Solving Grumpy Guy

Solving Grumpy Guy January 20, 2015

Dear Shaunti:

My husband is an involved dad, a leader at our church, the type of guy people look to for advice, and he goes over and above his requirements on the job.  But he is often grumpy and withdrawn at home.   He gets upset at the littlest things I say.  He seems to think I’m hard to please, but I’m not!  But his constant grumpiness has started to annoy me, to be honest, and then I do say things that make him grumpier.  We’ve GOT to break this cycle, but I feel helpless and don’t know how.

– Grumpy Spouse

Dear Grumpy Spouse,

You started off with a great list of things you appreciate about your man. Have you mentioned them to him?  I’ve got a news flash for you: your man is giving all the signs of a guy who is absolutely starving for affirmation.  Being grumpy and withdrawn are the top signals of a man who is feeling inadequate and unappreciated at home.  I don’t know why he thinks you’re hard to please , but I’d guess that he’s aching to know even one of those things that you think he does so well.

It might sound so odd to you that feeling unappreciated could lead to grumpiness, but keep in mind: men and women are two totally different creatures. We women love to feel loved, to know our man adores and cherishes us. We feel special and secure when we hear, “I love you.” But telling a man “I love you” really doesn’t have as much of an impact.  Instead, your man needs to see and hear that you notice what he does well – and may need to hear a lot less of the sort of correction, “helpful” advice and telling-him-what-to do that implies he isn’t doing a very good job as a man or as a husband.

Why does that matter so much?  Well, it may sound crazy, but men don’t doubt whether we love them; they doubt whether they are any good at what they do for us. The cry of a man’s heart is: Do I measure up? And more precisely: Does she think I measure up?  So for a guy there is nothing more appealing or powerful than seeing that we notice what he’s done for us – and that we think it is awesome.   But he won’t know it unless we say it!  We might think to ourselves how nice it was of him to put more gas in the car, but it may not occur to us to actually say, “Thank you so much for making sure I won’t run out of gas.”   We just assume he knows we appreciate it.

But all too often, he doesn’t.   And if he doesn’t, even the most innocuous comments could be heard as criticism.  We poke our head into the living room, where he’s sorting mail after bringing the car back from the gas station, feeling pleased with himself for looking after his wife… and instead of giving him a hug of appreciation we say something like, “Honey, why didn’t you fill the tank all the way?”


If we do something like that, we are saying the opposite of what he is craving to hear. We’ve just said the one thing he dreads most:  “No, sorry, you don’t measure up; in fact, what you did wasn’t good enough. You failed.” And when a guy feels inadequate and disrespected in that way, he is very likely to get angry and shut down.  If it happens consistently, he’s likely to get prickly.

It is so easy to think, those things shouldn’t bother him! But the only reason we think that is because they wouldn’t bother us. God made guys so different.

Once we women recognize that men have a deep emotional need to hear something completely different – and that certain things are legitimately painful — it can change the whole tone of our marriages.

If you want your man to open up instead of withdrawing, to love being with you, to light up like a Christmas tree when you’re around, and to see his eyes twinkle more often, I’d start with just two things: for a few weeks, stop yourself from saying anything negative to him or about him, and every day notice something that he does well – something you appreciate — and tell him what that is.  In fact, you might want to join us for our 30 Day Kindness Challenge; a lot of us are doing the same thing! If you’re interested, you can follow along on our Facebook.

So next time you see him load Johnny into the car for soccer practice, try to stop yourself from checking whether he has all the right equipment and reminding him that he got it wrong last time.  He’s a grown man, and he can figure it out – and if he did it wrong last time, it is almost guaranteed that he’ll remember it this time!  Instead, give him a hug and say “Thanks for taking him to practice.  You’re such a great dad to him. He loves you taking him to soccer.”

Seriously.  Try it.  You might find that those seemingly minor comments have the most amazing, fulfilling impact of anything he’s heard all week – and that you’re seeing grumpy guy a lot less often.
Do you want Shaunti to share these life-changing truths at your church or event? Inquire about Shaunti speaking, here.

Shaunti Feldhahn is the best-selling author of eye-opening, research-based books about men, women and relationships, including For Women Only, For Men Only, The Surprising Secrets of Highly Happy Marriages and her newest, The Good News About Marriage. A Harvard-trained social researcher and popular speaker, her findings are regularly featured in media as diverse as The Today Show, Focus on the Family, and the New York Times. Visit for more.

"So how are you getting over this hurt and your jealousy. which is insecurity and ..."

Lust at First Glance? The Difference ..."
"What a wonderful tribute to your father. Last Thursday would have been my father's 97th ..."

A Tribute to An Amazing Father ..."
"I really struggle to "be ok" with this issue. I came from a marriage where ..."

Lust at First Glance? The Difference ..."

