How to Deal with a Difficult Spouse

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Marriages come with a number of issues, all harder to cope with if you have a difficult spouse. By staying calm, changing your mindset and setting boundaries, you have a better chance at working through problems effectively.

Stay Calm

Very few people are able to work through a problem while they are riled up, so staying calm should be your first line of defense. When a conflict comes up, take a few deep breaths to slow your heart. If you need to, take a break and leave the room until you are calm enough to discuss things. If your spouse is particularly volatile or violent, watch for signs that things are going too far, such as clenched fists or screaming, and back away before they get worse. If you have a difficult topic to discuss, consider doing it on the telephone. Contact authorities if things get out of control in person.

Change Your Mindset

Relationships are often difficult because spouses tend to think about each other based on bigger patterns in the relationship instead of focusing on the issue at hand, according to Benjamin Karney, professor of social psychology at the University of California, in an article for the American Psychological Association. If you see your spouse as “always difficult,” you are likely to be upset before he even answers you. Try taking each situation as it comes, making a list of pros and cons instead of responding emotionally. This way, you have a better chance of attacking the situation and coming to a compromise instead of assuming that he will be unreasonable from the start. It will also help you identify whether it is your spouse who is truly difficult -- or if he just feels difficult to you because of your history.

Don't Withdraw -- Communicate

Withdrawing can lead to divorce and other relationship problems such as increased arguing, says Kira Birditt ( in the Journal of Marriage and Family. To work through a problem, you need to be present no matter how difficult your partner may be. Communicate openly and honestly, and let him know how you feel about the situation. If either of you get too upset in person, write him a letter to express yourself, give him a few hours to calm down and then talk to him. Keep the lines of communication open if you want to make things work.


Sometimes it is necessary to set boundaries if things get too tense. If you find your spouse difficult because he wants to tell you whom to hang out with, let him know this is not acceptable behavior. If she’s difficult because of nagging or criticism, let her know that you won’t be responding to her text messages unless you see things that are more positive sometimes. And if the unacceptable behavior gets too intense or arguments too volatile, seek out professional assistance to find common ground and save the relationship.