Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Dear Carolyn: My husband uses a strong voice (not yelling) when he is passionate about something — a subject he’s interested in, when he’s irritated, when he’s on the phone, etc. I grew up in a household of non-yellers, and am easily emotional, so when we have an argument, I end up upset or crying.
I’ve taken to walking away and then talking about it later, but my husband does nothing to change the way he speaks when he’s unhappy or angry. I’ve asked him to talk to me about it when he can speak calmly, but he says he will bottle it up if he calms down. Do I need to work on being less sensitive?
Are We Both Wrong?
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I’m stuck wondering how you two got from meeting to love to marriage with this issue always (right?) standing between you. Did you both think the other would change? Has he gotten louder, or loud with less provocation?
Without that information, here’s what I’ve got: You asked him to make adjustments, he didn’t, so, yes, you need to get less sensitive — or, I suppose, leave.
For the record, his “If I don’t yell then I will bottle it up” sounds like so much bovine effluvia to me. If he had said, “OK, I’ll walk away, but I’ll get loud again eventually because that’s just how I talk,” then I’d be sympathetic. There are people who just rev up as they speak, and asking them to stay quiet is like asking you not to get emotional.
Instead of trying to desensitize yourself, is there any chance you could instead just embrace the differences? When upset, he yells and you cry. Can that be OK with you?
This depends on his truly being a big loud bear, versus someone who uses volume to intimidate. My answer applies only to the former.
Carolyn: Before and for the first few years of marriage, there weren’t a whole lot of arguments. I think he’s feeling more comfortable expressing what makes him unhappy, which is great because I would rather know about them, but I tend to get overwhelmed and start crying. I have no problem with accepting our differences in communication, but he really doesn’t like seeing me get emotional because he feels like the bad guy, when it’s just how I would react if anyone were using a strong voice with me.
We both want to work on getting better at communication before we have kids, but we’re just stuck getting over that “who needs to work on what” hump.
Are We Both Wrong? again
If you both think it’s the other’s fault, I don’t like your chances.
I also don’t like calling this just a communication issue, when apparently things “make him unhappy” so often.
When you both make the other’s comfort in this marriage the same priority as your own, then you’re getting warmer — and when he can embrace your Sensitive as you embrace his Loud. Try taking each other as each other, and not as reflections of yourselves. It’s just his way and your way.
It’s tough because it involves breaking the habit of looking to others to see yourself, but it’s doable. Counseling makes sense if you remain stuck.
Email Carolyn at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/carolyn.hax or chat with her online at 10 a.m. each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.