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Are You Seeking to Do the Loving, Honorable Thing but Are Being Misunderstood? [Video]

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Research Findings: Love and Respect in Marriages

The University of Washington studied two thousand couples for twenty years. They observed them through laboratory-like settings over months at a time, with the couples living in apartments so that the researchers could clinically look at them. These were intense observations.

Eventually, patterns began to surface that were consistent, and the researchers said, “We now know the two key ingredients for successful marriages. When these two ingredients are present, the marriage succeeds. When they aren’t present, the marriage fails.” Of course, that’s a dogmatic statement. We must always think in terms of a bell curve. There’s an exception to almost everything that any researcher concludes. 

But what the University of Washington researchers concluded is that love and respect is this set of two ingredients for successful marriages. Beyond that, it even became gender specific. For instance, 85 percent of the time when one spouse stonewalls—they withdraw at a certain point when there is a provocation between male and female in an intimate relationship—is the male who does so. Eighty-five percent of the time, the one who says, “Drop it. Forget it. I don’t want to talk about this anymore,” is the male. 

That means that 15 percent are women. If you’re in that 15 percent as a woman, you’re not a male. I’ve had women say, “Well, I must be a man because I stonewall.” My mother stonewalled, and she’s not a man. So work with me on these stats. Don’t say, “Well, I must be a man.” No, you’re not.

Gender Dynamics in Conflict Resolution

These researchers asked the men why they were withdrawing and stonewalling, and one of the things they discovered related to the man’s physiology. They noticed that these men’s heartbeats, during conflict, would get to ninety-nine beats per minute. At ninety-nine beats per minute, a man is in warrior mode. 

He looked calm, though he was in warrior mode, but she looked like she was out of control. However, she was relatively calm, heartbeat-wise. Because she had a goal in mind. He, on the other hand, was feeling provoked. That’s why he tells her, “You’re picking a fight. Drop it. I don’t want to fight.” Then she says, “I’m not trying to pick a fight. What are you talking about?”

So, what does an honorable man do when he’s feeling provoked and he’s in warrior mode? There’s either fight or flight, and he doesn’t want to fight with her. So in his mind there’s only flight. He withdraws. 

If two male buddies who are best of friends and would die for each other get spitting mad at each other, what do they do? They say, “Drop it, forget it.” They back away. This is honorable to them. But in the culture of intimacy, this act is interpreted as unloving by almost every woman. In fact, the women were asked, “What do you feel when your husband is withdrawing like that?” Here is the word they used—to them, it feels like an act of hostility.

An act of hostility. That’s the opposite of love. The women also said that they could not imagine shutting down over what they perceive to be a minor criticism. They simply cannot grasp this, particularly because they feel they’re trying to help. So here he seeks to do the honorable thing, but he’s interpreted as hostile and unloving.

Perception vs. Intention: Navigating Misunderstandings

What were the women doing? This is what the researchers said about the women. They criticized and complained. This was the clinicians’ observation. The women criticized and complained. The question is, why? Because she cares. 

As I say, women confront to connect. They don’t confront to control. It’s not a turn-on for a woman to control her husband. She doesn’t get sexually turned on, for instance, by trying to control him. That’s not her heart. She confronts to connect, but it appears to him as though she confronts to control, because there’s no other person in his life who talks to him this way. And if they did—if another guy was talking to him like this—it would be absolutely true. “He’s trying to control me.” 

But she’s not trying to control him. This is what makes it difficult. But nonetheless, there’s this ongoing criticism and complaint, and the researchers asked the men, “What do you feel?” To these men, this ongoing criticism felt like contempt for who they were as human beings. They felt that she was using this topic as an opportunity to send him a message that she doesn’t like him.

So here she does the caring thing, but she’s interpreted as contemptuous. So we have this very interesting disconnect. What is the issue when the issue isn’t the issue? The issue is, in most cases, she’s feeling unloved. In most cases, he’s feeling disrespected.

What’s even more interesting is that he seeks to do the respectful, honorable thing only to be labeled as unloving. And she seeks to do the loving thing and he says, “I’m sick and tired of this disrespect. No one talks to me this way. I don’t deserve this disrespect.” She’s in disbelief because all she’s trying to do is do the loving thing, and he’s in disbelief when he hears, “You’re the most unloving person on the planet,” when he is trying to do the honorable thing.

Who’s right? Yes. It just depends on whether you’re recording through pink or through blue.

Emerson Eggerichs, Ph.D.
Author, Speaker, Pastor

Questions to Consider

  1. What similarities do you and/or your spouse have with the University of Washington research findings? Are there any differences?
  2. Emerson said that in the culture of intimacy, the husband saying, “Drop it, forget it” before backing away is interpreted as unloving by almost every woman. Do you agree? Why is this viewed as an act of hostility?
  3. Women confront not to control but to connect. Without changing who she is as a female, how can a wife connect with her husband in a way that does not appear to him as controlling?
  4. Men withdraw out of honor not out of hostility. Without changing who he is as a male, how can a husband honor his wife when in conflict so that he can still lower his heartbeats but not appear to her as hostile?