One of the biggest gender differences regarding negative emotions is that women tend to be more critical and men stonewall, or refuse to communicate. Women start talking about a problem and the men get upset and turn away, the women become more critical and it becomes a cycle.
An example is in the following story, which reveals how the cycle evolved into a marriage crisis.
Every time Faye tried to discuss with her husband Ed about problems in the marriage, he didn’t want to talk about the issues. He would either change the subject or said “Not now, Faye.”
If confronted, Ed would stare at Faye with a blank facial expression while she talked, and then he would walk away without saying anything. He wouldn’t cooperate with anything she suggested to improve their communication.
Faye was continually frustrated by Ed’s stonewalling every time she attempted to address the marriage problems. As she repeatedly hit the wall of his resistance, she became more critical of Ed both in private and in public.
She told him he was selfish, egotistical, and uncooperative. After awhile, she found it hard to remember his good points and focused more and more on his negative traits. The more blocked she felt in her efforts to get him to get involved in trying to improve the marriage, the more criticism she hurled his way.
As a result, the marriage became unrewarding and unsatisfying for both Faye and Ed, and they lost their feeling of connection. The relationship continued to spiral downwards, fueled by negativity and resentment. Faye eventually moved out and is currently filing for divorce.
If you’re in a marriage with this pattern of criticism and stonewalling, you’re probably experiencing some of the frustrations of Faye and Ed. Most people in that situation feel stuck, not knowing what to do to break the fall of their marriage.
Tips for Fixing Your Marriage
But there is hope. Here are three of my recommendations on how to overcome the negativity and move toward a more positive approach.
- If your spouse always stonewalls your attempts to get him to open up, give him a handwritten letter outlining your concerns and fears that you’ll eventually give up on the marriage if this continues. State that you value the marriage and want it to be top quality and satisfying for both of you, but you need his input and help.
- Resist the natural reaction to criticize in return.A quote by Elizabeth Harrison reminds us that “Those who are lifting the world upward and onward are those who encourage more than criticize.”Criticism dampens spirits and discourages future efforts. Notice how your spirit tends to shrivel when you are criticized and to blossom when you are offered encouragement or praise. We look forward to spending time with people who are appreciative of our efforts, and we tend to avoid people who are critical of us.
- Pull back on criticism and instead look for your spouse’s positive traits and actions. Show appreciation for what he is doing that’s good and helpful. Pay attention and watch for behavior that you can honestly and wholeheartedly praise, no matter how minor it appears.
When marital problems develop, often the fun and laughter quickly disappear, and with them goes the satisfying feeling of connection. Work on restoring a sense of fun and appreciation of each other and don’t dwell on the problem areas right now. There’s more than one way to accomplish a goal, and in some situations the indirect way leads to greater success than the direct approach.
It’s important to understand the circle of stonewalling and criticism in order to overcome it. To read further in how to save a marriage when a husband stone walls and a woman criticizes, see Part 2 to this article.
By Nancy Wasson, Ph.D.