I don’t know much, but I do know that telling angry people to “calm down” is not a recipe for success. So it’s completely understandable that the Obama Administration’s Health and Human Services Department is being widely mocked for its Nov. 19 blog post telling married women to “Calm down.” Really:
This isn’t about who wins the argument – but a study of hot marital fights indicates that when the wife calms down, the couples are more happy. Researcher Lian Bloch of the Pacific Graduate School of Psychology in Palo Alto found that in a study she did at the University of California, Berkeley. She looked at data that included recorded arguments by long-time husbands and wives.
“The marriages that were the happiest were the ones in which the wives were able to calm down quickly during marital conflict.”
Bloch says calm wives were able to look constructively for ways to deal with the emotions and talk about ways to solve the problems. Happiness didn’t change if the husband calmed down quickly.
The study in the journal Emotion was supported by the National Institutes of Health.
The Washington Examiner made fun of the advice here. Allahpundit at Hot Air did likewise. James Taranto of the Wall Street Journal was simply thankful for the advice, and promised to use it in fights with his wife, should he ever marry.
I’ve only been married for seven years, which has humbled me to the point I’m forced to acknowledge I’m no expert, but if my husband ever told me to calm down, I’d assume he was willfully attempting to enrage me. Perhaps trying to get me to file for divorce against him. In other words, men, do not ever utter the words in the headline of the HHS blog post (“Calm down”) at home if you seek marital happiness. I’d also recommend nixing “You’re overreacting,” “Relax,” and “‘Why are you so crazy?”
Women, on the other hand, might be well-served to rationally consider the study. Our culture has reached an odd point where we only believe things if “science” “proves” them. Tony Woodlief had an interesting essay on this in which he writes:
I get the feeling, however, that the scientific method, rather than being one avenue by which we may come to know something, has become the only respectable avenue. I suppose it’s helpful for scientists to confirm that most people prefer mates who are sexually attractive, or that exercise is good for you, or that bullies pick on unpopular kids—each being a finding reported in science journals in recent years—but was our knowledge of these facts less valid before scientists undertook to measure them?
Amen! Also, why in the world are taxpayers funding studies at all, much more ones that simply confirm wisdom passed through the ages?
We used to understand that “When Mama Ain’t Happy, Ain’t Nobody Happy.” Or as Proverbs puts it, “It is better to dwell in the corner of the housetop, than with a brawling woman and in a wide house.” In many ways, women regulate the emotional temperament in a house, whether they’re full-time homekeepers, primarily responsible for home health or attempting to evenly divide responsibilities. We really don’t need science to observe that women being in control of their emotions helps make for a happy home. Of course, so do a lot of other things. My husband notes that if you’ve reached the part of the argument where you’re telling your wife to “calm down,” odds are not bad that you’ve completely mismanaged the fighting process.
Now, we’re all smart enough to know that not all women share the same emotional traits in the same way that not all men share the same emotional traits. My own father was the emotional bellwether in our house and my mother is one of the more stoic people I’ve encountered. And there’s a lot of variation within each individual and the relationships they are in. But if you get upset at the idea that women are family managers, you’ve probably been ill-served by whatever wave of feminism we’re currently crashing under.
Women create new life and nurture it. We get to be like shade trees that our families seek relief under. This is why the homekeeping so denigrated by some used to be considered such an important skill and valuable work, leading to happiness, transmission of traditions and inculcation of values. Men are typically well suited to guide the efforts to protect their families from external threats, just as women are typically well suited to guide the efforts to protect families from internal threats. I know, this is not what you’re supposed to acknowledge in public, despite all evidence to the contrary. Just deal with it. Or go to the feminist fainting couch and get outraged. Would you calm down already? Argh, I’m doing this wrong.
Anyway, rather than mock or disparage this work and pretend that being a mid-level office employee is somehow the way we achieve meaning in our lives, women are wise to understand the importance of family management and be proud of our efforts at maintaining and improving family life. Part of that means understanding that men do not respond well to women’s anger. Some of this is due to men’s own weaknesses and inability to understand and appreciate women as beings to be treasured and respected. We could discuss for days all the ways that men have failed to be good husbands and failed to appreciate and honor their wives. But that’s another discussion.
Sometimes we focus so much on all the things that men are doing incorrectly that we fail to remember that men are to be respected by their wives. In the same way a wife wants her husband to love and honor her despite her faults, we should remember to love and respect our husbands despite theirs. As many of us learned in Kindergarten, yelling at people is not usually considered a sign of respect. There’s also the issue just that men, gifted as they tend to be in other areas of life, aren’t as talented at processing complex emotions. This was explained eloquently by Samuel L. Jackson’s character during the tense epilogue in Pulp Fiction. From the screenplay:
Yolanda, I thought you were gonna
be cool. When you yell at me, it
makes me nervous. When I get
nervous, I get scared. And when
mother[expletive]s get scared, that’s
when mother[expletive]s get accidentally
Let’s just wrap it up with some wise words from Martin Luther, explaining what the “Thou Shalt Not Commit Adultery” commandment is all about:
Let me now say in conclusion that this commandment demands not only that every one live chastely in thought, word, and deed in his condition, that is, especially in the estate of matrimony, but also that every one love and esteem the spouse given him by God. For where conjugal chastity is to be maintained, man and wife must by all means live together in love and harmony, that one may cherish the other from the heart and with entire fidelity. For that is one of the principal points which enkindle love and desire of chastity, so that, where this is found, chastity will follow as a matter of course without any command.
What with women initiating the vast majority of divorces — and with the individual, familial and social costs of divorce reaching epidemic levels — remembering to “calm down” when things heat up may be the best idea out there.