Why Do We Argue?

Posted on 03/18/2015 by



A wife asks a simple question.  Maybe something like, “Could you finish that work on the deck soon?”

Her husband responds, “I will see if I can get to it,…maybe this weekend.”

Things probably would have been fine at this point, but then the wife feels the need to respond back with something like, “You know, it would make me much happier if you could just finish your projects when you start them.  You always leave your tools out everywhere and that is embarrassing.”

Her husband feels a bit taken aback but manages to reply back, “I will try to see if I can get to it this weekend.”

Maybe the wife is feeling like she didn’t get a definite closure to the issue, but then she says, “Do you remember that last project you worked on?  You never did put that last coat of paint on that.  When are you going to do that?”

Well, her husband is feeling fully attacked now.  He thinks through a few things to angrily reply back with, but after considering them feels that they would be disrespectful.  He wants to get away and let things cool down so he just doesn’t say anything at all.  He knows that if he responds it will only lead to more words from his wife about his failures.  There is no need to go to a war of words with his wife when he has only the lightest artillery to fight with.  So, he figures his best approach is to build a stone wall to try to fend off the attack.

The wife sees that her husband is just sitting there quietly, so she feels a rush of anger come over her.  In her view her husband is absolutely uncaring, unfeeling, and just plain cold.  To her, her husband’s response is a billboard blaring, “I don’t love you!”  She has had it and feels so offended by his lack of engagement that she brings out the big guns:  that mental list she keeps deep down inside but never forgets of all of times she has felt unloved by him.  She is desperate to see that he has some feelings so she jabs him with one of those items from her list hoping he might show himself to be human in some way…..even if it is negatively.

He is in full-blown stone-wall mode now.  He is thinking to himself, “She must be heartless to keep disrespecting me like this.  I don’t deserve this.  I know I have problems and have failed many times.  I don’t need to have everything I have ever done wrong put in my face like this.  Why does she attack me so much?”

To be fair, husbands can be just as bad as this.  A husband comes home after a hard day at work.  He might have had a couple of meetings that didn’t go the way he would have liked.  He comes in and hangs his coat up and notices how untidy the bedroom is.  His wife comes in from the kitchen and goes to greet him when he says, “What have you been doing all day?  This house is a mess.  When will supper be ready?”

She responds, “Well, I had to go get groceries today so I didn’t have that much time to clean around the house.  I am cooking some chicken but it will be about 45 minutes before it is ready.”

He retorts, “Why is it going to take so long?  You know I play tennis on Tuesday nights.  I need to leave about that time to be able to warm up before the match.”

She feels horrible and answers, “I am sorry. I totally forgot that it was tennis night for you.  I got behind starting supper because we were late getting home from Johnny’s track practice and then Jenny’s dance teacher wanted to talk for a few minutes before I could get back home.”

He gets more irritated and then throws the last dagger, “Why don’t you plan better?  I don’t ask for much.  You know being able to play tennis is important to me.  I work all day and you fail to try to help me out this one night of the week when I need it most.”

The wife is left feeling awful and even though she had a full day of taking care of the things for the family she feels like she has failed.  He didn’t have the intentions to take out his bad day at work on his wife, but a few triggers happened right when he got home that set him off and pushed him to react in an unloving way.

Do any of these situations sound like arguments that have happened in your marriage?  They start off innocent enough and then best friends become battlers.  They both feel that they are right in their stand because they are not getting what they need from their partner while giving their spouse the very thing that makes them feel equally uncomfortable.  Why is this such an easy cycle to get on?

So, this must be a couple going through some big problems.  Maybe they are struggling with their marriage.  Truth is, this would probably be a pretty normal scenario for an argument between even a married couple where both have pretty good intentions.  The problem is not that they are not committed to each other, but that they are not hearing the right message from each other.

Dr. Emerson Eggerichs, in Love and Respect, says that “Men hear criticism as contempt; Women feel silence as hostility.”  Dr. Eggerichs explains that “a major part of the answer is learning how to decode each other’s messages.” 

So, what are the things that might clue us in to possibly look at an action from our spouse and see a different message than what we think we are hearing.  Dr. Eggerichs says that “when a wife is complaining, criticizing, or crying, she is sending her encoded message, ‘I want your love!When a husband is speaking harshly or sometimes not speaking at all, he is sending his encoded message, ‘I want your respect!’”

Wow…I just solved all of your problems with that last paragraph.  All husbands have to do is look for any signs of complaining, criticizing, or crying from their wife and know that she just needs a little love.  Likewise, all wives just need to sense their husband is speaking angrily or being quiet and she will know that she just needs to give him some respect.  That may work and could help fend off the occasional tiff, but guys aren’t real good at figuring out how to show their wife that they love them and girls are sometimes not great at showing their husbands that they respect them.

We might be able to catch a few issues early on and work through them with this approach, but what happens if we don’t have our guard up all of the time.  We are all good at forgiving and forgetting until we feel attacked or unloved.  All of a sudden our memory seems to kick into overdrive and any past issues are rolled out for easy loading into our weapon of choice.  It is this issue that makes getting out of this vicious argument cycle so difficult.  The feeling of being criticized is a hard deterrent for a guy to overcome to show love.  The feeling of being unloved is just as hard of a deterrent for a wife to overcome to show her husband respect.  Someone has to flinch first to stop the bloodshed.

I think one issue a lot of couples have is that they have an argument over something and then somewhat clear the air.  They work on the issue and try to show love and respect to each other when that same issue comes around.  After some time, though, they let their guard down, become comfortable, and then something triggers either the husband to act in an unloving fashion or the wife to act in a disrespectful manner.  And the cycle starts again……

As we continue looking at Love and Respect, we will look at how we can focus on being the “flincher” in our relationship.  To foreshadow a little, it will involve the husband learning to work on unconditional love and the wife learning to work on unconditional respect.  We will look at that further in future posts.