Have you ever experienced this type of argument?
Let’s say the wife has complained about something that her husband has done. His reaction might be: “I’m just a terrible person. I never do anything right. I should never have gotten married.” Then there is the display of pouting and hurt feelings, followed by closing down and giving her the silent treatment.
The wife might respond: “I’m not saying that you’re a bad husband. You do a lot of good things.” Now the focus is no longer on her but on him—on how she has wounded and victimized him by bringing up a problem. It is almost like he is saying: “Look what you did to me. Don’t you feel bad?”
We call this maneuver “Merging”—when one partner shifts the focus to himself by playing the victim. He has stopped her from talking about something important to her; now she is dealing with his feelings and his “damaged self-image.”
I have noticed that many of us men have an odd way of dealing with our spouse’s anger. Often, instead of validating and reflecting their feelings, we beat ourselves up. We are like wounded puppies. We sit there with our heads bowed down, wearing sad expressions on our faces.
Many of us men do not know what to do with a woman’s anger. It can seem as if no matter what we say, it makes her angrier. Sometimes we get so frustrated that we either explode with anger or close down. Often, the anger is more about us than about our partners. We are upset with ourselves for not being good enough, for not making them happy.
I like the episode on “The King of Queens” when Doug Hefferman’s buddy comes to watch a big football game on television. Doug tells him that he has upset his wife, so he thinks it is not a good idea to turn on the television. His friend asks, “What does her being upset have to do with you not watching television?” After his friend looks at him inquisitively, Doug replies, “I haven’t been sad long enough.”
It is a fact that beating ourselves up
and playing the wounded victim
does not allow us to change our behavior
It is a fact that beating ourselves up and playing the wounded victim does not allow us to change our behavior. When what we do or say impacts our partners, it is important to remind ourselves that they have a right to have their feelings and to express them appropriately. Because we care about how we impact our spouses, we want to be a receptive and attentive audience when they express their feelings. So, let’s wait our turn and not shift the focus from them by merging.
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