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Motivation and Interpretation: Through Pink and Blue Grids [Video]

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Every married couple is going to experience conflict. That is unavoidable. In fact, it’s even natural. However, when we experience conflict with our spouse, there’s a tendency to be suspicious of their motivation.

Furthermore, as a couple experiences ongoing conflicts over the years, they begin to feel that they are not settling the particular issue right. There’s an unresolved conflict that continues to cause problems. In one sense, we don’t feel that our spouse is really hearing us, and we kind of feel like they don’t value us, that they may not even care about us. There’s a sense in which we are feeling, based on our interpretation of how they’re treating us or not treating us, “I’m not quite sure that their motivation toward me is everything that it should be.” Through our pink and blue grids, we are judging our spouse’s motivation and solidifying our interpretation as fact.

An Act of Hostility or an Act of Honor?

An extensive research study from the University of Washington, while studying two thousand couples, discovered that, when a couple is in conflict, 85 percent of those who withdraw and stonewall is the husband. When women were asked, “What do you feel when he withdraws and stonewalls?” overwhelmingly they are blown away by their husband’s reactions. They say, “I cannot imagine withdrawing and stonewalling over what is nothing more than a minor criticism.” When asked, “What do you feel when he stonewalls and withdraws? they answer, “It feels like an act of hostility.” They have judged his motivation and solidified their interpretation as fact.

About this, one of the points I make is that, based on the research, when those 85 percent of men are in conflict and wanting to withdraw and stonewall, their heartbeats have gotten up to 99 beats per minute. This means they are in warrior mode. Because of this, they determine their best and most honorable course of action is to de escalate. They don’t want to engage while they are in warrior mode, so they withdraw and stonewall. 

This is what men do with other men. They say, more or less, “Drop it, forget it. I’m out of here.” Why? Because they don’t want to escalate the issue. The relationship is more important than trying to settle this issue. For this reason, from a man’s standpoint, their withdrawing and stonewalling is an act of honor. They believe it’s the honorable thing to do so as to protect the relationship. 

This raises the question: When a man stonewalls and withdraws, is it an act of hostility or an act of honor?

When a woman filters her world through her pink grid, she’s going to feel it’s an act of hostility. She’s not going to think his withdrawing and stonewalling is honorable at all. Instead, she interprets his behavior to be motivated by the “fact” that he doesn’t love her. This is what almost every wife will do. Men, your wife is not abnormal or even wrong for interpreting you this way. Because of her pink world, she’s saying, “I’m looking at that behavior and interpreting it as an act of hostility because that’s not how I would react at that moment. Therefore, he doesn’t love me. In fact, he’s acting like he doesn’t even like me. It’s an act of hostility. It’s certainly not honorable.”

But when you ask a man, he’s not trying to be unloving when he stonewalls and withdraws. He would die for his wife. And as Jesus Christ said, “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13 NLT). He loves her, and he’s trying to do the honorable thing so as to prevent this conflict from getting out of control. So to him, his withdrawing and stonewalling is an act of honor, not an act of hostility. Yet to her, it’s an act of hostility, not an act of honor. 

So therein lies the big question—who’s right?

It just depends on whether you are viewing the world through a pink grid or a blue grid. Neither way is wrong, however everyone needs to step back and realize, “I’m looking at this solely through my pink grid [or my blue grid].”

It’s also important to point out here, we’re talking about gray areas of life. We’re not talking about immoral behavior. We’re dealing with things like: “Should we dip into our savings for this purchase or not?” “Should we attend the contemporary church service or the more traditional one?” 

And if while dealing with this gray-area conflict, you get into a moment of what Sarah and I call “heated fellowship” and he kind of shuts down and walks off, how are you as a pink person going to interpret that? Are you going to jump from that interpretation to the fact that “I know his motives. He doesn’t love me. He hates me”? As a blue, are you going to interpret the situation with, “I know I’m an honorable man, so I walk away. I’m done talking about it, and she shouldn’t feel that I hate her”? 

With our biased pink and blue interpretations, it’s so easy to dismiss the other person—not only because of our differing genders but also because of our differing upbringings, spiritual giftings, temperaments, and personalities. There’s a whole list of things that contribute to why we would interpret the behavior in such a way that we can become suspicious of the motivation. And then we start judging the other person. “You’re not a loving person. You’re not a respectable person.” And it becomes problematic. Before long, two people who loved each other at the beginning of the relationship find themselves suddenly derailed and thinking they made a mistake when they married each other.

As I often say, Sarah and I didn’t one day confess to each other, “I hate you and you hate me, so let’s get married.” It didn’t go down that way. So how do couples go from point A, where they love each other, to point Z, where they’re kind of thinking, “I don’t want to keep in this relationship. We’re not friends anymore. We’re foes, not allies. We’re no longer teammates”? They think they’ve made a mistake when the truth is they haven’t. This is normal behavior! Eighty-five percent of men, when in conflict, stonewall and withdraw. They see this as an act of honor, but their wives interpret it as an act of hostility. Who’s right? Who’s wrong? The answer is, yes!

An Act of Contempt or an Act of Care?

In their study of the two thousand couples, the University of Washington also discovered that women, when in conflict, will criticize and complain. About this, the men were asked, “What do you feel about this?” In a sense, every man answered with, “I just think she’s using this conflict as another opportunity to send me the message that she has contempt for who I am as a human being. I can never be good enough. It’s an act of contempt, that’s what’s going on here. The issue she’s complaining about isn’t actually the issue. She’s just using this as a moment to send me another message that she finds me unacceptable and that I need to change and be like her.”

