Aug 162016 8 Responses

4 Words No Man Wants to Hear

Fight or flight. Whenever most men hear four specific words they immediately kick into this natural response. The words: “We need to talk.” These are words I neither want to hear nor say. On either side of the equation my heart begins to race, I get nervous, and I want to run.

Yet for a good marriage to happen, healthy conversation must take place. For good communication to occur, we have to avoid our natural tendency of fight or flight.

We Need to Talk

Jenny and I normally have life-giving conversations. They bring us together and remind us we are on the same team. But on occasion, they aren’t. During a recent table conversation, Jenny said something I didn’t like. She didn’t think anything about it and had no intention of hurting me. Based on the day I had, her words were frustrating, but I didn’t tell her. She had no idea.

A few minutes went by and I left the table. We had an event to attend that evening so I decided to grab my phone, lay on our bed, and return some email. However, as I walked into our bedroom it hit me. The voice in my head said, “You are running.”

The voice was right; I was running. (See: 3 Conversations Every Couple Should Have)

I Tend to Run

I hate conflict, so I often avoid it at all costs. Never having been one to openly display anger, my tendency is to run when tensions rise. I withhold my opinions, avoid difficult topics, and try to pretend as though everything is okay. It’s true with co-workers, friends, and my wife.

When given the choice to openly reveal my hurt or to isolate myself from others, I will choose isolation in every instance. It’s easier…in the short-term. Of course, over the long-term of a relationship, avoiding topics does far more damage.

Others don’t run. At the first sign of rising tensions, they fight. Before they retreat, their voices raise, their words sharpen, and they clearly reveal they are unwilling to have a significant back and forth conversation. (See: How to Keep a Small Fight Small)

While fight or flight couldn’t be expressed in more opposite ways, both responses have the same result–meaningful communication doesn’t happen. Where communication is lacking, relationships suffer.

(Sidenote: Fight or flight should actually be described as Fight and Flight. While we have natural tendencies, we all use both angles to avoid true communication. Many people flee until the frustration builds to such a level that they fight. Others may never yell, but their verbal wit can be used like a sword so that no one dare challenge them. If you think you never run or fight, I’ll bet you are wrong.)

I Have to Change

The moment I heard the voice, I had a decision. Would I continue with my natural inclination or would I do what I knew was right. Temporary satisfaction or long-term success…that was the real choice. In those terms, the decision is easy.

So I turned around, went back to the dining room and said, “What you said really frustrated me.” She was surprised and asked for clarification. I explained why the words hurt me, how I thought they were untrue, and more importantly, gave her some insight into my day of why her words were more painful than she realized.

Her opinions didn’t necessarily change, but the conversation gave her a better understanding of my perspective and a sensitivity into what I was feeling. Had we avoided the tough conversation, I would have been frustrated, she would’ve been confused, and eventually the tension would have revealed itself. Instead, it was settled within minutes and the conflict gave us a better understanding of each other’s thoughts. (See: 6 Common Mistakes When Fighting)

Avoiding Fight or Flight

One key to good communication and conflict resolution within marriage is to recognize our natural response of fight or flight and to find a better way.

1. Recognize It. Learn, most likely through trial and error, the signs of fight or flight. Know your tendencies–which is most tempting for you. Until you see what you are doing, you can never change.

2. Restrain It. Identify ways you can negate the negative consequences of fight or flight. Learn to control you anger. Refuse the temptation to walk away when you get uncomfortable.

3. Redirect It. Whenever you feel the characteristics of fight or flight, appreciate the emotions, but redirect them to the issue at hand. They are signs something important is happening. At the moment in which the average person runs (or yells), choose wisely. Double your concentration and work through the conflict.

Reflecting on my conversation with Jenny, it’s sadly funny. It only took a decade and half for me to get to the point where I can notice my failure, correct it, and openly share my thoughts with her. It still isn’t easy, yet as useful and productive as those conversations are, it is tragic I would ever choose another route.

Fight or flight might be natural, but it is rarely the healthy route in marriage.

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