When You Think Your Husband Is Overreacting . . . Again

“If I had heard this a few years ago, I wouldn’t be divorced today.”

I can’t tell you how often I have heard that phrase. At my speaking engagements I frequently have people tell me how much they wish they hadn’t had to learn some key relationship lessons the hard way—through the pain and loss of a break-up or by struggling in an unhappy marriage.

My passion (in case you haven’t noticed!) is to share my research findings and insights so that these key relationship lessons can be learned “in time,” to help prevent broken and unhappy marriages. And beyond that, to help people not just survive but thrive in their relationships!

Some of these relationship lessons are simple yet powerful. Here’s one particularly deadly but easily-missed trap that could be present in your marriage right now:

Never think your husband shouldn’t be hurt by something that wouldn’t hurt you.

That sounds so mundane. But it’s one of the most common, sneaky reasons marriages fail.

So how can you recognize this trap? What might it look like in the everyday life of your marriage? 

What We Do Or Say Seems Innocent To Us

Just about all of us have thought something like this about our spouse:

All I did was point out where he wasn’t connecting the TV cables correctly. I mean, he’d been working on that new setup for an hour and he obviously needed help. It is ridiculous for that to make him mad.


I don’t know why he’s so sensitive about me telling him how to put the kids to bed. He clearly doesn’t know the routine and I’m only trying to help!

Here’s why these thoughts are so dangerous: they make us blow off the fact that we are legitimately hurting the other person. 

Our Differences Make Us Vulnerable

We tend to forget that we are different from our spouses. To be more specific, men and women are different. In some ways, in fact, our brains are wired to be the opposite of each other! I heard one neurologist say that when he reads MRI scans of male and female brains it is sometimes like looking at two different species. And although there are always exceptions, our emotional needs, insecurities, and hurts diverge as well. 

So the things that hurt men’s feelings—what they are vulnerable to—are different than the things that hurt women’s feelings. As a result, the way a man responds internally to certain comments or actions will differ significantly from the way a woman would. While we cannot see what is going on inside our spouse, we can grow in our understanding of what makes them tick and use that information to strengthen our relationship. To gain some insight into how men are wired and what hurts their feelings, let’s look more closely at one of our examples.  

What He’s Thinking

Most guys have a deep, hidden worry that just isn’t as big of a deal for most women. Men desperately want to be good at what they do, to make their wives happy, to feel adequate and competent. But deep inside, he’ll constantly worry that he isn’t adequate. That he’s one step away from being found out as an imposter. Here are the internal, underlying feelings of a man:

Do I measure up? I love my wife so much. She’s amazing and deserves my very best, but I’m not sure I know how to be the husband she needs. I adore my kids and want to be a great dad to them. I don’t want to mess up. I want to provide for our family. I want to give them everything they need, do everything they need, protect them in the way they need… but am I up to the task? My buddies Gary and Bill seem to have it all together; I wish I was a fix-it guy like Gary and a great dad like Bill. I don’t want to let my family down.

Why It Hurts

So when your man is trying to put together the complicated new TV system and it isn’t going well, he’s already feeling like a failure at what he’s trying to do—as if he doesn’t measure up to others. It’s painful for him. And when you come along and point out what he didn’t do correctly in connecting that cable (just trying to help, of course!) you have, without realizing it, just overtly pointed out: yes, you are indeed a failure. Gary would have done better. Or when you give step-by-step instructions on exactly how to tuck your kids in at bedtime, you are, without realizing it, telling your husband he’s not a competent parent. Bill probably knows the routine better than him.

We women don’t think of it that way, of course. We think our man is being super-over-sensitive. In other words: We think he shouldn’t be hurt by that. Because it wouldn’t hurt us. But we’re wrong!

Hurt Feelings Create A Cycle

When we hurt our man’s feelings, we compound the hurt by communicating to him that he shouldn’t have been upset by what we said or did. So he gets mad. Or he withdraws. And then we get hurt by that. Or we huff and get mad because he’s mad and we don’t think he should be. All because we don’t see his hurt, his wiring, his needs. Or we don’t see them as legitimate. So we miss the deep truth. We roll our eyes at his “ego” and never realize: he doesn’t have an ego. He has a deep well of self-doubt.

Because we missed the fact that our actions legitimately caused him pain, because we miss the deep truth underneath it, we do those things again. We hurt him again. He gets mad and withdraws again. Then we get hurt again. And pretty soon our marriage is hurting. All because of a sneaky trap we never saw. 

The Answer

To avoid this dangerous relationship trap and prevent the cycle of hurting, there’s really just one answer: watch for the things that hurt your spouse, recognize that they are usually legitimate, and make a real effort to avoid them. It might seem simple, but it’s not always easy. For starters, try putting yourself in their shoes. Consider the unique vulnerabilities that differ from yours. Then treat your husband—and those vulnerabilities—with tender loving care. 

Looking for encouragement for your life and relationships? Learn about the little things that make a big difference in every relationship, from marriages to parenting. Subscribe to updates from Shaunti here!

Shaunti Feldhahn loves sharing eye-opening information that helps people thrive in life and relationships. She herself started out with a Harvard graduate degree and Wall Street credentials but no clue about life. After an unexpected shift into relationship research for average people like her, she now is a popular speaker and author of best-selling books about men, women and relationships. (Including For Women Only, For Men Only, and the groundbreaking The Good News About Marriage).

Her newest book, The Kindness Challenge demonstrates that kindness is the answer to pretty much every life problem, and is sparking a much-needed movement of kindness across the country. Visit www.shaunti.com for more.

