Emotional and irrational responses to arguments - can I have both?
August 27, 2014 7:19 PM   Subscribe

I have a very strong physical response to conflict and will tend to start crying almost immediately when in an argument with my boyfriend.

I see it as an uncontrollable physical response to stress and not that big a deal. I will generally try to carry on with the discussion even when I have tears running down my face and don’t feel it has any effect on my ability to argue rationally. I’m not sobbing or wailing or even yelling; even though the argument might be heated I feel very much in control of what I am thinking and saying. My boyfriend sees this differently and accuses me of either being manipulative (crying because I want to ‘win’ by making him feel bad) or hysterical and unable to argue rationally because I’m at the mercy of my emotions. Last night we had an argument, I started crying and he immediately said that I wasn’t making sense (I was), that I was screaming (I was not) and that I wasn’t in control of what I was saying (so offensive to me I don’t even know where to start). When I pointed out that he was responding to his own feeling about emotional displays rather than what was actually happening he claimed that:
“any psychiatrist (not a psychologist, as they are laughably unscientific) would tell you that as people become more emotional it becomes harder for their brain to act rationally and form well thought out arguments due to the way the human brain works. Read about the hundreds of physiological (real science) studies that show humans use two different parts of the brain for emotion and logic and the more one is accessed the harder it is to access the other at the same time”.
My instinct is that he is wrong to dismiss any argument that is not 100% rational and to claim that my physical response negates anything that comes out of my mouth but I don’t have any proof, just my own experience of both crying and living in a society which considers the male/rational response to be in opposition to (and better than) a female/emotional one. He won’t take this a valid argument however as I don’t have scientific studies to back it up. I’d like to but I have no idea where to start. Look, I can barely put this down so that it makes sense. But I do feel that this issue underlies a lot of our arguments and I would like to have more information about it.
I’m sorry, this is kind of all over the place. But am I wrong or is he? Or is the truth somewhere else completely?
posted by Wantok to Human Relations (43 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Based on the information you've laid out here, he is absolutely in the wrong on all accounts. The whole idea of equating crying with being manipulative or hysterical reeks of all sorts of backwards, anti-feminist thinking. That's without even getting into his completely wrong-headed ideas about both psychologists and psychology.

Further, you should be very wary of people who claim to be purely "rational" actors, especially when they try to equate being male with being rational. Frankly, his response not only sounds irrational but also incredibly insensitive and sexist.

I could go on and on picking apart the wrongness of his claims and arguments and specifying all the reasons why I think he sounds like a total jerk, but I'm going to leave that to the others who I'm sure will chime in.

However, let me be the first to say DTMFA. Seriously, walk away. I would never be able to put up with someone who tried to pull this kind of shit. You deserve to be with someone who is capable of treating you with love, understanding, and respect, and clearly that's not this guy.
posted by litera scripta manet at 7:33 PM on August 27, 2014 [42 favorites]

Does he realise that a physical expression of stress (crying) is not part of a linear progression? As in: just because he's not crying doesn't mean he's not emotional, just because you're crying doesn't make you more emotional than him.

I'm pretty sure he's got the reasoning arse-about as well - cortisol (stress hormone) affects perception which affects thought processes. Hence his insistence that you were screaming - his stress reaction makes him perceive all input as 'too much' and thus crying = screaming out of control nonsense. Or, at least, try that argument out on him to see how he likes his perceptions being dismissed with handwaved half-remember science.

He is absolutely wrong to dismiss emotion - that's silly, and petty, and 100% part of sexist culture.

Someone who says "you're crying to manipulate me" is a jerk.
posted by geek anachronism at 7:37 PM on August 27, 2014 [7 favorites]

Your boyfriend is laughably unscientific and I'd cry too if I had to listen to such hogwash.
posted by Namlit at 7:39 PM on August 27, 2014 [22 favorites]

May he is really uncomfortable with other people crying, too uncomfortable to have the conversation. A lot of people are. If he's lashing out because he personally feels emotionally overwhelmed by your emotional expression, perhaps there's ways you can deal with that together by not having the conversation in the heat of the moment or writing down your thoughts for each other to read or something.

However, he may not realize he's doing it or why it is uncool, but right now he is using your emotions as an excuse to refuse to listen to the words that you are saying to him. It's not okay, and it is classic sexism to dismiss women as being 'out of control' and 'irrational' for having emotions that are inconvenient to men. It's gaslighting.
posted by wrabbit at 7:40 PM on August 27, 2014 [12 favorites]

I have had this boyfriend before--twice, actually. There's a reason why I'm no longer together with said boyfriends. The idea that crying=manipulation is so deeply ingrained in the awful, patriarchal bits of our society that it is incredibly hard to unlearn. It's one I've worked hard with therapists to even start to unlearn, which totally undermines his idea that psychology favor his way of thinking.

