Let Your Husband Unwind Before You Unload

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Dear Shaunti,

I am SO DONE with my husband’s grumpiness when he gets home from work. He is a radiologist and has told me that it is really hard to be interrupted with family and kid stuff at work, so I try really hard not to. But when I try to talk to him when he gets home, he gets ticked! I wait all day to discuss this stuff and then he walks in the door and blows me off! So then I get upset and he gets even more grumpy. It’s not a good cycle. How do we break it?

– Grouchy about the grump

Dear Grouchy,

Ah, yes. Nothing is quite as much fun as eagerly awaiting the arrival home of our sweet husband… and getting Grumpy the Dwarf instead.

Here’s the hard question we need to ask ourselves: could we, ourselves, be the ones who are bringing out Grumpy? Could things be radically different with just a little patience, a different approach, and a refusal to be offended by his need for a teensy bit of space?

Ask yourself: do you start talking to your hubby about family stuff as soon as he walks in the door? Do you save up everything you wanted to ask him or tell him and bring it all out in the first thirty minutes? If you do, that might be why you find yourself mumbling “nice to see you, too” to his back as he marches past you and into the bathroom to catch up on the Times.

You’ve probably heard that guys want a little personal time when they get home from work, and my research for For Women Only found that it was truly a need even more than a “want.” Because of the way the male brain is wired, most men find it actively difficult to transition from the “work” compartment in their brain into the “personal” compartment without a little processing time in between. Women can bounce back and forth all day, but for most men that is actively hard to do. Similarly, the male brain isn’t wired to be as verbal as the female brain – and after talking all day he may need some silent downtime as well.

In other words: if he’s thinking about work, on calls from work, or mentally writing up his to-do list for the next day on the drive home, when he walks in the door it is almost impossible to transition gracefully to thinking and talking with you, without a buffer zone of mental space.

Every guy needs a different amount of time, but a lot of men mentioned at least thirty minutes being necessary to let the work day leak out of their brain before they could talk well with their wife.

The problem comes when we don’t realize that this is a legitimate need of most men, and we take it personally! Some men in my interviews told me that it was so difficult for their wife to let them have the buffer zone without getting upset (“Don’t you care about me??”) that they had to drive around the neighborhood or go to a bar for happy hour for forty five minutes. They knew that was the only way they would be able to decompress enough that they could handle what they would be hit with then they walked in the door. Otherwise: helloooo, Grumpy!

And that is a shame. Because most of the men told me they actively preferred the comfort of being able to come home to their wife and kids and to decompress there–as long as they were indeed allowed to decompress. Most men don’t want to be grumpy, after all!

Now, all of this doesn’t mean it is okay for him to lock himself in his man cave until midnight. But let the poor man check his scores before you hand him his wrench and tell him to go fix the leaky faucet. Better yet, at some neutral time, discuss some sort of a process that you can both live with: for example, you’ll cheerfully give him 30 minutes’ space as long as he can cheerfully engage with the family after that.

Try that, and I’m guessing each of you will see Grumpy and Grouchy a lot less often.

Do you want Shaunti to share these life-changing truths at your church or event? Inquire about Shaunti speaking, here.

Shaunti Feldhahn is the best-selling author of eye-opening, research-based books about men, women and relationships, including For Women Only, For Men Only, The Surprising Secrets of Highly Happy Marriages and her newest, The Good News About Marriage. A Harvard-trained social researcher and popular speaker, her findings are regularly featured in media as diverse as The Today Show, Focus on the Family, and the New York Times. Visit www.shaunti.com for more.

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  • Doug Johnson

    I am also a physician but I see it in almost all men and would strongly recommend listening to this advice. Encourage him to shuffle off somewhere alone and nap or read the paper or whatever comes to his mind. I know, it doesn’t seen fair that you have to deal with things all day but so does he. Women are so eager to expect men to live up to some standard because “its their duty”. You can have a happy marriage or you can do what you want. Which is more important to you?

  • Shelly

    Completely disagree. Believe it or not some women are wives, mothers AND physicians, attorneys, CPAs, teachers, bankers, etc. In other words , deal with it . Everyone is busy , and I certainly don’t expect to get any down time when I walk in the door. Neither should you . Check your ego . It’s 2015.

  • Doug Johnson

    Thank you

  • Christy V.

    But what about when you give him space/time and he’s still grumpy and wants everything to be quiet all the time and never wants to talk or do things together? He’s usually home before I am and has plenty of time to wind down.

  • Hazel Charquist

    I’m sorry but you don’t have a clue on this subject. The problem is when you are married to a surgeon ( like I am..) there is NEVER a good time. So he gets home at 7pm and then goes to bed at 9 because he has been up all night or has to get up at 5am for surgeries. I ended up just burying everything and putting on my happy wifey face. That didn’t work. I became severely depressed. What you say might work with other professions, but doctors….not so much. Their work takes so many hours and intrudes ALL THE TIME. I did try to wait, but generally my being upset with whiny toddlers just couldn’t compete with a life threatening complication from a surgery that he has to take care of or that he is worrying about…. He once told me that he wished he only had to worry about the things that I did instead of what he has to worry about. It is better now that the kids are grown, but I just learned to lean on girlfriends.