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Supermom815

    For the last year, my husband was such a grouchy and miserable person, that I was about ready to rent him an apartment for a few months so he could get his head straight. Before I could, he died of a massive heart attack in my arms. He was a smoker, getting over pneumonia and had high blood pressure and undiagnosed diabetes. Before we start spouting off “appreciate him more!” maybe you need to get him to a doctor.

  • Guest

    Well I bet he’s a lot happier now that he’s finally away from”supermom!” It is very likely YOU are the reason for his high blood pressure and his broken heart.

  • MomOfBoys73

    So, what should you do if your husband has ADHD? Even with treatment it results in chronic problems, such as being late (I admit to running a couple of minutes late–he’s the type that’s getting into the shower at the time we are supposed to arrive at our destination–so many fights about being late), not keeping track of details of daily life (what day the garbage goes out, when kids have practice, etc.), not paying attention to tasks around the house (getting kids ready for school, dinner prep, chores etc.).

    I am all for focusing on the positive, picking your battles, and trying to keep your sense of humor going. I try so hard to treat my husband with unconditional respect, but it is very hard when he is so unreliable. I try to take care of the type of things that he has trouble with, but I can’t do it all.

    He quit his job (looking back…impulsively, quit his job, considering I was 4 months pregnant at the time) to start his own business which has never made any money. This has led to significant financial stress and ultimately I’ve had to return to work full time. I am now the main breadwinner for our family. That would probably be fine if he picked up the slack at home, but he doesn’t/cannot do it. If I could waive a magic wand and he made the kind of money I do so that I could stay at home and take care of all the details, I would do it in a heartbeat.

    I guess my point is, what if the issue isn’t a perfectionist, nagging wife? What if the issue is that in order to “not say anything negative to him” I would have to either not talk to him or lie. As I type this, it sounds awful and it shouldn’t because my husband is worthy of praise and I do praise him every chance I get. But when we are late to church for the 1,000th time (again, I don’t mean a couple of minutes, I mean we’ve missed all of the worship songs and the sermon has begun, plus I’ve gotten myself and two boys ready for church on time while we waited around for him to be ready), what exactly would I say in the car on the way to church? How can I show him respect in that situation? Or when I have to work late and I come home to boys who have not been fed dinner and their homework isn’t done because he’s been too hyper-focused shift gears?

  • Walkamilebeforejudging

    Wow that was harsh. The woman lost her husband for goodness sake. Her only point was that there could also be a medical reason for a man to be feeling low. A little compassion goes a long way.

  • Good word, Shaunti

  • Guest

    If you read the article, and then read her response, it was obvious that she is a very bitter person. Her plan to “rent him an apartment for a few months” explains so much about her demeanor and character in her marriage,and her username is another clue about her attitude. The use of the phrase “spouting off” is further proof of her bitterness. While it is hard to get the insight on a persons mind in just a short paragraph, given the article itself and her angry, anti-supportive stance it is obvious she did not “appreciate” support or affirm her husband in any way. By her last sentence she may miss him now, but she was obviously ready to go it alone for “a few months” without him. Instead of asking what was wrong, or trying to find the root cause she was ready to cast him out on the street. Her relatively short post speaks volumes to me about what kind of wife she was to him.

  • stephanie

    I can totally relate to you. My husband gets up in the morning gets himself ready and goes to work. Comes home and sits on the couch all night until its time for bed. I get up and get me and two kids ready for the day. Drop them off at school and go to work. Pick them up, cook dinner, clean the kitchen, do homework, give bathes, and put them in bed. All while he’s sitting on his butt. Then gets mad cause at 10:00 I’m too tired to have mommy daddy time. I do the laundry, clean the house, grocery shop, pay the bills, EVERYTHING! He doesn’t even take the garbage out. There will be days when he doesnt have to work and I come home and he’s laid on the couch all day. I ask why he couldn’t do the dishes. He says “you didn’t ask me to”. Guess what the dishes don’t say hey can you do me to me. I see they need done and I do them.

    I’m not saying he’s totally lazy. He works construction outside the home but I feel like I do EVERYTHING else. And now I should thank him for vacuuming the 5×7 rug so that he feels appreciated. His life and our house would be a disaster without me.

    So I feel ya! ♡

  • Guest

    As a teacher and a husband to a wife with ADHD maybe I can offer a little bit of advice. People who suffer from ADHD don’t see the things that need to be done- they need a list of things that need to be done, especially if the tasks are not in there general scope of reality. ADHD is a real thing, and can be seriously detrimental to relationships. Schedules, chore lists to be checked off, a defined regiment are usually helpful with people who suffer from ADHD. They tend to be very self-centered in their thought processes; schedules and lists help them focus. Wanting them to “notice” or “Know” what the needs are will leave you frustrated and them feeling defensive for not being able to “read your mind.” I live it every day. Schedules and “to do ” lists have helped not only my students but my wife and my marriage.

