"If there is something specific he could help with, you'd ask him?"
"Yes, I would,." she agrees, "But its not about the chores." "
"So, you're not mad about the housework," he says. "Okay, then, what are you mad about?"
"I'm not really mad," she says. "It would be nice if you asked, just so I know you want to help me and realize I'm upset."
"Okay," he says slowly, "Its not about the chores and you don't really want my help doing anything, but you still want me to ask if I can do anything." This guy knows he has his faults and is doing a pretty good job of owning them and being open to making changes. He knows his wife is usually a pretty reasonable woman. He's genuinely confused about why she acts like this.
"How can we help him understand what's going on?" I ask her. I'm pretty sure I know already, but I want to see if she understands this for herself.
"Its not you really," she tells him. "I mean, I'm not mad at you. I just don't see how you can be so calm when I'm almost in a panic. I get so frustrated and overwhelmed at everything I have to do. I get upset and I lash out at you because I want you to know and care about how I'm feeling."
"That's what its really about," I say. "You feeling overwhelmed and frustrated and trying to reach out to him for support."
"Yes," she says. "I know I'm being impossible when I'm like that. I know I need to try and calm down and be able to say how I feel rather than yelling at you. Most of the time, when that happens, I don't realize what's going on at the time."
"What happened the other day would have gone totaly different if you'd talked like that then," he says. "I just figure you're busy and I don't want to interrupt or bother you so I stay out of your way. What else can I do? How do I show you I'm being all sensitive and supportive the way I'm supposed to be? I know I'm not supposed to just sit there and I'm not supposed to remind you about communication skills or tell you how silly you're acting."
"Hug her," I suggest. "Get up off the couch, walk over, put your arms around her, and tell her you know she's overwhelmed and frustrated and that you think she's amazing and that you love her."
"Let me vent and be mad at the world for a few minutes," she says. "I just want you to listen and rub my back and tell me you care about how I feel. Once I can talk about it for a few minutes, then I can calm down and be more rational again."
"But it doesn't work when I tell you to calm down and be more rational," he says.
"I'm sure it doesn't," I agree. "She's got to get some of the feelings out and then she'll be ready to do that. If you say that when she's not ready to be calmer yet, that's probably when you get accused of being insensitive and unsupportive."
"It is," they both say.
"When men get upset, it takes them longer to calm down," I explain. "Men's bodies react so strongly to feelings that, a lot of times, they're too overwhelmed by how their emotions make them feel physically and shut down rather than wanting to talk. We're different."
"I don't get upset like she does," he says. "For me to be that upset, it would have to be something really big."
"I know," I say. "That's why it may seem like you don't care about her feelings because you're not getting upset, too."
"One of us needs to be calm," he says reasonably.
"Be calm but be fully there with her," I advise.