How to Respond to Your Emotional Spouse Without Making Things Worse

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mirroring and building rapport with others

More often than not, when my wife reacted emotionally to anything—something I said or did; something on TV; something that happened at work, whatever—my gut reaction was to think of her response as an overreaction.

This was not me intentionally trying to demean or disrespect her. This was my honest, natural, and I believed—objective—reaction to whatever she was saying or doing that I perceived to be disproportionate to whatever triggered the emotional response.

I was using commonplace, relationship-killing invalidation methods, but I wasn’t doing so maliciously. Never.

I don’t like injustice. So if my wife told me a story about how a co-worker or client had upset her earlier in the day, and I agreed with the offending co-worker or client, I would say so. I was sharing my honest opinions and feelings, and believed that happy, healthy marriages were built on such things.

When my wife would act pissy because I wasn’t taking her side, I was once again appalled by the notion that my wife would rather me dishonestly side with her than share my actual beliefs.

Lastly, I felt protective of my wife. Loved her and wanted her to be the best, healthiest, smartest, most balanced person she could be. I felt morally and lovingly obligated to point out that I thought many of these situations were beneath her.

Babe. You are very smart. You are very talented. You are very decent. I wish you wouldn’t let these inconsequential things negatively affect how you feel. If you learn to see them as minor nuisances rather than these big, day-ruining things, then moving forward you will have more good days and feel happy.

I believed these were honest thoughts and feelings, and that sharing them with my wife was not only appropriate, but that I was offering her a path to feeling more peace and joy in her life.

But then, of course, in all of my blind ignorance, my marriage continued to slowly—very slowly—deteriorate, one dinner or car-ride conversation like this at a time, until it felt like my wife hated me, and we spent more than a year sleeping in separate bedrooms until she finally ended it for good.

The entire time, me thinking she was emotionally broken—that her internal calibration was misaligned—and that once she made a few subtle adjustments, she would feel better, and then we could get back to having that marriage we both believed we were signing up for.

The Emotional Intelligence Litmus Test

If you’ve read this far, and you are in 100-percent lockstep philosophical agreement with how I processed and responded to my wife sharing her emotions with me during our marriage, then I think it’s safe to assume you have a lot of conflict in your romantic relationships.

If you agree with my good-hearted, well-intentioned approach to supporting my wife in my now-failed marriage, or are married to (or dating) someone who behaves as I did, I bet you have The Same Fight, which produce the same toxic feelings of stress and anxiety, tones of voice, and emotionally unpleasant results over and over again. I assume you are incredibly frustrated with your failure to make progress in these conversations, because you are stuck in this conflict cycle that won’t stop repeating itself.

Most of us are familiar with the Intelligence Quotient, or IQ, but fewer of us, it seems, are familiar with the Emotional Quotient, or EQ—the measure of a person’s emotional intelligence.

While IQ can help you solve advanced math theorems or learn a foreign language, it’s EQ that will determine the quality and fate of your romantic and interpersonal relationships.

Here’s a Mind Tool for Connecting with Your Emotional Partner and Ending the Fight Cycle

This is not exclusively a male behavior—this attempt to “correct” or “adjust” someone else’s emotional reactions—but it’s most typically seen in men, which is why we have the stereotype of men frustrated by their overly emotional wives or girlfriends.

The majority of my male coaching clients report feeling this same sense of helplessness with their wives.

“Suddenly, she’s mad about something again, and I don’t even know what I did wrong. It’s like nothing I do is ever good enough for her.”

Right now, some of you guys are nodding. I am too. This is exactly how I felt when I was married. Like I could never win. And I didn’t understand why my efforts to help my wife feel better only seemed to make her feel worse.

Men in this scenario have an opportunity (responsibility?) to adjust their response habits to their relationship partners during these conversations and situations, and many will discover that by doing so, these emotionally volatile, conflict-heavy discussions will lessen in both frequency and severity, leading to two partners increasing their connection and moving closer together instead of drifting further apart.

Here’s where I was getting it wrong, and where you (or your partner) may also be getting it wrong.

When my wife started reacting emotionally to something, my first reaction was to evaluate the situation and determine whether I would react the same way to that same scenario. I was very good at empathizing with people whenever I recognized that I would feel just like them if I had gone through what they had.

But my wife would typically react to things in ways that I would not.