  • Walkamilebeforejudging

    Well you are obviously a very special person to be able to have gleaned so much about a person from 4 sentences. She may be all the things you said, and she also may have just not put too much thought into her comment. Either way, you were blatantly cruel in your remark. Hopefully you never lose a loved one, and then get attacked anonymously on the Internet. I can’t even imagine saying what you did to someone I hated, let alone a stranger. Shame on you.
    It sounds to me like you may have been a husband who wasn’t treated too well, and you are projecting on this woman.

  • Agent13

    First of all – I need to know know right now what insane reason a husband would have to go out of his way to fill his wife’s tank and then not fill it all the way! What kind of anarchy is is this?!

    I agree that we do need to validate our husbands though. I have found that encouragement, is often more effective than nagging. But I also think there has to be open communication. Because I think half of the time men are grumpy because we are irritated and they can’t figure out that we really wish they would just splurge and buy us a whole tank of gas every now and then.

  • Guest

    I don’t care what you think.

  • Amy

    So sorry for your loss. I hope you are able to find peace. We love our spouses even when we feel we are at whits end with things. You definitely felt a need for change and I imagine he did too. Feeling poorly can easily look like depression or just ornery confrontation. Feeling that a break to bring clarity and appreciation is understandable. All the “if only’s” will not change your story. So kind of you to share yours to help make a difference for someone else. With your experience and the encouragement of Shauntie, hopefully many will feel relief and appreciation in their relationships. Thank you for sharing.

  • Joe

    I started reading your column thinking I was in for a line of BS…it’s hard for me to read a article from a woman about what a man needs and vice versa but you pretty much nailed it. Appreciation is always nice…and BJ’s….those are nice too and a true affirmation of appreciation!

  • Elvenfoot

    That was an absolutely horrible, cruel response. You should be ashamed of yourself!

  • Elvenfoot

    Do not take “Guest’s” response to heart. He was cruel, and what he said was unwarranted. He does not know you or what you have been through, as none of us do. Thank you for sharing your experience with us.

  • Supermom815

    Thank you all for your kind words. You are right, Guest doesn’t know me. My husband and I were together for 27 years, since were were in high school. “supermom” was actually the email account HE set up for me over a decade ago, so that was how he saw me. We were fortunate enough, financially, that he was able to be a stay at home dad, and did the majority of the work raising our two straight A daughters (and that’s mostly his doing, because he was a fantastic dad). Most of my “bitterness” is toward the fact that his girls are deprived of their father, and that articles that espouse “help him feel more appreciated” might mask a greater problem. I don’t know if Guest is a man or a woman, but I leave you with these two thoughts: 1) Alan King and his skit “Survived by his wife” and 2) the age old question, “Why do men die first? Because they want to.” Because my husband had a wonderful sense of humor we frequently laughed over those two thoughts. Guest, if you are male and married, you might want to get your affairs in order! 🙂

  • Melinda Todd

    For us, it’s his job. He’s an amazing employ being taken advantage of and being treated horribly. So he is at work ticked off and comes home like this. I pray for him many times a day. I pray for a new job. Guidance, wisdom, etc. I hate that my normally mellow and happy husband is miserable everyday. Sometimes they’re grumpy and it isn’t us.

  • Kristin

    I find it odd that it says these things don’t bother women.
    I like words of affirmation and I would be frustrated if I did something kind for someone and they found the fault in it instead.
    Perhaps I am an exception to the rule? I doubt it.
    Additionally, I don’t think that is why her husband is grumpy.
    Perhaps he does desire recognition from those he is serving including his family.
    But he if he is consistently giving more than 100%
    He is draining himself.
    If he has been spending his entire day giving his all with a friendly smile on his face, even if he enjoys it, he is tired.
    As a short term solution, he needs some space and quiet.
    Long term this will not work because he will not spend any time with his family if all he does is come home to be alone.
    Long term, he needs to set boundaries and do less for everyone around him.
    Perhaps he should find out what drives him to do so much “out there” and have nothing left for his spouse.
    Is he getting adequate time with God?
    Probably not.
    Is he trying to be “enough?”
    As to what his spouse can do:
    She can give him space for the moment and when they are both in a good emotional place to talk, she can share her appreciation, respect, and concern for him. Remind him that though all these things are appreciated, he does not need to strive and exhaust himself to be loved by God or by her.
    All this can be bathed with prayer.
    If it continues to be a regular issue, counseling together and separately may be useful.
    Jesus says “If you love me, you will obey my commandments.”
    And what are His commandments? To love God and love others.
    Not to chase after the winds of success and people pleasing while giving God and your family the scraps of love you have left.