I hate to break it to you, but these arguments about "rationality" never get any better. "Science" will always somehow favor his screaming over your crying. You will always be a manipulator because that's just how women are, y'know? Reading the way you responded to him, I'm astounded that you were able to articulate what's wrong with his response so well. It took me years to get to the point of being able to explain that. Your post makes an incredible amount of sense to me, despite your claims to the contrary.

You might find this article about men's emotional responses insightful too. I wish you well.
posted by ActionPopulated at 7:43 PM on August 27, 2014 [13 favorites]

Read about the hundreds of physiological (real science) studies that show humans use two different parts of the brain for emotion and logic

I think LobsterMitten's link addresses the most practical issues here well, and on this particular point, it really doesn't sound like your boyfriend is qualified to counter arguments such as those in this article from Behavioral and Brain Sciences on this topic that will tend to undermine what he's saying to you here, even if it's not the whole story either.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 7:44 PM on August 27, 2014 [2 favorites]

I am a neuroscience researcher who works with psychiatrists, psychologists and neurologists. Your boyfriends claims about how the brain works under emotionally charged conditions are laughably wrong. Please tell him to cut that shit out, there is too much neurobabble in the world already.
posted by slow graffiti at 7:44 PM on August 27, 2014 [28 favorites]

I hate to break it to you, but these arguments about "rationality" never get any better. "Science" will always somehow favor his screaming over your crying. You will always be a manipulator because that's just how women are, y'know?

This, this a thousand times this.

He is not refusing to engage with you because you are too emotional, he is refusing to engage with you because he has to "win" the argument. I deeply deeply doubt this behavior will ever stop. This is unacceptable when it's 15 year old boys doing it, and would be comical, if it weren't so upsetting, when adults do it.

You don't need to do this. There's no reason to put yourself through the wringer with a partner who can't even do the most important part of a relationship (respecting each other even if you're fighting) properly. Your boundaries might be different, but for me, this would be 200% a dealbreaker. If you need someone to give you permission, I am here for you: you don't need to feel bad, you don't need to justify it, and you can absolutely walk away from this and find someone who treats you better.
posted by WidgetAlley at 7:59 PM on August 27, 2014 [9 favorites]

I suspect your boyfriend will not believe any scientific study you present to back you up. There is nothing wrong with you. You should find another boyfriend.

What you want is a partner who reacts with compassion, empathy and understanding to your emotions and respects your human right to feel what you feel without using your vulnerability as a weapon against you. I don't say this lightly: His attacks on you are a form of violence and emotional abuse.

He's not a good guy and trying to reason with him is pointless. Please take this as an opportunity to realize that you deserve better.
posted by Gray Skies at 8:25 PM on August 27, 2014 [7 favorites]

Best answer: Just like you can't control your physical response of crying when you're in a conflict, he can't control his hormonal physical response to his mate's tears.

So, while he may believe that your crying indicates that you're irrational, you can counter with that his hostility towards you when you're crying is itself an irrational hormonal response on his part.

But if your ultimate goal is to have an argument in which your tears are not a factor for either of you, try this:

1) Go to separate rooms

2) Get on your laptops

3) Open a chat window

4) Have your argument over written text

While this probably isn't the best long-term solution for relationship communication issues, it's worth trying at least a few times to see if your arguments go better or worse once both of your physical responses are removed from the equation.
posted by Jacqueline at 8:33 PM on August 27, 2014 [8 favorites]

You do deserve better. What a turd, if you don't mind me saying so.

As others have said this is gendered bullshit. He's trying to manipulate you. Dump his ass.
posted by SpecialSpaghettiBowl at 8:40 PM on August 27, 2014 [4 favorites]

Best answer: If he can't rationally explain what's wrong with your argument and why it doesn't make sense to him, or even give you any indication that he's listening to your words, then it sounds like he's being emotional and irrational himself. Tell him that next time you want him to respond to what you're saying, not to your emotional state. If you're really being irrational, he shouldn't need any scientific theories about the brain to prove it; he should be able to point out actual things you've said that don't make sense. It doesn't sound like he's doing that.
posted by Redstart at 8:53 PM on August 27, 2014 [2 favorites]

He's wrong. And he sounds like a jerk.
posted by J. Wilson at 9:10 PM on August 27, 2014

I have also experienced crying as a completely physical response - involuntary much like throwing up is. I explained this to my husband exactly once, and he quickly learned to tell the difference between the physical response and an emotional one. He either ignores it, or hugs me - depending on the situation. (I will also note that if my crying is emotional it tends to be in frustration because I am not being listened to...)

