Uh-oh. It’s happened. Your husband has crossed one of the non-negotiable lines with you. He’s shown disrespect in a way you just won’t tolerate, whether that’s cursing at you, raising his voice in public, or another boundary-pushing behavior.
What do you do now?
Your first instinct when your husband crosses the line might be to strike back or run off. If you can, don’t do either one of these things. Try a more measured approach that is actually more effective in the moment and better for your relationship in the long term:
- Express your boundary calmly and clearly.
- Let him know you expect him to do better.
- Move on.
Before you do anything, take a deep breath and see if you can get calm and clear headed. Otherwise, your message won’t be as powerful.
When you’re ready, look your husband in the eye and let him know that the behavior he’s engaging in is one you absolutely will not tolerate: “Cursing at me under any circumstances is completely unacceptable. I would never do that to you.” Things will probably be a little intense during this initial confrontation because you are drawing a crystal clear boundary. Be calm, firm, and clear.
Next, set a positive expectation. Tell your husband that you expect better from him. You may want to say something like “I know you are better than that” or “That wasn’t the guy I married.” Choose words that work for your situation and your relationship, but hold open the possibility that he can be more respectful.
Then, move on, and give him some space. You want to be short, sweet, and to the point. Lengthy explanations usually just confuse the issue.
With a little time and space to reflect, most men will eventually feel sorry for crossing the line. If your husband sincerely apologizes, forgive him, but keep a watchful eye until you’re convinced he will not cross the boundary again.
If your husband shows no remorse about crossing the line, or worse, acts self-righteous about it, you may have a bigger problem on your hands. Although we are talking here about actions that go beyond everyday slip-ups, more dire and complex behaviors like addiction and physical or emotional abuse are good reasons for seeking professional assistance.
If you tend to fear conflict, all of this can be a little scary to undertake — even though you know in your gut that it’s the right thing to do. It may help to remember that taking a stand is ultimately the best thing for your relationship and for establishing the baseline for respect. Disrespect is something that simply cannot take root in your relationship if you want it to remain healthy. Research clearly shows that contempt is the No. 1 predictor of divorce.
A firm, clear and quick response can help keep problems from escalating when your husband crosses a line. You can learn more about constructive ways to argue or deal with trouble spots in your relationship in my book Strong Women, Strong Love.