Don’t Freak Out Over His Need for Space

Don’t Freak Out Over His Need for Space March 30, 2015

Dear Shaunti:

My husband and I haven’t been married very long, and I am scared about something. We have never fought much, but just had our first horrible argument. I was expecting him to “make up” with a hug or something, but he wouldn’t. Instead, he mumbled something about needing to run errands, grabbed his keys, and took off! When he came back, I was so angry, hurt, and confused over his leaving in the first place, it set off another huge argument. Is this what I have to look forward to for the next 50 years — him running away every time we disagree about something?

–       Scared

Dear Scared,

Your first big fight can be a scary thing – but don’t get so scared that you put your brain on hold! You have probably already realized that jumping on his case the minute he returned was a less-than-effective strategy. What you probably haven’t realized is another less-than-effective strategy: expecting a man to handle things in the way a woman would.

One of the most frustrating and insecure things women go through is when we have an emotional conflict with our man, and we want to talk through it and get some reassurance — but all he wants is to get some space to process things. We’re desperate for a hug, and he’s desperate for his man cave.

Here’s the thing you need to know: both are legitimate needs. He’s not wrong to need space any more than you are wrong to need reassurance. And it is so important that neither of you overreact and say it is.

Hint, hint.

This is a generalization, but is true in most cases due to differences in brain wiring: especially when emotions and pressures are running high, a man needs time to think things through before he can talk about it – while a woman wants to think things through by talking about it.

All of which makes me certain God has a sense of humor.

And He probably also wants to be sure we learn to have grace with each other.

Here’s a detail that may help you have that grace with your man, instead of unleashing on him. In my surveys, seven out of ten men said that during a conflict, when emotions are swirling, they have a sort of “deer in the headlights” reaction. Because their brains are wired for deep one-thing-at-a-time processing, they can’t easily process thoughts and feelings at the same time: as one man put it, “all that emotion furs up the gears.” Men don’t even know what they are thinking yet – much less know how to talk about it! They are upset, confused, and frustrated that they “can’t keep up” with our desire to talk it out. So they feel a desperate need to get some distance in order to figure things out. Like jumping in the car and driving around the neighborhood once. Or ten times.

Of course, as your story shows, most of us women view that “distance” as uncaring withdrawal. But in most cases it is not that at all. Your husband probably cares deeply about you. He isn’t escaping because he doesn’t care, wants to avoid issues, or purposefully wants to leave you hanging when you are in the most pain. Instead, he knows if he’s ever going to figure out what he’s thinking and feeling and work through his anger in a healthy way (rather than saying something hurtful in the heat of the moment), he has to get time to process it all.

So the next time an argument explodes and you desperately want him to talk it through on the spot, in detail, if he just can’t, have grace with him. Ask: “Would it help if we wait until tomorrow to talk about this?” If you can take a deep breath and do that, you will not only see a far better reaction from him– he’ll be far more able to listen when you explain your need to hear “we’re okay”… and give you the reassurance you so desperately need.

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 for more.

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