I've dated this guy too. DTMFA.
posted by jrobin276 at 9:37 PM on August 27, 2014 [3 favorites]

There are all kinds of things wrong about his response to you, but one thing that comes to mind immediately is that his prima facie dismissal of your argument because you are crying is a type of source fallacy, which is illogical thinking. That is, your statements are being discarded simply because they are coming from a place of emotion. That doesn't make any sort of sense at all. In an ideal world, our emotions would be balanced with our reason and provide motivation for what we know to be true and right and worth fighting for. So, whether or not emotion can cloud reason has nothing to do with whether or not emotion is clouding reason. He should engage your ideas and statements and whether or not they are true on their own merits. If he can't do this, it suggests an insecurity on his part in his ability to defend his own arguments.
posted by SpacemanStix at 10:01 PM on August 27, 2014 [2 favorites]

he was responding to his own feeling about emotional displays rather than what was actually happening he claimed that:
“any psychiatrist (not a psychologist, as they are laughably unscientific) would tell you that as people become more emotional it becomes harder for their brain to act rationally and form well thought out arguments

Oh, so he's trying to claim that he can ignore any actual observation of what's actually occurring in a given situation because studies show certain tendencies are statistically more uncommon.

How unscientific of him. He must be getting emotional and having trouble acting rationally.

He won’t take this a valid argument however as I don’t have scientific studies to back it up... I do feel that this issue underlies a lot of our arguments and I would like to have more information about it.

He's trying to apply unreasonable standards to your speech and behavior while at the same time he excuses his own inability to pay attention to the content of what you are saying.

It's difficult to explain to other people because he's deliberately trying to confuse things and persuade you that you are not rational so he can be right and "win".

He won't change if you show him a study supporting your viewpoint, he likes his viewpoint because he gets to be right. He doesn't want to listen to your viewpoint because if you had a valid viewpoint he might be wrong, therefore your views are wrong.

It does not make logical sense, and isn't going to. He likes the idea of logic but that doesn't mean he's logical or sensible.

And what would be sensible here? Listening to your partner and hearing their viewpoint and how they feel even if it doesn't seem logical. You seem willing to give him that but he doesn't seem willing to give that to you. Sorry, there's no magic words you can say to him that will change that.
posted by yohko at 10:07 PM on August 27, 2014 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thank you to everyone who has responded so far, I really do appreciate it. Those of you who think I should DTMFA or are calling him a jerk, please be aware that this is my much loved boyfriend of over twelve years, with whom I share a life, history and toddler. He is not perfect (neither am I) but we do have an equal, honest and supportive relationship - except for this one issue where we fail to understand each other in any way on certain (usually political) topics. I guess I'm looking to for ways deal with the problem we have rather than find someone new to have new problems with.
posted by Wantok at 10:11 PM on August 27, 2014

Ok honestly, if these arguments are over politics, it'd be a good idea to stop discussing politics.

One of the best long term (like 50+) year couples I know are a passionate Democrat and Republican, respectively. It works because (1) their core values are the same, they just have independently come to different conclusions about which party is more aligned to those values and (2) they don't argue politics.

It's ok to avoid subjects that you're never going to agree on and which cause you pain when you pick at them, especially when you've already decided you're not going to break up over them. If neither one of you is going to change the other's mind, and it's a painful discussion every time, AND you don't want to leave him, why go there?

Now with regard to your guy behaving poorly when you cry, you can tell him that he doesn't get to cite science that doesn't exist; and that his job is to be RATIONAL enough to respond to what you are saying and to not get IRRATIONALLY bent out of shape at the anxiety response which you're having to his nastiness.
posted by fingersandtoes at 10:30 PM on August 27, 2014 [2 favorites]

Many men seem to regard women's tears as an unfair tactic in argument, and I recall at least one previous question from a woman about this issue.

But it's not generally a tactic at all, it's an involuntary response, just as you say -- but his response is probably just as involuntary, and certainly isn't anything like as rational as he claims, either:
Women's Tear Contents Lessen Men's Sexual Arousal

Men who smelled tears produced by women who cried from watching a sad film had lower testosterone levels and less physiological arousal than men who smelled a saline solution.
We produce tears in response to insults to the eyes—the sting of onion fumes, a tiny insect that flew into your cornea. But we also produce emotional tears. And it’s long been known that emotional tears are chemically different from poke-in-the-eye tears. Now researchers at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel find that women’s emotional tears have definite physiological effects on men. The work appears in the journal Science.

The researchers knew that mouse tears contain pheromones that convey information to other mice. So they looked for similar kinds of signals in human tears.

