Exoneration or Empathy

How do you handle conversations when your wife is triggered…

When our wife is asking us questions it can often feel like an interrogation or cross-examination. Once we’re on the witness stand, we can easily adopt a defensive posture, where we try to say enough to satisfy our questioner but not so much that we incriminate ourselves. Genuinely, we don’t want to make things worse or hurt our wives any more. We also don’t want to be indicted for crimes we didn’t commit. So we get hung up trying to navigate the details rather than engaging our hearts and emotions.

Sometimes we end up responding to the questions (usually after there are a lot of them) in a way that looks like we’re seeking exoneration. Here’s a quick definition of exonerate:

-to prove that someone is not guilty of a crime or responsible for a problem, bad situation, etc.

I know my tendency is to get released on a technicality. In the past, when my wife didn’t have her facts straight, I’d argue the loophole. And, truthfully, we know were that ends up don’t we? Very little healing happens in those conversations.

Instead, a better way to engage is to practice empathy. To feel her pain. Answer the questions asked and try to connect the pain, fear, disappointment, shame and sense of betrayal that may accompany them. Most wives in my office say that when their husband try’s to argue/correct/restate the facts it seems like he is trying to get out of being responsible.

The next time the conversation unfolds and you start to feel like you’re on trial, remember that to pause before you respond and ask yourself: “Am I about to practice empathy or am I trying to be exonerated?”