Have you ever been frustrated with your husband’s response when you air out your grievance? You wanted to talk about an issue in your relationship, resolve a conflict, and be heard because you were hurt. But to your utter dismay, you’d get nothing.
In some instances you noticed some reactions from him whenever you attempt to confront him: he would flight from the scene (avoid you or avoid the topic), he would fight you (get defensive, turn the table on you) or freeze ( act like he doesn’t hear or see you).
Some women would try to soften their voice and do it in a ‘malumanay’ way, hoping against hope that it would work. But sometimes, this approach still fails them. They still get the fight, flight, freeze responses from their husbands. What, then, triggers these responses?
You’re probably triggering one or more of these responses by your approach and by how his brain – our brains, for that matter – is designed. There is a part in our brain, called the reptilian brain, which ensures our safety. So the frustrating behaviors you receive from your spouse are automatic or instinctive responses when they perceive an attack or threat.
Consider our cavemen ancestors. When they go hunting for food in the forest, and they heard a sound from a bush that signals danger, which could be from a deadly beast, what do you think will they do? They’ll play dead or not move (freeze), or they will run away from the danger (flight), or they will take out their bow and arrow and attack the beast (fight).
Needless to say, we don’t live in caves and hunt for food anymore. We need not contend or look out for beasts like our ancestors used to do in order to survive. In our present day, there is not much any need to fear physical dangers. But here’s the catch: there are a lot of emotional and psychological dangers around us – posed by the very people close to us, even by our loved ones. The reptilian part of our brain will continue doing its job to protect us and keep us safe from the psycho-emotional pain that the people around us could bring.
In marriage, particularly in the aspect of conflict regulation, one of the ways in which wives trigger the fight, flight, freeze response is by criticizing their husbands. According to Dr. Gottman, women are more likely to criticize than men. Starting your conversation with phrases such as “you always,” “you are,” “you never” are among the sure ways to shut down your husbands. Example statements are:
“You always forget our anniversary.”
“You are inconsiderate of my feelings.
“You never treated me the way I deserve to be treated.”
These words are like attacking and judging your husband’s character and personality. Even if you deliver it in a sweet, warm voice your partner will still feel attacked. This approach will not give you the results you’re hoping for.
If you want to raise a concern, request a behavior change, or resolve a conflict, always make it a point to create a safe atmosphere with your husband, wherein he wouldn’t feel judged and attacked. Sometimes it is really hard to be calm when you’re already tired, fed-up, or worse, fuming inside. But I suggest that you try to pray first before talking to your husband; ask for wisdom on what to say and ask for grace that you would be calm when you face him. To know about the effective ways to open up to your husband, you might find my previous post helpful.
Brown, R. Imago Relationship Therapy. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1999. Electronic book.
Gottman, J. The Marriage Clinic.