I was once talking with another man about his marriage, and he shared with me that whenever he and his wife would get into a fight, she would get “historical.” Curious at his choice of words, I asked him if he meant “hysterical.” He replied, “No, historical. She keeps dredging everything up from the past.”
The truth is, when upset, a wife can get both historical and hysterical. At that moment the husband does not hear what is no doubt his wife’s heart message, “I am feeling unloved and need reassurance of your love.” Instead, he hears, “I do not respect you.” He misinterprets why she is giving him a history lesson of what he did wrong that hurt her. In response, instead of soliciting empathy and an “I’m sorry,” he goes on the defensive because he feels she is saying, “Here is proof again that you are an inadequate husband and human being, and I could never respect you.”
It takes a keen sense of self-awareness and a generous dollop of humility for a wife to recognize how her tendency to become both historical and hysterical with her husband is not communicating to him the message she intended. One wife who recently caught on to this wrote:
I could not understand how he could misinterpret what I believed was very clear communication. After I read your book I realized that we aren’t speaking different languages, but different dialects. Now that I’ve learned his dialect there is much less confusion and much more empathy. I’ve also learned to recognize and say when I am feeling unloved.That helps keep me from getting historical.
When a wife humbly communicates her need to feel loved without sending the message, “You are an idiot for making me feel unloved,” her good-willed husband will stay engaged. As this wife realized, she thought she had been communicating clearly in her love dialect but failed to recognize that a man hears a different dialect. As a wife you can think you are saying, “love me” when in fact he is only hearing (quite loudly), “I don’t respect you one iota.” Therefore, she needs to say, as the wife who wrote me learned to do, “I am only trying to confess to you that I am feeling unloved right now. I am not trying to send you a message that I don’t respect you.”
- Do you get “historical” when in conflict with your spouse? Why is it so easy to resort to dredging up the past? What does our returning to it all say about our forgiveness on the matters?
- What do you think it means that you and your spouse not only speak in a different language but speak in a different dialect? Is one dialect or language better than the other? How can two people speaking in different languages and dialects learn to communicate more clearly to each other?
- Perhaps you have never actually said the words to your husband “I don’t respect you,” but do you believe he has ever misinterpreted you as saying that to him? What were you trying to communicate to him? Have you actually said those words to him yet?
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