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What Is Your Secret to Avoiding the Criticism-and-Withdrawal Pattern That Starts Up So Many Crazy Cycles?

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Between all husbands and wives there is a dynamic called "criticism-and-withdrawal.”

For example, a wife criticizes her husband for being late again for dinner. He withdraws by going quiet and feeling miffed by what he feels is an unfair criticism since his boss demanded he stay late again.

Or, a husband criticizes his wife for not cleaning up the mess in the kitchen and living room, which he sees first thing when he comes home from work. She withdraws in hurt and anger and decides to take their three kids under age five over to her parents' place for a couple of hours.

What Research Has Revealed

Research reveals that in 85 percent of the cases the husband is the one who withdraws, though growing up I personally observed my mom withdraw.

Our research in most of these "criticism-and-withdrawal" scenarios has revealed as well that in this moment of withdrawal the husband feels disrespected and the wife feels unloved, which is why Ephesians 5:33 commands the wife to respect her husband and the husband to love his wife. 

Yes, a wife can feel disrespected, but if he keeps appearing disrespectful a wife usually says, "How can you say that you love me and treat me this way?" As for a husband, he can feel unloved, but most wives love to love so it is a serious thing for a husband to claim his wife is unloving. Most often he feels disrespected, not unloved. Also, most wives in the relationships we have studied have readily expressed that during conflict with their husband they love him but do not feel respect for him during this time.

But the point is not to argue this gender difference since everyone feels different things at different times. Even so, the general findings from our research confirm that a wife most often centers on love, though she also needs respect, and a husband most often centers on respect, though he still needs love.

For in our research we asked seven thousand people, "When you have a conflict with your spouse, do you feel unloved or disrespected at that moment?" Eighty-three percent of the husbands said "disrespected" and 72 percent of the wives said "unloved.”

This need for two different things can put a couple on what I call the Crazy Cycle! Without love she reacts without respect, and without respect he reacts without love.

This baby spins!

Feeling unloved by his criticism or withdrawal, she reacts in ways that feel disrespectful to him. Feeling disrespected by her criticism or withdrawal, he reacts in ways that feel unloving to her. 

Round and round it goes.

Would You Do Me a Huge Favor?

The goal here is to help couples soften and resolve the "criticism-and-withdrawal" pattern that usually, not always, leads to a husband feeling disrespected and a wife feeling unloved.

Some of you have discovered a way to reduce the pattern of criticism and withdrawal in your relationship, and I would love to hear about it!



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

Questions to Consider

  1. How do you resolve this tension and would you share with me what you have found to work?