Different Approaches to Upsets

My husband Steve and I have learned a lot of things about each other and about marriage in the 42+ years we have been married. And one thing we have come to find out is how differently we approach matters when we’re upset about something.

Jon Collier, from Flickr.com
Jon Collier, from Flickr.com

When an issue upsets me, I have a tendency to either want to withdraw to have some time to think, pray, and work through the matter, or I want to talk about it (and by “talk” I mean that I want to work it through with my husband until I can somehow make better sense of it all). I know that these are two opposite approaches, but that’s how I seem to handle matters, which hold emotionality in them for me.

When Steve is upset he has a tendency to either want to retreat and sleep (needing shut down time, to gain new strength), or he tries to get closer to me by being all lovey-dovey, wanting to make love (his way of kissing and making up to connect again, even though the issue isn’t really resolved in either of our minds).

I can hardly wrap my mind around Steve’s methods. When anything upsets me either of those methods is the last thing that occurs to me. I’m restless, can’t sleep, and certainly don’t feel romantic in any way. 

Sometimes when he approaches me at those times, the temptation is there to look at him as if he’s some alien from outer space. How could he even START to think about sleeping and especially making love when there are unresolved matters in the air? And yet that’s what happens. I haven’t liked it and Steve hasn’t liked that I haven’t liked it. He also hasn’t liked my methods of approaching upsets and I haven’t liked that he hasn’t liked them. Does that make any sense? Probably not…

All I know is that it has taken us a lot of years NOT to fight about our different approaches (although sometimes I confess that occasionally we still do fall into that temptation). But through intentionality to have a great marriage (which we do) and because of all the effort we put into studying marriage (which we do), we have learned to quit fighting about it and judging the other in their approach, and instead we give each other more grace and space.

Within more recent years, Steve has learned that if I withdraw, I will come back in a better frame of mind. I’ve also learned to tell him that I NEED the space (or he certainly won’t like the way in which I would handle things). I’ll have more of a tendency to let my raw emotions get out of control if I don’t have some space to process the matter in a healthy way by taking some “quiet time” to prayerfully sort out the issues at hand. Steve has learned to trust me on that (after some bad experiences when he has pushed matters, no doubt).

And if I have the need to talk things out, then I’ve learned to not to make them marathon events (usually) because it puts Steve’s brain on overload and it doesn’t prove to be a productive time at all. For Steve, and for us as a couple, it’s better to revisit the issue several times in shorter spurts than to keep going on and on. I’ve learned that this is a decent compromise. As long as we DO resolve matters eventually, then it’s worth being more patient. Marriage matters are not all about “me” feeling better, but about “WE” and how WE can both feel better about that which concerns us.

As for Steve’s approach to upsets, he acknowledges that it isn’t healthy to leave them unresolved. But I’ve learned that sometimes he needs space at first –whether it’s through taking a nap, going to bed early, or his just needing to watch TV for a while to depressurize the situation in his mind. So, if he asks for grace and space, it’s usually given if the matter isn’t time-sensitive, because it seems to be important for him to get to a better place mentally. But eventually, we both know that we will work matters out TOGETHER at some fairly soon point.

As for the making love thing… nope… it just can’t happen when things are up in the air in a disturbing way. But later… that’s a whole different matter.

I’ve learned that for Steve, it’s an “emotional connection” thing going on in him. He can’t stand it when there’s a disturbing matter in the works (whether it’s the death of a family member, an argument, or distressing news of some sort). The first thing he wants is assurance that the “WE” in our relationship is in tact. Making love is not only a physical connection, but it’s an important emotional connection for him.

So when things are upsetting, he has learned that we will make love a little later and things will be okay, and I have learned to make love a little sooner and all is better in our marriage relationship.

This kind of goes along with the point made in 1 Corinthians 7:3-6:

The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and like-wise the wife to her husband. The wife’s body does not belong to her alone but also to her husband. In the same way, the husband’s body does not belong to him alone but also to his wife. Do not deprive each other except by mutual consent and for a time so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. I say this as a concession, not as a command.

What’s my point in telling you this? It certainly isn’t for our comfort. This isn’t a fun subject to broach or to confess, as far as the mistakes we made earlier in our marriage. But hopefully, by telling you this, it will help you in YOUR marriage. Our marriage is doing well now, and hopefully, if you’re having problems in this area you will work together to get to a better place, as well.

Rather than looking at your spouse’s way of approaching that, which upsets him or her as wrong (unless it’s abusive), look at it as “different.” Don’t judge just because it makes no sense to you. Instead, become students of each other and students of marriage —learning skills that will help you to overcome that which is dividing you. Marriage is about learning to “marry” your differences —finding ways to compromise and work together so the “me” in each of you doesn’t overtake the “we” that you vowed to grow on your wedding day.

It’s not that when you marry, one of you is erased. It’s that when you marry, the “selfism” is to be erased. It’s inevitable that you won’t always think alike after marrying, but it’s important to think TOGETHER —to help each other grow as individuals and to grow as a couple who work with each other in the various situations presented to you.

This is my/our prayer for you and your marriage relationship, as God ordains it:

May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!(Romans 15:5-6)

This blog is written by Cindy Wright of Marriage Missions International.

Print Post

Filed under: Marriage Blog

Join the Discussion

Please observe the following guidelines:

  • Try to be as positive as possible when you make a comment.
  • If there is name-calling, or profane language, it will be deleted.
  • The same goes with hurtful comments targeted at belittling others; we won't post them.
  • Recommendations for people to divorce will be edited out–that's a decision between them and God, not us.
  • If you have a criticism, please make it constructive.
  • Be mindful that this is an international ministry where cultural differences need to be considered.
  • Please honor the fact this is a Christ-centered web site.

We review all comments before posting them to reduce spam and offensive content.


2 responses to “Different Approaches to Upsets

  1. I kind of feel left out too. It’s midnight but can’t sleep because things haven’t been fine with “us”. He just won’t talk to me but seems really happy to be with his friends. When he comes home he’s all sad. This has happened for almost 3 weeks now. I feel he lets his problems take over him and won’t let it down at the feet of Christ. He wants to solve his problems himself.

    He also takes things to the extreme, goes in debt, comes home all sulking. We don’t talk about our finances. Everyone does as he or she wishes with money. I have a better saving habit so I want to save mine so we can invest in things. To be honest as a wife I don’t feel like we are one and I don’t feel my home is being led in the right direction. I can’t say this to him because it would bring down his self esteem and I’m not ready to head the home but it seems it’s getting to that point. I constantly have bad thoughts running through my mind that am struggling with and need God to take control. I need my husband back…

  2. Great points – my husband and I too handle disagreements differently. He wants to have some time alone to think and I need to talk about these things and be reassured that even though we disagreed he still loves me. We’re still working on a compromise, but we have only been married 2 and a half years and it’s gotten a lot better, but I know we still have a long way to go.