There is no single cause or cure for a relationship with a mean and disrespectful man. The place to start improving your marriage is determining why he is this way.
Is your husband mean and disrespectful? Do you know the real reason why he is behaving this way? Some men have always been this way, while others have only become this way recently.
You need to make a careful assessment of the reasons your husband is this way if you want to know how to start improving your relationship. This article discusses reasons your husband may be this way, mistakes for you to avoid, and what you can do to start making things better.
Four reasons why your husband is mean and disrespectful
There is no single reason that makes a man mean and disrespectful. That is true for the other problems in relationships as well. There are multiple reasons that can make you think, “my husband hates me.” That is why you should be very careful when getting recommendations online or from others about what they would do. What worked for them may not fit your situation at all.
There are four general reasons why your husband may be mean and disrespectful, but you also need to realize that it is likely that your husband does not fit neatly into any one of these categories. Before I coach someone, I want to make sure that I understand their situation clearly and customize their coaching package to fit their situation and needs.
1 He is mean because he has a personality problem
Lack of empathy
All husbands who are mean and disrespectful are going to have a lack of empathy for their wives. However, if your husband has a lack of empathy for others as well (children, friends, coworkers, or people in general), it is time to start seeing your relationship problems as something about him rather than about your relationship.
This is particularly true if he has had this lack of empathy for others as long as you have know him (except for that initial period when he was on his best behavior).
Impulsivity is when people react without giving much thought to future consequences. It causes relationship problems. This is a psychological issue and may cause your husband to do things which he later regrets. If he has always been this way, it is a personality characteristic that is not likely to be changed.
If it is only recent, then this behavior may result from stress, life dissatisfaction (as in a mid life crisis), or as a result of a drug or alcohol addiction (which lower inhibitions).
What you can do
If your husband has a personality disorder, you are not going to change it. Nor is he going to be motivated to work on it in therapy. You can make your relationship work by learning to deal with his disorder by having good boundaries which prevent you from being a victim. This will allow you to enjoy the aspects of your husband which make you continue to want to be with him.
Counselors have a tendency to help clients to get out of such marriages. Relationship coaches are better for learning skills you need to cope with him and enjoy him. In any event do not try to improve your relationship by talking with him about relationship problems (see my article on when to talk about marriage problems).
2 He is mean and disrespectful because he is stressed
You or the kids are his scapegoat
Some men are better at coping with problems than others. Highly successful men recognize and admit to problems, seek solutions to problems, and then get to work eliminating the problems. Men with poor coping deny having problems, blame others for their problems, avoid reminders of their problems and become angry with anyone who points them out.
Internally they know they need to do something, but feel inadequate to the task. This self loathing can be projected onto others. It released built up anger either in bursts or slow leaks. However, because their problems are still not resolved, the anger continues to build.
Seeks to self-medicate or avoid his problems
Alcohol, drugs, sex, video games, and any other stimulating activity can help these men to avoid their stresses temporarily. Although he blames his problems on you, he would still have the same problems were he married to someone else.
What you can do
You must avoid personalizing his problems and seeing them as something wrong with you. You are not the cause of his problems. Nor are you the cause of his behavior toward you. Allowing yourself to be his victim or being codependent for an addictive behavior will just lead to his problems, and your relationship, becoming worse and worse. You will need to:
- use good boundaries to protect yourself and your children,
- learn how to deal with your husband’s anger,
- use an intervention to help him face his problems.
Only when he is forced to own up to his problems will their be hope for him to resolve his problems. (Here is an article for more help on building a relationship when your spouse has addiction).
3 He is mean and disrespectful because he feels rejected by you
Too little affirmation
Sometimes wives are rejecting toward their husbands. This can happen because of the same types of issues which make men act out. It can also be because the wives have unreasonable expectations about marriage which their husbands cannot meet.
Husbands of such women don’t feel good enough. They receive very little affirmation and although they initially try to make the relationship work, eventually they become disrespectful and distancing as a kind of emotional self-preservation.