And my VERY FIRST ACTION was to decide that her reaction was disproportionate to whatever had happened. Another way to say that is that my very first move was to determine that my wife was wrong, incorrect, mistaken, misinformed, ignorant, crazy, or emotionally weak to be acting the way she was.

Imagine that every time you told your spouse that something made you mad, sad, or hurt, they told you were wrong—that you either didn’t know how you really felt because you were confused, or that you were incorrect for feeling as you did. That you’re too dumb to know that none of that stuff matters.

Imagine that when you told them that THEY were saying or doing things that resulted in you feeling shitty, that they DEFENDED and JUSTIFIED their actions, all but ensuring that in the future—both short-term and long-term—you could count on feeling shitty because of your partner’s actions over and over again.

What they did wasn’t bad or wrong! YOUR feelings and opinions are what’s bad and wrong! So you just go ahead and fix whatever is wrong with your brain and body chemistry, and then you won’t have to feel bad anymore!

Imagine it.

When a person tells you that something you did or said caused them pain, and then you respond in ways that essentially promise you will repeat that pain-causing behavior because you don’t think there’s anything wrong with it? It makes perfect sense for that person to hurriedly remove you from their life.

We should not allow people to hurt us after they refuse to stop doing something we have repeatedly asked them to stop doing. Those people should not be granted permission to continue torpedoing our lives.

It’s this inclination to match or compare how we would react to certain events that creates conflict with our partners.

I ask my coaching clients who report this conflict pattern in their relationships to cut that shit out, stat.

Instead of matching or comparing their predicted reaction to an identical scenario, I ask them to reverse-engineer it.

I ask them to match or compare their current emotional state to that of their partner’s.

Psychologists call it emotional mirroring. I’m not asking people to intentionally make themselves feel sad or angry. I’m simply asking them to swap out the thing they’re currently comparing for something else that will foster positive emotional connectivity, which is often what’s missing in conflict-heavy relationships.

It’s not useful to waste the time debating the merits of whether they SHOULD feel as they feel. They DO feel as they feel.

Deal in reality. And an effective emotionally intelligent response to someone in pain, or who feels sad or angry, is to match or compare YOUR emotions to THEIRS.

They’re sad. Should they be sad? WHO CARES? They ARE sad. What makes you sad? What happened the last time you were sad? What behaviors and words are consistent with what feels appropriate when you’re in that state?

They’re angry. Should they be angry? Doesn’t matter. They ARE angry. What makes you angry? Can you remember the last time you were really angry and your entire body felt shitty? What could your wife or friend or whoever have said or done to help?

Trying to correct someone else’s emotions is a recipe for DESTROYING your relationship with them.

Instead, attempt to evoke that same emotion. Notice how they feel. Communicate that you understand that they’re feeling that, and that you know it sucks. Communicate that what they think and feel MATTERS, because THEY matter. Communicate that you’re there to be whatever version of a support system they need to get through whatever is happening.

If it’s something you said or did to trigger those feelings, DO NOT attempt to defend or justify whatever happened. Do not double down on the thing that’s causing all of this suck. Seek to understand both WHAT and WHY something hurt. Communicate that you want to be their teammate—their partner—in cooperatively finding new ways to say and do things so that the shitty thing doesn’t repeat itself.

After a competitive sporting event like a football game, all of the viewers, fans, and participants have WILDLY different reactions.

The winning players, coaches, and fans are happy.

The losing players, coaches, and fans are sad or angry.

Some neutral viewers didn’t experience any emotion at all.

You can see the lunacy in any of those people acting as if others should share their identical emotional reaction, yes? OF COURSE losing players and fans are typically going to feel shittier than winning players and fans.

Same event. Different reactions.

Just as contextually, all of those different reactions make sense when you understand things from their perspective, we’ll discover that people reacting emotionally to something in ways that might be foreign or surprising to us ALSO have a very sensible, understandable reason for responding that way.

If you’re interested in loving, living with, sleeping with, sharing resources with, this other human being who behaves differently than you would, I think you’ll find it incredibly useful to seek out those reasons for this surprising reaction. That’s information you’ll be able to use to NOT say and do things that lead to your partner (or anyone you care about) feeling hurt and mistreated.

Our relationship problems are subtle. Nuanced.

And the adjustments we must make in our minds and hearts are equally subtle and nuanced.

