Men, have you ever tried to explain to your spouse why she should not be as upset over a problem as she is? Even though you may be right, and your logic sound, has your explanation ever caused her to get even angrier than she is and push you away?
As men, we often respond to emotional problems logically – thinking that if the problem is solved, there is no need to be upset by it. However, when our spouse is experiencing a problem at an emotional level, responding logically is like getting on the right bus, going the wrong direction. You think you have done the right thing, but in fact have missed it entirely.
Before we can fix an emotion problem logically (which is extremely difficult to do because of the way the brain works) we need to address the problem emotionally. For those of you who just furrowed your brow in confusion, let me give you a way to remember some helpful hints in how to resolve emotional problems within relationships.
The 4 S’s
An easy way to help your wife when she begins to erupt emotionally is to remember the 4 S’s: create safety and security, provide support, and lessen stress.
When women don’t feel physically or emotionally safe, they feel anxious and their brain tells them not to trust and they must fight back, push away, or escape to prevent getting hurt. In this moment, it is not helpful for men to joke with their wives or be sarcastic. Their best bet is to listen, be understanding, and help their wives feel physically and emotionally safe. This also applies to helping wives feel that their children are physically and emotionally safe as well.
Women want to know that they will not only have their needs met today, but that their needs will be
met tomorrow as well. When a wife is not sure if the mortgage, phone, or heat bill is going to be paid this month, she likely feels a sense of insecurity. Because so much of her life is connected to and dependent upon her husband, many times wives feel out of control when they are unsure of their husband’s job status or ability to make ends meet. When a husband sees his wife starting to involve herself in his employment, or try to direct him to something that helps her feel more secure, it is not a time for a husband to get upset, yell, blame, or become defensive. Rather, recognizing his wife’s increased involvement in what he is doing is not because she wants to be controlling but, more than likely, it is because she wants her insecurity about her future to decrease. Reassurance, patience, and increased effort to help her feel secure will bring a better outcome than anger, defensiveness, or avoidance.
After having three children, and seeing how much my wife has sacrificed and given up for them, I honor the nature of motherhood and respect how much effort and pain mothers go through for their children. Mothers often give up many things that bring them happiness and pleasure because of the new restraints that come with being a mother of little children. Many hobbies get put on the back burner and passions get put on pause in order to nurse, burp, change, bathe, feed, and rock their little infants throughout each day. One thing that husbands can do to help their wives in this new stage of life is to provide support to them so they don’t feel that their life is the only one changed after having a baby. Support in many instances can include, for example, putting in extra effort to read about sleep schedules, or healthy foods for babies, attending doctor appointments when possible, or simply listening to their wives concerns and anxieties about each new phase of growth for your child. Providing support can also include scaling back on your own activities and taking care of your child adequately so that your wife can feel comfortable enough to have some time to herself in order to remember who she was before having kids.
Lastly, it is important to remember that stress alters the way we see reality. It is like looking at ourselves in a mirror at a fun house at an amusement park. You know, where you have a huge head and a little body, or your head is the size of an orange and your body is the size of a hippo. Stress distorts the way we see things. Therefore, when we see our loving wives react to us with abnormal irritation and impatience, rather than becoming offended and reactive, we may benefit more by stepping back and asking ourselves about our wife’s stress level. If we would be stressed doing what she has been doing during the day, it would be more helpful to respond to a wife’s disgruntled comments by saying, “sweetheart, how can I help ease some of your stress? Would you like me to take care of bed time for the kids tonight or help pick up and vacuum? Or would you like me to rub your feet or your neck and shoulders.” Most often, when our wife’s stress level comes down, their irritation and frustration does too.
So, men, before you respond to your wife’s comments spoken in frustration, consider first what she is feeling with regards to safety and security. Ask yourself how you are doing at providing support, and what you are doing to ease her stress. By focusing on these things, men can bypass entering unwinnable arguments, save money on marriage counseling, and help their spouses return to a logical state of mind quicker than trying to address emotional problems in a logical way. Remember to connect first, and then, after your wife feels understood emotionally, you can consider looking at the problem from a rational point of view.
Shiloh Lundahl, LCSW, is a child and family therapist in Gilbert and Mesa, Arizona. He is the founder of Parent Arizona and Counseling Services and is part of the Arizona Family Therapy Group.
He works with couples on establishing safety and security within their relationship and helps couples understand and support each other more. He also teaches parenting classes using the Love and Logic curriculum, classes for parents ofchildren with ADHD, step-parenting classes, and advanced trainings for foster and adoptive parents. He also provides in-home therapy in Gilbert, Mesa, Queen Creek, San Tan Valley, Chandler, and Tempe, Arizona.