Two women volunteered to watch sad movies and have their tears collected. Twenty-four men were then asked to sniff the movie tears or a saline solution. The men noted no particular smell in either sample of salty water. But the men’s own body chemistry could tell the difference.

When the men looked at emotionally neutral images of women’s faces after sniffing real tears, they reported less sexual attraction. The men also had lower levels of testosterone and less physiological arousal after smelling emotional tears compared with saline. ...
posted by jamjam at 10:32 PM on August 27, 2014 [4 favorites]

Yes, stop discussing politics if that's a common trigger. Those conversations are not worth going to this place where he undermines your emotions and opinions and sets himself up as the Arbiter of The Real and Rational. He may be great, but this is seriously not ok behaviour and he needs to stop it. Can you see that even in your question to us you're doubting your ability to communicate clearly, when actually your description is extremely lucid? He is doing that to you. This is borderline gaslighting, making you believe you are incapable of clear communication when you demonstrably are. He must stop. He can join a debate club if he wants to have a formal argument about current affairs without anyone taking it personally.

If I were you, I would not buy in to his twisted "rationalist" worldview or try to justify yourself within his (faulty) framework. That is something he has created, and you will never win because he will always decide what is "right" based on what he wants to happen. Don't try and come up with a scientific explanation of why crying =/= irrationality or whatever. That's not the point. He's using "science" to legitimise his false position. I don't know if this is something you'd want to discuss with him, but, for yourself, I would look into philosophical debates about the nature of emotion and logic and try, for yourself, to move beyond his dualistic way of looking at these things. Lots of people here have given good explanations of the falsehood of his position, and there are serious thinkers grappling with these issues too. It does NOT boil down to two opposing parts of the brain.

I'd also start reading some feminist theory, and especially look into the history of the word "hysterical" and how it has been used to medicalise and demonise women's emotions, so you can tell him straight up that using that word is not ok. I can't think of any specific texts off the top of my head, but you can memail me if you want some suggestions of places to start.
posted by mymbleth at 12:51 AM on August 28, 2014 [5 favorites]

Best answer: People crying or being upset because they want to "win" an argument by shutting it down is a thing. However, your boyfriend is in the wrong to assume that just because some people do it, YOU are doing it. You are not everyone and his un-thought-out assumption that you are is ridiculous. He is gaslighting you by telling you things that aren't true about yourself.

Your boyfriend is making claims. Therefore, it's on him to show evidence to back up those claims. This is how science works. So, have him point out to you some actual proper scientific studies that prove his point. It should be easy for him, because he's sure to have read and understood them, and there are so many of them, of course. /sarcasm.

If your boyfriend was truly properly rational, your emotional display wouldn't affect him at all. What I think is more likely going on is that your supposedly rational boyfriend is having an emotional reaction to your emotions and is trying to cover it up, internally, by veneering over it with logic. You might want to have a read up on mirror neurons, specifically those relating to empathy. I think that your boyfriend is getting upset himself and can't handle that, because men are socialised to never be upset, so he's trying to shut those emotions down in himself. And also in you, because you're displaying them too.

If the human brain were so very very rational, we'd have figured out a way to do without emotions years ago, because that would be the rational thing to do. The rational bits of our brains were only very recently added, evolutionarily speaking. Emotion and instinct came first and have been around a lot longer. Ask him how he felt the last time someone cut him up in traffic. When he says "angry", ask him how, if he's such a rational person, he had an emotional response to a given stimulus.

If he's so sure that emotions and nothing else causes tears, ask him if he's ever woken up with a boner and how sexually aroused he was while he was asleep. Tears certainly can be a response to an emotional situation, but they can also be completely involuntary, just like his morning wood.

The fact that something is emotional doesn't make it wrong. If an advert on TV for a charity pulls at your heartstrings so you give money to it, is that wrong?
posted by Solomon at 2:49 AM on August 28, 2014 [2 favorites]

Maybe he can actually take some courses in logic or something else that will give him a grip on what he's talking about or at least give him a sense of how silly and superficial he sounds. Honestly from your description I thought he was a college student or at least round about that age. Kids that age love to make claims like that.

Those of you who think I should DTMFA or are calling him a jerk, please be aware that this is my much loved boyfriend of over twelve years, with whom I share a life, history and toddler.

Don't let him pull this with your kid. You can see that his putting you down makes no sense but your kid is just going to know that he chronically puts people down.
posted by BibiRose at 4:44 AM on August 28, 2014 [8 favorites]

Read about the hundreds of physiological (real science) studies that show humans use two different parts of the brain for emotion and logic and the more one is accessed the harder it is to access the other at the same time

"Cite, please."
posted by flabdablet at 5:19 AM on August 28, 2014 [2 favorites]

Can you see that even in your question to us you're doubting your ability to communicate clearly, when actually your description is extremely lucid? He is doing that to you.

