Question: Dr. Dobson, my husband is somewhat insensitive to my needs, but I believe he is willing to do better if I can teach him how I am different from him. Can you help me communicate my needs to him effectively?
Answer: Perhaps I can begin by suggesting how not to handle this objective. Try not to resort to what I have called the "bludgeoning technique," which includes an endless barrage of nagging, pleading, scolding, complaining, and accusing. Avoid the impulse to say at the end of a tiring workday, "Won't you just put down that newspaper, George, and give me five minutes of your time? Five minutes—is that too much to ask? You never seem to care about my feelings, anyway. How long has it been since we went out for dinner? Even if we did, you'd probably take the newspaper along with you. I'll tell you, George, sometimes I think you don't care about me and the kids anymore. If just once—just once—you would show a little love and understanding, I would drop dead from sheer shock," etc., etc., etc.
That is not the way to get George's attention. It's like hitting him with a two-by-four, which is guaranteed to make him mad, silent, or both. Instead of yelling at him, you should look for opportunities to teach your husband during moments when he is most likely to be listening. That instruction requires the proper timing, setting, and manner to be effective. Let's look at those three ingredients.
1. Timing. Select a moment when your husband is typically more responsive and pleasant. That is most likely to be in the morning—perhaps on a Saturday, when his workday pressures are less. By all means, don't blunder into a depressing, angry diatribe when he is tired and hungry. Give your effort every opportunity to succeed.
2. Setting. The ideal situation is to ask your husband to take you on an overnight or weekend trip to a pleasant area. If financial considerations will cause him to decline, save the money out of household funds or other resources. If it is impossible to get away, obtain a baby-sitter and go out to breakfast or dinner alone. If that too is out of the question, then select a time at home when the children are occupied. Generally speaking, the farther you can get him from home, with its cares and problems and stresses, the better will be your chances to achieve genuine communication.
3. Manner. It is extremely important that your husband does not view your conversation as a personal attack. We are all equipped with emotional defenses that rise to our aid when we are vilified. Don't trigger those mechanisms. Instead, your manner should be as warm, loving, and supportive as possible under the circumstances. Let it be known that you are trying to communicate your own needs rather than emphasizing his inadequacies as a husband.
When the timing, setting, and manner converge to produce a moment of opportunity, express your deep feelings as effectively as possible. And like every good Boy Scout—be prepared.
For those who wonder how I know so much about getting the attention of husbands, it's because my wife approached me in exactly this manner. She got her message through. Women have to do some compromising too.
From Dr. Dobson’s book Complete Marriage and Family Home Reference Guide.