It’s not hard because it’s especially difficult to do any of this stuff. It’s hard because we frequently struggle to notice, to see, to recognize these moments for what they are.

Good news: We can do hard things.

50 thoughts on “How to Respond to Your Emotional Spouse Without Making Things Worse”

  1. Been following you quite a while now. Have forwarded your writings to my husband countless times. Has he EVER let me know he read them? Has he wanted to discuss them? Do I believe he even looks at them?
    No to all.
    After 45 years together, it is worse than ever. But… I am now too old, and health compromised to do anything about it as I don’t want to face the end of my tired life completely broke as well as broken.
    He was unfaithful to me; he was unfaithful to our vows, and every decade he did something that destroyed me.

    1. I’m sorry that this happened to you. I admire how hard you had to fight and sacrifice for those 45 years.

      Thank you for trying. For showing up and trying. Here, and at home. I appreciate it very much.

    2. Rather not: Thank you for posting your comment. I’m sorry to hear this. It sounds very tough. If it gives you any consolation, I’m hoping the next generation of marriages get it right (or at least closer to right). I’m sorry you’re broken. I hope that you can find some peace by knowing your comment has helped motivate me and probably many others.

  2. Love this: “If it’s something you said or did to trigger those feelings, DO NOT attempt to defend or justify whatever happened. Do not double down on the thing that’s causing all of this suck. Seek to understand both WHAT and WHY something hurt. Communicate that you want to be their teammate—their partner—in cooperatively finding new ways to say and do things so that the shitty thing doesn’t repeat itself”. This is crystal clear sage advice. Stop the suck.

    But! It looks simpler on paper than it really is for a lot of guys. As much as I try to be understanding it is really really hard (impossible) to live with. So this feels affirming: “We should not allow people to hurt us after they refuse to stop doing something we have repeatedly asked them to stop doing. Those people should not be granted permission to continue torpedoing our lives”. Amen.

    Glad you’re back! I’ll assume counseling must be going well.:) Thank you for the blog. It has helped me.

    1. The coaching is helping me more precisely and personally use all of these blog stories of my past and apply them to other people’s present-day situations and offering a slightly different perspective.

      Frequently, people say it’s useful and want to talk to me again. It’s pretty gratifying.

      Thank you for the kind words, and continuing to read this stuff.

  3. I finally realised a few years ago that my husband very often tells me I’m wrong to feel how I feel. It’s comforting in a way to see that written down:
    “Imagine that every time you told your spouse that something made you mad, sad, or hurt, they told you were wrong—that you either didn’t know how you really felt because you were confused, or that you were incorrect for feeling as you did.”

    We had couples counselling nearly 20 years ago, and the question I took with me to the counsellor was “are my expectations unrealistic?” What’s kept me in the marriage (economic security and co-parenting) is holding on to my self-knowledge that my expectations were not unrealistic even while they were, still are, never, ever met. Similarly, now that I recognise that I am mostly not wrong to feel what I feel, even while being told that I am wrong, is what makes continuing here possible.

    But it’s hard to be the only person in the world who’s giving any support to your own self-esteem. It would be nice to have a little help there from the life partner (and the now adult kids).

    1. Knowing where the road ends for you opens up the path for other avenues. You can find in others (and I’m speaking to female friendships so that you’re not tempted to cheat even if your spouse is an ass-hat) a sense of worth, respect, and joy. I would encourage you to seek out companionship with women who are positive and joy-filled. Leave your husband at home (both in body and mind.) Don’t drag his hurt around with you. Choose to accept who he is and his limits, and rise above them. You can seek personal counseling to help you heal emotionally. He doesn’t have to come along. You can lean into an educated mentor so that you can still have the best life possible. Because you chose to keep your vows and remain with your husband, doesn’t mean you have to punish yourself. He can’t withhold you from going out, having friends, or getting emotional help. And if he does, that’s a level of abuse, and you have the power to stand against it. But if he’s just selfish and insensitive, you don’t have to bow to him. You don’t have to cover for him. You don’t have to compensate for his lack in the relationship. Time to work on you, girl friend. Go be amazing and loved by people who realize your worth.

    2. Have you ever considered going to a therapist who uses the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) and/or reiki? Google/You Tube them. EFT, once learned, can also be self applied as well (as can Reiki).
      Both are well worth investigating.

