Have you ever been frustrated with your husband’s response when you air out your grievance? You wanted to talk about an issue in your relationship, resolve a conflict, and be heard because you were hurt. But to your utter dismay, you’d get nothing.
In some instances you noticed some reactions from him whenever you attempt to confront him: he would fight you (get defensive, turn the table on you); he would flight from the scene (avoid you or avoid the topic), or freeze ( act like he doesn’t hear or see you).
Some women would try to soften their voice and do it in a ‘malumanay’ way, hoping against hope that it would work. But sometimes, this approach still fails them. They still get the fight, flight, freeze responses from their husbands. What, then, triggers these responses?
You’re probably triggering one or more of these responses with your approach and by how his brain — our brains — is designed. There is a part in our brain, called the reptilian brain, which ensures our safety (look at the picture below). The reptilian brain is the one in charge for the fight, flight, and freeze responses .
So the frustrating behaviors you receive from your spouse are automatic or instinctive responses when they perceive an attack or threat. Yes, depending on your approach, it can be perceived as an attack or threat.
Consider our cavemen ancestors. A sound coming from the bush while hunting could signal danger. It could come from a deadly beast that could threaten their lives. What do you think they would do?
Most probably they would take out their bow and arrow and attack the beast (fight); they’d run away and remove themselves from the scene as fast as they could (flight); or they’d play dead or not move (freeze).
Needless to say, we don’t live in caves and hunt for food anymore. We need not contend or look out for beasts like our ancestors used to do in order to survive. In our present day, there is not much need to fear physical dangers anymore.
But here’s the catch: there are a lot of emotional and psychological dangers around us – posed by the very people close to us, even by our loved ones. The reptilian part of our brain will continue doing its job to protect us and keep us safe from the psycho-emotional attacks and threats that the people around us could bring.
In marriage, particularly in the aspect of conflict regulation, one of the ways in which wives trigger the fight, flight, freeze response is by criticizing their husbands.
According to Dr. Gottman, a well known marriage researcher and therapist in US, women are more likely to criticize than men. Starting your conversation with phrases such as “you always,” “you are,” “you never” are among the sure ways to shut down your husband .
Example statements are:
“You always forget our anniversary.”
“You are inconsiderate of my feelings.
“You never treated me the way I deserve to be treated.”
These words are like attacking and judging your husband’s character and personality. Even if you deliver it in a sweet, warm voice your partner will still feel attacked. This approach will not give you the results you’re hoping for.
If you want to raise a concern, request a behavior change, or resolve a conflict, always make it a point to create a safe atmosphere with your husband, wherein he wouldn’t feel judged and attacked.
Sometimes it is really hard to be calm when you’re already tired, fed-up, or worse, fuming inside. But I suggest that you try to pray first before talking to your husband; ask for wisdom on what to say and ask for grace that you would be calm when you face him.
To know about the effective ways to open up to your husband, you might find my previous post helpful.
 Brown, R. Imago Relationship Therapy. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1999. Electronic book.
 Gottman, J. The Marriage Clinic.