A woman sent this question via My Ask Dr.Dorothy forum —How Do I deal with a non-supportive spouse? Her question is one of the most frequent questions I receive regarding whether to stay in a relationship or leave.

My husband is a social butterfly. And I totally support his wishes to meet people and go to parties, invite a dozen or more people over to spend every long weekend with his friends since the past 3 years. I am new to this country and have no friends of my own (just 2-3 close friends who I chat with over the phone but can hardly meet due to his work schedule). The problem is he never stands up for me in social situations. Sometimes even joins in with other people when someone is insulting me. Ours is an arranged marriage and I understand nobody is perfect. But is it too selfish to expect him to protect me from his friends/family members who leave no stone unturned to belittle/disrespect me. He tries to justify their behavior saying nobody respects me because I'm not working /studying. Even though he knows I cannot work because of my visa restrictions (I'm on dependent visa). And I'm preparing my application packets to apply to colleges. How should I cope with this situation? Do I deserve to be insulted on account of me not working/studying?? I had no idea before my wedding that I won't be allowed to work on dependent visa! I feel low, cheated and worthless. Thanks in advance for your help!!

My answer:

My most heartfelt empathy for your travail. Of course, it goes without saying that it takes two people to create a good relationship. However, influencing your partner in a neutral and strategic manner can create a breakthrough, or give you the answer that you need to make a final decision.

These four strategies will empower you to shift the dynamic between you and your husband and draw him in to open up to communicate on an equal level.

HEAR - To hear your partner’s beliefs, thoughts and feelings, Stay Present and Listen.

Invite your partner to speak about what is going on in his world and how the relationship is impacting him. Make an effort to stay mentally present and listen without defending yourself, judging or telling him he is wrong.

Open your heart and set your defenses aside. Listening is not about defending yourself, but about understanding your partner and learning to fulfill each other’s needs without compromising your integrity or rights.

Listen behind his words for nonverbal feelings cues. Does he have an angry expression on his face or sadness in his eyes or fear?

Is his body-language open and reaching towards you or closed off and guarded? What do you think your partner is feeling? Ask, “How does that impact you?” “What impacts you the most?” “What concerns do you have about that?” What are your needs that are not being met (such as; love, companionship, understanding, control, or respect)? The best way to soothe an angry spouse is to let him know that you hear and accept his unmet needs and are willing to make changes to help meet them.

EMPATHY – How does your partner's experiences affect you?

When you think you understand what your partner feels and have checked it out with him, pay attention to what feelings YOU have when you observe him feeling the way he feels. Remember no judgment.

It is critically important to search beneath the surface for the softer, tender feelings. My clients often express anger when what lies underneath is feeling stuck, fear, sad, or lonely. You need to stay present with your partner, and connect with his deeper experiences.

Perhaps you will feel pain because he is in pain. Allow yourself to feel compassion, and let him know that his expression of pain, fear or anger affects you deeply. Your first instinct in hearing your partner’s distress may be to tell him how to solve the problem or give advice. Often this advice comes across as critical or judgmental, which makes things worse. On the other hand, staying emotionally engaged and expressing compassion can provide healing comfort and connection. Many times, that is all he needs.

ACTION - Take action to address concerns and express willingness to change how you interact with him.

Commit to intentional action to address your partner’s needs and concerns. These actions can range from being more understanding to calling your partner during the day to let him know you are thinking of him, or committing to stay within a spending budget.

When your partner recognizes that you take his concerns seriously, he will be more likely to feel valued and respected. This can create a positive cycle in which he appreciates you and feels more loving towards you. You don’t need to be perfect at it – just the fact that you care and are willing to access his needs and make changes is enough to help most people feel validated, respected and loved.

LOVE - Feel and express unconditional love.

Make the practice in your life to deliberately reconnect with the loving feelings you have for your partner, even if recent interactions have prompted you to feel distant or angry.

Think about the good qualities he has that originally attracted you to him. Look at old photos or visualize special times in your relationship and the hopes and dreams, you had together.

Find a way to forgive yourself and your partner for the mistakes you have both made? What do these feelings of love motivate you to do? Might you want to reach out to him and express your love and affection physically or with action, such as cooking a meal or writing a note? Love is defined as a concern for another’s well-being and a warm feeling you have towards another. Do not make your expressions of love contingent on what your partner does, but rather reach out and express unconditional caring, support, understanding and forgiveness. If there are unresolved trust issues that hamper your ability to love your partner freely, think about the next steps you could take to air these issues and what it would take to rebuild trust.

The following books will reinforces this approach to revitalizing your relationship:

#1:“Love Is Letting Going Of Fear,” Gerald Jampolsky. After more than thirty years, Love Is Letting of Fear continues to be among the most widely read and best-loved classics on personal transformation. Both helpful and hopeful, this little gem of a guide offers twelve lessons to help us let go of the past and stay focused on the present as we step confidently toward the future.

Love Is Letting of Fear has guided millions of readers along the path of self-healing with its deeply powerful yet profoundly humble message. Embrace it with an open mind and a willing heart and let it guide you to a life in which negativity, doubt, and fear are replaced with optimism, joy, and love.

Renowned world wide as the founder of Attitudinal Healing, Dr. Gerald Jampolsky reminds us that the impediments to the life we long for are nothing more than the limitations imposed on us by our own minds. Revealing our true selves, the essence of which is love, is ultimately a matter of releasing those limited--and limiting--thoughts and setting our minds free.

#2: Too Good to Leave, Too Bad to Stay: A Step-by-Step Guide to Help You Decide Whether to Stay In or Get Out of Your Relationship - Mira Kirshenbaum

To make up or break up? Whether you’re just getting serious or have a long-term commitment, no other question causes so much heartache and self-doubt. Many other books tell you how to fix your relationship. This groundbreaking bestseller is the first one to help you choose whether you to work through the issues—or you need to go.

Psychotherapist Mira Kirshenbaum draws on years of research and her work with real-life couples to help you make the right decision for you. She shows you how to diagnose your unique situation with self-analysis and questions like these, which get to the very heart of your problems:

• What sins are forgivable and which ones are unpardonable?
• Is your partner questioning your opinions to the point where you doubt yourself?
• What is your sex life really like, and how important is it?
• Is there real love left between you, and how does it stack up against all that you find unlovable?

Mira Kirshenbaum provides expert guidelines that are the key to making all your choices, concrete steps that you can implement right now, and the ultimate way to determine your personal bottom line—what you need to be happy. This remarkably insightful and probing guide offers advice that lets you see the truth about your relationship—and with wisdom and compassion, it helps you act with the confidence of knowing that whether you decide to go or stay, you are doing the very best thing.

“A powerful self-help resource for anyone caught in a web of relationship distress… Excellent.”—Christopher L. Hayes, author of Our Turn: Women Who Triumph in the Face of Divorce

“Few have written with such common sense and clarity about how to come out of the trap of ambivalence in marriage. I’ve recommended the book to colleagues and clients.” —Cloé Madanes, co-founder, The Family Therapy Institute

I wish you well on your journey. I am here only to be truly helpful, if you have questions contact me.

Author's Bio: 

About Dr. Dorothy

Dorothy M. Neddermeyer, Ph.D. internationally recognized authority on bridging Science and Human Potential. As a speaker, author, and trainer, Dr Dorothy works with Individuals, Couples, Business Executives and Entrepreneurs to instill an internal foundation of empowerment and upgrade their people skills (communication, problem solving, decision making, negotiation, etc), performance, and quality of life.​