Relationship Connection: My husband treats me like I’m an idiot in front of others

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My husband and I have been married for 26 years and we keep having the same old problem. It seems he likes an audience. When it’s just the two of us, things are pretty good. Add one or two people and suddenly I become the stupid idiot. Unfortunately, I always think of good comebacks after it’s over and too late. 

He puts me down in conversations and then I shut down. It boggles my mind and usually hurts my feelings. I’ve talked to him about it calmly and I’ve also flipped out on him, swearing that I’ll leave him if it doesn’t stop. He’s sorry … but only for a minute! I’ve tried several approaches, and nothing works.

I wonder at times, “Who is this jerk I’m married to?”

I don’t want to leave him, I love him for the many qualities he does have. I just hate his snide remarks and feeling embarrassed in front of anyone. HELP!


This is certainly a painful situation. While you can see his great qualities and find plenty of reasons to stay in this marriage, it’s also difficult to feel loved and cherished when he turns on you so quickly. While we could spend a lot of energy trying to guess why he treats you this way when others are present, the fact remains that it’s a hurtful behavior that is threatening your marriage.

You’ve tried multiple ways to tell him this is hurtful, including threatening divorce. Even though these conversations and threats seem to soften his heart for a while, the change isn’t deep enough to rebuild the trust you need to feel safe with him. When someone has a pattern of hurting us, it’s quite reflexive to focus on changing their behavior. We see what needs to change, so we often attack it directly. We bring it up, we become passive aggressive, we yell, we beg, we threaten, we set ultimatums, and we analyze. As you know, this is an exhausting and fruitless endeavor.

It’s fruitless because if the other person isn’t responding to your request for respect and safety, you’re essentially allowing them to determine the relationship conditions. While we naturally want to work with our partner to create relationship change, this treatment of you isn’t a relationship issue. It’s an individual decision he’s making to degrade you and can’t be handled on a relational level. In other words, it’s not a joint decision how you’ll be treated in the relationship. You have to determine whether you’ll allow abusive behavior.

I recommend you step back and decide what you need to do so you can protect and preserve your own dignity. Jeffrey R. Holland made it crystal clear in the following statement that we should never tolerate any form of emotional abuse in marriage:

To impair or impede (my wife) in any way for my gain or vanity or emotional mastery over her should disqualify me on the spot to be her husband. In a dating and courtship relationship, I would not have you spend five minutes with someone who belittles you, who is constantly critical of you, who is cruel at your expense and may even call it humor. Life is tough enough without having the person who is supposed to love you leading the assault on your self-esteem, your sense of dignity, your confidence and your joy. In this person’s care, you deserve to feel physically safe and emotionally secure.

His message is applicable to dating and married couples. It doesn’t have to mean that you end your marriage right now, but it does validate your need for emotional safety in this relationship. What your husband is doing is a misguided attempt at humor at your expense. I also agree that you shouldn’t spend five minutes with your husband when this is happening. Notice that Jeffrey R. Holland didn’t say, “You should try and explain multiple times why this is hurtful.” Instead, he says the solution is to create immediate distance. Emotional abuse cannot be tolerated in a healthy marriage, so it’s time to make a personal decision about how you’ll create space when this happens.

You might decide that you’ll stop socializing with him. If he desires to have you along, he can create respectful conditions. If you risk socializing with him, you might decide to immediately leave the interaction if he becomes disrespectful. If the pattern doesn’t change, you might create more space at home through an in-house or out-of-house separation. Creating distance isn’t about you changing him. It’s about you taking care of your need for peace and safety. If he won’t provide those conditions, you can always provide them for yourself.

You shouldn’t have to think of comebacks when your husband is putting you down in front of other people. That’s not going to solve anything and doesn’t directly issue what’s happening. In fact, it just sets up a culture of insults and insecurity for both of you. You’ve already tried addressing this multiple ways, so it’s time for you to take charge of your own peace. If your efforts create change in the marriage, that’s fantastic. Either way, you can step away from this hurtful treatment and preserve your dignity. 

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