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Chloe Giroux for Fatherly

I Think My Wife Hates Me: The Hidden Meaning Behind Husbands’ Worry

The fear says a lot about you and your relationship. And it merits some unpacking.

A deep, unsettling fear that your wife secretly (or not so secretly) hates you probably isn’t as unusual as you might think. Redditors suspect it, memes lampoon it. There’s a “My Wife Hates Me” T-shirt and a comedy podcast. While a lot of men might Google similar terms (“I think my wife hates me”; “Does my wife hate me?”), their reasons for feeling this way vary quite a bit. Maybe she’s said, “I hate you” aloud during a fight; maybe you assume it’s true because she’s been looking at you with barely suppressed contempt. The answers are as varied as guys’ reasons for asking.

In other words, the resentment you’re picking up on in your marriage might be real. But it’s also possible that it’s more about you than anything your wife is doing that’s making you feel like she might hate you. What’s for sure is that worrying whether your wife hates you says a lot about you and your relationship. And it merits some unpacking.

When Presumed Hatred Might Be All in Your Head

Imagining resentment that isn’t there in a marriage or relationship could be due to stress and depression, which can lead people to misinterpret neutral reactions as negative or more harsh than intended, says clinical psychologist Kathy Nickerson, Ph.D., a relationships therapist in Lake Forest, California. And there are some types of people who naturally lean toward a negative interpretation of things as well.

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“People who struggle with low self-esteem and low confidence tend to take remarks much more personally than others,” Nickerson says. “They give a mildly negative remark tremendous weight.”

It’s also possible that amped up anxiety during the pandemic or similarly stressful moment might have spurred catastrophic thinking. “Catastrophizing,” means assuming things are much worse than they actually are or expecting terrible things to happen in the future. An example is freaking out when your boss calls you into his or her office because you assume it means you’re fired, says David Grammer, a licensed marriage and family therapist in Whittier, California, who works primarily with men and adolescent boys. Another is assuming that a withering look when your wife is stressed about a parenting issue makes your internal monologue ask whether she hates you. 

Even if a guy is prone to catastrophizing, it doesn’t necessarily mean there isn’t a real problem in the marriage as well, Grammer notes. And it can make resolving those issues more difficult, because people who don’t have an inclination to look for the positive might feel hopeless or doubt things can get better.

The Fear of Asking, “Does My Wife Hate Me?” 

It might sound strange — or at least, kind of passive — to turn to the internet for insights about your marriage rather than your wife about her seeming loathing for you. But Grammer says there are many reasons why some men might choose to ask a search engine why his wife hates him rather than asking her directly about it.

Our culture doesn’t teach or really allow men to have emotions beyond happiness and anger,” Grammer says. “Men who are sad or cry are often seen or portrayed in the media as effeminate or weak. Thus, there’s often a lack of emotional understanding and a vocabulary for the man to work with in understanding his partner’s emotions.”

Although “masculine” stereotypes are slowly being dismantled, many guys aren’t capable of understanding or expressing feeling lonely or scared, emotions lurking behind the belief that their wives hate or don’t love them, Grammer says. Increasing social isolation, even before the pandemic, compounds the problem: As social circles shrink, many people look to their partners to fulfill all their emotional needs. When your wife is the most important person in your life, asking about her apparent deep negativity toward you can be scary, he says. 

“The question [of whether their wives might hate them] is based in fear; they’re scared,” Grammer says. “Yet our whole concept of manhood is ‘Don’t be afraid.’ So to go to this person and express fear goes against everything in our psyche about what it means to be a man.”

Having some awareness of your own difficulty expressing emotions can be another of the many roadblocks stopping some men from simply asking, “Hey, I feel like you don’t like me,” Grammer says. A guy with a poor track record understanding his wife’s feelings might think, for example, “If even I’m picking up on this, it must be really bad,” he says.

“These men have a lot of fear, anxiety and insecurity and no perceived outlet for it,” Grammer says. 

