Ask Scary Mommy is Scary Mommy’s new advice column, where our team of “experts” answers all the questions you have about life, love, body image, friends, parenting, and anything else that’s confusing you.
This week: what to do when you live with someone who thinks they have all the answers? Have your own questions? Email firstname.lastname@example.org
Dear Scary Mommy,
I knew my husband was a know-it-all when I married him, but I was hoping he’d change. However, I think it gets worse as he ages, and the older I get the less tolerant I am of this unfortunate trait. He has the “right” answers to everything from politics to child rearing. My opinions are always met with some kind of rebuttal as he mansplains why his opinions are more accurate. It’s driving me nuts. Why is he like this and how can I get him to see that he isn’t always right?!
Your husband’s mansplain-y attitude likely comes less from a place of actually knowing it all (because, who does?), and more from a place of ego. It’s likely that somewhere along the line, he was made to feel stupid or belittled, so this is just a defensive reaction to make sure he’s no longer in that vulnerable position — he’s going to feel superior, dammit, even at the risk of being a total douche. Therapist Dr. Karyl McBride tells Men’s Health that “People who always need to be right tend to have fragile egos,” and that it’s actually a coping mechanism to deal with insecurity. Of course, having an explanation doesn’t do anything to solve the problem, but knowing where it comes from might make it get under your skin a little less. Maybe.
The first thing to remember when dealing with a person like this is to pick your battles. Yes, it’s super annoying, but petty arguments aren’t going to help anything. Bickering over who’s right about, say, how to fold the towels or when to put the kids to bed isn’t worth the emotional energy; in fact, it’s just a power struggle. Save that energy for when bigger, higher-stakes conflicts arise.
Secondly, don’t engage. It can be sorely tempting to clap back, especially when you feel like your valid viewpoints are being attacked, but stay as calm as you can; there’s no point in arguing with someone who is literally never going to admit they’re in the wrong. Debating this kind of person is a battle you simply can’t win. You can avoid a lot of tension just by being in control of your own reaction. Physically walk away from the situation if you have to, but definitely disconnect yourself from the conversation.
Try setting some boundaries with him. If he’s constantly talking over you and refusing to listen to your side of — well, anything, let him know that you’re not going to discuss it further until you feel you’re both being heard. Obviously, he’ll argue with this, at least initially. But you’re preventing damage to your relationship by sending the clear message that you refuse to agree just for the sake of agreeing and yield to his control. “By setting boundaries, your spouse will eventually figure out that their behavior isn’t getting the desired results,” says Rachel Eddins, M.Ed., LPC-S, CGP of Eddins Counseling Group. “When that point is clear, you may be able to begin constructing new communication ground rules.”
If all else fails, I’m a huge advocate of counseling. Individual counseling can help you see issues within yourself that could be keeping you stuck in unhealthy communication patterns — or identify whether you’re dealing with something deeper, like an actual narcissist rather than just a garden variety know-it-all. And couples therapy can help both of you work through the situation and learn to communicate better. Chances are, he doesn’t even realize his driving need to be right; a little dose of self-awareness administered by a professional therapist might be all it takes to snap him out of his chronic mansplaining.
Until then, though, flipping him off behind his back might work wonders. Just sayin’.