I am perpetually in the doghouse with my spouse. Either I have not cleaned the house well enough or the dinner that I cooked was not as tasty as he would have liked

It sends him into a tailspin and he refuses to talk to me for several days. I have tried to talk and apologise, but nothing works so I just let him be. In the meantime, I am so miserable. I realise this is a crazy pattern and I want to alter it. What can I do?

***

Wow. It sounds like you are not being appreciated for your contributions. Not only that, but your spouse is turning your efforts into failures and then retreats from you for days by refusing to speak with you. No wonder you feel miserable. Perhaps he is angry about something else? You need to ask him.

A lack of fondness and admiration

His frequent complaining about what didn’t get done or what he didn’t like about your meal tells me there is a lack of fondness and admiration in your relationship, at least on his part. Dr Gottman has discovered that this is a crucial piece in the foundation of a great relationship. The fondness and admiration element is a basic sense that your partner is worthy of honour and respect. Even the happiest and most successful couples get annoyed with each other for small things, but they maintain a mutual level of respect and appreciation that is expressed on a far more frequent basis than the annoyances are.

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A relationship cannot thrive without fondness and admiration, because its absence contributes to a very destructive enemy to close relationships: Contempt.

Contempt – the single, biggest predictor of divorce

Contempt is shown by using hostile humour, sarcasm, eye-rolling, mockery, name-calling and belittling – just to name a few. Contempt is one of The Four Horseman of the Apocalypse that Dr. Gottman has identified as destructive to relationships. It is the single biggest predictor of divorce we have! That’s amazing. It makes sense though – nothing kills closeness faster than a tone of disrespect and disgust.

You alone cannot restore his level of fondness and admiration that exists in his head. That is for him to do – to start looking for the things that you are doing ‘right’ and communicating a sense of appreciation for you. But you can (and should) ask for a way to talk about how his behaviours are affecting you.

It might go something like this:

“I feel sad that my efforts do not seem to please you. I try hard to make things nice for you and when I hear that you don’t like what I have done or how I have done it, it makes me feel like a failure. When I reach out to you to try to discuss this with you and you refuse to talk to me, I am at a loss for what to do. I do not want this pattern to continue. I need you to talk to me in a respectful way about what it is bothering you.”