Have you ever experienced this type of argument? Let's say the wife has complained about something her husband has done. His reaction might be, "I'm just a terrible person. I never do anything right. I should never have married." Then there is a display of pouting accompanied with the silent treatment. The conversation closes down and feelings are hurt. The wife may respond, "I'm not saying you are a bad husband. You do a lot of good things." Now it is no longer about her, but him. The focus is about how she has wounded him and how he is the victim of her sharing the problem that he has created. It is almost like he is saying, "Look what you did to me. Don't you feel bad?"
We call this maneuver "merging." Merging is when one partner moves the focus to himself by playing the victim. He has stopped her from talking about something that was important to her because now she is dealing with his feelings and his "damaged self-image."
I have also noticed that many of us men have an odd way of dealing with our spouse's anger. Often instead of validating or reflecting back, we beat ourselves up. We are like wounded puppies. We sit there with our head bowed down, displaying a very sad look. Others of us get angry and begin yelling in order to shut her down.
It is a fact that
beating ourselves up
and being the victim or wounded
party does not allow for
change of behavior.
When our partner is angry, it seems that no matter what we say, it makes her angrier. Perhaps it is because we are defending ourselves. Defending ourselves does not work because it looks like we are justifying our actions or blaming our partner. It is also seen as a way to get her to stop talking.
Often the anger is more about us than about our partner. We are angry with ourselves for not being good enough: for not making our partner happy. So we are dealing with the anger from our partner as well as our own anger for "failing" again.
It is a fact that beating ourselves up and being the victim or wounded party does not allow for change of behavior. When what we do or say has a negative impact on our partner, it is important to remind ourselves that they have a right to their feelings and a right to express them appropriately. We care about how we impact our partner, so we want to give them a receptive and attentive audience without being defensive or cutting them off. We do not want to beat ourselves up as a substitute for change of behavior. Our partner would rather we make the change than play the victim role. So let's wait our turn to understand their feelings.
Dr. William E. Austin is a licensed psychotherapist and holds a Doctor of Divinity degree. He is a therapist with Tidewater Pastoral Counseling Services . He is well known for his warmth and sense of humor. His book, Creating Our Safe Place - Articles on Healthy Relationships, can be purchased through www.amazon.com.
Tidewater Pastoral Counseling: 623-2700