  4. Aren’t we men, more often than not, also told that we are overreacting and should just calm down and/or shut up, whenever we have an emotional reaction of any kind at just about anything?

    But yes, I’m mostly agreeing with you, that having your feelings neglected by someone, and constantly being told that your feelings doesn’t count, will probably make you not want to be around those people any more than necessary.

    1. I mean. I think societally, culturally, the message is that “Real Men aren’t emotional! Boys don’t cry!”

      I think it sets us up from childhood to believe that Emotions = Bad/Wrong.

      So it’s super-easy for men to paint other people’s emotional experiences as being “bad” or “wrong,” because that’s very specifically what feels true. It’s what’s consistent with every lesson and experience they’ve ever had.

      Yes. I think (generally) adult men are asked to keep their emotions in check to a greater degree than adult women are.

      But I don’t know that I think this social observation is super-relevant to one guy in one specific relationship with one specific partner adjusting the way he behaves and speaks to her for the purposes of having a healthy, positive, sustainable relationship.

      I’m could be missing something. I miss things sometimes.

      1. I don’t know how relevant this is, or if I am relevant at all. But I think most people deep down want relationships where their efforts as well as their emotions and concerns are validated and taken into consideration, instead of being downplayed and/or dismissed.

        I for one would love to be in a relationship where my emotions not were judged first and foremost in how “conveniently” they are expressed. YMMV, but all my experience tells me that if she’s not happy, then I won’t be happy either. Regardless if the state of her unhappiness has anything to do with my behavior or not.

        I went to see a counselor with my girlfriend a couple of times. But when the counselor brougth up that maybe I had a couple of points about the state of our relationship that was worth considering too, she didn’t want to go there anymore.

        I probably miss something as well, since I seem to miss a lot of things most of the time. but I wish you the best of luck with your coaching since you seem to ring a bell with quite a few people.

        1. I ask men to carry a lot of responsibility in many of the things I write about. But I hope, Kal, that you’ve never been under the impression that I don’t believe some of these guys’ female partners aren’t doing things to fatally harm the relationship, and are sometimes so in the wrong that the healthy, responsible choice is to end the relationship with them.

          We all have a responsibility to identify our personal values, and establish our personal boundaries.

          When people do not honor them, we must choose what to do next. Choosing to not be with them is a sensible option, though not always convenient, easy, or painless.

          I think we’re usually missing some key info and key context for why our romantic partners feel as they do. I think it would be useful to root around (kindly and patiently and curiously) to try to understand what it is that causes your girlfriend to feel about things as she does.

          But I hope you never interpret any of these articles to mean that I think you deserve mistreatment, disrespect, etc.

          I’m speaking specifically to your girlfriend’s reaction to the counselor.

          Either your girlfriend had understandable reasons for refusing to see that person again that you can discover by asking the right questions compassionately… OR she’s manipulative and isn’t interested in any change that requires sacrifice on her part.

          She only wants change that’s positive for her. That benefits her. That eliminates negatives for her.

          Maybe some of those are super-legit and understandable. I have no way of knowing.

          But if you and her both establish personal values, and effectively (and lovingly) communicate what your boundaries are, and not let one another violate them… then I trust you to be able to identify whether you’ve invested in a toxic relationship with someone unwilling to give as much as you… or whether you have the opportunity and capability to positively influence each of your encounters with her in way that brings you closer together, rather than further apart.

          Two people constantly working cooperatively, kindly, thoughtfully to move toward one another every day will ALWAYS make it.

          Thank you for the well-wishes, Kal.

          1. Hi Matt,
            I rarely intend to cause any harm, but in hindsight I often end up feeling like a prick who’s only around to bug other people with poorly thought-out, smartass comments. So I thank you for your patience and throughtful answers!

            And I guess this feeling is tied to some kind of inferior complex that also has an influence on relationship dynamics, making me treat her issues (more often than not) as more important than my own.

        2. FlyingKal,

          I went to see a counselor with my girlfriend a couple of times. But when the counselor brougth up that maybe I had a couple of points about the state of our relationship that was worth considering too, she didn’t want to go there anymore.

          Been there, done that. Her response suggests to me that she wasn’t that interested in improving the relationship and certainly not changing herself, but in changing you.