This is key, Wantok. You need to understand that whether you've been with your man for 12 years, 21 years or 21 days, the kind of behavior you've described is toxic and abusive. It honestly does not matter if it's "only" about certain topics. It's just plain unacceptable.

I guess I'm looking to for ways deal with the problem we have rather than find someone new to have new problems with.

If you are looking to remain with him, then the first step is NOT to try and convince him that he's wrong and you're right, it's to figure out why you have allowed him to emotionally abuse you in this instance. He may be a swell guy in other respects, but in THIS instance, he was abusive. This is especially the case if this sort of behavior is routine for him during your "arguments". If he does not know how to respect your tears, then there is something fundamentally off about how he regards you as a human being. Which is to say, 1) he does not fully respect you and 2) he lacks some basic communication/relationship skills that are necessary for healthy disagreements with one's partner.

Given all of this, your first step, I think, should be to get into therapy - perhaps first individual therapy and then couple's therapy.

Good luck.
posted by Gray Skies at 6:21 AM on August 28, 2014 [5 favorites]

But I do feel that this issue underlies a lot of our arguments

I can assure you, it doesn't. He's just kind of a shithead. I'm a science-minded rationalist and fairly even-keeled-- my girlfriend is more emotional. If she cries in an argument (this doesn't happen that often because we don't argue that often), I usually just leave her alone until she gets her shit together, then we talk about it later, and usually end up hugging, etc.

I'd never tell her that her feelings, etc, aren't valid because they aren't rational, etc. People aren't rational beings, even people that are claiming to be rational.

If you're arguing so much that you're crying regularly, and he's got a pat answer for it, enough so that you're asking a question about how to deal with this, I really think the right answer here is to find a new boyfriend.
posted by empath at 6:53 AM on August 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

Those of you who think I should DTMFA or are calling him a jerk, please be aware that this is my much loved boyfriend of over twelve years, with whom I share a life, history and toddler.

Sorry, didn't see the follow up.

Marriage/couples counseling is really the only answer here, since there is a child involved.
posted by empath at 6:54 AM on August 28, 2014 [4 favorites]

I can't even imagine how annoying it would be if I had to deal with my husband crying every time we had a heated discussion, so I can kind of emphasize with your BF here.

It's totally uncool of him to accuse you of hysteria or (purposeful) manipulation, but it is really impossible that you were screaming at him? Often when people get into arguments their voices raise more than they realize, and when you're being yelled at by a crying person, it's hard to react rationally in response. It's not emotional abuse to not feel comfortable in that situation.

I don't think you should give him a pass for discounting what you had to say (by doing the "scientists say that you're a crazy woman" thing he was totally the one being manipulative), but have you tried to control your responses in situations like this?

Couples therapy is a good idea.

Outside of that, I would try to sit him down sometime when you're not arguing over something else and basically say what you've said here -- sometimes you cry when you're getting upset, and it's hard to control but doesn't affect your ability to have a rational discussion, that you're not doing it on purpose, and you're not trying to manipulate him or win the argument by using your feminine wiles on him or whatever he thinks. You should tell him that you'll try to keep yourself more together in the future, BUT IN EXCHANGE he has to realize that tears != crazy and learn to engage with you even if he doesn't understand the emotional response that you are having.
posted by sparklemotion at 7:22 AM on August 28, 2014 [3 favorites]

Best answer: No one wants to have a discussion or even a heated argument with someone who is crying over the issue. It doesn't really matter how rational you think your arguments are.

The analogy to throwing up in an apt one-- if you got bad anxiety that caused you to throw up every time you had a vigorous disagreement, no one would want to deal with you, either, because normally throwing up is considered a reaction to significant illness.

I am not defending your boyfriend, specifically, just that we are expected as adults to have control over ourselves. Your boyfriend is basically upset that you are violating that social contract. Though he could use some understanding about where that is coming from.
posted by deanc at 7:40 AM on August 28, 2014 [2 favorites]

I was talking to my partner about this question last night as she was on her way home from one of her Burt Lancaster -like excursions apparently aimed at swimming in every interesting pool in the PNW, and when I got to the part about women's crying reducing men's sexual arousal, she burst out with "Ha! That's why they hate it so much!"
posted by jamjam at 8:12 AM on August 28, 2014

I am going to throw something out there that might be worth investigating. Although your boyfriend is wrong to dismiss you out of hand, sometimes responses like this are due to unresolved issues from past situations that were similar, and it may be that crying is actually a trigger for him. I have stuff like this from my childhood, and strangely enough it has to do with whistling or eating food in a certain way, because someone in my life did this in ways that felt like they were attached to hurtful events. It's not always about the thing itself, but where it takes a person back to unresolved issues. If this is true, then it is actually an emotional reaction that he is having, as well. This doesn't mean that he gets a pass on being inappropriate, as as some point, we have to set childish interpretations behind us. Of course, not everything comes from places of attachment or childhood hurt issues. But a lot does, and in areas where a person digs in their heels regarding a particular emotional interpretation or investment, I think it might be a sign post for further investigation.

