her. Maybe your husband cared, but was just lost like me…or maybe not. When you talk about being non-existent emotionally and relationally, what were you looking for him to do? When I try to talk to her about it, she says she’s already explained what she wants. Grasping at straws…

  2. Emily

    It was our anniversary last week (20 years!) and we were talking about things we have learned in the time we’ve been together.
    One of the biggest things I’ve learned is that “different” doesn’t mean “wrong”.
    He does things differently than I do – with the kids, in the kitchen, etc – and that’s ok. It doesn’t break stuff, it doesn’t damage the kids (it probably does them good to see more than one way of doing things, actually), and if he cooks I get a night off which is always nice.

    It has been a long time coming. Allowing him to help me, and then allowing him to do things *his* way, and then not complaining that the towels are folded “wrong”? Yeah. Took years.
    (He might say I’m still learning. There are days!! But there are fewer of them now.)

  3. Brenda

    My husband is the sweetest guy in the world. He is always the one to stop and help friends and strangers. He works overtime workout being asked and spends all his time off helping others….

    But he won’t help me. I’m SAHM drowning with juggling our 6 small kids. He’s so worn out from helping others he’s got nothing left for me. He doesn’t understand how hard my days are. His are harder and longer. He spends his evenings on the couch glued to a screen. His idea of “helping” get the children in bed, if he’s home early enough for that, is yelling, “Kids! Go to bed!” No help getting jammies on or filling water cups or changing diapers rocking, etc. The lonliness and exhaustion have trapped me in a deep depression for the last year that I can’t escape with medication and counseling.

    • Brenda

      I’ve tried along for help, spelling out exactly what I need in a nice way, but he won’t do it. That makes me feel even worse that he KNOWS what I need and still refuses to do it or its not more important to help me than to reach the next level of a phone game or rewatch a movie/tv show.

      • Angie

        I know exactly what you mean Brenda. Like I’m not even on the radar.

    • Ashley

      I really don’t think most men get what it means to do what we do. And my hat is off to you! I don’t even have kids! But I feel like I have a full time job with laundry, cleaning, cooking, errands, picking up after hubby, etc. I’d really like to see these guys try it for a few weeks and do as good of a job as we do!

      • FollowerOfChrist

        And this is why there are communication issues; “I’d really like to see these guys try it for a few weeks and do as good of a job as we do!” As soon as we hear our wives come out with this we stop listening, because there is no reason to bother. This belittled what he brings to the marriage and makes it all about who does more, which is subjective at best since each of you most likely place a different value on the same work.

        • Angie

          Yes, but a lot of husbands don’t place ANY value in what we wives, especially SAHM wives, do. Perhaps husbands could try a little harder on truly listening instead of automatically going into avoidance WHILE we wives work on better and gentler communication ?

          • FollowerOfChrist

            Angie, my wife is a SAHM. The value she brings in that role is not due to the work she does. Some days were extremely busy for her, especially when the kids were young. These days she finds herself bored quite often. However, she still brings incredible value to our home. So my point was not to diminish what either one does. Both husbands and wives could try harder. It isn’t one against the other, or shouldn’t be. And the bottom line is that I can only make changes in myself, not my wife. You can only make changes in yourself, and not your husband. Marriage is as much challenging as it is rewarding, and sometimes those rewards are a long time in the making.

        • Ashley

          I’m not belittling. What I’m saying is that we wives do a TON, and those who haven’t been homemakers often underestimate the work we do. Recently I even had a man (not my husband, thankfully) imply that I am lazy because I am not working out of the home. If my husband were to trade places with me, he would bumble around and really struggle with my tasks. And you know what? It goes the other way too. I’d really struggle on his job. I don’t feel like I’ve insulted my husband or myself by pointing these things out.

          One more point. Why do you think there are articles online for stay-at-home-wives/moms who want to get back into the workforce and need to work on their resume? It’s really difficult. A lot of employers, as well as society in general has come to the place where motherhood and homemaking are not respected. And it’s sadly crept into the church.

