I’m a little embarrassed to admit this, but whenever my husband and I get into an argument I’m almost always the last to apologize. If given enough time, I eventually fumble my way towards an apology, but the process is rather slow going.
My husband, on the other hand, consistently takes the high road and initiates reconciliation.
Pride is undoubtedly one of the main reasons I resist apologizing, but there is an additional factor as well: It usually takes me longer to cool down. Once my nervous system kicks in during a fight, it stays on high alert for quite some time. My heart races, my blood pumps, and my adrenaline flows, long after we have both said our peace.
Even after the topic has shifted, I still feel upset on a physical level. And that feeling is what prevents me from apologizing. My brain says, “Apologize!” but my body says, “Don’t apologize! You’re still upset!”
My husband, on the other hand, can calm down almost immediately. If, for example, we have an argument just before bedtime, my husband can still go right to sleep. As soon as his head hits the pillow, he is out for the count. Meanwhile, I lie awake feeling uneasy and unnerved, replaying the discussion over and over in my head. It can take me hours to finally relax.
As it turns out, I am not alone in this experience.
Studies show that, in general, men and women respond to conflict resolution in biologically different ways. This is all due to the fact that our brains communicate anger in response to our bodies. When a conflict arises, the human body switches into fight or flight mode, which then signals to the brain, “You’re angry! Get angry!” For both men and women, it takes about two seconds for this system to kick in. We are able to engage an argument at about the same speed.
However, studies also show that it takes longer for women to turn that system off. As the fight winds down, a man’s body slowly relaxes and signals to his brain that all is well again. A woman’s body, however, remains upset longer. Her body stays tense and her heart continues to race, which signals to her brain, “I am still upset.”
As a result of this biological wiring, it’s harder for women to simply let an argument go. The fight might be over, but the female body continues to instruct the brain, “You’re still upset about something! Stay mad! Don’t let him off the hook.” This physical unease has not only provoked me to prolong arguments, but to find new issues about which to argue.
When I first learned about this study I honestly felt relieved. This information has helped me to step back from a conflict and see it more clearly.
I can name that knot in my stomach as I struggle to calm down after conflict. Armed with this knowledge, I now take a deep breath and remember that feelings are not always indicative of truth. What I am experiencing is not always real.
Upon further reflection, this research has helped me to better understand the proverb of the quarrelsome wife; a proverb I had always read as a cautionary tale of sorts. It appears in Proverbs 27:15-16 and it warns: “A quarrelsome wife is like the dripping of a leaky roof in a rainstorm; restraining her is like restraining the wind or grasping oil with the hand.”
In the past, I read these verses with a spirit of judgment and self-righteousness. From my perspective, these verses describe the type of wife I never hope to be. She sounds like an absolute nightmare!
Yet when I read Proverbs 27:15-16 in conjunction with the above research, I realize that most women are tempted to be quarrelsome at some time or another. In fact, the second half of the passage is less a warning to men than it is to women. When I get upset, it is very difficult to restrain myself, even when I know that I should.
Here biology and Scripture intersect to provide a marvelous window into the mind and heart of a woman. The quarrelsome woman is not one who has failed at being a wife, but who is simply human. I can’t change the reality that it is difficult to calm down after an argument, and as this passage reminds me, the calming down part is sometimes the hardest part.
Even so, I am certainly not helpless. First and foremost, knowledge is power. The more I know about myself and understand how God created me, the better equipped I am to respond. This knowledge also helps me to put boundaries into place the next time my husband and I have a disagreement. I now give myself a little more time and space before I respond, and I communicate that step to my husband. I don’t want him to think I am stonewalling him by not responding; I am simply pausing for the sake of wisdom. Once my heart has stopped racing and my blood pressure normalizes (which can sometimes take an entire day!) I then return to the conversation.
Most importantly, I use that time and space to pray and reflect on God’s Word. As my emotions surge, it is easy to believe lies and fears about myself, my husband, and our marriage. But if I go before God and allow Him to search my motives and my thought process, God quickly brings those lies, fears, and sins to light.
As I learn to rein in my emotions and respond to my husband with humility and love, I hope to reverse the pattern of always apologizing last. Instead of being a leaky faucet wife, I want to be a wife who showers my husband with mercy and grace. I can’t always control my emotions, but I can certainly control how I respond to them.