SALT LAKE CITY — In this edition of LIFEadvice, Coach Kim gives valuable tips on improving your marriage and especially your communication.
I just read your article on KSL about having a victim mentality. What would you recommend to someone who has a spouse with this victim mindset? The problem is that it terrifies our young kids, and the older ones have seen the behavior so often that they are jaded against it. This probably is making things worse because it makes her believe that truly nobody cares when, in fact, they just realize that there is nothing they can say or do to make things right. My wife stonewalls any effort to communicate about this. I have suggested counseling in the past, but she refuses to acknowledge that she has a problem. How do you help someone break this cycle?
This is tricky because it's impossible to change or fix other individuals until they decide they are ready (and want) to change, and she really does need some professional help to change how she is feeling, seeing things and behaving.
Here are a few things you can do to get her ready and open to changing:
1. Do some family self-esteem repair
Your spouse is drowning in fear of failure that she isn't good enough. This is why she can't handle any conversation about her faults. In her mind, if she has any faults at all then she is worthless and the pain behind that is terrible. This is why she gets defensive when you bring up her behavior. You can start fixing this by giving her lots of positive validation (pointing out everything good about her), but that alone won't be enough.
What she needs is a fundamental shift in her core beliefs about herself and where her value comes from. In my book "Choosing Clarity," I explain how to change your core beliefs and replace them with more positive, fearless ones. Even if she won't read it, you should, and you should start teaching the principles to your family.
She (and most of us) believe our value as human beings is changeable and on the line. We think we can earn more value through our appearance, performance and the acceptance of others, and we can lose value if our appearance or performance is bad or others don't approve of us. We subconsciously see life as a test where we must earn our value, which means we can also fail.
Most of us have an almost debilitating fear of failure, which makes us desperate for validation, sympathy love and reassurance. This neediness also makes us less capable of showing up for others and meeting their needs. Can you see how this is happening with your spouse? She is so scared she isn't good enough that she has nothing to give you or the kids. She is a bundle of neediness because she is scared.
It would help your whole family if you worked on changing this belief. You can teach them to believe that human beings have infinite, absolute, intrinsic value that doesn't change. Start teaching your children and your spouse that their value comes from their uniqueness, as one-of-a-kind, irreplaceable human souls, and about their nature as divine beings. Teach them that life is a classroom not a test (which means everything they experience is a lesson, not something that counts against their value). Teach them that faults, mistakes and weaknesses are part of the classroom so we can grow, but they don't mean we have less value than anyone else. This means it's OK to be imperfect, struggling and flawed. Teach them to see all human beings as having the same value, all the time, no matter what. If you work on changing this core belief first, your spouse will be in a better place to talk about changing her behavior (because her value won't be attached to it).
There are lots of free resources on my website (podcasts, articles, worksheets and a fear assessment) to help you change this belief. I hope you will take advantage of these and work on this, because it is the single most powerful, life-changing thing you could do for your family. This one belief causes most of our suffering, stress and discouragement. If you can help your wife change this belief, you will soon be able to talk about any issue without upsetting her.
Your wife also has "fear of loss" issues, which come from a faulty belief that people and life can do her wrong and make her life less than what it should have been. This is where her victim mentality comes from. You can also teach your family to see life as wise teacher that knows what it is doing and is always bringing you experiences that serve your growth. You can teach them to trust the process of life and greet each situation with curiosity and gratitude for what it will teach them. Overcoming a fear of loss will really help with her victim mentality.
Most couples who are struggling in their marriage think they are having communication problems, but communication skills aren't really the problem.
The real problem is they both have fears, which show up every time they try to talk to each other. Both of them are afraid they aren't good enough and are afraid of loss (being taken from or unappreciated), and these fears make them defensive, selfish and needy, a state where they are incapable of love. Fear always makes you focused on what you need or aren't getting and in this state you aren't capable of giving any love. That is why you both feel unloved: You are both too scared and worried about your self.
If you want better communication in your marriage, start by working on your fears of failure and loss. When you both feel safe, whole and good about yourself, you will be able to talk about anything.
2. Have a mutually validating conversation with her and recommend help for both of you.
There are great instructions for having validating conversations (the right way) on the downloads page on my website. First, ask questions and listen to how she feels about your relationship, life and family. What problems does she see? What does she think you can do to make things better? What could you do to be a better husband? Listen, honor and validate whatever she says and asks for.
Then say something like, "Honey, I really want us to have a great marriage and be the best parents we can be. I'm wondered if you would be open to both of us getting some life coaching or counseling so we can improve our relationship skills, learn how to have a richer marriage and be really good parents. Would you be open to doing that with me?"
Let her know she is a wonderful person, you adore her and you are lucky to be married to her, and you always want to keep moving forward and learning new things so your life together will get better and better.
Offer to pay for some life coaching or counseling for both of you, but be very clear this is about wanting both of you to be happier and healthier. Iit's not about fixing her. Find a coach or counselor that will work with each of you separately on the same material at the same time. This will give each of you a safer space to work on yourself. Trust me, this works much better than going together. Your spouse needs a place to own her victim drama and work on changing herself, without you in the room. She will feel better about it if you are willing to work on you too.
You can do this.
Kimberly Giles is president of claritypointcoaching.com. She is also the author of the book "Choosing Clarity: The Path to Fearlessness" and is a popular executive coach and corporate "people skills" trainer.