(this is raw unedited text transcribed directly from the audio)
Dr. Kenner: Now what if your problem is in your romance, and you’ve been married for a year and things start to get shaky really fast? You may know that feeling. See what advice you would give to Chrissy. “Dear Dr. Kenner. My husband is a podcast host on a book review show. He recently reviewed a novel about childhood sweethearts and at the end of the show he called out – in a happy, flirtatious voice – and ‘Sherry Mankins from Shady Grove Elementary School, if you are out there, wherever you are, Bobby’ my husband, ‘still remembers you.’ This deeply hurt me because I do not need to know that my husband is still thinking about and reaching out to his childhood crush and he’s told me in the past that he looked for her online and was unsuccessful. And I certainly don’t need the entire world to know about it. Our friends and family listen to the show. I was hurt and humiliated by his action. And I told him so. And I asked him to remove the last eight seconds of the podcast, which contained his hurtful comment. He has full editing powers. The most hurtful part of this all is that he was made aware of something he did to hurt me and he refused to apologize and to repair it. He actually told me that he would never cut that part out and he would do it again. He says it’s his show and he won’t be micromanaged, edited or controlled. He told me that he doesn’t want to have to worry about whether or not what he says on the show hurts my feelings. I’ve never asked him to remove anything from the show in the past. Most of our problems revolve around the fact that he seems to have no empathy for my feelings and he resists doing anything to repair the damage he does. His exit strategy is to call me insecure, irrational or crazy whenever I get hurt by his actions, and then tell me – you know what’s coming – I need to go to therapy. He says it’s my problem that I get hurt and he doesn\'t see his part in it. When he hurts me, I don’t believe he intends to do it on purpose. What’s the best way to handle this? Thank you. Chrissy.”
Chrissy, this is such an amazingly common problem between partners. We see our partners talking to someone else or flirting with someone else and we start to catastrophize. “Oh my God, what if? Do they really mean it?” And so I want to tell you, it’s normal, it’s common, and it could also be incredibly innocent. But his way of handling it is equally problematic, and I’m not sure how you handled it. It sounded like you handled it well. But tone of voice and body language can also contribute a lot to mucking up the waters. So, let’s just see what’s going on here.
The first thing that I notice is that, if it were happening to me, I would feel, if my husband were doing a call-out on a radio show and it caught me off guard and I’ve only been married to him for a year and I don’t feel like he listens anyway, I would feel like our relationship just got ruptured. That that incredibly intimate bond that we have, that emotional bond, that sexual bond that we share in our marriage just got ruptured. His eyes are roaming. And it makes me feel, what? It makes me feel less important to my husband, less exciting, less visible, and replaceable. Maybe this girl, maybe he’s looking for someone else. Maybe it’s not her, his elementary school heartthrob, but maybe someone else. Once we get those pictures in our head, Chrissy, that our husband or wife or partner is interested in somebody else, it’s hard to remove that image. We grow that negative image. And when we feel invisible and when we feel that their eyes are wandering, that is the opposite of a good romantic relationship. Invisibility is the negation of romance.
So you’re working on repairing relationship. What could your husband have done when you said, “Eeks, I felt awful when you played that part about your childhood crush. It just hurt. Sherry Mankins from Shady Grove Elementary School. I felt like you didn’t value me anymore.” If he had said to you, “Honey, if you thought that, I can see why you were hurt. It is the farthest thing from the truth. I do that on radio not because I have any interest in Sherry beyond a normal curiosity that you might have about your old boyfriend, Joe, but because it’s relatable. People who listen to my podcast will recall their own sweethearts. Let’s do a show next time, I’ll do a podcast on a book about good romantic relationships and I’m going to discuss our relationship. I can take those eight seconds out or I can leave them in. What would you prefer?” Had he said that, you wouldn’t have been emailing me. You wouldn’t have been asking me a question. That is not what he said. He didn’t have that response. Instead, he painted a picture of you as very negative. He said that basically you’re a nag, as a micromanaging, controlling wife who is going to rain on his parade, take away his fun. Which includes the fun of flirting outside the marriage. You have become the enemy. He shifts the blame to you and tells you that you need therapy. So what can you do at this point, now that that’s the state that it’s in?
Privately, don’t see yourself through his eyes. Don’t see yourself as a nag or micromanaging your husband or someone who is controlling. You want to see yourself as a reasonable person who wants to learn more about visibility, the importance of visibility, and you can read my romance book that I wrote with Dr. Ed Locke. It starts with visibility. It’s The Selfish Path to Romance, how to love with passion and reason. That’s at Amazon or there are other outlets, you can go to Barnes and Noble. And that’s with Edwin A. Locke and Ellen Kenner. So you can read about how important visibility is.
The second thing is, you can avoid catastrohphizing. You already know, you said you don’t believe he intends to hurt me on purpose. If you can see that maybe he wasn’t upset about your relationship – there are always things in every relationship to repair – and you don’t get riveted to the thoughts that, “Oh my God, maybe he’s angry with me. Maybe we’re not having enough sex.” But maybe you could avoid catastrophizing and see it a little differently. You could learn listening skills and speaking skills, which we also include in our book. You could also say to him, “Honey, we’ve only been married a year, and every couple struggles with learning how to connect with one another in a loving way. I’d love to work with you on this so we can avoid rushing to negative conclusions about each other. I want to learn how to nurture one another better.” You could send that out to him.
And, flirting and boundary issues abound. If my husband called me, if he had a nickname for me like Kitten and it’s our private nickname and then he’s calling everyone at dance Kitten, I don’t want to feel like one of the litter. I want to keep it special. So you do need to talk about boundary issues.