Why It’s Hard to End an Argument

A few months ago I was listening to a radio show called Radiolab which examines the science behind common human experiences. It’s quite an interesting show, and on this particular episode they examined the science behind marital spats. The findings were not only fascinating but also very helpful to me in handling conflict with my husband, so I thought I would share them with you.

I don’t know about you, but whenever I argue with my husband it usually takes me awhile to calm down from it. For instance, if we ever have an argument at night, my husband is able to conk out as soon as it’s over. Within seconds of his head hitting the pillow, he is off to dreamland. I, on the other hand, am not so fortunate. Even when the argument is resolved, I lie awake thinking about it, still feeling uneasy and unnerved. Sometimes I have trouble sleeping and I will even dream about it. In short, I’m the complete opposite of my husband in this regard. I can’t just go to sleep after an argument–I need time to wind down.

Well as it turns out, there is actually a biological reason for the difference between my husband and I. A scientist on Radiolab began by explaining that your brain tells you you’re angry in response to your body. When you get into a fight, your heart starts pounding and your stomach clenches, thereby sending signals to the brain that say, “You are angry! Get angry!” For both men and women, it takes about 2 seconds for this system to kick in. We are able to engage at about the same speed.

However, it takes longer for women to turn that system off. As the argument winds down, a man’s body will slowly relax, signaling to his brain that all is well again and he can go to sleep in peace. A woman’s body, on the other hand, remains upset longer. Her body is still tense and her heart is still racing, so her brain thinks, “I must still be upset.”

As a result of this biological wiring, it’s harder for women to simply let an argument go. The fight might be over, but our bodies are telling our brains, “You’re still upset about something! Stay mad! Don’t let him off the hook.” We may even find things to get upset about, dragging the argument out even further.

Now I don’t know about you, but this was very helpful information to hear. There have been times when I continued to feel upset even though the conversation was over, and I let those feelings dictate the way I responded to my spouse. Rather than react in wisdom and truth, I reacted out of emotions that had very little to do with the situation at hand.

All of that to say, this is a reality that many women have to deal with, and we must give it proper consideration when resolving an argument. Your emotions are not always a healthy indicator of reality. When you’re feeling conflicted at the end of a fight, examine where those feelings might be coming from, whether they align with the teachings of Scripture, and wait a day before you act upon them.

And to all you men out there who don’t understand why your wife is so irrational sometimes, don’t be too hard on her. When she has trouble letting the argument go, she is battling very real physiological influences that make it hard to discern biology from reality. Be patient with her, and after enough time has passed she’ll be able to think more clearly.