All conflict deteriorates marriages. There is no such thing as helpful conflict. Although avoidance of issues is unhealthy coping, the solution is never conflict, but rather constructive actions which stop damage and build the relationship.
If you try to improve your marriage by criticizing, complaining, or arguing with your husband, you will get rejection rather than improved behavior. He is much more likely to criticize you back rather than to admit to his faults. The longer this goes on, the more disrespectful he will become.
What you can do
In order for your relationship to build, most of the time you spend with your husband needs to be positive. Reducing conflict will make a relationship less negative, but not necessarily positive. For example, not fighting and keeping distant is less conflicted, but not closer. For closeness, you need to help your husband to enjoy being with you and doing things with you. Here is an example of how that could get you more respect in the way you parent.
Cooperation is not something you talk him into–it’s something you attract him into. What changes do you need to make in yourself to get your husband to enjoy talking to you, being with you, making love with you, and to make him feel like you really love him the way he is? (More help on getting your husband to love you).
4 He is mean and disrespectful because he is unfaithful
Conflict in the absence of real issues
If your husband picks fights or blames you for really petty things, those are not likely to be the real issue. Fighting or complaining about minor things is an emotional distancing behavior. It is very common with both men and women who are in some way preparing to leave their relationship–emotionally, physically, or both. An obvious indicator you need to take action is your husband saying he needs space or time to think about what he wants.
Some men can maintain a good emotional connection with their wives while pursuing other women, but most can’t. Unfaithfulness is more likely to be the case if he seems to be normal with everyone except you, and you have no real issues in your relationship with your husband. (Learn more about intentional argumentativeness in the absence of real issues).
Reluctance to have a good time with you
Men who are unfaithful or preparing to be usually avoid doing things with their wives which would actually make their relationships with their wives better. He may no longer like you cooking his favorite food, having sex with you, going on a date with you to do something that he always enjoyed before. It’s not that he doesn’t like those things anymore; it’s just that he doesn’t want to have a good time with you as that would make it harder for him to be unfaithful.
In addition to treating you badly, if your husband is unfaithful or preparing to be, he is also likely to avoid being with you. At home, he may stop eating with you, sleeping with you, and even being in the same room with you. He may start to leave his cell phone turned off so as not to get calls or texts from you. If you ask him why, he will justify his behaviors rather than give you any sensible reason.
If your husband starts to carry his cell phone to the shower, suddenly password protects his electronic devices, and comes home late or leaves early for work without any good reason, unfaithful behavior is a likely suspect. This is particularly true when combined with avoiding you and treating you badly for insignificant reasons.
What you can do
Confronting your husband for being unfaithful is not going to either get him to admit to being unfaithful or to make him more faithful. He will just use as more reason to blame you for your untrusting behavior. Yet, unchecked, his unfaithfulness will continue and get harder and harder to deal with as time goes on. The earlier you can learn how to deal with his unfaithfulness, the more chance you have for preventing or ending an affair.
Multiple steps are required for implementing correct boundaries, then building your relationship, while also maintaining respect. You will have to avoid letting him have his cake and eat it too, while also avoiding doing extra damage to the marriage. Either counseling or coaching are likely to be helpful to deal with these complexities.
Use the appropriate skill to deal with each of these reasons
Two typical pieces of advice for women in your situation are to divorce or go to marriage counseling. Neither of these ideas will actually lead to improvement. He will not be motivated to change his behaviors and a counselor won’t motivate him.
To improve your relationship, you will need to learn how to:
- get his respect,
- deal with whatever situation is causing him to be disrespectful or mean, and
- learn how to build your relationship.
Trying to get him to work together will frustrate you and make you feel like giving up. However there are a number of things you can do to improve your relationship without his cooperation.
An easy way to start is to get a book I wrote, called What to Do When He Won’t Change: Saving Your Marriage or Relationship when He Is Angry, Selfish, Unhappy, or Avoids You. Many women have been able to turn their relationship around without further help than this. If your situation is dire or you make some improvement and get stuck, I then recommend you get into either individual counseling or relationship coaching, depending on the nature of the problems in your relationship. Here is a coaching package that I offer for restoring love with difficult spouses.