Waiting On The Knight Of The Living Dead
When my husband c o me s h o me from a stressful day at work, he likes to play shoot-‘em-up games on his phone. He says it relaxes him. I’d like to connect and talk before he goes into his mental man cave. Also, when he’s into a game, it’s annoying even to ask what he wants for dinner. Your advice?
A stressed- out woman wants to talk about her feeli ngs; a stressed- out man wants to gun down 87 slobbering zombies on his phone in hopes that his feelings get bored with him and go away.
It turns out that in dealing with emotional stress, men and women have some different neurochemical overlords.
If men’s had a name, it would be The Earl of Overkill, which is to say men tend to react neurochemically to social stress as they would to being chased through the woods by a maniac with a crossbow. First, there’s a surge of epinephrine and norepinephrine, neuromessengers (aka neurotransmitters) that are the bandleaders reaction. These kick off survival-promoting changes in the body, like the heart beating faster, the release of the energy-mobilizing stress hor- mones adrenaline and cortisol, and blood coursing to the arms and legs (all the better to punch or run!).
Meanwhil e , s y s t e ms not needed to fight back or scram — like digestion and higher reasoning — get powered down. Yep. That’s right. Higher reasoning goes all lights out; nobody’s home. So trying to “connect and is like trying to have an exis- tential debate with a vacant warehouse.
It’s even worse from the man’s end. He’s gotten chemically and otherwise physiologically mobilized to bolt or do battle. But when there’s no crossbow-wielding dude to run from — just a bunch of social stress — there’s no use for all of these bodily resources that have been mustered up.
Psychologist John Gottman calls the effect from this men feel very physically un- comfortable and get extremely frustrated that their access to the brain’s departments of insight and witty bits is blocked. Not surprisingly, what makes them feel better is mentally checking out until these uncomfortable feelings go away.
Unfortunately, the thing that makes men feel better is in direct conflict with what works for women. Psychologist Shelley Taylor finds t hat women’s reaction t o emotional stress is mediated by oxytocin, a neurotransmitter that facilitates emotional bonding. This leads to what she calls a “tend and be ing through caring for and emotionally engaging with others. In other words, wom- en tend to deal with emotional stress monsters by gabbing them down to size.
But, good news. You can have what you need if you just wait for your husband to calm down and reset so his brain’s higher reasoning center is no longer in “Hello, my Decide together how much time that needs to be — half an hour, maybe? After that, he thrower and “advance to the communication, and not just the sort where you ask him, “Is that ‘mmmph’ to steak, or ‘mmmph’ you just ended World War III and saved the