In my Laugh Your Way to a Better Marriage seminar I explain in detail how a man’s brain tends to compartmentalize things. It’s like men have separate boxes in their heads for everything: money, sex, kids, wife, in-laws, etc. And for a guy these boxes don’t touch. He thinks about one thing at a time and then moves on to the next thing since one box isn’t connected to another.
Then I go on to explain how a woman’s brain is like a big ball of wire where everything is connected to everything and there is no compartmentalizing at all. Money can be connected to the in-laws and sex can be connected to the kids. Things can run together very easily in a woman’s brain.
These two very opposite ways of thinking and processing cause men and women to communicate in very different ways. There is one area this is particularly evident and often problematic–the apology. Because men have this unique ability to compartmentalize, a guy can go to his “apology box”, say he’s sorry for something he did, close that box and then move on to the next task or thing to think about. In his mind he took care of it, he said he was sorry, it’s done and life goes on.
Not so for a woman. When she has been crossed or hurt for some reason, the connections in her brain make it impossible to compartmentalize. She may attach all sorts of reasons, feelings, and ideas to that one incident. While her husband has moved on to other territory, she hasn’t because it may take her some time to process her emotions and thoughts. So when a woman is still upset, sad or hurt for a couple of days (sometimes weeks depending on the infraction) it is often a puzzle to the man. Guys will then perceive their wives as holding onto a grudge, being unforgiving and unwilling to move on, and they can become very frustrated. After all, he said he was sorry, why can’t she just get past it?
Because of the way women are wired with all these connections in their brains, it’s more difficult for them to get past the hurt. It’s actually a really good thing for you guys because this is what allows her to put up with your nonsense! You mess up and say and do hurtful things and she’s still there because women have this ability to form deep connections. It truly works for men this way, but when you do something extremely hurtful, it works against you; you will have to fix it, and that may take some time.
I hear tales all the time of men who have done hurtful things—huge things like having an affair or smaller things like saying something very mean and spiteful—and then they say, “I’m sorry” and expect it all to go away. When it doesn’t these guys get upset and throw it back on their wives because his wife “can’t get over it”. It just doesn’t work that way for women. Men need to learn that pushing her to “move on” isn’t the answer. The answer is for you to own the problem that you created.
It’s not her problem of unforgiveness. It’s not that she won’t accept your apology. She’s still hurting and it’s going to take some time for her to get over it. Men see absolutely no connection between the offense and the continued emotions. It’s like they dropped the atomic bomb but don’t realize that there is fallout beyond the initial explosion that they will have to keep cleaning up and dealing with. Men, when you hurt your wife and you see she’s still dealing with it, don’t you dare turn that around and put it on her. You look at your wife and say, “I see you are still hurting. I understand this is still painful. I realize I did this to you. I’m sorry.” Then shut up! Don’t defend yourself, make excuses or blame her. Every time you see it, you own it. Even if you have to do it a 100 times. That’s just the way it is.
Remember guys, when it comes to apologies, there is no “apology box” in your wife’s brain. Don’t make the mistake of thinking or saying, “I said I was sorry! Just move on!” Don’t put the rap on her, or she will end up thinking you are not sorry at all.