SINGAPORE - "Hold my shopping bags for me. Can't you see they're heavy?"
"Are you deaf? Why don't you answer when I talk to you?"
"Why are you so stupid? Can't you do anything properly for once?"
It's common in Singapore to hear women chiding their husbands that way. These women verbally abuse their other halves, speaking impatiently and rudely to them over the smallest matters.
Some months ago, I was at an MRT station when I saw a woman scolding her husband for forgetting to buy movie tickets.
She ranted loudly, taking no notice of the stares from people around them. He, on the other hand, kept his head low and apologised profusely, desperate for her to stop her PDA (public display of anger).
More recently, a friend of mine threw a fit when her boyfriend couldn't remember if she preferred a latte or cappuccino during one of our gatherings. "Can't even get a simple thing right," she rolled her eyes, and gave him the cold shoulder for the rest of the afternoon.
Why do we behave this way?
There are many reasons for this "dragon-lady" behaviour, says Winifred Ling, a psychologist and couples therapist. These include the woman's inherent attitude towards her partner, upbringing, unrealistic expectations, and bad habits.
"These women may believe they are entitled to behave in this way," explains Winifred. "They may have been raised with such attitudes, and no one corrects them when they lose their temper."
Other factors could be poor communication skills, hormonal imbalances that cause mood swings, stress, or an age gap between the couple.
Theresa Bung, principal therapist at the Family Life Society, elaborates: "Sometimes, a woman reacts this way because she is stressed and feels that she lacks support from her husband. In some cases, if the man is a few years younger or behaves in a less mature way, the woman may unconsciously take on the role of a mother rather than an equal."
The men don't get it
Moarie Tan, 32, is married with two young boys and she feels that men, more often than not, need to be reminded. "I think it's okay once in a while for women to be verbally disrespectful to their husbands.
I believe that this happens because the wife knows the husband too well, and that if there isn't any screaming or scolding, the husband won't get anything done," she shares.
She admits that after a long day at work, she becomes easily annoyed with her husband for watching TV instead of helping with the kids while she prepares dinner. Moarie says that he normally keeps quiet during her rants because he knows he cannot win.
But when he does flare up, she knows it means that she has gone too far. When a man comes across as uncaring, a woman reacts in a negative way, observes Agnes Goh, a parenting specialist at Focus on the Family Singapore.
"In the woman's opinion, he needs to be more sensitive. Unfortunately, her approach is to complain and criticise in order to get her husband to change. The man interprets it as disrespect, so he becomes defensive."
Meek as a mouse
Often, husbands keep quiet because they want to avoid further conflict. Winifred says that some may not have the skills to communicate openly while others are too fearful to speak out.
"It takes effort and confidence to negotiate differences and put your point across. Some men either lack this skill or the motivation to engage in healthier behaviour."
Theresa adds: "Sometimes, a man chooses to keep quiet because he values the relationship more than his ego. Some men want peace at all costs, especially for the children's sake. Some may also keep quiet if they feel they cannot manage their wife's outbursts."
But if men do not share their feelings openly, they, too, may feel resentment, anger or bitterness towards their wives over time. Theresa reminds us that it's possible for a couple to face conflicts without hurting one another, and that it's through facing them that they can grow.
She suggests that a husband should learn to state matter-of-factly to his wife how he has been hurt by her words. "If he can share his feelings, it will improve communication and intimacy," she says. To better handle heated situations, Theresa also advises that couples learn to express their unmet needs and be aware of their limitations.
"Marriage is a partnership," she says. "Women may feel that they cannot respect their husbands because they are holding on to unresolved issues and past disappointments. They must learn to let go of these hurts. It also helps if a couple can inject humour and laughter into their relationship."
Make the change
To curb the habit of treating your husband like one of your children, the first step is to recognise that your behaviour is damaging - as your man grows resentful, you grow more distrustful and disrespectful.
Lay some ground rules to avoid this, advises Agnes. "Give your husband helpful suggestions, not sarcastic put-downs. Listen to him without interrupting and don't finish his sentences for him. Focus on and look for his positive traits, and don't sweat the small stuff!"
Seek professional help if you feel you can no longer communicate with your husband, advises Theresa. "Seek help if you feel that every day is like a battlefield at home, or if you're constantly trying to avoid your spouse." Winifred says: "Be willing to let go of power.
Build security in the relationship by having a firm friendship instead of a controlling one. You need to be willing to be respectful and loving towards your spouse, and this takes time, effort and skills." Becoming aware of your husband's feelings, and building ties founded on respect and friendship, can lessen your urge to mother your other half and to start treating him as an equal.
Are you a Franken-wife?
Spot the signs
Cold shoulder: Do you give your man the silent treatment when he does something wrong?
Criticism: Do you constantly berate him for his bad points?
Contempt: Do you show your disdain for him through your tone of voice, body language and facial expressions?
Communication breakdown: Do you feel you can no longer confide in him, and vice versa?
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