Dear Dr. Hurd:
My husband disagrees with everything. If I say the sky is blue, he will engage me in a battle over “how blue.” If a friend gets a new car, he’ll launch into a lecture — in front of the friend — over how it’s inferior. Not surprisingly, he has had trouble keeping jobs (he was even fired from a company he founded!). By the way, he’s a carbon copy of his outspoken and meddlesome 95-year-old mother. Even after 43 years of marriage, she still makes it clear that I’m not good enough for her 67-year-old “little boy.” Needless to say, they argue constantly. I know I’ll never change him, but I’m tired of having to stand between him and the rest of the world. Help!
First of all, keep in mind that you always have the option to say, “Please stop being so argumentative. Next time you start in, I’m going to walk away. It’s not my intention to be rude, but when you see me walk away, you’ll know why.”
This is the strongest approach you can take, and when all else fails you should consider it. At least you have an escape route if you want to take it. Handle the courtesy issue by warning him ahead of time. He may feel he has a right to say whatever he wants, but you have an equal right to hold him accountable for it.
Being argumentative for its own sake can be an unhealthy shortcut to a feeling of self-esteem. That behavior indicates a lack of confidence in one’s ability to figure out real things, as opposed to petty, trivial things. Your husband thinks, “I feel like I haven’t performed in my career as well as I could have. Maybe others went to college and I didn’t. Whatever. Either way, I feel inadequate, so I clutch onto anything to make me feel good about myself. I must show others that I know something.”
Self-awareness is a critical element for happiness. By becoming aware of his insecurity, your husband can do something about it. He might realize, “I’m taking my lack of self-confidence out on others. I’m overcompensating by being a know-it-all. I even do this when I’m wrong. How embarrassing!” Without self-awareness, he remains in denial: “Who, me? There’s nothing wrong with me. It’s all you!”
This is where you come in. He probably doesn’t recognize how he’s coming across. You have the singular opportunity to help by holding him responsible for his actions. Say, “I’m not going out with you until you stop fighting with people over petty things. I’m embarrassed to be with you.” Worried about starting a fight? Not to worry. It takes two to fight, so there’s never going to be one without your consent. Of course there will be pouting and unpleasantness, but those are temporary and necessary parts of behavior change.
A poseur is someone who acts like he has more knowledge or material things than he really does. It’s dishonest and sad. The poseur believes that if others perceive him as valuable, then he actually is. Some poseurs may actually have a lot to offer, but their insecurities get in the way. Other people sense their phoniness and just write them off. What a tragic waste of never-to-be-discovered talent.
Poseurs and contrary people must recognize, and take responsibility for, the obnoxious behavior that’s fueled by their insecurity. They must ask themselves, “What can I do to feel more adequate? What would I like to accomplish to feel better about myself?”
Your husband needs to get about the business of improving himself in a rational way instead of striving to overcompensate. There are no shortcuts to self-esteem. It’s a lot easier to perk up your confidence honestly than to alienate everyone around you. It’s a lot less lonely, too.
Be sure to “friend” Dr. Hurd on Facebook. Search under “Michael Hurd” (Rehoboth Beach DE). Get up-to-the-minute postings, recommended articles and links, and engage in back-and-forth discussion with Dr. Hurd on topics of interest. Also follow Dr. Hurd on Twitter at @MichaelJHurd1