Okay, So Your Wife Might Actually Hate You. Now What?

Intertwined in the ball of confusion about why someone might fear that his wife hates him is the uncomfortable possibility that perhaps she actually does. Maybe she has difficulty expressing her feelings in a healthy way, or maybe she’s projecting dissatisfaction with her life onto you. 

Or, maybe, she has developed feelings toward you that are hateful, or at least hate-adjacent. Maybe you cheated — sexually, emotionally or financially — and she can’t get past the broken trust. Maybe she doesn’t feel heard, or maybe you made cruel comments in a fight that she can’t forget. Maybe she thinks you’re not doing your share of managing the household and kids.

“Some women mind this less than others, but almost all women [say in therapy], ‘Why doesn’t he see I need help? Why doesn’t he hop in when I am struggling?’” Nickerson says. “This builds a feeling of inequity and unfairness, and if it stays that way for long enough, it turns into anger and resentment.”

When women don’t feel heard over time, they might start communicating more harshly to get their point across, says Carrie Kraweic, a licensed marriage and family therapist in Troy, Michigan. “Or they give up and avoid using their husband as a resource and turn instead to friends or family,” she says. Both of which can start feeling like hate after a while.

It’s a good idea to consider how much work you put into making sure the division of labor in your household is equitable. But that’s just part of the bigger picture. In other words, arguments about who’s loading the dishwasher incorrectly aren’t really about the dishwasher. 

“A concept in couple’s therapy is that the content of the conflict doesn’t matter,” Grammer says. “What’s important is the emotional dynamic in the relationship. If they’re emotionally connected and valuing each other’s emotional state, none of that other stuff matters.”

Learning the Emotional Vocabulary

Learning the vocabulary of expressing feelings and how to structure conversations about your relationship can reduce a lot of the anxiety that might be keeping men from talking to their wives about their fears. 

“Many people are really lacking in appropriate communication skills in general, how to share as well as how to listen to the complex and confusing emotions present in any relationship,” he says. “Being able to say what you’re feeling in a way that the other person can understand is hard, but the more we talk out loud the easier it becomes.”

An important start is a regular check-in with each other, Nickerson says.

“People start to cool down and turn off when their partner never asks about their feelings or their inner world,” she says. “All of us are so busy. It’s easy to just talk to your partner about the business of life: who’s picking up the kids, who’s going to the grocery store, did the water bill get paid. That’s fine, but it shouldn’t be the only conversations you have.” 

At least once a week, talk about what’s going on with your partner, Nickerson says. Specifically ask, what have you been thinking about lately? What’s going on with your friends? What’s the latest with your family? Anything you’re worried about? Anything you’re excited about? These conversations will make your partner feel closer to you, she says.

The positive experiences and feelings in a relationship often get lost in the shuffle of life stressors, notes psychotherapist Babita Spinelli. Fathers can take the initiative to create positive experiences or rituals of connection to override the negative ones. 

“It’s a tool dads can utilize to shift the experience. Invest in creating rituals of connection with your wife, [such as asking] her out on a ‘date’ and spend time with her without the kids, if possible,” she says. “Creating rituals of connection can also be a building block for rekindling desire, sexual intimacy and passion in the marriage.”

It’s actually harder to be the listener, Grammer says. “To truly hear what emotions are being shared and to understand them without planning or formulating a response is very difficult,” he says. 

You might find that even if you’re willing to work on resolving negativity between you and your wife, she might not be interested. Try not to be discouraged if that’s the case, Grammer says. If one person in a relationship gains the emotional vocabulary to communicate more effectively, it forces the dynamic between them to change.

But even if you’re both on board to improve the relationship, remember that real progress takes time.

“Don’t look for big, sweeping change; it doesn’t happen that way,” Grammer says. “It happens in steps. Then in five years,  you’re like, ‘Holy crap, we went 10 miles.’”