How Fight or Flight Messes Him Up With You

Lori and I have been watching a video series on the way mental and emotional trauma affect the brain. At one point they were discussing the fight, flight, or freeze response. 

How Fight or Flight Messes Him Up With You

Sometimes this response is the cause of what are identified as communication problems in marriages. It works like this: the wife brings up some issue in a way that feels confrontational to her husband. Because of differences in how men and women communicate she may not mean it to be confrontational, and another woman might not see it as that, but to a man, it seems hostile. This kicks in a man’s fight or flight response, and that leaves him with no good choices. Flight would be walking away, which he knows will upset his wife. Fight means arguing or yelling, which isn’t a good plan. Because he’s been kicked into fight or flight, a calm discussion is not an option. 

One common way to deal with this is to pretend to ignore her. Another method is to give her “Yeah… okay… whatever you want dear.” He’s choosing not communicating over walking away or blasting her. If those are his choices, silence and acquiesence start to look rather loving.

Might this be an issue in your marriage? Does he ignore you because he feels it’s the safest thing for you? Does he go along because he doesn’t know how to protest without getting way too upset?

BTW, starting ANY conversation with “We need to talk” is picking a fight. Trust me on this, no man ever wants to hear those words.

~ Paul – I’m XY, and my wonderful wife has learned how to not push these buttons.

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14 Comments on “How Fight or Flight Messes Him Up With You

  1. I get mixed messages from hubby. He tells me he wants me to talk with him about anything, but when I try to it is 0-rage in .02 seconds. And then he yells at me for bottling up and not talking to him!

    Thankfully, I seem to have figured out how to approach him, and he seems to have figured out that I am not his mom.

    Just the other day we had a successful, calm conversation about a difficult decision and solved it very well. I was thrilled! Later that day he made quips to our son about me “wanting to talk” and how he hates it.

    • @Libl – Sorry he made those remarks to your son, but at least you two have found a way to do it without starting a war. Keep at it, it will get better.

  2. I suggest that wives watch Youtube videos of Alison Armstrong. This woman has some tremendous insights on men for ladies. They are secular, but the information is excellent.

  3. My mother was the absolute worst at this. She had all sons, and was absolutely terrible at not starting a fight, and then escalating said fight into world war three. My father once told her “if you speak to males in a sharp tone, you have laid down the gauntlet, and you should be prepared to battle over dominance”. Her thought was, I’m the parent…..I would never challenge my parents on anything, so they should just listen to me. All of her kids were willing to burn the house down to not let her win. Most men intrinsically know that if you want to beat your chest and act like the alpha, you better be prepared for the fight for dominance that will inevitably bring out.

  4. I find it best just not to try to talk at all. Anything that needs handled that he doesn’t do without me reminding him, i just do on my own. Its exhausting trying to talk to him. More exhausting than the hundred million things i do for our family. I May have a heart attack Or stroke by the time I’m 50 but at least my kids Will be mostly grown and my husband won’t have been bothered.

    This is why women do everything in their own. Because talking to their husbands is impossible.

    Its impossible to expect my husband to change his communication, even though I’ve changed the way i communicate, i have changed myself over the years to accommodate him. I handle everything. I bought the last 5 cars, handle all car and home repairs, handle the bills, purchases, you name it.

    But me telling him im stressed and need help is a battle cry apparently. It’s ok though. We have life and disability insurance.

  5. Ah, communication! After 20+ years of marriage we are just beginning to figure this out (with a little help from a mentor couple).

    In the past, he’d often just walk away. Which I took as “I hate you so much you’re not even worth talking to.”

    If he didn’t walk away, he’d scream his head off. Which also communicated to me, “I hate you. You are worthless to me so I’m just going to scream at you like the loser you are.”

    Then whenever he’d say “I love you” – it would honestly blow my mind. I’d tell him that’s impossible! You hate me so incredibly much, there’s no way you could love me. And he’d get upset always wondering why I thought he hated me. To me it was obvious and I truly believed he hated me. You don’t scream at and/or ignore someone you love. You just don’t.

    His family of origin screams. A LOT.

    My family of origin only screamed when you were in deep, deep trouble, or being told how much they hated you.

    So we’ve got baggage.

    The fight or flight thing in men is interesting. I’ve always seen it as “you’re making me upset so I’m going to kick and scream until I get my way, or else I’ll take my toys and go home like a pouty child.” Which always perplexed me since men are supposed to be so much stronger than women in all ways – including emotionally.

    And I’m not bossy or a screamer (like his mother and sister) so you’d think he’d have an easier time talking to me. But – nope.

    Anyhow, this was the old way. It rears its head at times, but for the most part we’ve gotten much better at actually talking and listening to one another.

  6. I gain a lot of insight from reading your posts.

    However, today feels like you are telling women something we know all too well without any advice on how to do it better.

    I’m sure many wives here have tried hundreds of ways that don’t include “we need to talk” and it always ends in fight or flight.

    Any advice?

    • @Anna – Yeah, it needs follow up.

      One good approach is “can you help me”. Those words get his attention and put him on your side. Of course, it also puts him in fix mode, which won’t help if you just need him to listen. For that “I need to vent, can you handle it?” might work.

      Dr Eggrich says “Women confront to connect.” Men, however, confront to attack. If you don’t want a fight, don’t confront.
      If you want him to stop or change something the “I need your help” approach is a valid way to go. So you could say “I feel hurt/disrespected/unloved when you _____. Can you help me understand what you mean when you do that?”

      Or try what my wife has said to me, “I know you’re a good driver, but I’m nervous – can you slow down for me?” She lets me know she is aware I’m a good driver, then she puts her concern on herself and asks me to do something for her. It works way better than “Slow down, you’re going to get us killed” and I don’t feel attacked by it.
      Paul Byerly recently posted…Near Death Life ChangesMy Profile

      • Thanks! That’s a really helpful response.

        Probably still some trial and error, but I’ll give it a go.

  7. The people that raised me were screamers, and from the age of eight used me as a mediator. I grew up hating the whole thing; them, marriage, and any kind of emotional crap.

    There was other stuff going on, stuff that was worse. I was a terrible bet for marriage, and am still trying to learn how to communicate within the context of the relationship.
    Andrew Budek-Schmeisser recently posted…Your Dying Spouse 441 – The Last Lesson {FMF}My Profile

  8. I am the youngest of 5 daughters, no sons in my childhood home. So it was Dad and 6 females. Thinking back I don’t remember anyone saying “we need to talk”, we just talked – a lot.

    Interestingly, my dad was one of 6 boys, no sisters.

    For my husband, the thought of just talking, doing nothing but talking, is a high stressor. With his ADHD that stress is magnified. I love my man. I don’t want him to have a stroke or heart attack because of me needing to talk. I find it best to talk when he is doing something, like driving, walking, eating.

    When we married I had a habit of saying ” you know ” at the beginning of my sentences. This was not good. My man took it to mean anything I said after was a challenge. If I said “you know, I love you” he would be very perplexed. Kind of funny, but not kind. It took a long time to break that habit.

    Over all I find the most peaceful path is to be loving in my words and actions. As they say, walk your talk. This is hard to do if you haven’t realized God’s love covers all your needs.

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