Two things to do might be to help him investigate why he interprets crying this way, and see if there is a family history there that is causing triggers for him. First, was he actually manipulated by tears in the past, or did he ever interpret them this way (regardless of whether he was correct)? Were tears in his childhood, say by a mother or other attachment figure, ever used in conjunction with unfair treatment or a withdrawal of affection or affirmation? I would actually put a lot of money on something like this being the case. If it's true, he's then universalizing his experience and then projecting this onto you, which isn't fair.

Secondly, if something like this is the case, you can point out that his response to your tears is also coming from a place of emotion, but you would like to not dismiss him based on that and actually talk about his concern further. This would be setting a good example in a way that would help him see that there's some hypocrisy perhaps in the way that he is coming about this. It's the kind of thing that you go gently with, however, even if you didn't get the same treatment from him, because at the end of the day, we are all a lot more fragile emotionally that we let on. Pure reason rarely exists, and we all need to find a way to deal with our emotional biases.

If you think it's worth following up on, a way to go about it initially is to just to ask him about other situations in his life when other people would cry, and what he thought it meant, and why. The thing to remember, especially in regard to childhood memories, is that it doesn't mean that he was actually manipulated by tears when he was younger, it only had to be his impression of what was happening. Sometimes our imperfect perceptions of events as children can also be formative, even if not based on fact.
posted by SpacemanStix at 8:49 AM on August 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

that I was screaming (I was not)

I had an ex who would accuse me of yelling almost every time we disagreed. (Not at first, only after we had been together for a couple of years.) It was absurd because I would gamely speak quieter and quieter until I was literally whispering so quietly he couldn't quite make out what I was saying, and he still said I was yelling so loud I was hurting his ears.

I actually went to couples therapy with him, and we learned to leave each other alone when things got heated, but to set a time that we would meet back up to discuss the topic. I'd ask him, when do you want to discuss this? And the answer would be, sometime when you're not yelling. Except see above how he moved the goalposts on what "yelling" is. Or the answer would be, after [event that we disagreed about how to approach]. Meaning that the event would be handled however he wanted to handle it and I wouldn't even have the opportunity to finish saying how I'd like to do it. Or he'd reluctantly agree to a timeframe I suggested. Except that every time we calmly came back to discuss whichever topic (there began to be a long list), things would get heated again almost immediately. This went on for months with no progress.

Finally I had an epiphany: in all my other relationships, from childhood on, being able to disagree agreeably has never been a significant ongoing problem like this. The only "solution" this guy would accept would involve me completely shutting up about anything we might disagree on. And that was not OK with me. I D'd TMF.
posted by Bentobox Humperdinck at 10:27 AM on August 28, 2014 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I take it that your boyfriend is referring to what has become known as Dual Process Theories of Cognition. Here is the Wikipedia link, scroll down for an overview of dual process accounts of reasoning. The basic idea is that we have evolved to have two cognitive systems: one fast, automatic, and "hot" and the other slow, deliberate, and "cool."

I take it, that your boyfriend thinks that your tearful response is a manifestation of the lower "system 1" and his cooler, more articulate response is a manifestation of the higher "system 2."

One thing you could point out is that activation of both systems is crucial; if human beings only had system 2, we would be hopelessly slow and would easily succumb to threats in our environment. It isn't a competition between systems: both are necessary for our survival.

Also, his own response to your tears is likely an automatic, system 1 response that he is, after the fact, rationalizing using system 2 processing.

While dual process theories are highly influential and widely accepted in psychology, they are theories, and if you read the Wikipedia article and Google the appropriate terms, you will see how many different models have been proposed, and you will find many objections to these models.

I've tried to answer the question as posed, but I can't help but note my agreement with others upthread: From your description, this boyfriend of yours seems quite hostile and insensitive. I would not regard this dismissive attitude of his as a small matter.
posted by girl flaneur at 11:04 AM on August 28, 2014

he immediately said that I wasn’t making sense (I was), that I was screaming (I was not) and that I wasn’t in control of what I was saying (so offensive to me I don’t even know where to start). My concern about this is that these sound like contempt, which is a relationship-killer.

