My wife smothers me. I love her, but sometimes I just need space.
The situation you raise is a case of good news and bad news. First the bad news: this is probably one of the most typical scenarios between husbands and wives—and most husbands get really frustrated, just like you! And, now the good news: there is a way to understand what’s happening and turn things around.
You might be surprised to know this type of "dance"—you, as a guy needing space and your wife coming after you—is really a biological gender issue. That’s right, she’s not just being a pest; and I might add to the wives who are reading this column, your husband is not just tuning you out.
New research has found that women are designed, so to speak, to react more emotionally. Men, on the other hand will have an aversive (negative) response to too much stimulation. Starting to see where this is going? A woman gets upset, she reacts emotionally, it’s too much stimulation for the man, he does something to create space, she feels he’s pulling away and goes after him which only provokes his need for more space. And so on and so on and so on.
Of course by not understanding the other gender each is creating their own interpretation from his or her perspective. So to a man, it will feel like a woman just won’t leave him alone—but he’s not leaving her, he’s just creating some breathing room. A woman feeling far more comfortable with emotions and closeness attributes a man’s desire for space as his not caring or pulling away from her, therefore, she makes various gestures in an attempt to reconnect.
So, how do you handle this endless cycle?
1. Understand that the genders are truly different in their styles and the actions taken are not intentionally meant to hurt the other.
2. Men: When you need to take some space, let your wife know that you are merely taking a "time-out" for a little while.
3. Women: Allow your man to have some breathing room. Don’t assume his leave-taking is anything more than temporary.
4. Men: Women are verbal creatures. They like to hear words of reassurance.
5. Women: Don’t just tell him you’re sorry—men like actions, not words. Don’t follow him around the house and you'll see how much sooner he returns.
6. Men: Be willing to listen to your partner. When a woman feels "heard," she has less of a need to go on and on.
7. Women: When speaking to a man, since he doesn’t feel comfortable with too much stimulation, make your point directly and speak briefly.
With a little understanding of your variations and the ability to offer loving compassion to one another’s styles, your relationship will soon be doing a graceful waltz!
Karen Sherman, Ph.D., (www.drkarensherman.com) is a practicing psychologist in relationships and lifestyle issues for over 20 years. She offers teleseminars and is co-author of Marriage Magic! Find It! Make It Last.