We have been looking at Love and Respect by Dr. Emerson Eggerichs and specifically at how husbands can show love to their wife.  Dr. Eggerichs uses 6 basic areas to express how a husband can do this and they follow the letters C-O-U-P-L-E.  Today, we start the second letter in C-O-U-P-L-E and that is Openness.

I am a very passive person in general and so I have always felt that openness is not one of my strong suits.  I like to know my thoughts and I am happy to keep them to myself.  I have posted previously that for a passive personality some of that may just be a power play in that holding information is a way to hold the power somewhat in certain situations.  Also, I think for a passive person when you do express your opinions people seem to take it more seriously because it is not the norm for you.

In Dr. Eggerichs chapter on Openness, he begins by describing a situation where a husband and his wife might be going to discuss something with someone.  It could be a car salesman, a lawyer, a school teacher, or even a guidance counselor.  Basically any situation where it is the husband and wife team meeting with another party.  The husband will usually take a seat directed at the person they are meeting with and will spend most of the time focused on that person.  The wife, however, will usually take a seat where she can focus on both her husband and the other person.  She spends a lot of time during the meeting looking for clues from her husband to try to figure out what he is thinking while the meeting is taking place.

Dr. Eggerichs calls this trait in a wife expressive-responsive.  He describes this as, “She wants to talk about things.  She wants to have her problems out in the open for discussion in order to solve them.”  The husband on the other hand is usually described by a term called compartmentalized.  Dr. Eggerichs says, “Her husband plays it close to the vest.  He is the opposite of expressive-responsive.  His wife senses something going on inside, but he won’t talk about it.”

To further explain expressive-responsive and compartmentalized, there is a simple illustration that most guys will understand: Christmas lights.  It used to be that you would get out the strands of Christmas lights each year and your biggest fear was that a bulb might have got pulled out when you were taking them down the year before or maybe a bulb got crushed in storage.  This was because if one bulb had a problem all of the lights on the strand would go out and finding the problem was very difficult.  On newer, and maybe more expensive, sets of Christmas lights the wiring is set up so that if a bulb has a problem only that particular bulb will be out.  The rest of the strand continues to burn with no problem.

In this example the wife is much like the first strand of lights.  If she has one problem with her husband, it affects her whole relationship with her husband.  Dr. Eggerichs says, “This is because she is an integrated personality.  Her mind, body, and soul are connected and her entire system reacts to feelings of hurt.” 

In the illustration, the husband is usually the second strand of lights.  You can smash half of the bulbs in the strand and it will not affect the other half of the bulbs.  This is where the compartmentalizing concept comes into play.  Dr. Eggerichs says, “A husband has much more ability to control his reactions.”  The husband may have some serious problems with some of his bulbs, but he focuses on the burning bulbs and moves forward.

So, you can see how this causes problems in the relationship.  The wife wants to repair any bulb that isn’t working on her strand because each bulb is needed for her to function as intended.  A husband doesn’t get too upset over a bulb here and there going out because it only affects his strand of lights at the location of those particular bulbs.  Understanding the differences in our circuitry can go a long way in how a husband and wife can relate to each other.

So, how does this play out in real life?  A husband can be totally unaware of a problem his wife is having because he only approaches the issue as one bad bulb among thousands of lights.  For the wife, the one bad bulb is a problem where most of the Christmas tree is now dark.  She can feel hurt, lonely, and even unloved.  This also carries over to her sexually.  When the lights are off, her body is unavailable as well.

The issue may be something that was an innocent remark that was taken unlovingly.  By the time the husband realizes that his wife is in a downward spiral he probably has forgotten the remark and needs to be reminded of what the problem is even about.  At this point, the husband has trouble believing that something so relatively small in his mind could have caused such chaos in their relationship.

It would be easy to say this is the wife’s fault.  It really isn’t.  It is more just a difference in how husbands and wives think.  It is the difference in expressive-responsive and compartmentalized mindsets.  The quicker we can recognize the differences and look at meeting our spouse’s unique needs the quicker we can grow the relationship.