when my husband is wrong

 ["Couple Fighting Love" by hyperscholar]

My husband is NOT always, or even usually, wrong. Mostly he is just different than me. Figuring out this distinction took some time but we've worked it out on most things; I've learned "his" way to put in the toilet paper roll and squeeze the toothpaste; he arranges the sheets/bedding/lights/blinds "my" way.

However, every once in a while, my husband is wrong. The vast majority of us in relationships are going to occasionally come up against this dilemma: I'm right and he's wrong. [As we will also come across the reverse "I'm wrong and he's right" but this post isn't about that one.]

Perhaps he forgot something important. Or said he'd do something and didn't. Maybe he took out stress with other things on me. In such cases, I'm right to feel hurt. I'm right that he "should've . . ." or "could've. . ." I'm right that what he did was mean or inconsiderate. I'm right and he's wrong. Some of these times that I'm right and he's wrong I'm not in the mood to respond in a childlike way. I want to lay into him, make him hurt as much as me and then hurt him a wee bit more. Even though I know that is wrong. I'll regret it later. Even though I know it's petulant. It is still what I want.

What to do when in that situation? It boils down to a simple phrase: choose to be right or choose to be happy. The first time I heard that concept I scoffed - then mulled it over and decided it made sense. The first two hundred times I tried to implement the concept I caught myself in an outraged feedback loop: "but I'm right! What does this mean, no consequences? There have to be consequences. The consequence is that I'm upset. He needs to know it. Gosh darn it! I'm justified; I'm right!" I just could not see myself choosing happiness without there being a strong undercurrent of resentment.

At last, on the two-hundredth-and-first try I managed to choose to be happy instead of choosing to be right. I called a time-out and went and read a favorite magazine. For several days I politely avoided my husband to instead do things I enjoy. My husband is a smart man; he noticed that I had stopped yelling and smashing things and decided he wouldn't jinx anything by interfering with the new operations. All this time that feedback loop in my brain was quietly seething: "but I'm right! I'm right! *bad words, bad words* I'm right!" After a few days I sat down with my husband, I calmly looked him in the eye and I told him how hurt I felt by his actions and why they hurt me. Instead of yelling, my voice near-quivered and the hurt poured out. How unloved and insignificant I felt. How it brought up completely unrelated insecurities (Am I unattractive to him? Am I boring? Does my new shampoo leave an unpleasant odor?). What did my husband do? He wrapped his wonderful arms around me and listened and cared. It was heaven.

Three days later he had done the same wrong something-or-other.

The "I'm right" feedback loop in my brain armed a militia with cannons, muskets, and a few thunderbolts. It took a long walk around the block, some serious cleaning, and dozens of deep breaths to keep the firing squad from taking over. Only then could I engage in some "happy" activities. There were attempts to speak with my husband the next day. They were aborted when we started yelling. I was more upest that the same wrong thing had occurred. It wasn't just that I was hurt, it was that my previous efforts seemed an exercise in futility. That "I'm right" militia's chief cry, "See you chose happiness and now look where we are. The exact same place!" had my resolve slipping.

What's a woman to do in this sort of situation? Keep looking for ways to choose happiness. This idea is supported by Dr. John Gray in his book Why Mars & Venus Collide. When a woman is happy, "it is easy for her to give a man points for the many ways he contributes to her life. He may only be sitting on the couch watching the news, but she is aware of the comfort she gets by his being there." [p.114-115] According to Gray, the chief proponent of a woman feeling good is relatively low levels of testosterone to high levels of oxytocin (pronounced ok-si-toe-sun). Referred to as the "bonding hormone" for the role it plays in bonding marriage partners and mothers to infants; oxytocin reduces stress in women. The more oxytocin-producing activities she engages in the lower a woman's stress levels will be.

Oxytocin stimulating activities include sharing, communication, cleanliness, beauty, trust, consistency, compliments, affection, teamwork, nurturing, support, collaboration,& routine, rhythm and regularity. [p.62] Most women have already instinctively learned such stress-reducing behaviors. It is why when having a down day a woman will call up a girlfriend, go shoe shopping, eat chocolate ice cream while watching a sad movie, or have her hair done. "Oxytocin levels go up when we are caring, sharing, and befriending without expectations. Just as oxytocin production increases when we are nurturing to others, it is also stimulated when we are nurturing to ourselves." [p.66] On the other hand, results-oriented giving - thinking I'll give to him and see if he gives back to me - does not stimulate as much oxytocin; what's more, it could bond us into toxic relationship habits.

Choosing to be happy rather than right also applies to men. While you are engaged in activities that produce oxytocin he may decide to engage in activities that produce testosterone. Activities that will increase testosterone involve goal setting, competition, problem solving, risk, danger, efficiency, urgency, success, dominance, or projects. [p.62] Then when coming back together to fix the original problem both parties are calmer (happier) and can resolve the dispute quicker.

One way to then speed resolution of "I'm right and he's wrong" discussions is to utilize the production of oxytocin and testosterone. This is accomplished by dividing the discussion into two parts. For part 1, it is his job to listen and to gently encourage more talking; her job is to calmly share without expecting him to change or fix anything. To share without a "he must change" agenda may be difficult but it will produce more oxytocin.[p.184] Once she has shared everything she has to share (on this issue) it is time for part 2, problem-solving, at this point both are free to talk and come up with solutions. That is if it's still necessary; sometimes when a woman is talking about her feelings she realizes she isn't upset about what she thought she was upset about and just the act of sharing it to an attentive spouse will solve the problem.

When both parties feel close and content you know that the marriage has been refreshed for another day.

["Couple" by mrhayata]

Gray Ph.D., John. Why Mars & Venus Collide, 2008.
  1. I am grateful to walk through crunchy fall leaves.
  2. I am grateful for the smells of autumn.
  3. I am grateful my husband has been cooking for me.
  4. I am grateful my husband opened the impossible lid on the lacquer remover can.
  5. I am grateful for non-sooty heat.

1 Comment:

zanjabil said...

I so enjoyed this post! Thank you I too struggle with the "I'm right" syndrome :)