Crying. Women are taught to cry. We also tend to produce hormones in response to emotion, and that can make you cry. In my experience, crying makes it harder to speak (not harder to speak rationally), an dis a cultural reason women are taught to cry. The meaty part at the base of your thumb is said to be a pressure point to help you stop crying. Pressing it gives you something to do, at least.

With your bf, I recommend paying attention to his actions more than his words. Does he genuinely act respectful, odes he treat you well in front of others, does he behave gently towards you? Many people are not in touch with their deeper feelings and may not even recognize their own troubling emotions, but the emotions come out in their behavior. I would also stop engaging in discussing whether or your feelings, words, thoughts, etc., are valid. Tell him once, You must respect me and my feelings, words and thoughts. After that, when he says crap like the above, tell him you can't engage with him when he's disrespectful, and walk away. Learning to walk away, to stop accepting crap from my ex- ended my marriage but saved my life.

Your instincts are good. Trust them. Don't let anybody else make you doubt your instincts or yourself.
posted by theora55 at 12:36 PM on August 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

we do have an equal, honest and supportive relationship - except for this one issue where we fail to understand each other in any way on certain (usually political) topics

One solution I've personally seen work over the long term for couples with political disagreements is not to discuss the political topics that lead to arguments.

Have either of you ever managed to change the other's mind about their political views with these arguments? Unless one of you is actually IN politics, little will change in the world by the two of you having these heated discussions.

Weigh the benefit you get out of discussing such topics against the stress of arguments over them.
posted by yohko at 12:49 PM on August 28, 2014

Agree with all that he's being jerky and misogynistic, is failing to see his own illogic, and is taking an adversarial stance that isn't going to help things.

But, why does conflict make you cry? Stress response, ok - I definitely understand that, believe me - but I think it kind of is a big deal.

Personally, the times I've cried in arguments happened when I felt bullied, attacked, invalidated, and pained by the feeling that I was sickeningly misunderstood by someone I loved and expected to know better.
posted by cotton dress sock at 1:25 PM on August 28, 2014 [6 favorites]

I'm curious too, what sort of things he's saying to you that make you cry? Is he being hurtful? Do you cry regularly during discussions or disagreements at work and with friends, or is he saying and doing things that are hurtful and dismissive of you or other human beings to the point it's painful to hear? I have listened to some people rant about politics but it was their hatred and disregard for human beings I couldn't bear, and willingness to let some people die or starve or go without medical care I found horrific. Someone who thinks sweatshop labor and survival sex are the natural order of things would make cry a lot.
posted by xarnop at 1:53 PM on August 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I think he's wrong --- if you cry, you cry. It doesn't sound like you are trying to manipulate him. And I believe that you may still be keeping your voice low and acting rationally whilst crying.

However, to be fair to him, I think it may be difficult for HIM to have a rational discussion while you are crying. Now he went about it in a condescending kind of bullying way --- but maybe that's really the issue. He's having a hard time communicating with YOU while you are crying.

My parents had this horrible marriage that involved screaming and anger and throwing things. As a result, I have an intense reaction to conflict and don't deal with it really well. My problem is that when I'm angry my gloves are off so to speak because that's the environment I grew up in -- I never had healthy role models re anger. None of this applicable to you, but the productive way for me to deal with this is to disengage for a period of time and calm down. When I'm calmer I can usually talk through things with my husband and have a more productive discussion.

So maybe if you are so upset you've reach crying stage, it might be helpful to just go take a walk or go to a movie or talk with a friend. And talk about whatever is bothering you when you've had some time to calm down.
posted by bananafish at 4:44 PM on August 28, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Against almost everyone on this page, I will side with your boyfriend on this. Crying may be natural, but it is nor a normal adult reaction. You need to work out what upsets you so much that you need to be in tears each time you argue with him.

I would feel pretty much the same, that is manipulated, if my partner cried each time we disagreed about something. To me, the question should been framed like this: what is causing you to cry?

Unless you can resolve the underlying issue that brings out the tears in the first place, you should refrain from discussing politics with your boyfriend.
posted by Kwadeng at 6:00 AM on August 29, 2014

Best answer: I cry when I have any strong emotion - happy, sad, frustrated (that is a BIG trigger). Weirdly pain is one of the weakest cry triggers for me. I also have the extra super bonus that very soon after I start to cry I inevitably start to hyperventilate. Why? No clue. I just always have. I seem to do a weird breath holdy thing (maybe to try to stop crying?) which results in hyperventilating and loud sobs. It is fucking annoying.

This is a hugely annoying trait of mine.

