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I’ve been with my spouse for two years now. In our beginning, we would have some meaningless arguments via text messages. We managed to settle them once we sat down in person and spoke. Recently this week, after who knows how long since a fight, we had two back-to-back in-person heated fights. I got emotional and lost my temper during the second fight. She told me to leave the house. After begging her to let me stay, to calm down and for us to talk, I finally left. I took it upon myself to find a support group to help me stay in control of my emotions so that if we ever fight, I can stay calm so it never escalates. I don’t want to be an abusive husband and I never want to get to a point where I lay a hand on her or her baby.
I’m now in a support group, have a therapist, and I also have done some reading and reflection on my actions. I’m trying to understand why it got to that point and why I’ve felt so much stress lately.
I wish I could talk to her, to tell her everything I’ve done within just a few days. But overtime I’m about to pick up the phone to call her, I’m afraid if it’s too soon. I need some advice; I don’t know what to do.
I’m glad you’re taking personal accountability for your behavior. This is the first and most important step after making any mistake. A support group, therapy, and reading are all going to help you become the kind of man you want to be. Remember one thing, though. Don’t rush this process.
You scared your wife to the point where she didn’t want you in the house. Now, I recognize I know nothing of the details. I don’t know what was said, how you behaved, or how she behaved. So, I’m going to answer your question based on the assumption that whatever you did was threatening enough to warrant a separation.
Even though we live in a modern world where women and men have more equality, there is a still a difference in the ways that women and men experience fear. It’s unfortunate, but most women spend much of their lives feeling more physically vulnerable in the world than men do. Another sad reality is that one out of four women are sexually abused by the time they’re 18 years old. Girls grow up more vulnerable than boys, which doesn’t automatically disappear after they reach adulthood. Most men have never been afraid for their physical safety (unless they’ve been in combat or through a traumatic life-threatening experience). Most women live with this fear of physical harm as a potential possibility.
I recognize this probably sounds like some antiquated chauvinistic statement, but modern research still backs up this reality. There was a recent study conducted at UC Berkeley where they unexpectedly fired off a gunshot behind their volunteer subjects. The men reported feeling angry and wanted to get back at whomever shot the gun. The women, however, simply felt afraid. They felt fear.
Most men don’t recognize that when they raise their voice at a woman, it can invoke a fear in her that doesn’t happen to him when she raises her voice at him. Granted, he may feel stressed when she raises her voice at him, but he doesn’t feel afraid for his physical safety. Most women feel physically afraid. When women feel stress, it generally shows up as fear. Your wife is stressed and, as a result, feels afraid.
This is a biological reality. Women are generally smaller than men, have less muscle mass, and aren’t built for physically dominating another person. Men who don’t understand and respect this difference ultimately aren’t safe around women.
President Gordon B. Hinckley spoke directly about the responsibility men have to create safe marriages when he told men that, “it is predominantly men who bring about the conditions that lead to divorce.”[i] Yes, women can be just as responsible for bringing about a divorce, but he recognized that men are more likely to create those conditions.
You’ve scared your wife. She doesn’t feel safe with you. You’re doing things to repair your mistake. However, your anxiety and energy around proving to her that you’re safe may backfire on you. If you come to her with intensity, frustration, and expectations that she feel safe with you now that you’re getting professional help, she’ll likely feel pressured and pushed to move ahead before she feels comfortable.
The best thing you can do is continue getting help and doing everything you can do to understand how your actions affected her safety and her child’s safety. This accountability will show up in your treatment of her. You will be more patient, understanding, and compassionate. You will give her permission to take the time she needs. You won’t be entitled.
Anger is a quick fix to your frustration, so you don’t want to keep looking for quick fixes. She needs to know you are trustworthy. She needs to know that you’ll do what you say. The only way she can know this is through the passing of time and watching you become a more protective man.
If you’re able to create safe conditions where she invites you back into the home, don’t stop there. Ask her what else would help her feel less stressed and more secure. Stay open to her influence and feedback so you can both build a strong marriage and family environment.
Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday. You can email your question to him at firstname.lastname@example.org
About the Author
Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in St. George, UT. He is the owner of Alliant Counseling and Education (www.alliantcounseling.com) and the founding director of LifeStar of St. George, an outpatient treatment program for couples and individuals impacted by pornography and sexual addiction (www.lifestarstgeorge.com). He is the co-author of “Love You, Hate the Porn: Healing a Relationship Damaged by Virtual Infidelity”, available at Deseret Book, and the audio series “Strengthening Recovery Through Strengthening Marriage”, available at www.marriage-recovery.com. He also writes a weekly relationship column for the St. George News (www.stgnews.com). He holds a bachelors degree from BYU in communications studies and a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy from Auburn University. He served a full-time mission to the Dominican Republic and currently serves as the primary chorister. He is married to Jody Young Steurer and they are the parents of four children.