          In my case, it was about the 4th or 5th counselor before I found one who was willing to voice the idea that she had issues to work on, too. I rather suspect the previous counselors presumed I was the only one who needed changing.

      2. Not just partners. All of my three elder brothers have done this to me in some guise. They’ve been dismissive when I’ve been upset, or try to reason me out of it, or just stand there looking helpless.

        My younger brother once said: “you shouldn’t be feeling this way;” I’m surprised he’s still around now.

        What it comes down is an ability to cope with those expressed emotions because they don’t know how to express them themselves and are all at sea.

        Or just the cultural dismissal of women as being over emotional and are therefore disrespected.

  5. Yes! My husband has been doing this since I met him and due to my own self esteem struggles, I started to believe him. I’m finally realizing that I’m not “too sensitive “ ! In the early days of our marriage, I was struggling to handle an infant and 2 preteens/ teens while working full time and a husband who traveles every single week ( commercial airline pilot). When I would tell him how stressed out I was, his reply was “ you knew about my job when you married me”. I wasn’t complaining, just venting. My mother in law would watch the baby once a week for us ( she helped his other sisters out with their kids as well). She is a brash, quick to anger woman who used to scold me like a child if I forgot an item or didn’t bundle up the baby like an Eskimo when it was 60 degrees. I had to drive 20 miles before and after a 12 hour overnight shift for her to watch the baby. One time I vented to my husband about how her yelling added additional stress. He throws that in my face every single time we argue as done “proof” of my sensitivity. This is so damaging and he can’t seem to understand. He would defend his moms behavior that she treats all his siblings like that (like crap). His responses do nothing to help. He also offered “ friendly advice” that I should not take her yelling personally. As if that’s so helpful. Mind you I met him st 37 and handled a stressful career way before I met him. I hardly needed this “friendly advice”. He also has scoffed at sone of my work issues with coworkers and bosses. It’s so bad for a relationship and he can’t seem to understand. I’m an empath so I never invalidate when he expresses feeling. So he doesn’t know how shitty it feels. I’ve been trying to enlighten him but can’t seem to get through. Help!

    1. I wish I could help, Kristen.

      Two things can be true:

      1. He (like me) legitimately failed to grasp this intellectually, but he has the intelligence, emotional capacity, and genuine love and respect for you to adjust how he responds to you once he DOES see this and truly grasp how painful and relationship-damaging it is… or…

      2. He 100% gets it and intentionally chooses words and actions that hurt you.

      I’m afraid that in either scenario, you have difficult conversations to have, and difficult choices to make.

      In my case, it took my wife leaving for the light bulb to turn on. So. 13 years of her talking to me about it didn’t work. Leaving and filing divorce papers did.

      And now 6+ years later, I’m a lot more emotionally intelligent because I made the conscious decision to learn things I didn’t previously know.

      And that’s what it takes. Someone wanting to understand what they don’t currently understand.

      I can appreciate how difficult it is to have that conversation with someone who says “You knew the type of person I was when you married me, and now you’re saying I’m not good enough for you! That’s totally unfair!”

      I said things just like that. And the scary part is that I believed with all of my heart that I was justified in doing so.

    2. Kristen Abbinante

      So my husband actually read some of your articles and actually said that he could have written them! The “before part” of course! I’ll let you know how it goes! I’m still interested in the coaching in addition to this?

  6. My pastor, while were in marriage counselling, called this the “Let them Rant” technique. If one partner wants (needs?) to vent, the other partners job is to *come alongside them* and be on their side. Doesnt matter how ridiculous theyre being…theyve come to you with their emotions because you are (supposed to be) their *safe spot*, so you had better be just that. Later, perhaps, when emotions are cooled, you can then brainstorm with your partner and offer suggestions and advice, if it seems appropriate, but for the most part you just need to walk unjudgementally beside them, through it.

    Cultivating this one skill not only reduces the amount of conflict in the marriage, it builds trust, and draws the couple closer together as well. Its a good one for every couple to have in their toolkit.

    BTW, this is OT but i keep meaning to tell you that i took a page from your book and have gone into coaching too ? i was recently invited to put together a curiculum for parenting classes at our local community centre, so ive been leading those and doing one-on-one coaching with some of the parents and their children. Sorta like the Supernanny (although i prefer to be called The Child Whisperer, ha!) This is strictly a volunteer venture that im doing as a community service. I got a government grant to pay for the cost of preparing and distributing the curriculum material, and the community centre graciously supplies us with our meeting room, free of cost.

