What’s the Best Way to Express to My Family How I Feel When They Hurt My Feelings?

Dear Sober Dad,

What’s the best way to express to my wife or kids how I feel when they hurt my feelings? I don’t want to be a jerk about it, but at the same time, they need to know.

–Steve T., Fort Myers, Florida


I appreciate the fact that you are a true New Age Sensitive guy – I think there’s a song to that effect.

But while your heart is in the right place, I have to question your basic premise.

There’s a rule of marriage I learned early on, and it goes like this:

Never let your wife or kids know when they have hurt your feelings.

I’m not trying to go all Neanderthal on you. I am trying to bring some Al-Anon and also some common sense about gender roles into the mix.

We live in an era of intense gender confusion. I’m not talking about who gets to use what bathroom – that’s above my pay grade. I am talking about the feminization of men in our society.
One of the reasons why guys don’t want to be “men” is that the whole concept of manhood in our society has been degraded. Manhood is almost a joke. To be a “man” in today’s times implies that one is potentially sexist, out of touch, not progressive, or otherwise socially untouchable.

This is a real shame, because the world needs men to be men more than ever.

Deep down, that’s what your wife needs, and that’s what your kids need.

Let’s take this first from an Al-Anon perspective. One of my favorite lines in the Al-Anon One Day at a Time is “the lovely adventure of shrugging off hurts.”

People living in close quarters are bound to say and do things that upset the other person. When we are married and live as a family, it’s a little bit like living on a submarine – there’s never enough elbow room, and often it feels as though there’s no escape.

In those situations, feelings will be bruised. Expectations will not be met. Sometimes things will go south.

Our job as human beings is to shrug off those moments as best we can. Nursing grudges is what we did when we were nursing our scotch. Now it’s time to practice the fine art of letting things go.

It’s important to remember that we men are not nearly as perfect, easy going, “one mood all the time” creatures we often think we are. We have our difficult moments. Things come out of our mouth with a little too much oomph sometimes. Without intending to do so, we can place the people around us into the same position you, Steve, are writing about right now – hurting them without us even knowing it.

So just simply on a live and let live basis, you have to make room for the fact that other people have feelings, and that rather than calling them out every time they trample on ours, we have to give them a break and let them off the hook.

As we say in the program, we have to drop the rock, because we are expecting and hoping that when we are annoying, they will be dropping the rock, too.

Al-Anon takes it a step further and says that when we tell people how we have been hurt emotionally by their words or actions, we are actually providing them with a roadmap to keep on doing it again and again.

We think we’re saying, “you hurt my feelings.”

What they are hearing us say is different. To their ears, it sounds like this: “You’ve discovered a successful strategy for hurting my feelings. Feel free to repeat it anytime you feel like it.”

I know you have been trained by the way our society currently thinks about the importance of processing feelings. So you want to the attention of your wife what she said or did that upset you.

Don’t do it.

Don’t give her the roadmap for hurting your feelings again and again. That will only come back to bite you.

Instead, work on “shrugging off hurts.” It’s the best medicine for situations like these.

To come back to the manhood issue, although your wife may tell you, or you may believe, based on what you see on the Ellen show, that women want their men to be sensitive and in touch with their feelings, I don’t buy it.

Actually, women don’t want their men to be John Gray or John Bradshaw, experts in the area of relationships and family matters.

Instead, they really still want John Wayne.

In other words, although technically you are her husband, and I am about to get as far from politically correct as a human being can, in fact, she wants you to be her warm, loving Daddy.

I guarantee you that her father did not spend half of her childhood telling her about the times she hurt his feelings.

He just went about his business – went to work, played golf, drank scotch or beer or ran 5Ks, watched TV, whatever. But he almost certainly did not “process feelings” with her.

Women want men to be men, not another girlfriend.

She has enough girlfriends already. She doesn’t want you to be one of them.

So stand tall in the saddle, rub some dirt on it, walk it off, and get over it. But by no means compromise your manhood by processing your feelings in this manner. You may or may not get an apology. You’ll
almost certainly get a diminution of the respect in her eyes for your trouble.

Let’s take this a step further, if I have not been shocking enough already.

Should you forgive her?

I learned something phenomenal in an Al-Anon meeting years ago. To forgive someone means that we have already judged and condemned them.

We are not judges for other people. That’s our Higher Power’s job. So when we are judging others, we are having a role reversal with our Higher Power.

As Bill W. writes frequently in AA’s Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, The 12 and 12, we are continuing to play God to our fellows.

Bad idea.

So whenever you find yourself trying to work up the magnanimity to forgive someone, especially your wife or kids, for something they did or said, back up for a moment and ask yourself who gave you the power or the authority to judge them.

Nobody gave you that power; you arrogated it to yourself. Which triggers the famous Twelve Step question – would you rather be right or happy?

They say that if you like everyone in your meetings, you don’t go to enough meetings.

If you like everything your wife says and does, either you’re very lucky or you have no standards. Or you’re just not paying attention.

Over the long haul, she will definitely say and do things that hurt your feelings, and you will do the same to her.

But love comes first. Walk it off. Don’t provide a roadmap of how to hurt you further. Be a man, not a chick, because that’s what she wants, needs, and deserves.

As my sponsor says, “don’t let anybody else hurt your feelings. That’s my job.”