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By: Mozelle Forman

When we last left off, Teddy had just responded to his wife, Sarina, who was calling his name.

“What do you want? I’m
in the middle of something!” he’d shouted.

Sarina’s brain, like Teddy’s, was
absorbing the response andreacting strongly to it. You see, Sarina was the youngest of seven children. Growing up, she’d often heard, “Wait your turn!” or “Mommy (or Daddy) is busy!” Very often,she was made to feel as if she were a bother. So Teddy’s response, “What do you want? I’m in the middle of something!” triggered unpleasant childhood memories for her. Like Teddy’s brain had, hers began to secrete fight-or-flight neurotransmitters.

Instinctively, she wanted to say to Teddy: “What do I want? What do I want, you ask? I’ve been slaving all day taking care of your children and preparing a meal for you and you don’t even have the decency to answer me politely?! I’m a person, too, you know!”

That response would surely have heightened the anxiety in Teddy. Given all the adrenaline, norepinephrine, and cortisol he and his wife’s brains were producing, their fight could have been a doozy!

Just as quickly as she was to anger, though, a more rational part of Sarina remembered that Teddy was a bit stressed about work. She also couldn’t forget that he’d helped the children with their homework tonight so that she could get to her yoga class. These secondary considerations, reminders that Teddy did value her, assuaged her initial sense of hurt. And because she felt valued, she didn’t need to lash out.

Sarina walked over to Teddy’s office and quietly opened the door. Teddy looked as if he was hard at work but, in fact, his brain, expecting a fight, was on alert. Instead, Sarina surprised him by saying softly: “Dinner is ready whenever you are”. As she turned to leave Teddy said, “Thanks, Honey. Sorry I was so cranky earlier.” Sarina smiled as she closed the door.

Teddy and Sarina are like so many of the couples that I counsel – human beings with childhood sensitivities that still cause them and their partners a lot of pain. As we come to recognize our own triggers, as well as those of our spouses, we can begin to create a more loving and forgiving style of communication with them.

Mozelle Forman is a clinical social worker in private practice for 20 years.
She welcomes your comments at