    I know exactly where youre coming from when you say its pretty gratifying! Humbling, too. I have plenty of “dont do what i did” parenting stories as well, lol.

    Glad to hear your work is having an impact, one relationship at a time! I really admire what youre doing…and why youre doing it.

    1. Anita,

      Awesome to hear you are helping others in parenting classes with your hard-earned wisdom!

      I am sure you will make a big difference in their lives ?

      1. Aw, thanks for the encouragement, Lisa ?

        I don’t know that I have any particular wisdom that is not already “out there”, but I am enjoying seeing others put the techniques I’ve shared with them into practise, and getting results. As Matt says, its very gratifying

  7. Awesome article Matt, and right on. I wish I had read this early in my marriage, although in all honesty I don’t know if it would have hit home. Looking back at our marriage now though, I can clearly see the exact same things that I did to harm the marriage. You hit the nail on the head with this one.

    1. You and me both, Jeff. I, too, have no idea whether I would have paused and focused long enough to read/hear/observe/consider this stuff, and then apply it to my own life.

      I appreciate you reading and commenting. Thank you for the kind words.

  8. Matt I wanted to thank you for your blog and for your article. I can honestly say that taking your advice has been very beneficial .I used to do the same exact thing you have done in the past. And I can honestly say that things are beginning to move into the right direction. For me this issue some difficulty with and I have to really try. I Had been recently diagnosed with high function Autisim as well so that could be the reason why and really doesn’t help matters either. however, fortunately my wife has been understand and I have been trying my best and even though I may not even reach my wife’s emotional range of feelings I am still trying to connect with her anyway I can.

  9. As many might know, the ability to understand that others have different perspectives/experiences is called “theory of mind.”

    Young children do not have it yet. It occurs as the brain develops and learning shapes the brain further around kindergarten.

    Why does this matter? Other than interesting for nerds like me?

    Ideally, our theory of mind continues to develop as we gain more experiences and knowledge of human differences. We SHOULD be really skilled as adults.

    So what explain the common problem Matt describes of lack of therapy of mind and lack of it’s related emotional empathy?

    As Matt says and certainly true in my experience this is not unique to males. Plenty of adult women who are egocentric in their views.

    But what causes this developmental stunting?

    1. Many causes in my view but here are a few I throw out there.

      There are common biological reasons:

      Anything that “hijacks” the prefrontal cortex where the ability to use theory of mind and be reasonable.

      Let’s use the common husband wife dynamic Matt describes

      The wife is highly upset with strong emotions.

      It is stressful on the body and mind to just sit with strong negative emotions.

      The husband wants the emotions to recalibrate to neural to relieve the stress on himself. He wants to find an answer for his wife too.

      It is also stressful to feel like you “can’t win” and don’t know why she is upset or how to keep it from reoccurring.

      So the husband is stressed and his amygdala is in charge not his prefrontal cortex that could potentially use the theory of mind.

      When we are stressed our amygdala is all about getting relief-fight, flight of freeze (of fix)

      The wife is ALSO in her amygdala because it started with her being upset at something.

      So she also reacts egocentrically when the husband does the opposite of relieving her stress.

      So there we have the basis system. Neither side has access to seeing the others perspective in that mode.

      Rinse and repeat.

    2. As all things, it is a combo of biology and social conditioning.

      Socialization is often different in how males and females deal with stress.

      Females are socialized more to use “tend and befriend” methods. Hence the frustration when she goes the the husband and gets the opposite of what she expects and uses for stress relief.

      Males are often socialized that most emotions are to minimized, problems to be solved. So he is confused by what she expects and why his efforts to help are criticized. Hence the “no win” bewilderment.

      There are pros and cons to each method. The problem is is again requires theory of mind to know the defaults differ.

      1. Also imho a HUGE difference more than male/female nature/nurture is what you were taught and modeled in your family and friends that you now default to as “normal.”

        If you grew up in a family where when you were upset your parents offered a hug and reassurances and your spouse grew up in a family where it was expected to “not whine and complain” that’s going to lead to very different ideas about what is expected.

        And those differences require high levels of emotional intelligence and theory of mind to navigate. And a calm body.

        Which is why it’s common for it to fail.

