Do you hate it when your husband’s difficult ex asks for something and your husband jumps on the yes wagon? Or, even worse, when she wants something seemingly unreasonable – and even though you can tell from a mile away that he’ll regret it – he still complies?
You’re probably wondering, why on earth is he still being kind to her? Why is he still doing things for her after the way she treats him? Well, you might be surprised to find that in most cases, men are not being wimpy or sac-less. They’re being driven by their instincts.
Here are six possible reasons your husband says yes to his ex when you think he should be saying no:
- To protect you. I know it seems counter-intuitive and you don’t feel protected, but your husband has been dealing with her for years and really wants to keep the conflict out of your house and away from you. His way of doing that is to pacify her. Giving in to her may seem like no big deal to him because in his mind if he can keep her wrath away from you, it’s well worth it.
- He doesn’t think he can win. Alison Armstrong, the creator of Celebrating Men, Satisfying Women, suggests that for most men if they don’t think they have a 90-95% chance of winning something or succeeding, they won’t even try. It’s their instinct to conserve their energy for wins. This means if he has a history of losing court battles or being involved in long, drawn-out conflicts with no resolution, he might just be too emotionally exhausted to bother. To him, it’s just easier to say “yes.”
- It’s his instinct to provide for her. Yikes! Ouch! What?! Yes, I know, this is a hard one to hear. But it’s the truth. This is one of those instincts that may be misguided because it’s in direct conflict with protecting and providing for you, but nevertheless, it may exist. Women often have trouble understanding this, because we don’t have the same instincts as men. We have an especially hard time understanding this if the ex has been high conflict, participating in alienating the kids from their father, engaging in court battles, harassment, and other behavior that, as women, we would never tolerate.
- It’s a habit. In some cases, it really is that simple. Seriously, after a man has been providing for a woman for so long, it can be a really hard habit to break. It’s very similar to him and his ex’s dysfunctional habit of fighting, which you’ve probably witnessed. That dynamic can take years to change or undo.
- He feels that he’s providing for his kids through her. He may be willing to do something she requested or demanded if he thinks it will benefit the kids. This benefit may be direct, what she’s asking actually is better for the kids, or indirect, simply by avoiding conflict with her he’s protecting them.
- He’s afraid of losing his kids. This is a very real and valid fear that some fathers have. Moms hold a lot of power, and it’s easy for us as stepmoms to want our men to fight for their rights instead of giving in. But he may not feel compelled to do this (refer to #2) or he may not be financially able to fight for his kids if it should come to that.
So what’s a wife to do?
- Stop calling him a wimp and stop giving him a hard time every time he says yes to her. When you complain, all he hears is criticism, which only serves to create or perpetuate conflict between you two. It doesn’t compel him to change his behavior. He sees your complaints as his failure to make you happy, which causes a large amount of shame and discomfort in him, resulting in his shutting down.
- Recognize that it usually takes a big violation on the ex’s part, something that he considers unforgivable, to get him to start saying “no” to her. This is something he has to learn and experience on his own, it’s not something you can convince him of or push him into.
- Brush up on your communication skills and learn how to make requests, not demands. You’ll have a much better chance of him being receptive to your request if he doesn’t feel criticized or bullied. An example of this would be “Honey, I know you had a good reason for agreeing to x, but I feel really anxious about y, so next time do you think we can look into some other potential solutions?”
Remember that he’s mostly functioning from instinct, which is hard as hell to temper. Try to appreciate his intentions and that ultimately he wants you to be happy, which means protecting you from something he’s had to deal with for way too long.
Jenna Korf is a Certified Stepfamily Foundation coach, an RCI Certified Relationship coach and co-author of the book, “Skirts At War: Beyond Divorced Mom/Stepmom Conflict.” She is also a blogger for The Huffington Post and has been featured as a stepfamily expert on CNN.com, parenting.com and care.com. Jenna is also a Registered Nurse, a stepmom and a stepchild. To read more from Jenna or for one-on-one coaching visit her at StepmomHelp.com.