Dear Dr. Buckingham,
I have been reading your articles for some time and decided to write because I feel that you are a logical professional who gives good practical guidance. I am a white woman and I am married to a black man. We have been married for ten years and have two wonderful children. I love my children and my husband, but our marriage is in trouble because of the current racial climate. Over the course of my marriage, my husband and I have always dealt with people looking at us crossed-eyed and even making inappropriate comments.
We have weathered the storms and continue to love each other. However, with all the racial tension in the air, we are finding it more difficult to remain strong as a couple. My husband is venting more and more about what is going on in the media. He is defensive and frustrated all the time and I am concerned that he is starting to negatively impact our household and marriage.
When he comes home from work, he tells me about conversations that he has with white colleagues and he does not feel that they understand him. I get it. As a black man he has a right to be frustrated. He knows that I love him, but sometimes I feel like an outsider in my own house because I am white. I want to support my husband, but I do not know how. Racial Tension is Hurting My Marriage: How Can I Support My Black Husband?
A Loving Wife
Dear Loving Wife,
I am sorry to hear that your marriage is being impacted by the current racial tension in America. Also, I am sorry to hear that you feel like an outsider in your own home. However, I am glad that you decided to write to me. As a black man, I can relate to your husband, but apparently a large percentage of society cannot. Even those who love and care about us cannot truly relate to what it is like to be perceived as a threat regardless of your educational level, appearance, or mannerism.
You married your husband because you love and accept him. This is noteworthy, but please be mindful that love and acceptance by some does not make up for the hate and disregard held by others. More than ever black men need encouragement and support. With this in mind, here are five things that you can do to support your frustrated husband.
1- Demonstrate Empathy. Empathy is not just about walking in others’ shoes; it is truly about connecting with others in a manner in which they feel understood and emotionally safe. Your husband, like many other black men, needs and desires to feel emotionally safe. Black men will feel emotionally safe when others stop telling us how we should feel.
Therefore, the best thing that you can do to support your husband is to listen to him and ask yourself, “How would I feel I was him? This question will allow you to connect with your husband emotionally, thus reducing his defensiveness and/or frustration toward you and others.
2 – Suspend Judgment. Suspending judgment requires you to be flexible in your thinking and it begins by respecting individuality on all levels. Your husband should not be viewed or treated any different than other men when it comes to expressing his frustration. Remember that all men have a right to think and act differently. Different does not mean that one man is right or better than the other; it simply means that he is just different.
When engaging in conversations with your husband do not remind him of how others cope with racial tension. Simply allow him to be himself and offer words of encouragement. By engaging in this behavior you will have better success with minimizing negativity and contributing to the development of a positive home environment.
3 – Seek to Understand. Seek to understand your husband by engaging in empathetic listening and two-way dialogue. Being positive and demonstrating a caring attitude can make a big difference in relieving his emotional distress. The best way to demonstrate a caring attitude toward your husband is to begin by simply asking open-ended questions that stimulate dialogue. Two-way communication can increase self-awareness and responsibility. For example, you could start the conversation by asking, “What are you feeling?” and follow up with, “What steps can I take to help you feel better?” Also, do not debate. Sharing your perspective is good, but not as a means to counter his perspective.
Please keep in mind that failure to understand his emotional distress will potentially lead to detachment. Attempting to relieve his emotional distress should be your first priority because nobody processes well when he or she is extremely emotional. By taking the time to seek understanding of your husband’s emotional distress, you can potentially help him identify healthier ways of viewing and dealing with the current racial climate.
4 – Validate his Subjective Experiences. One of the biggest frustrations for most black men is that a large percentage of people do not validate our subjective experiences. What is real to us is real to us. Emotions are not about being right or wrong. Emotions typically stem from individual perceptions. Rarely, if ever, do you find two people who think or feel exactly the same. Respecting how people feel is the same as respecting their individuality. You have to send a message that says, “I get how you feel and its okay.”
You have to help your husband work through his emotions instead of encouraging him to get over them. Telling him to get over how he feels will likely intensify his emotions. Remember that emotions influence behavior so feelings should be addressed if you desire to understand or change behavior.
Validating your husband’s subjective experiences is critical to dismantling power struggles, resolving arguments, and building a trusting relationship. If your husband feels misunderstood, he is more likely to share feelings that might be negatively impacting on the marriage. The better informed you are, the better you are equipped to help your husband. One could argue that by addressing your husband’s emotional distress, you can potentially prevent additional drama and negativity from spreading in your household. Confronted with invalidation, your husband will shut down immediately and tension will likely increase.
5 – Maintain a Collaborative Spirit. Let your husband know that you are on his team and that you are committed to helping him find peace and hope in the situation. I have learned that the most effective way to deal with marital discord or tension is to develop a collaborative relationship. Your role as a wife is to work with your husband to help him define his own experience and find viable solutions to meet his and the family needs.
You can maintain a collaborative spirit by doing the following:
- First, acknowledge your husband’s emotional distress. For example, you can say, “I am sorry that you feel frustrated.” This will let him know that you are open to talking about how he feels.
- Second, offer support: “How can I help you?” communicates your investment in his emotional well-being.
- Third, provide information about available resources such as counseling services.
- Fourth, offer words of encouragement such as “You will overcome this.”
- Fifth, confess your approval of help seeking behavior. For example you could say, “I support your decision to seek help and I am willing to escort you if warranted.”
I pray that you find peace in your household and marriage as you and your husband navigate through this current racial climate. Also, please contact me for counseling if warranted.
If you have questions for Dr. Dwayne Buckingham regarding relationships (married, single, etc), parenting, or personal growth and development, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
Disclaimer: The ideas, opinions and recommendations contained in this post are not intended as a substitute for seeking professional counseling or guidance. Any concerns or questions that you have about relationships or any other source of potential distress should be discussed with a professional, in person. The author is not liable or responsible for any personal or relational distress, loss or damage allegedly arising from any information or recommendations in this post.
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