        1. The biggest difference you can make to change this in my opinion and experience is to focus on the CALM body and brain part.

          I got a Fitbit with a heart rate monitor. I started paying attention to how high my heart rate was in “discussions” that went bad. Usually well over 110. Which I didn’t even recognize. That means my amygdala is running the show.

          So many of us are not aware of how disregulated and distressed we are.

          Now I watch the heart rate and try to pay attention so that I can feel when I am getting into fight/flight or fix mode (I’m a fixer?) it’s a practice to then either add humor to diffuse, or take deep breaths or a break.

          You cannot expect good results when your body is flooded with stress hormones and your amygdala thinks it’s fighting for survival.

          It’s all predictable if we know what the rules are. It’s NOT no win. But “winning” requires the prefrontal cortex to be running the plays.

          1. I believe this is refereed to as being in flight or fight mode.What has been taught to me is actually try taking deep breaths and and relaxing your jaw and focusing on things around you to calm down. But you are right how can one thing correctly when their super stressed. You have to calm down so you can think.

          2. Yes!

            Fight or fight mode is exactly what I am talking about (referred to with flee or fix thrown in sometimes to).

            Is it easy for you to tell when you are in fight or flight mode?

            Do you find taking deep breaths, relaxing your jaw abs focusing on things around is usually enough for you to get out of fight or flight mode to be able to think clearly?

          3. For me sometimes. You just have to notice what your body is doing and how you are feeling. And yes I do find using those techniques help me calm down and help me think as well.

  10. You’re very correct in the fact that it goes both ways. I have purposefully and insensitively ignored my husband’s emotional response to something simply because I believed he purposefully and insensitively ignores my emotional responses. Like picking up his phone to watch stupid videos of stupid people enacting stupid stuff IMMEDIATELY after I finish telling about my day.

    I don’t know what goes through his head sometimes. But it certainly makes me feel like I bore him, that we’re disconnected, and he lacks emotional substance.

    But on the days when I get it right and choose to be the better listener (because, let’s face it, I ALWAYS am no matter who I’m with. It’s my strength,) we connect. We’re both happy. And I will, in turn, patiently ask that he puts down his phone or pauses the show so that I can have a turn talking.

    Matt, reading from your perspective reminds me some people don’t see, hear, think, or feel the same way I do. It reminds me to stop and tell myself I deserve to be heard, but only if I can ask nicely and not demand my own way. And just because I have this revelation of insight, doesn’t mean he will, or ever will. But he’s not a monster. He’s very sweet and sometimes childish, and sometimes gets it wrong.

    In business, we understand we can do great by our customers for years and never receive recognition, but if we screw up one time without correcting it to satisfaction, they will slander our names forever.

    I’m trying to focus on all the good. I’m trying to speak positives over negatives. I want to be more observant and inspired. In the long run, knowing why and how will also help me communicate to my husband how he’s communicating to me – and not get angry and butt-hurt if he doesn’t get it all the time.

    Because that’s what he sees in me a lot: “If I say one thing wrong, you punish me the whole day! That’s not fair.” He’s right. It isn’t. Because most people DON’T MEAN to hurt the ones they love.

  11. Jesus, pal, you’re a goddamn mysogynist piece of work. Shame you contributed to the gene pool.

      1. I hope he doesn’t. Anybody who takes a shot like that won’t have anything productive to say.

        For my part, just want to say thanks for all the articles and information you have posted. It has been helpful to me, and I’m sure many others.

  12. Pingback: Save Your Marriage Using the Monster-Under-the-Bed Theory | Must Be This Tall To Ride

  13. GingerWhoRefusesToSnap

    No idea if “we” will make it or not. I am committed to not mothering my husband into being an adult. As women we have to start honoring ourselves by holding our partners responsible for their own growth and wellbeing. It’s self destructive to keep trying to teach a grown ass man how to love you when he clearly doesn’t want to learn.
    Just wondering how many men out there “man up” on their own and commit themselves to self-improvement for the sake of their marriages. Women routinely try to figure things like this out to be better for the partners/family. Why does it feel like men fail to flip that switch…

    1. I really believe it’s ignorance more than anything.

      I don’t think most men are aware of the pain that their partners are experiencing in their blind spots. They perceive it as their wives being dissatisfied with them, or “moving the goal line” after marriage.

