Friday, March 18, 2011

Crazy cycle

Richard and I are speaking at a couple's retreat for a church planter near Memphis this weekend, so we've been researching and writing a new talk. We read the book, Love and Respect, by Dr. Emerson Eggerichs. An important truth that I never really understood clearly was how men and women view criticism or confrontation. Dr. Eggerichs says that men and women see this differently.

For instance, as a rule, women are the confronters, the ones who want to get things out on the table and get them settled. He says that a wife who is in love with her husband will move toward him when she feels unloved. For example, it's their first year of marriage and he has been late to dinner two nights in a row without calling. She says to herself, "This is wrong. How can he be so insensitive. Am I last on his priority list? This is unloving." SO she proceeds to say what she believes is the loving thing when he comes home: "We need to talk. Please sit down and talk to me."

This is the same approach she would use with a girlfriend. They both usually verbalize their feelings and share what is on their hearts, because they know it will eventually lead to reconciliation. At some point, one of them will say, "Well, I was wrong." Then the other will say, "No, I was wrong too. Will you forgive me?" The other will say, "Of course, I'll forgive you. I'm really sorry." Then they hug, shed a few tears, and pretty soon they're laughing.

So she thinks this approach will work with her husband just as well as it does with her girlfriends. Her eventual goal is that both of them will apologize and then embrace. It's a way of keeping their marriage up-to-date. She wants to resolve things and to reconcile.

Eggerichs says that when men hear negative criticism, it doesn't take them long to interpret that as disrespect and contempt for who they are as men. He thinks, "I can never please her. I don't deserve this kind of talk. Everybody respects me except you. You're just picking a fight. I wish you would just be quiet." When a husband can take it no longer, he gets up and walks out without a word. He might as well have screamed, "I don't love you." She has tried to move toward him and he has proved he is the most hostile, unloving man on the planet. He doesn't want to fight verbally or physically. (This makes her see him as cold and uncaring.) Women hear silence as hostility.

I think you get the picture. Eggerichs says we get on this crazy cycle and keep misinterpreting what our spouses are saying. Small things become bigger than they really are. I would highly recommend the book. If you've read it, maybe you have another insight to share.