The other day, I got into a huge fight with my wife. I was mad and couldn’t talk to her. I was worried I would say something bad and be a total jerk. But the next day when things simmered down, she told me she didn’t know if I still loved her. Seriously?! And this isn’t the first time. Whenever we fight, she starts getting a lot of doubts and seems to question my commitment to our marriage. Why does she do that and how can I explain that an argument is just an argument?
Confused but Committed
You know you’re committed, but your wife may not… at least subconsciously. I know what you’re thinking: “But she should know I love her! I mean, we’re arguing and I’m upset, but it doesn’t mean I care about her any less!” The problem is: that is what you’re thinking. You need to know what she’s thinking.
See, there’s something you need to know about women. The vast majority of women (somewhere between 80 and 90 percent according to our nationally-representative surveys) secretly wonder things like: Am I lovable? Does he really love me? Would he choose me all over again? Even confident women in great relationships have those doubts and questions running under the surface.
Bottom line: your wife is not like you. You see, when you said, “I do,” you thought the deal was done, and in all likelihood, the question “Does she love me?” hasn’t crossed your mind since. However, for her, because of her (very typical) concerns, “I do” will probably always mean “Do you still?”
Now, on a conscious level, she probably knows logically that you love her and that hasn’t changed just because you’re arguing. But under the surface is where the doubt lives – and when there is conflict, that doubt decides to rise to the surface and move in! So suddenly, her feelings need convincing proof that you’re still there for her. In fact, either conflict or your withdrawal from the situation can trigger her worry — and the situation you described has both!
So what do you do? When there is conflict, she needs to be reassured. You need to remind her that you still love her, because if you don’t, it’s going to be there roiling inside her, making her feel insecure, miserable and preoccupied. Many women in our research told us, “I know it isn’t the most liberated feeling, but when I know he’s displeased with me, it is like nothing is right with the world until that is resolved.” In fact, without specific reassurance, she may continue to wonder and doubt even after the skirmish seems like yesterday’s news.
What does that reassurance look like? When you’re upset and need some space, reassure her that you love her and that the two of you are going to be fine, before you pull away. Tell her something like, “I’m angry and I need some space… but I want you to know: we’re okay.” Then after you’ve had some time to think, give her a hug. Do something thoughtful to show her you still care (post a sticky note on her mirror where she’ll see it; give her that sideways smile that the two of you know means the argument is over; apologize for being grumpy…).
When there is conflict, you’ll need to know what your battle plan will be in advance, so you don’t forget it all in the heat of the moment. And the more you try this type of reassurance-before-and-after-getting-space, the easier it will be. With the right words and actions, you’ll win and she will, too. And soon, you’ll be so good at making her feel secure that you’ll look back and hardly remember the days when her doubt used to rise up and move in.
Wish Shaunti could speak at an event in your area? You can help! Forward this piece or others to a leader at your organization or church, with a note of recommendation. They can reach Shaunti at NDuncan@shaunti.com.
Shaunti Feldhahn is the best-selling author of eye-opening, research-based books about men, women and relationships, including For Women Only, For Men Only, the groundbreaking The Good News About Marriage, and her newest book, Through A Man’s Eyes. A Harvard-trained social researcher and popular speaker, her ﬁndings are regularly featured in media as diverse as The Today Show, Focus on the Family, and the New York Times. Visit www.shaunti.com for more.