      Men, I think, perceive themselves to be “good enough” by virtue of their wives choosing them, and by virtue of their self-image as a good person who goes to work, stays out of prison, doesn’t do anything overtly abuse or reckless or dangerous or scary.

      So, it’s not that they’re unwilling to work on themselves on behalf of their families. I think they don’t realize their marriage and family are in jeopardy, and it’s because of some behavioral things he does that doesn’t cause him any problems in any of his other relationships. But finally, he’s like “Oh man, this is bad. She’s going to leave.”

      But by that time, there is so much anger, resentment, emotional triggers, dysfunctional communication cycles, etc. that the vast majority of couples never pull out of the tailspin.

      How do we get the guy in this scenario to feel that same sense of urgency and motivation YEARS earlier, before it all turns to shit? I think about things like this every day.

      Thank you very much for reading and commenting. Best wishes to you and your family.

    2. Kristen L Abbinante

      I totally agree! I think if I left it up to my husband, he would just keep thinking and doing the same crap….not that he is changing his ways anyway…but it is helpful to read the articles. I could never put my finger on why I was so aggravated when he would invalidate me(I did not realize it was invalidation, he played it off as “friendly advice”)

      1. I do think that the stereotype of men being logical and women emotional plays into this. It’s as though you can’t take what a woman says or feels seriously and that she needs correction and advice.

        But actually it’s about hm not being able to listen and applying his “Fixit” mindset when it’s not appropriate, because that’s what he is good at and feels comfortable with. He can’t bear feeling vulnerable and inadequate about his inability to fix your problem, so damns you for having the feelings that make HIM feel uncomfortable.

  14. Nope Haha. I agree with some of your advice, but your ex was completely irrational and an emotional wreck. You didn’t do anything wrong, and if she made you think you did, she’s manipulative. She didn’t want honesty and communication, she wanted a mindless sheep who would support everything she did or said, regardless of its veracity or sense.
    In my experience, saying ‘yes dear’ and nodding to everything isn’t what most women want; it’s what irrational children want. You marriage didn’t fail because of you, it failed because she was immature and selfish.

    1. I appreciate that, Matt, but I think it’s slightly more nuanced than you are giving it credit for.

      “Yes, dear,” IS bullshit and if you think I’m advocating it then I did a terrible job of writing this.

      This isn’t about submission or subjugation. This is about giving a shit when the person you love says: “Hey, I’m hurt. Would you please help me NOT hurt?”

      How we respond determines the fate of our relationships.

  15. Hi, I think you make some great points. But it also sounds like you miss out on a big part of it. I don’t think most spouses have a huge problem with their significant other being overly emotional or angry, even disproportionately. But when that leads to them unfairly taking it out on their spouse in a way that is really disrespectful, rude, and/or hurtful, that’s when it crosses the line. I think this can be especially hurtful when one sees that their spouse doesn’t do the same thing to other people in their life (i.e. this type of behavior is unacceptable generally in public, in workspaces, in social settings, etc. so why is acceptable with a spouse). So to ask someone who is getting attacked to hold back all their emotions and feelings to try to emote and understand the person who is unfairly attacking them (for lack of a better word) ‘feels’ a bit unfair and even dangerous. If someone’s partner is consistently taking out the stresses of their day, the stresses in their relationships, etc. on them in that way, I think the answer lies in that partner getting counseling and help to find more constructive ways to take out that stress/anger/fear/etc.

    1. So much yes for this. This is my situation, at least how I see it. I’m constantly thrown under the bus for past transgressions. These are not even big transgressions, no infidelity or anything remotely that bad. And after being a great provider, partner, teammate, lover etc…it gets a bit raw after a while. I’m told I show no empathy, which isn’t true. But it’s hard to empathetic when you’re the one being attacked all the time. The relationship is only 3 years old but it’s starting to take a toll already. This coming from someone who’s already been through a divorce. I do so much and it feels like it’s not enough. I have no problem helping and being supportive of stresses of the day. I can’t be the reason for those stresses if the other person has crappy coping skills and mountains of insecurity.

  16. My husband is highly over emotional. Gets upset about everything and cries often. He suffers from depression and anxiety and drinks too much to calm himself down. It’s hard living with him. Everyday a new crisis happens with him. He is a great dad and provider but I’m drained hearing his constant struggles.

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Matt Fray

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