The only problem couples ever have is defensiveness. Contrary to what some professionals say, your problem is not fear. It’s your knee-jerk reaction to fear. Your defensiveness. Your natural inclination to protect yourself from whatever you fear. You’ve heard me say that over and over.
But you may not realize what constitutes defensiveness.
Simply put, when you feel attacked, blamed, or criticized, you become defensive. Other things can put you on the defensive, too. Such as being ignored, wounded, or disrespected. Your natural human response to your own vulnerability is to protect yourself, to be defensive. It’s automatic. But you don’t have to rely on knee-jerk reactions. What do I mean?
For example, when you shut down, tune out, or leave, you are defaulting to avoidance as a means of self-protection. You may tell yourself that you’re just allowing her space so she can calm down. But you may simply not know what to say, how to respond. Especially if she is bringing up a subject she has talked about already. Doesn’t she know you heard her the first time? The short answer. No, she doesn’t. Because you didn’t respond the first time either.
On the other hand, when you get angry, you are protecting yourself through a counterattack. Or maybe you’re the initial aggressor? You are the only one of us who knows the answer to that. Don’t fool yourself. Over the centuries, people have fine-tuned their anger into something they can defensively deny if needed. You know the term passive-aggressive and its cousin, gaslighting, right? Big mistakes. Made by both men and women.
Here’s another frequently utilized reaction.
So many times, I’ve heard a husband say, “I took it for as long as I could.” That is, he admits he has been avoiding the issues for as long as possible. Suddenly, he becomes angry and aggressive.
Or, perhaps more likely, he finds a way to disappear, to make himself even less available than he already was. Why? Because he doesn’t want to risk losing control. He doesn’t want to attack the woman he loves. So he withdraws from the marriage, working longer hours, coming home later and later. Or he drinks more than usual. Stares at the television night after night. His anger turns inward, and he slowly slips into depression.
If any of this sounds familiar, you’re not alone.
Most men believe they are totally rational beings. But what’s the truth? Each of those reactions, such as your self-protective tendency to avoid, to attack, or to avoid then attack, are based in your emotional responses to your environment.
It’s not your fault – for two reasons.
First, your brain was God-designed to keep you alive, not only physically, but also emotionally. That means your defense system needs to activate without forethought. Of course, you’re smarter than that. Sooner or later, you’ll figure out what the problem is and how to solve it, right?
The second reason it’s not your fault? No one taught you how to solve this kind of problem: to make sense of a woman, what she does and why she does it. You feel like she’s always attacking, blaming, criticizing. However, that’s only the surface story. Remember, she’s human, too.
When she feels vulnerable, she reaches out to you.
But she doesn’t understand you either. She has no idea what it means to be a man. So her words often sound like accusations and attacks. You feel disrespected. You defensively react by avoiding what she thinks would be a dialogue, a discussion about a problem. You think she’s trying to take over. And you begin to feel like you’ve failed. Instead, you blame her for not being submissive. That’s an important topic, but we’ll have to talk about that another time, okay? I try to keep these lessons brief.
When something that triggers your self-protection mode happens repeatedly, you need to pause and evaluate the situation. What is really going on here? You married her because you wanted to protect and provide for her, to enjoy the pleasure of her company. But she’s not the same woman you fell in love with.
What happened to her?
Well, you’ve made the biggest mistake a husband can make.
Instead of stepping into a conversation with the intent to understand, you avoided the subject altogether and emotionally abandoned her in the process. She’s convinced you don’t care. You failed to engage in the relationship. No, you don’t have to talk a lot, but you do need to say something. You need to let her know you heard her and you care about what she cares about.
Here’s how to do that.
Pause, look into her eyes. Listen to what she’s saying. Then respond, “I want to make sure I understand. It sounds like you’re worried about _____. Did I get that right?” Wait for her response. She’ll probably talk more. If you’ve not engaged with her in a while, she may do a lot of dumping. That is, attacking, blaming, and criticizing. If she does, then you can say, “Could you pause for a minute? I want to see if I’m hearing you correctly.” Then summarize the problem. Do not repeat any attacks on your character, except to say something like, “You don’t feel like I care” or “You don’t think I’ve been listening.” If you’re feeling brave, say “Is there more?” If you can hang in there with her, she will run out of steam. Empathy and understanding have that effect on someone who is upset.
You’re sensitive to her moods, so watch for the moment she relaxes a bit. You’ll know it. Her words will slow down. Her anger will lose its fire. Her tears may start to flow. Reach out and touch her. Tell her what she says makes sense from her point of view. You’ll need an understanding of women to say that, of course. Then tell her you will consider her input and get back to her with a plan. You do not have to do whatever she says! You are, however, required to consider her ideas if you want to be happily married.
That sounds oversimplified, of course.
Because you don’t yet have a framework for understanding women. I promise it’s not rocket science. I can make it straightforward and simple for you, totally accessible and user-friendly. If you want to know more, you can subscribe to my YouTube channel. I post several bite-sized videos each week. Some help men understand women. Some help women understand men. If you’d like to learn the full framework in an organized sequence, check out my online courses. And you’d like to talk about your own relationship, let me know. Click the “Contact” link above. Remember, I’m here to help.