In part 1, we described a wife’s basic fear as the experience of feeling disconnected from her significant others, but especially from her husband. That’s the purpose behind her use of a man’s most feared words–”Honey, we need to talk.” She often says this, not because he’s necessarily done something wrong–she just wants to reconnect. When a husband can understand this, some positive changes in the marriage can occur.
But why do men dread hearing these words? And why do husbands automatically assume they are in trouble? Because, in contrast to a wife’s basic fear of disconnection, the husband’s basic fear is to be seen as a failure. You can see why he interprets his wife’s words so negatively, and as a result, it only adds to the problem.
Think it through. The wife says we need to talk. She says this because she has this deep feeling that somehow the connection between her and her husband is broken. So she says it in order, in her mind, to reconnect with her husband.
But he hears it as a prelude to her criticizing him for something he hans’t done, or for something he hasn’t done correctly. He does a quick scan of what he’s not done, or what he’s done wrong in the last 24 hours. And like any husband, he can quickly come up with three or four areas where he’s vulnerable. He’s prepared for her to criticize him on one of these, or maybe even for something he’s not even aware of. So he decides the best protection is to go on the defensive.
As soon as he responds defensively, his wife’s intention to reconnect has been thrown off course. Reconnecting is out the window, and she responds to his defensiveness by being counter-defensive. And what started out as a desire on the wife’s part to connect has now increased her sense of being disconnected. It’s one of those vicious cycles that every couple wishes they could break.
What’s interesting is that if a wife can understand that she, in her need for connection with her husband, almost automatically feeds into his basic fear of failure, she could go a long ways towards breaking the cycle. At the same time, if he could set his fear of failure aside for a moment and give his wife a tender response to her need to talk , he also could go a long ways in breaking the vicious cycle in which they are both caught. Either one can begin to break the cycle, but it will take them both to understand the impact on their relationship of each other’s basic fears.
Question: How has your wife’s, or your husband’s, basic fear contributed to your being caught in this vicious cycle?