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Dear Shaunti,

I really struggle with the whole ‘respect your husband’ thing you talk about in your book For Women Only. How do I do that? My husband has a huge amount of pride and is unable to accept any criticism or failure on his part; he always throws mistakes back on me. I can’t help but see him as irresponsible and prideful at times. I know that I have delivered some harsh criticism to him over the 14 years of our marriage, which probably contributes to the defensiveness, but I’ve gotten better over the last few years. He is a faithful husband and very loving father, but there are so many times that he seems to place a higher value on our two daughters than on our marriage. He loves to be their hero to a fault, so that his relationship with them seems to be a codependent one. I can’t seem to change the way I think about him. And I’m tired of feeling like he values our daughters more than me.

-Second Fiddle

Dear Second Fiddle,

Nobody wants to be the second fiddle when they are truly a first string or solo quality. But I hate to be blunt: in most cases, second fiddles have earned their spot.

Sure, he probably has big issues to address as well – but the only person you can change is you. And I think you have already recognized the actual source of your problem: 14 years of harsh criticism of him as “irresponsible” and “prideful.” You also need to know that what you have misperceived in your husband as “pride” is actually a deep insecurity. An insecurity and self-doubt that you, my friend, have inflamed to the point of pain.

All of us – men and women – have a tendency to become defensive as a way to protect ourselves when we are criticized. But since a man’s primary emotional need is respect, please understand that for your husband, criticism isn’t just frustrating – it feels like a vicious attack on his most vulnerable emotion: his fear that you see him as inadequate.

Twitter_bird_logo-300x242Tweet this: “All of us – men and women – have a tendency to become defensive as a way to protect ourselves when we are criticized.”

When a man’s emotional backbone has been whipped raw by repeated critical comments and “brutal honesty,” his insecurities are so inflamed and painful that he can become super-sensitive and agitated at even the slightest suggestion that he has done something wrong, hence the inability to accept responsibility for mistakes or to admit error. It isn’t right or mature, certainly – but it sure is understandable.

From my thousands of interviews with men, I know that a man longs to be a hero to his wife, first and foremost. But when he feels that he just can never measure up in her eyes – that she will always see him as second (or tenth) fiddle — he will seek that affirmation elsewhere.

Twitter_bird_logo-300x242Tweet this: “A man longs to be a hero to his wife, first and foremost.

You say he is a faithful husband, so it sounds like he thankfully hasn’t sought solace from a woman who does think he is amazing. Instead, he’s gravitating toward affirmation from your daughters. Indeed there may be a codependent relationship with them, but I hope you can understand why it could have developed.

How do you get past this, and to a place where you do respect him?

Read on to learn the solution.

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