But why do women criticize and complain? If you look at it through her grid, it’s because women care. Within their nurturing nature, they simply cannot not care. Therefore, they confront, they complain, and they criticize, because ultimately they’re trying to improve the relationship. And they just think that he should get that like all of her female friends do when she starts coming at them. Instinctively, they all kind of know this is going to end with “Well, I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have said it that way.” “I’m sorry too.” But they get it all out and then they say, “Will you forgive me?” “Yes!” Then they hug and they get laughter going back again. I like to say they are comfortable in the “ocean of emotion,” where everything always comes back full circle. 

But with the husband there is no “full circle” in the ocean of emotion. For him, everything kind of stops on the heels of these criticisms and complaints, because he doesn’t interpret it as caring. But every woman will say it’s an act of care. She’ll say, “I’m going to have my days just as he has his days. But generally, we’re not taking snapshots to incriminate the person. Everything is because I care so much for him, and he should realize that.” 

What Is Your Spouse’s True Motivation?

It all comes back to motivation and interpretation. He’s trying to do the honorable thing that she can feel is hostile. She’s trying to do the caring thing that he sees as contemptuous. So in the case of the woman, gentlemen, is it an act of contempt or is it an act of care? If you’re viewing it all through your blue grid, you’re going to say, “She’s just disrespectful. I’m sick and tired of it!” But what if her whole motivation is that she cares? To her, it’s an act of care.

And she can be filled with an act of care, but her criticisms, complaints, and confrontations are just a bit too much for her husband. And as the University of Washington’s research revealed, it’s normal and natural for the man to think, “This is really all about not respecting me until I change and meet her standard of expectation.” 

What, then, is your spouse’s motive during these conflicts? Are you concluding, “I know his motive” or “I know her motive”? As a woman, you’re interpreting it through your pink grid and saying, “What he’s doing is an act of hostility, not an act of honor. And what I’m doing is an act of care, not an act of contempt. I’m right, he’s wrong.”

As a man, you’re interpreting it through your blue grid and saying, “What I’m doing is an act of honor, not an act of hostility. I’d die for her—doesn’t she know that? But what she’s doing is an act of contempt, not an act of care. I’m right, she’s wrong.” 

So what do we do then? What if we gave each other the benefit of the doubt? In 1 Corinthians 7:33-34, Paul tells us that the husband is concerned about how to please his wife and the wife is concerned about how to please her husband. Paul understood that we’re sinful, selfish people. After all, he penned Romans, which talks about our fallen nature. He knew as well as anyone that we’ve all sinned. But in verse 28 he assures his readers that if they have married, they have not sinned. However, they will have trouble, as Paul makes clear. But you’re not having troubles because you’re sinful. Yes, of course there are marital troubles because of sin—adultery and abuse to name a couple. But that’s not what we’re dealing with here. Again, we’re talking about differences in the gray areas of life, such as where to send your kids to school or whether or not to take out a small business loan. 

So men, from a biblical standpoint, is your wife really motivated to do the contemptuous thing, or do you believe she is motivated to do the caring thing? This is what you need to ask yourself. And I believe that when you take a beat to consider this, you will conclude that she’s not trying to do the contemptuous thing, and she’s not trying to say you’re not an honorable man. However, there are moments when she feels unloved. So can you address that with her?

And ladies, from a biblical standpoint, is your husband really trying to be unloving or act in hostile ways, or do you believe he’s actually motivated to do the honorable thing? Once again, I believe that when you stop and ask yourself this question, you will come to the answer that he’s not trying to be unloving or hostile. In fact, you know that he would die for you, therefore he’s not trying to say that you’re just a nagging wife who doesn’t know what she’s talking about. However, there are moments when he doesn’t feel respected. Can you address that with him?

Interpret Through the Positive Grid

Sarah and I go through the same experiences that every other couple goes through, but we made a decision to interpret each other not through my blue grid or her pink grid but through the positive grid, based on 1 Corinthians 7:33-34. I believe Sarah at her basic core is concerned with how to please me, and she believes at my basic core that I am concerned with how to please her. This means she doesn’t read my withdrawal at moments as an act of hostility, but that I’m trying to do the honorable thing, even though it still feels unloving to her and she can’t imagine doing that. Because of this, I make a commitment that after fifteen minutes, when I have calmed down, I will come back and talk with her.

On the other side, Sarah has refrained from always feeling like she needs to confront and complain and criticize. She’s learning to cast some of those things on Christ. After all, husbands and wives don’t need to talk about every little last thing. So at times a wife can try to refrain from sharing every thought she has, but when she does share, she can reassure him that she’s not trying to show him contempt. She’s not trying to be disrespectful. She knows he’s an honorable man. So she asks him, “Help me say this in a way that you don’t interpret it as disrespectful and dishonoring when I’m trying to do the caring thing and just wanting to improve our relationship.”

If we begin to trust the motive of the other person, not interpret them through that negative light, we’re going to be okay. No, conflicts won’t cease. But they’ll be interpreted differently. Because we see their motive differently.

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

Questions to Consider

  1. When was a time when, in conflict, you prematurely and incorrectly judged your spouse’s motivation and interpreted as fact something that you discovered later to not be true? How did viewing this conflict through your pink or blue grid help to lead you this way?
  2. Wives, can you see how your husband views his withdrawing and stonewalling as an act of honor? In what ways is it showing his honor for you? Husbands, can you see how your wife views it as an act of hostility? In what ways is your withdrawing and stonewalling misrepresenting your love and honor for her?
  3. Husbands, can you see how your wife views her criticizing and complaining as an act of care? In what ways is it showing her care for you? Wives, can you see how your husband views your criticizing and complaining as an act of act of contempt? In what ways is your criticizing and complaining misrepresenting your care for him?
  4. Do you believe that at your spouse’s basic core, he or she is concerned with how to please you? How will you help yourself to remember this when you are tempted to interpret his or her actions as an act of hostility or contempt?