This article was first published at Patheos.

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  1. I think that some of your points are very valid and very well put. However, others are overly simplistic and not actually true (they may be for a few men but are not for the majority) – for instance, your comment about “ego”, which actually contradicts GOD’s own word about the one of the primary issues with males, which is a matter of sensitivity caused by personal pride; this is what often prevents them from asking for assistance from anyone, including from GOD, even when it is patently obvious to everybody else that they need to. Obviously this is usually when a woman needs to keep her mouth shut and pray for the LORD’s intervention, but it is not helpful for you to promote society continuing to reinforce all the existing naturalised gender ideologies that enable men to continue justifying what are really their rebellious and socially inappropriate behaviours on the basis that women are “not being sensitive enough” to their “insecurities” when men are actually choosing to refuse to read or follow the instructions (in the case of the overly long entertainment system set-up) to try to make themselves look clever or simply refusing to communicate why they have made an apparently completely illogical decision (in the case of standing in the much longer line). Perhaps your next book could be a very short one (also available in audio so it can be listened to in the car) explaining to men that other people are not magical mind-readers and how they can communicate what’s going on in their heads more effectively so everyone else actually knows what’s going on, instead of having to guess all the time.

    1. Hi Kate,
      I’m wondering what Bible verses you’re referring to that say men have an ego? I do believe the Bible is crystal clear that humans have a pride problem. That’s not the same thing as an ego. Pride is rebellion against God. The desire for our way rather than His way. I also believe you’re being rather hard on Shaunti here. She didn’t make up the information about how men feel. She did research. Men say thats how they feel. Should we as women tell them they don’t know what they feel and that we know their hearts are full of pride? I believe the Bible tells us we can’t know what someone else thinks or feels for certain unless they tell us. “For who knows a person’s thoughts except their own spirit within them? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.” 1 Corinthians 2:11

      I would also like to challenge you on your statement: ” but it is not helpful for you to promote society continuing to reinforce all the existing naturalised gender ideologies that enable men to continue jUSTIFYING what are really their REBELLIOIUS and SOCIALLY INAPPROPRIATE behaviours on the basis that women are “not being sensitive enough” to their “insecurities” when men are actually choosing to refuse to read or follow the instructions (in the case of the overly long entertainment system set-up) to try to MAKE THEMSELVES LOOK CLEVER or simply REFUSING to communicate why they have made an apparently COMPLETELY ILLOGICAL DECISION (in the case of standing in the much longer line). As I’m sure you’ve noted I put some of your words in all caps. The thing they all have in common is that they are judgments based on your perception. You’ve decided they are socially inappropriate and completely illogical. Have you considered that perhaps rather than issuing judgments it might be wise to consider that we don’t all think the same and that your preference for one thing (shorter line or using directions) is simply your preference? What if the man said he chose the long line because God wants him to work on being patient? Or the man not using directions want to work on his ability to mentally conceptualize something? Is he still wrong? Who sets the standard for what is right?

      I was thankful to read this reminder today. For Women Only and For Men Only by the Feldhahns were incredibly helpful to my marriage and I’m grateful that they took the time to put together the research into something that I can benefit from.

      I believe you are one who loves the LORD as you’ve capitalized His Name so can I humbly suggest you consider Luke 6:37-42 and Proverbs 12:18

      I am not trying to be harsh. What I’m hoping for is that you, with a humble heart and open mind consider another perspective.

      Be blessed,

  2. Hello I have no idea if you will reply to this but I’m kind of desperate. I have discussed with my new husband that when I am hungry or have just come from work I don’t usually like to be touched in a sexual way because my main focus is food or I’m just tired from work. He knows this info and forgets. The other night while I was cutting my dinner in the kitchen he comes and is full of this happy exploding energy and touches me and I tell him to stop in a calm and nice way. When he doesn’t I say it with more force -nothing too crazy-and he is shocked. He withdraws and I tell him I’m fine I’m not mad. Now for the last week he has tried to not really touch me and we haven’t had sex because he is hurt. I told him I have a right to say no and that when I have told him no maybe late at night once in a while (when we’re almost asleep) he never got hurt and offended. He now is saying he doesn’t know when is a good and bad time for that kind of action (even thought there are obvious times when it is ok) and he essentially likes to forget when I don’t want him to do that. He says he’s not a robot that I can just turn on and off and then he sees that I am the same-I can not just blindly say yes to him all the time. He is confused and I am losing my patience. When he has often upset in the past it has been for a maximum of 3 days. We are on day 8 and when I asked him how he was yesterday he is telling me to leave the wound alone. For me this is getting out of hand. He is completely doubting himself and is doubting when to touch me even though we have discussed when is a bad time. This is something that keeps popping up in our relationship but this time his reaction is much worse. Please help!

  3. The examples given in this article are terrible and no one should be overly sensitive about what is said to them like this. Of course, the tone of voice used can put your spouse or anyone in a defensive mode but not the examples given. It really just sounds like a case of borderline personality disorder or your spouse just really dislikes you. Worst case scenario you can be in an emotionally abusive relationship. I understand some cultures think this is normal but the culture as a whole and society suffers together. Abuse whether it’s emotional or physical should NEVER be tolerated. But I do agree that you have to pick your battles in a relationship. Don’t criticize. Instead give suggestions and make your boundaries clear. I wish the author of this article would also mention what is NOT normal behavior and what to do if you’re in a dangerous relationship.

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