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When NOT to Trust Your Instincts in Marriage – Part I (for men)


“We need to talk.” These are possibly the most frightening words for a man to hear, but the most exciting for a woman!

Research has been done into the phenomenon: Why is this four word phrase is so difficult for men? The findings are actually quite interesting. This phrase triggers the fight or flight response in a man’s brain. Essentially, it signals DANGER! More specifically, “what have I done wrong this time?” Or, “how have I failed as a husband?” Women may think this is a little dramatic or hyperbole, but it is merely a physiological response.

This is the same reaction that a father would have when he finds out that one of his children is in danger, or there is a problem that needs to be solved at work. Metaphorically, a man is gearing up for battle when there is a perceived problem and they are wired to go and conquer the enemy. So, it becomes more understandable, that if a man can’t go and fight the problem that is presented by his wife, he will at least want to give suggestions and advice so that his wife can.

For example, a wife says “can I talk to you about something?” There is an immediate reactionary response from the husband. He may utter “sure,” even though his blood pressure is rising. “I feel like we haven’t been spending enough time together,” says the wife. Amidst the panic of what to do, the husband may likely respond, due to his proclivity to action, with something elaborate, such as “well, we have been spending more time together as a family and you said you wanted to work more.” Disconnection or frustration will likely be the end result, and maybe a comment such as “you never listen to me” could come from the wife (after a possible back and forth about how the husband supported her in the decision to go back to work in the first place). This is admittedly a very difficult situation for relationships. Sensitive topics often are. Men want to be successful in their marriage and it can be discouraging that their attempt to support their wife was not received as it was intended—to help.

Really, there are two main options to help your spouse when she is in need: Action or Empathy. Action tends to be advice giving (or logic) and empathy would be listening and validating the emotions. So far, I have talked about the hard-wiring inclination that men have for action, or explanation. Inherently, men are knights in shining armor ready to prove their worth and show how smart, tough, and talented they are. Sadly, the hard-wiring for action does not tend to be helpful in marriage. It is extremely helpful in other situations, such as work, sports, and even in courting; but not marriage. It is confusing to go against what your brain is telling you to do, but trust me on this one.

What is most helpful in marriage is empathy and understanding: “that sounds rough, can you help me understand what you are feeling?” Or, “I am not even sure what to say right now, but I am glad you told me.” Even saying nothing and just listening works wonders (but not the type of absent listening you do when the Cubs or Jazz are playing in the background).

Again, you have two main responses when your wife is in need: Action or Empathy. Even though empathy may feel like you are going against every natural internal response and everything you have been trained to do since you were a kid, it will lead to a stronger marriage. Even if your wife is claiming to want action from you, err on the side of empathy first. Then, once you are on the same page, ask if there is anything you can do to be helpful.

This short comedic clip really hits the nail on the head:

This doesn’t mean that men are the only ones responsible for the pressure of this situation. My next blog will be about what women can do to avoid triggering the fight or flight response in the first place and increase the likelihood of their husband listening when they need him.

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