Murphy’s Love: Advice on Intimacy and Relationships Is the Missing Milk a Metaphor?

*Dear Stacy,*

*My husband constantly forgets what I have told him, or have asked him to do, and then we get into a fight about it. I have enough self-awareness to know that when he does this it makes me feel unimportant to him, but then what do I do about it? It is maddening to have him nod in agreement that he will pick up something at the store while I take the kids to swim practice, but then it doesn’t happen and I am just so resentful. He always starts by saying I am wrong, for example, that I never asked him to go to the store. How do you reason with someone who refuses to see your side?*

*— Out of Ideas*

Dear Ideas:

We’ve all been there, right? You have an expectation, think you’ve covered your bases to get it done, then wind up feeling alone and frustrated — all because there’s no milk in the fridge. I appreciate your self-awareness. Much of this is about feeling unimportant. But some of it might also be about being busy (and needing milk).

If most of the arguments you are having with Husband are about how to communicate household issues, technological solutions can help. Talk to him about whether texting the to-dos would be better than listing them in person, since he’s distracted by the rest of the household. It might be worth having a (brief, please be brief with this one) parent meeting on Sunday nights to go over the needs for the week. Or, if routine errands just aren’t his thing, find a way to automate it or trade responsibilities. Logistics could be the root of this evil.

But if the store example is a metaphor for a wider practice of feeling ignored, then attacked when you protest, I’d say we need to talk to Husband directly (phones off). Begin with a plan to avoid triggering each other’s defenses. Defenses, FYI, are natural, appropriate responses to frightening stimuli. Talking about your relationship should not be categorized as frightening stimuli, so start with gentle eyes and tone of voice; you have to communicate that you are a safe person before Husband can truly hear you.

Use your calm demeanor to explain how this ongoing trend makes you feel. (Notice that I didn’t say, explain how his disregard makes you feel.) Focusing on your own emotional reaction should, again, avoid setting off his defenses. There are counselors out there trained in this kind of dialogue, but you really can start this at home. Follow the rule of going soft, slow and low with your approach so you can explore the actual issue without activating his (and your) defenses.

*Stacy Notaras Murphy is a licensed professional counselor in Georgetown. Visit her on the web at This column is meant for entertainment only and should not be considered a substitute for professional counseling. Send your confidential question to*

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