Rest assured, many discussions and arguments involve tears in my relationship. My husband is a lovely wonderful man who is very uncomfortable when I cry. I think he just doesn't know what to do with it, he get torn between wanting to "fix it" and make me stop crying, to being annoyed that his protective instincts are hindering his ability to discuss the issue, etc. He is not able to ignore the tears, the hyperventilating even less so. It is sort of like even though my tears are absolutely not meant to manipulate or affect his thinking, they still do. Just because I don't INTEND or WANT my tears to affect him, doesn't meant they don't. I can't help that I cry, and he can't help that my tears do ultimately change his thinking and feeling as well. It is a tricky situation.

Anyway, what has worked for me is to tell him:
1) I cry at strong emotions. My eyes just like to spew out water when I have the feels. This is not something I can control. Everyone in my family is this way, men and women. The family joke is that our tear ducts are hard wired to our bladders. This is more biological than a sign of lack of control.
2) I don't LIKE that I cry so easily because I know many people see crying as a manipulative thing or as a weak/out of control thing, so rest assured I would never deliberately use it to manipulate.
3) Crying for me doesn't mean I am thinking any less clearly. It just means that my eyes feel like leaking right now. Do not take my tears as a sign of my "losing it" or anything of that sort.
4) I acknowledge that I know he really minds when I cry. If I get to a point in a discussion where I feel I will cry soon I will warn you, and I will ask that you give me a couple minutes to try to curb it. Touching, hugging, comforting of any sort will not help, it will actually for sure trigger the tears. Just give a minute or so to quietly compose myself.
5) I have adopted a technique of going Vulcan when having a serious discussion that I know could result in tears. I go full on Spock, keep my voice very level, speaking at a moderate/low volume, taking all emotion out of my voice, speaking slowly, etc. I focus on my word choice, my phrasing, getting my message across WITHOUT emotion. This helps to keep the tears from happening, AND it keeps discussions from getting heated or yell-y.

Now, that said, I do think your boyfriend is being HUGELY unfair and unkind to you. His citing various scientific studies that "prove" you are irrational when you tear up is not only ridiculous, but also disrespectful, insulting, and dismissive of you. Jesus, if my husband ever went off on me like that and tried to tell me that the fact that I am tearing up MUST mean that I am irrational and hysterical... well, rest assured I would be quick to show him what irrational and hysterical REALLY looked like...

You and your boyfriend would do well with some counselling. There is some seriously fucked up stuff going on here. There is the reality that your tears ARE going to change how he is feeling and thinking, whether you want them to or not, but there is the reality that your tears are not a free pass for him to declare you irrational and hysterical.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 6:37 AM on August 29, 2014 [4 favorites]

I won't defend your boyfriend's utterance of pseudoscientific nonsense, but against almost everyone else here, I will agree with him on the larger point. As a man, it is virtually impossible for me to have a rational discussion with a crying woman, especially one who I have a strong emotional connection to. A man's first instinct when confronted with a crying girlfriend is to comfort her and address what's causing her to cry, with the ultimate goal of getting her to stop crying and be happy.

How can he be honest with you if doing that causes you to cry? His reaction is then to try to smooth over the situation so that you stop crying so that you can discuss things honestly, which may only get you crying again. He likely feels that by crying, you are pressuring him into being less-than completely honest with you--making him tell you things you want to hear that he doesn't agree with or feel himself--just to get you to stop. As your boyfriend, he wants to defend you from people who make you cry, and in these situations, you are making him into the man he wants to defend you against.

So yes, in most situations, it's really tough for a man to have an honest, rational conversation with a crying woman. Please try to control yourself in these situations or, as someone else recommended, go into separate rooms and converse with each other through text.

Honestly, I'm a little surprised that so few people have come to his defense on this. Unless you can get a hold of yourself in these situations, it's going to be damned near impossible for the two of you to have an honest conversation on crucial relationship issues.
posted by Leatherstocking at 11:12 AM on August 29, 2014

I disagree with the notion that it's up to you to "get ahold of yourself" because otherwise it'll be tough for a man to be comfortable working through stuff with you. If you were flinging yourself around the room and throwing things I would say you need to get ahold of yourself; or if you were using tears as a manipulation tool I would say that's unfair; but your tears are involuntary and no more problematic or blameworthy than the anxiety response your guy is having to them.
posted by fingersandtoes at 2:31 PM on August 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

"As your boyfriend, he wants to defend you from people who make you cry, and in these situations, you are making him into the man he wants to defend you against."

Maybe this sort of reaction is part of the problem. Maybe she doesn't need her bf to defend her against whatever threats against her he imagines, because she needs him to listen to what she has to say and seriously consider it. Then again, maybe he really is a man she needs to defend herself against if he thinks she needs to "get a hold of [herself] in these situations".
posted by moody cow at 5:09 AM on August 31, 2014 [2 favorites]

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