Are You A Smothering Spouse?

My Husband Says I’m Smothering Him. What Can I Do?

This article could apply to a wife or a husband. Because I’m a woman and tend to stay in the company of more women than men other than my husband, I see what I call “smothering” in the actions of wives toward their husbands.

Most of the articles I find on the Internet are about how husbands and men should get their acts together and be better husbands and dads. The film industry seems to always paint men as clueless and the “bad guy” in the relationship. So I don’t feel it’s inappropriate of me to address wives in this post. However, as I said, “smothering” is not exclusive to either sex.

Definition of Smothering

Suffocating, stifling, asphyxiating, killing by depriving of air, trying to keep something from happening

Smothering results in death due to lack of oxygen.

Characteristics of Smothering

Smothering is accomplished with the perpetrator standing over the face of the victim.

The perpetrator has greater strength than the victim. This is different from a gunman who stands a distance away from his victim and may be physically weaker.

The Perception of Smothering

It is significant that your husband is using the word smothering. It suggests that he feels you are attempting to forcibly subdue him. It also suggests that you are in his face. Your husband feels that he is being deprived of the most basic necessity for his life.

The Motivation for Smothering

Wives smother because of jealousy, fear, and insecurity. There may be something in your husband’s background that gives you a justifiable cause for jealous. Alternately, the insecurity may stem from your life experience and be relatively unrelated to the actions of your husband.

Wives smother to control—to stop something from happening or to ensure that something will happen. After all, if you don’t control this situation, what will happen? What if he does drive too fast? What if he does develop serious health problems due to unhealthy choices? What if he has an affair? What if the addiction worsens? What if he loses his job? You want the best for both of you. You don’t want either of you to have to deal with the fallout of his poor decisions.

The Effects of Smothering

When you nag, stalk, call, question, and accuse, you short circuit your husband’s confidence in his decision making much the same way that asphyxiation deprives the human lungs of oxygen.  A smothering wife seldom successfully changes her husband’s actions for the long term; instead, she stifles her husband.  Your husband’s ability to discern and act is threatened because you have deprived him of the oxygen (confidence) needed to make a good decision. He second guesses every move wondering if it is the decision you wanted him to make, knowing that if it isn’t, you are coming at him with the pillow to his face. While nature has made him physically stronger than you are, now he must either allow himself to be smothered by his wife, or fight off his wife. Certainly, neither scenario is desirable.

Your husband needs to know that you have confidence in him—that you believe he has the power and discernment to make the right decision. It takes a wise woman to balance her husband’s past shortcomings (which may be grievous and may have extended for years) with a voice of confidence for the future, silencing any voices telling her he will disappoint and destroy again. You must not spoil a future with a responsible husband by forcing a few good decisions in the short term as a result of your nagging.

A Substitute for Smothering

Wives, try changing your position. Move from his face to his side. Go alongside on his ventures. Invite him to come alongside on your ventures.

Watch his back. When your husband is busy looking forward, you keep him safe from the dangers coming from other angles.

Finally, if your husband still feels smothered, try moving to his feet. Their marriage was in trouble. The husband was spiraling in addiction. The wife expended every drop of her life’s blood to save him, the kids, the marriage, and their future. Her best efforts did little more than enable and smother. He resorted to deception. When he went away for counselling, she breathed with an unfamiliar sense of relief. She wasn’t trying to work, watch the kids, manage the home, and control her husband’s addiction. She warily anticipated the day he would return. At the weekly Bible study, she prayed, “God I’ll do anything to save my marriage,” not anticipating that the lesson that week would be about how Jesus washed the disciples’ feet. There was God’s answer.

Wash his feet? No. Well, maybe, symbolically—I’ll cook his dinner and take him some iced tea while he’s watching TV.  But, literally, with a towel and a basin? No. God’s voice was unusually clear: “I will not let your marriage move on until you have washed his feet.” Foot washing?—her church raised hands in praise; they didn’t wash feet. No, not after all he’s done.

The husband returned. She welcomed him home with the words, “I must wash your feet.” She reached for the towel and basin.

What to do?

There are always options. Hold the pillow over his face a little longer, a little tighter. His accusations will stop.

Or…change positions. No one can smother and wash feet at the same time.