QUESTION: When my wife and I have arguments, I try to keep the peace by staying quiet. This seems to make her even madder and she yells at me for not caring about her and not being interested in what she has to say. Sometimes I feel like her aggression is killing me, yet when we are not fighting, we are just fantastic together. What is our problem?
ANSWER: It seems you have different emotional styles – your spouse reacts and you withdraw. When we have a negative feeling, are fighting or are feeling stressed, we have a predominant style, either fight or flight, to process our emotion.
Reactive people want action, need to resolve something straight away. They need to talk or act now, to sort something out.
Avoidant people withdraw to calm down first, and to think things through. They cannot reengage in discussion until they assess it is safe to do so, and so they prefer to wait until things settle.
Your silence can come across as arrogance, even smugness. It can infuriate your reactive partner as she wants a response, she wants it sorted, immediately.
Your silence feels like you are ignoring her, shutting her out, excluding her, don’t want resolution, perhaps even punishing her. This is what causes her to feel you don’t care about her.
Avoidant people need to overcome their fear and speak out in conflict. It will allow the partner to feel you are trying to resolve issues and that you are still in the relationship.
“Some people mistake weakness for tact. If they are silent when they ought to speak and so feign an agreement they do not feel, they call it being tactful. Cowardice would be a much better name. Tact is an active quality that is not exercised by merely making a dash for cover. Be sure, when you think you are being extremely tactful, that you are not in reality running away from something you ought to face.” – Sir Frank Medlicott
Are you experiencing marriage problems… feeling stressed, angry or anxious? Have you got personal issues?
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