Women have, at times, a way of really getting under their guy’s skin. Maybe she gave you “that look” when you did something she disliked. Or, she took a breath, in that particularly annoyed way that makes your inner anger burn. Or she rolled her eyes at you when you didn’t do what she “told” you to do- as if you’re a child!
If you are like many men (including me) you may have blown up in anger when these things happen. Even if anger isn’t your “go to” feeling, you have probably felt resentful after one of these behaviors and reacted with a comment like:
“What do you mean criticizing me ALL of the time?” (Note the exaggeration)
“How dare you look at me with that tone of voice?” (Mixed metaphor but outrage gets across)
“You have no right to cut me off when I haven’t done anything to you” (This comment will get you nowhere except more silence or a defensive reaction in return).
As men, we love to stay cool-headed and rational. In my world, I work hard on being a polished therapist who knows the right way to communicate. But the truth is that with continuous triggers from my wife, bam! I am right back in the soup, feeling like no one understands me.
My attacking mode kicks in before I can catch it. So we need to take back owning our feelings. Like you, I am responsible for cleaning up my part of the street. Here’s how I figured that part out…
My Come Uppance
I spent some time with my men’s group dissecting what goes on in these situations. One colleague pointed out that I tend to think about what’s going on and call it a feeling. My perfectly rational assessment of what she has done wrong give me justifiable reasons (at least in my mind) to put all of the blame on her.
“If didn’t frown at all of my little mistakes, I wouldn’t be so reactive.” OR “If it weren’t for you, I could be happy.” Of course, this isn’t true. It’s a game I play with myself making her responsible for my feelings. And for the moment, I believe this is true until my healthier self kicks in and reminds me that my happiness is my job, not hers.
I don’t like the part of myself that seems to need her to be perfect. But, this is my reaction. The only way I can get out of my more emotional thinking is to challenge myself to get out of my head and move into my body. Then I can begin to notice what part of me is becoming defensive and ask the hard question of why.
Here’s an example of how that works:
If I notice that my stomach is churning and let myself tune into the churning, I am less likely to stay focused on her lack of awareness of me. It gets me out of the “who’s bad routine” and into a noticing of my inner struggle. In pausing, if I am alert, I can start owning and caring for my feelings even though a part of me wants to keep blaming
Naturally, like a good therapist, I noted to my buddy that I knew this and taught it to my clients, all of the time. He smiled and suggested that maybe I needed to slow down and do my homework.
Here are my 5 steps to reduce negative moments with your spouse and redirect you back to love.
- Build a no blame zone in your marriage.
This tenant implies that we are all equally responsible for our feelings. Instead of blaming your wife (which is a highly seductive feeling because it’s EASIER than being honest about your part) you can start to see your part in the challenge. Making her the problem creates its own problems because there is no mutual responsibility. By taking away the ability to simply say, “It’s all your fault” you start healing from a shared ground. This makes it easier to come back to harmony and love.
- Bring compassion to the part of you that has gotten defensive.
You don’t have to beat up yourself up just because you’re mad at your spouse. If you can own your part, then you can begin to see that chances are, you’re not the only one struggling. Maybe your feelings are fueled because you’re tired, mad or hungry.
Maybe her bucket is empty too? Perhaps she doesn’t have an emotional reserve left because of what’s happening in her life? By finding my compassion that you’re both human, you can resist the negative energy by appreciating that you’re both working as hard as you can.
- Check in with your inner self by noticing what’s going on inside of your body.
As you move from thoughts in your head to the experience of what’s going on inside your body, you can observe your inner state and see what is happening. In this step, the point is to observe NOT and not simply.
I know it sounds simplistic, but the very first step towards inner knowing is to simply “see” what’s happening.
- Next, you want to start to feel the sensations so you can move into awareness.
Watch these sensations like they are floating down a river. You have a steady stream of consciousness that is sometimes called your “monkey mind.” It jumps all over from thought to thought and feeling to feeling just like a monkey. In this step, simply feel what’s going on, again, without judging it or deciding what it’s telling you. Here you want to feel it simply.
- Once you have observed your inner experience and felt it, then you can start to recognize what’s going.
My buddies helped me catch up with the part of me that fears that I have become passive. At other times, I may feel ashamed that I keep making mistakes and I am no longer going to be loved.
- Allow myself to identify what I might need from my intimate other. By reacting negatively, I lose the opportunity to invite her to understand what I am feeling and what I might find soothing.
- I might just need space, to retreat to my man cave and introvert, catch up with all the craziness that’s been going on
- When she has the bandwidth, I could ask for her listening ear to empathize with all the craziness of whatever fears I am facing
- I can ask for or give a hug to see if touch will help me shift out of my reactive state.
- Ask for time to calm down and maybe even share some quite time
So if you want to diffuse a fight when your partner gives you that look, practice some of these steps. You have probably guessed these rituals take practice. Don’t get discouraged if they do not become a habit right away.
You can do one thing long before you get into the same kerfuffle. Start practicing in your mind doing any of the above steps. Your mind can form new neural pathways to different conversations by simply repeating the steps in your brain before you become reactive.
By doing so, they will more likely find kinds words that come as Shakespeare would say “trippingly off your tongue.” Imagine not having to struggle so hard to live out your new values as a man. You can receive that look and be amused.
Having trouble putting this or other issues to rest in your marriage? Do not hesitate to call Dr-Jim in the NYC or Westchester area at 914 548 8645 to set up an appointment. See his website at dr-jim.com for other articles to build your marriage for a lifetime.