          • Sheila Wray Gregoire

            Yes, it really has. We’re quick to give lip service to “a mother does the most important job in the world”, but we don’t really believe that, I don’t think.

          • Angie

            Totally true! So many of my co-workers were like “well I worked 3 jobs and raised 2 kids as a SINGLE mom” or I had 5 kids and worked. But if you’re actually AT HOME with those kids 24 hours straight for 6 weeks in one stretch???? Please! But there’s no respect for that. Not even self respect.

          • FollowerOfChrist

            Angie and Ashley,

            My intention is not to create discord. I pray you both will grow in your marriage, and more importantly in your relationship with Christ. May God bless all that you do.

    • ByGrace

      Brenda, Know that I’m praying for you. My recent adjustment to four kids has been hard. Satan tries to get us to fall into depression and anxiety at these weakest moments. I can understand exactly how you feel, cause my hubby is also stressed with work, running a business, and is often on his last straw for the day when he is home. Love in Christ from a sister. We are more than conquerors! Jesus revealed to me his attributes “faithful and true” recently. <3

  4. FollowerOfChrist

    This is a very well written article. Many things could be easier with couples if demands were left out and requests made. Also, the best comment I have seen in a while came from Emily; different doesn’t mean wrong.

  5. Jen

    Another Good one Shelia, Just one thing I’d change…. Instead of saying “how about you get…?” I find I get less upset if I lower my expectations and I simply ask “Honey, WILL you please…..?” Fill in the blank. My hubby then feels that he has the choice. How about says I expect him to comply, I use that with my kids all the time but really leaves little choice… Will you says hey I need this and I’m asking. He can always say no. Then I may need to readjust. We wives sometimes get in Mommy mode and bark orders more and our hubby don’t always appreciate being lumped in with the kids.
    My 2 cents. Thanks Shelia!!

  6. Amita

    Let me start out by saying thank you for this article, I found it very helpful for myself, But I also don’t think it’s for everyone. I am also a SAHM with 4 kids 2 of them are under 2 years old, and truthfully I just learned to take it easy… if the dishes are not done, it doesn’t mean I am a bad mom or wife. If I need to call my hubs to stop by and get dinner, that doesn’t mean I’m a bad mom of wife!! Seriously ladies you just need to remember that you are doing an amazing job! And please don’t yell at your husbands just because you’ve been frustrated and yelling at your kids all day long. Your partner is probably exhausted himself, and coming to a upset wife daily won’t fix you wanted him to understand you and show you he cares and loves you. Try to stay sane by doing things for yourself. Take a shower, paint your nails, put on a clean shirt! Or don’t…. Maybe what u need is to go out with your girlfriends? Oh the have is a mass? Who cares! Trust me your husband will be more happy with a happy calm wife, than a clean house. I found my husband to be helpful if I calmly ask him for help and I keep asking… and that is ok, because he helps if ask. And I no longer expect him to remember everything I told him!! If I yell? He mite still help but I will be left feeling horrible and he acts like I’m not there for a while after, so try not do that please. I also understand that some couples have an unhealthy relationship where the man thinks more of himself and noting of his wife, girls, if your man thinks that house work, kids, and kitchen is “your job and not his” especially if his beliefs are church-based… using the Bible in his favor! Run or put your foot down!. My father happens to be that way and mom was being the “good wife” for over 20 years until finally snapping and told him how horrible of a husband he was! How hurt she was and is, and only after she yelled and stopped being a pushover, he finally started helping her and showing her affection and love. But guess what? Its too late for her, she has lost all respect for that man and doesn’t wish to be loved by him anymore. The sad part is, he still says that his marriage with my mom was the best ever but my mom says it was a waste of her whole life!. Ladies don’t wait and speak up! If you act sweet and nice but cry at night, he won’t know or care, as long as he gets his way, the marriage work in his favor. So yeah for some yelling and putting your foot down, is the only way to fix things, before it’s too late. I’m still learning about my husbands and mine differences, but am thankful that we both agree on working together. Marriage should never be or feel like a one-way Street!!.
    I also would like to point out that being a SAHM isn’t physically challenging all the times for me as much as always mentally challenging!. I struggled and still do time to time with feeling like what I do isn’t as valuable as what my husband does. (And God forbid you man out there pointing out that what your wife does isn’t hard work, if you do that please ask your wife for forgiveness! And never add to her feeling unvalued). Also just like most wife’s, I had to put my dreams and job on hold in order to be able to parent our kids, which is wonderful but it wasn’t my choice to make, cause we can’t afford childcare. Now my husband is doing what he always dreamed of doing.
    My advice is do what works for you… everyone is different, and every relationship is unique. I understand both sides. Stay strong, and if you are or feel you’re depressed please get help!⚘ Man need to feel respected, while woman need to feel loved! At all times. If you don’t feel loved you can’t respect him and the other way around. ❤

