Marital Problems: How To Improve Your Marriage Without Talking About It
If you told the man in your life, “Honey, we need to talk about our relationship,” what do you think would happen?
If I responded with something like “I thought you’d never ask!” or, “I’m dying to share my feelings about our life together, and I especially want to know how you feel about us and how you want me to change,” you’re luckier than the vast majority of couples. Most women would expect their men to become distracted, defensive, irritated, fidgety, roll their eyes, or shut up completely, and most men would feel like they are being punished for a crime they committed. they did not commit She knows her lines, he knows his, and it always ends worse than it started. It’s no wonder the five words a man fears the most are, “Honey, we need to talk.”
Turns out the men are right; Talking about your relationship is more likely to make it worse than better. Talking about emotions calms women down because they get a shot of oxytocin, the bonding chemical, even from negative interaction. Men don’t want to talk because talking won’t make them feel better. In fact, it will make them feel worse: they fill up with cortisol which feels unpleasant in conflicted and emotional conversations. Men experience more physiological arousal with more blood flow to their muscles when they have negative emotions. It’s physically uncomfortable for them to talk, especially when they’re embarrassed, and they’re likely to feel embarrassed when you approach them with anxiety or unhappiness.
There is something more powerful than the stereotypical nagging wife and opinionated husband at work here. It’s the same dynamic that takes over the two of you when you get spooked by something in the road while he’s driving. He sees your fear as an assault on his charioteer and puts a cold wall between you or he turns into an angry Ben Hur to show you how aggressively he can drive.
What happens to both of them when they are afraid of him driving and when they want to talk about their relationship is a primary dynamic that is present in all social animals: their fear fuels their shame/aggression. Often punished at a young age for displaying vulnerable emotions (big boys don’t cry!”), males tend to conflate shame and aggression. To avoid the excessive pain of shame, they become aggressive. That’s why “Death before dishonor” is not a phrase associated with women’s groups.
It is also unlikely that we will hear the phrase “No woman is an island”. Worse than feeling bad for a woman is that no one cares that she feels bad. When women talk to each other, they often make a connection by exposing their vulnerability. If you tell her girlfriend, “I feel sad, lonely, ignored, etc.”, she will hear your complaint as an invitation to come closer and she will let you know that she cares about you. So why can’t your husband do it like your girlfriends?
In adulthood, normal male socialization has channeled the shame-aggression response into a fear of failure, particularly as provider, protector, lover, and father. Confronted with the unhappiness of the woman in his life, he feels that he is failing. He feels too inadequate to see the desire for connection that underlies his complaints.
Here is a common example. Sarah was nervous about the weight she had gained when she modeled her new dress for her husband. “How I look?” she asked.
Sensing her nervousness, Scott replied, “How much did it cost?”
This simple exchange in a love relationship started a fight over money that quickly expanded to include sex, in-laws, and their relationship. But the fight wasn’t about any of those things. Her anxiety about her appearance triggered her shame, which she associated with the provider’s inadequacy: he feels that he does not earn enough money. Of course, her response made her feel that the cost of the dress was not worth it. So that night she didn’t want to have sex with him. Compounding her lover’s embarrassment, he refused to go with her to visit her parents as they had planned.
This invisible dynamic of fear and shame is at the core of many relationship problems. The good news is that connection relieves both fear and shame. And that’s why you want to talk in the first place, to feel more connected. But it’s hard for him to feel connected when he feels like a failure. If Sarah had simply told Scott the truth, that she bought her dress to look good for him, he would have felt valued rather than threatened. And if Scott had felt protective of her wife’s anxiety, he would have reassured her, dispelling her sense of inadequacy.
Always try to connect before talking about something emotional. When people feel valued, they cooperate; when they feel devalued or threatened, they resist.
The best advice for men is to incorporate small connecting gestures into your routine, for example, “brush my teeth, kiss my wife, pour me coffee, pour her coffee, answer work emails, send email to my love”. Be aware of how important she is to you: she provides the meaning of your life, so don’t wait to show her love until she’s packed and ready to walk out the door. Hug her at least six times a day. Surprise her from time to time. Help her often.
Women should start conversations with touch. Men need 2-3 times more physical contact to feel connected. Yes, they like non-sexual caresses, as long as they are not hungry for sex. Men feel more connected through activities with each other, so try to do things with them. Women report that they have the best conversations with their husbands while walking and driving because then he is doing something with you. He understands that he feels connected to you when you’re around him but letting him do his routine. And don’t forget about sex. Orgasm releases oxytocin and it is your only source of chemical bonding. Increases your desire to be closed.
Fortunately, we have powerful internal signals of the fear-shame dynamic. If a woman is feeling anxious and her man is not helping her, he is probably embarrassed and she needs to establish a compassionate connection with him. If a man feels harassed or trapped and his woman makes it worse, he can bet she’s afraid of isolation or deprivation; he needs to get in touch with how much he cares about her and reassures her. The discomfort that both of you feel is not something that one is doing to the other. Rather it is happening to both of them, and together they can take it apart. Mutually disarming the fear-shame dynamic is the most effective way to achieve the closeness you both desire, which is, deep down, a love beyond words.