I used to think I was crazy, but these days I feel like I’m the stable one in our house. I recently read a news report where this guy called 911 because his wife refused to speak to him. It’s ridiculous, but I can relate.
Just a couple days ago, we were out with old friends who started bragging about their daughter. I could see my wife tense up, since our son who’s the same age has been struggling. To try to release the tension I made some smart remark about locking our boy in the dungeon until he figured out how to handle his schoolwork. My buddies laughed, but my wife gave me The Look. Goodbye night of leisure—hello night of lecture. And then two days of the cold shoulder. Really? I just made a joke! I couldn’t help but get irritated.
Don’t get me wrong—I love my wife. But sometimes women don’t make a lick of sense. Why is she so irrational? And how can I get her to lighten up?
–Looking For Her To Lighten Up
Dear Lighten Up,
You sound a bit like writer Oscar Wilde: “Women are meant to be loved, not to be understood.” Now it’s my turn to ask: Really? All she did was get irritated!
Do you realize what you’re saying? In your view, your wife is automatically irrational…just because you don’t understand why she got irritated.
Now tell me who is the irrational one?
Listen, all snarkiness aside, you need to know something really important: if she’s upset, there is almost certainly an understandable reason. And you’ve got to learn to look for, and find that reason – and view it as legit, instead of dismissing it. Because dismissing it is a one-way ticket to far worse than just one night on the couch, or a bit of the cold shoulder: it will lead straight to her being more and more unhappy. And all too many husbands have dismissed that as irrational, too…. until they come home one day to an empty house and a note on the fridge.
I’m going to guess that your belief in her “irrationality” comes from assumptions you may have held from childhood. Many teenage guys are confused by girls, and even as they get older they start to believe females are just impossible to fully understand. That belief is not only very wrong (as we learned in our research with women), but is very dangerous for relationships.
Why? Because when you as a confused husband see your wife as a bit irrational, you are more likely to resort to the “throw up your hands, retreat, and see it as a lost cause” routine … instead of seeing signals that she has some very real concerns, looking to see the reason for those concerns, and figuring out how you can fix them.
So you need to dramatically change your paradigm. When something seems nonsensical or out of proportion – like her reaction to your joke about your son at dinner —you have to believe there’s a reason for it. And you have to acknowledge that in all likelihood it is a legitimate reason to her, even if it isn’t something that would bother you.
To help crack the female code, the women in our surveys offered four possibilities that every man should consider when he is completely perplexed:
- It’s something you’ve done, even if you don’t realize you did it. This one isn’t a surprise, but it occurs surprisingly frequently. When things have cooled off, in a calm voice, ask your wife why what you did upset her so much. And then listen to her response without defensiveness. You’ll probably find there was a lot more going on in her mind and heart than you ever thought. (“I couldn’t believe you would throw Brandon under the bus like that, when you know he wants Paul to think well of him when he reviews him for his Eagle Scout in a few years…”)
- It’s not necessarily about you – but there is an emotional need inside her that she needs you to meet. Your wife might have been feeling insecure about herself without you ever realizing it. She might have been feeling like you just didn’t love her like you once did. And now she’s around these old friends, and really want them to think well of her and your family. And now not only is she worried about that, but she’s even more insecure about your relationship because you’ve completely dismissed something that is bothering her. It is highly likely she needs reassurance. The solution? When things like this happen, don’t withdraw from her (despite the cold shoulder), but give her a hug. Ask more questions. Don’t be defensive. Saying something like, “I feel like I messed up. I’m sorry. I love you. Help me understand.” can go a long way towards resolution and showing care.
- It’s not about you – it’s about her circumstances. We all have bad days that we – unwisely – take out on those closest to us. When it happens to her, treat her the way you hope she’d treat you under similar circumstances: don’t take it personally. But if she needs it, be ready with a listening ear and/or a shoulder to cry on.
- It’s not about you – it’s hormones. Remember that, for some women, body chemistry goes awry a few days each month. If this describes her, keep an eye on the calendar and give her extra grace in tough moments.
Now, all that said, are there women who hold irrational expectations, and overreact to things? Sure. Just like with men. But the situation you described sounds like there could be a lot more going on than you realize. If you take the effort to really listen to your wife and try to understand what’s happening, and why she reacts a certain way, you won’t need to call 911 about your relationship. And you might even be able to share your insights about women with your buddies – to keep them off the line as well.
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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 groundbreaking The Good News About Marriage, and her newest book, Through A Man’s Eyes. 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 www.shaunti.com for more.