In marriage, it is inevitable that we will wound or offend our spouse in some way. A constructive, well-thought-out-response can diffuse the situation quickly and provide opportunity for growth and change. Learning how to respond rather than react is a very important skill for both partners to maintain a good, healthy, unified marriage.
A key difference between men and women is their sensitivity levels. When I’m counseling couples or teaching on marriage, I always introduce a word picture to help each spouse get a better understanding of this. I call it the "Buffalo vs. Butterfly” comparison. Understanding this concept is extremely helpful for couples to reach greater levels of acceptance of one another. Allow me to explain.
Oftentimes, a man will say something to his wife in jest or in fun, but may find his wife is not laughing! That is because women are by nature more sensitive than men, and it’s up to the man to figure out what upsets her and adjust accordingly (1 Peter 3:7). When it comes to sensitivity, men are more like buffaloes and women are more like butterflies. Many men kind of bump into each other, insult each other, tell inappropriate jokes, call each other names, use foul language, rough house, and so forth. When they are around other buffalos, this kind of conduct is completely acceptable and just fine. In fact, it’s fun for us men! But, unfortunately, when we bring that same kind of activity home to our wives, she won’t necessarily feel the same way about it. She may not be laughing...at all. Why? She is a butterfly. She is beautiful and damages much more easily.
Let’s say a pebble or a stone represents an insult, a coarse joke, foul language, name-calling, or rough housing. If you take a pebble and chuck it at a buffalo, it doesn’t hurt the buffalo at all, because its hide is so thick. It’s like, “What was that? A mosquito?” It doesn’t feel much pain from slights or offenses by others. But if you take that very same pebble and throw it at a butterfly, it destroys or gravely damages it. Offenses that make no impact (or hardly any) can devastate our wives and cause them great pain. What to men is only a pebble may be a boulder to the wife. This is just the way God made her. She is not too sensitive; she’s sensitive in just the right amount. Now granted, wives who grew up around rough and tumble brothers may be able to handle more, so you will have to consider where your wife is on the sensitivity scale. And yes, in some cases, husbands can be the more sensitive partner.
I admit that this idea is hard to grab a hold of for some men. But take it from someone who grew up with a lot of sarcasm in life. I discovered the hard way that I had to have control over my words, because I was wounding my wife, Dana, without meaning to. I realized my words were wounding and hurtful, instead of edifying (building up) or encouraging.Dana has learned how to manage and control her own reactions when I have inadvertently thrown a boulder at her. In her teaching to other women, she likes to remind them that they really have three choices on how to respond to the pebbles or boulders their husband throws:
She can get really angry and yell and react, which can lead to additional conflict and out of control emotions.
She might be tempted to yell back at him and hurl her own insults at him, which just makes the problem worse and creates a big fight.
She can get very quiet and passive, close down, and not talk at all. This is the martyr approach, the wounded one, who takes the insults but disconnects from him until he figures out on his own what he has done and apologizes (or not!).
Unfortunately, guys can be pretty thick when it comes to this, so what he really needs is for his wife to be more direct. When a boulder or pebble hits my wife by one of my off-handed sarcastic remarks or inadvertent insults, Dana has learned not to respond right away. Her tendency is to close down and withdraw, rather than yell. But now, she thinks to herself, “I’m going to take a step back and let the dust settle on this; I’m not going to react right now.” That gives her time to think about how to respond in a constructive way, or formulate how she will verbalize why what I said upset her. Later, when she’s ready to talk, she tells me plainly, but directly, “I was hurt when you said that because....”
The key to working with your spouse is to say what you need to in a clear, straightforward manner, without accusation or blame attached, or excess emotion. In my marriage, this is how I have learned what hurts her. She does not demean me, and I don’t have to go back and grovel in order to get her to tell me what I did wrong. She takes the mystery out of my mistake and then I can change my behavior based on what I know not to do now. This makes all the difference in the world.
The following is an excerpt from a new book I'm writing called Marriage Secrets: 7 Major Reasons Why Marriages Thrive or Fail. If you have a story to share about what has worked to make your marriage thrive, I would love to hear from you. Feel free to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Remember, your greatest life is just ahead.
In His service,
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