The title of this post is straight from the book. In chapter 4 Emerson refers back to chapter 2 where he mentioned that husbands interpret criticism as contempt. Men generally don't handle contempt well. He shares this story about how women often underestimate the power of their words.
One huge fellow was stunned by his beloved's attack and said to her, "You hate me." Frustrated, she replied, "When I scream, 'I hate you,' you should know I don't mean it. You are 6'9" and weigh 260 pounds, for goodness' sake. I do that because you can take it."
The truth is, however, a lot of men can't take it. No matter how big they may be physically, emotionally they are vulnerable to what sounds like contempt.
Men fear contempt and then don't enter into conflict because their deepest desire is to be respected and during conflict they generally don't feel respected. I'm not saying it is right to avoid conflict. My belief is that conflict handled well allows a couple to go deeper and deeper in soul intimacy with one another. Yet, most of us don't do conflict well. One survey that he notes says that during conflict men are likely to feel disrespected 81.5% of the time versus feeling unloved. Therefore, he says, men need to feel respected during conflict more than they need to feel loved.
When a man doesn't feel respected by his wife what does he do? A man's biggest sin is avoiding. That's what men do at this time. Almost every man (85%) according to research by John Gottman will stonewall, or become silent during conflict. He feels disrespected and fight or flight blood and adrenaline begin to flow. While the woman may feel she is trying to reconnect the relationship, the man is perceiving he is in the middle of an argument and stays silent to prevent a potential explosion. The woman hears silence and interprets that as unloving and the crazy cycle is off and spinning.
Emerson mentions Proverbs 21:19--It is better to live in a desert land than with a contentious and vexing woman. He says,
"The sad irony is that a wife can become 'contentious and vexing ' because her husband misinterprets her. He doesn't decipher the code in which she cries, "I need your love." Instead, he hears, "I don't respect you." This sweet, tender godly woman is misunderstood. When she gets too negative, she does herself--and her marriage--no favors."
He quotes a woman who put it this way,
My strength and verbal skills aren't helping my marriage. I have come across to my husband as too strong and too controlling and too demanding and too critical. I have been his mommy and his teacher and his holy spirit. It's my own personal nature to lead and direct and control and fix and do right and make others do the same. He is scared of my tongue.
'He is scared of my tongue.' There are many times I've been afraid of Ann's tongue. In the past I would feel her contempt for me. I would either lash back with my own words or more likely just get away, and stay away, as fast as I could. I felt like I was well respected and believed in and liked at work, but at home I couldn't do anything right. After a while I chose not to engage on deep levels when any disagreement was present with Ann. Today when I feel her contempt I generally have the wherewithal to ask about it. I don't assume she hates me anymore. Emerson quoted the CEO of a large company who realized he was reacting to his wife because he felt disrespected. He started voicing this to her, and though it created tension for a while, (admin italics because I often see couples who believe moving good directions will be tension free) it eventually resulted in a deeper understanding between them. The CEO said,
It helps me and her. When I humbly voice my feelings, we both know what's going on, instead of me just being moody and withdrawing. Now as she seeks to understand me, her appeal to me to understand her need for love really makes sense. It feels fair.
Guys, so our fear of being disrespected and misinterpretation of our wife's motives fuels the crazy cycle. The CEO above stated that when he humbly voiced his feelings that led to an exit from the crazy cycle for he and his wife. I think humbly voicing our feelings is essential. It puts a light on the here and now of the interaction, which brings more closeness, and gets away from who is right and who is wrong and who needs to do what. Humbly saying, 'Honey, I'm feeling disrespected right now. Is there another way you can say that?' builds the relationship. This won't be easy. The fight or flight chemicals are still racing through your body, but know that in the midst of that physical reaction you still have a choice of how to respond. Always remember that when you are feeling disrespected she most likely is crying out for love.
Husbands, of course, also have their work cut out for them. Because they are feeling disrespected, they can lose sight of the heart of their wives. It is easy to lose fond feelings of affection in the face of what appears to be contempt. But is her goal to emasculate you? Not if she is good-willed. Even if she is unfairly nasty, this is no excuse for a man of honor to refuse to obey God's command to love his wife. I believe the men who are reading this book (and this post, admin) are men of honor, and my appeal to them is this: Love your wife. Always try to see what is in her deepest heart.