Women ask me all the time,” why does my husband get so defensive when I get mad at him?”
To begin with, I don’t find anger to be a very useful emotion to be used with anyone. Possibly at times with strangers to get their attention but anger is scary for people and when you sound angry the real message gets lost.
That having been said, men are particularly sensitive to anger from women because traditionally we are raised as caretakers. That is how male babies typically start out. They are born to women and their very lives depend on being taken care of by a female—the mother or a mother substitute.
Most basically, you can’t have your caretaker angry with you. It is cellular— going on since birth.
Today society is trying to change the norm. Fathers take paternity leave and share in the infant’s caretaking. Still, only the mother can breastfeed and the bond tends to be closer.
Little girls can grow up to be like mother. There is implied power in that. “I can become one of those.” But for the infant boy, he is dependent on care from mom.
When mom is the primary caregiver and dad is gone working, the burden falls to mom. So it takes two parents to raise every child and sometimes that means mom and grandma or mom and a helper—usually female.
This surrounds the boy with too many women and no male model to teach him how to be a man.
What he does learn is that men must earn a living, compete, and keep the nearest woman happy—-first mom and then his wife.
So if the nearest woman is angry with him he has failed. No man can live with an unhappy woman. It goes against his gender training to be successful. So if you are angry with him, he fails.
Therefore, as a young boy entering adolescence, he wants to be like the other boys. This often scares his mom. She finds his friend activities dangerous or impolite or improper. So the boy learns early to hide the things that would bring disapproval from mom and to protect himself from losing his masculinity. The other boys must approve of him and not see him as weak. Later he behaves this way with his wife if the father has failed to show him to love and respect women and do as they ask.
To further make the problem difficult for the young boy, if dad is absent mom is often emotionally overwhelmed. With no adult male, she may lean on the young boy to meet her emotional needs. This leads her to feel angry and sad. The double message gets communicated to the male child and is received differently than if this occurs with a daughter. He wants to please mom. But he is the wrong person he is too young. He can’t meet her need but all that emotion scares him. He avoids the anger and the need. He learns aggression to help himself avoid being found out and measured short. The defensiveness is designed to make the unhappy woman go away emotionally— to stop complaining and finding him deficient.
Women tell me regularly that they “shouldn’t” have to treat their husbands or significant others with kid gloves. I am a big believer in doing what works.
If you were at work and about to ask an employee for a change of behavior, you would likely say something nice first. Surely, the man in your life deserves at least what an employee would get.
I find it very important and appropriate to keep my own husband of 41 years reassured that I love him and that he pleases me. So if i would like him to do something different—-“would you be sure to turn off the lights before you leave” — or even, “thanks for watching your drinking at the game”—- I start with a compliment—-“I worry about you, please watch your drinking” or “I know how careful you are, please catch the lights.”
My clients think this is a kid glove approach. It has become a nice habit. Why not speak to someone you care about with sensitivity?
It makes it so much easier to get what I am asking for AND living with a partner who feels appreciated makes my life delightful as well! Try it.
By Susan Adams