  7. Margaret Baker

    I need help! I love my husband we’ve been married almost three years and we’ve known each other since we were kids but after all that’s happened lately I’ve been seriously rethinking my life choices and I feel like I should have lived alone with him before we married. He’s an impulse buyer and he and his brothers purchases have affected our ability to pay bills. He always says we’ll have enough money to pay later but then we deal with late fees and credit drops. I’ve been trying to work out a system where we save money for emergencies but we can never get ahead. Lately it’s just been because of car repairs. I try the nice approach when asking for help or to talk about serious matters but he gets annoyed and does not listen. Ive tried just letting the house get dirty hoping he’ll start cleaning it but he could care less if the house is dirty or not. Bottom line is he chased me for three years before I agreed to go out with him and we dated for three before getting married. Now that he has me it’s like he feels that he doesn’t need to put in any effort anymore and he has his gadgets and we’re in debt, and I’m unhappy and isolated and I have nothing. My family has lent us thousands of dollars to help us out and I really want to be in a place to pay them back. I gave up college to be with him and I should be graduating this year. I could’ve lived on campus and saved money but instead I waited until he graduated high school (he’s younger) and we moved together. We had alot of problems and had to drop out. Ever since I’ve been miserable and wanting to move back close to family but he doesn’t want to. I need to start over and make a change but I feel like I can’t do that with him. What do I do?

  8. Chris

    This is ridiculous advice for a wife who feel devalued, unappreciated, unimportant, and disrespected. So much marriage advice is geared to the wife because the expectation is for her to change and change her expectations, which only creates unreasonable expectations to be placed upon her as she once again is doing all the work to make an effort while her husband does nothing. If he truly doesn’t care about her feelings, then he would take advantage of her “changes” and she will inevitably become more drained from having to always pour out into a marriage with a husband who never refills the cup. A husband who cares would consider his wife’s feelings, take ownership, and try to improve because that’s what marriage should look like when someone cares enough to be considerate and loving. Marriage is supposed to be a team effort of both parties working together and considering each other. Not one person doing all the work then being told that they are the one who is the problem who needs to put in even more work to change herself in some false hope to change someone else’s bad behaviors and poor responses.

  9. MomsRule

    It is emotionally and physically exhausting for SAHM to get through a day with our eyeballs glued to our children and zero time for us as moms to do something for ourselves. 24/7 my day is consumed with my child’s needs and then my husbands when he gets home usually around our toddler’s bedtime. If anything is left in me after dinner is prepped and the dishes are cleaned, I have until midnight to give our dog attention.

    Yet when I am this worn down and have such a desperate cry for help, I read that other husbands are asking us wives to be more “gentler in our approach!?!?” How could there be any patience left to “kindly” ask for things to be done? I just don’t understand why the woman has to, after all she does, then change or cater her approach to better suit the man?

    I understand completely about compromise and sacrifice, but why can’t men just be more proactive and more sensitive to their wives needs?!? Why must we be the ones to change our behavior?


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