Dear Dr. Hurd,
I need advice on what to say to my husband of more than 10 years. He is in a complete snit because he’s starting to lose his hair. I couldn’t care less, and frankly I think he looks just as good either way
When I try to tell him this, he goes into a pout and continues to lament his progressing alopecia. Neither of us are spring chickens, and it just seems that my feelings about this should matter more to him. We’re no longer kids, but he’s acting like this is the end of the world. It’s starting to get on my nerves.
Dr. Hurd replies,
I think you’re missing the point. Your husband is feeling a sense of loss over his hair and you’re not showing empathy for it. I know you believe you are; you’re telling him, truthfully, that you don’t care about his loss of hair. That’s supposed to make it all better, but it doesn’t. In fact, it probably makes it worse.
From where he sits, he’s losing his youth and his looks — and one of the most important people in his life doesn’t seem to care. I know that’s not what you mean to convey; in fact, your intentions are quite the opposite. But it’s an emotional issue for the man in your life, and that’s what you’ve got to understand.
For him, it’s more than his hair. It could be his sense of youth and maybe even the sense of freedom that many associate with youth. Seemingly trivial things like this are usually about something deeper and bigger. That’s what emotions do: They connect us to what’s more important and more valuable to us.
Though the rationality of certain emotions is sometimes open to debate, that’s not the case here. Simply ask him how he feels, and try listening. Unless you can grow his hair back, nothing you say at this point is going to make him happy.
You don’t have to share his concerns, but everyone can relate to the psychology of loss. Think about something you have lost, and think about what that loss represents to you. Then imagine your husband feeling the same way. Loss is loss, and when feeling upset about it, nobody wants to be told, “That’s not important.”
It’s usually a mistake to try and talk people out of their feelings. People usually want their feelings heard before you start questioning them. So let him talk about how he feels, and you might be surprised how he may eventually reach a conclusion similar to your own. Just give him the space to get there.
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