“Pay attention to how you listen.” - Jesus, Luke 18:18
Let’s get real, husbands -- is your wife ever hard for you to get? Sometimes you totally miss the point of what she’s saying. Or she says one thing but means something totally different. You listen. You know what the words mean in a dictionary. You’ve noticed her emotions. But you still don’t get her. Or worse, she thinks you don’t know and don’t care. And maybe you start feeling like you don’t want to.
Fellow husbands- I want to share some confessions and tips so I can challenge you to lead the way in better communication. If we aren’t responsible, who is? The challenge is that good communication is very real. It was the hardest part of my first year of marriage.
Here are my top three confessions- and then the best of the rest.
Confession #1: I can crush her capacity to think out loud
One day Nadia came home from work totally irked. Her eyes flashed with frustration. She said that her manager had been really dumb. He’d made an awful decision, yet somehow everyone else in the office agreed with him! It made no sense! She told me why her manager’s decision was awful, and I didn’t get why. I actually found myself agreeing with the manager. “He sounds reasonable to me!” I said. BAD IDEA. Now her frustration turned on me.
We had some choice words, a box of kleenex, and eventually apologies. I finally figured out that she wasn’t actually mad at her boss because of his decision. She was mad because he had been utterly rude to her. He shot down her ideas in front of others without listening. Possibly because she was thinking out loud. When I said that her boss was reasonable, she thought I approved of him being rude (which I didn’t).
When Nadia says something that I don’t get, I try not to pick it apart. I encourage her to process it so I can understand more. *“Why do you say that? Tell me more.” *“
Confession #2: I miss unspoken expectations
Nadia does an insane amount of laundry. I can easily forget this because she does most of it when I’m at work. So it’s Saturday morning, and our kids are bounding up and down the hallways past a big pile of laundry. I often take the kids outside on weekends so she can get a quick break. I’m heading out the door with them on a bike ride.
“Have a nice break!” I say from the stairs.
“Unlikely,” she replies.
[Men: this is a flashing warning that I missed something important.]
I asked why, and she told me that she was really hoping to get some help from us on chores that morning. We hadn’t talked about what we each wanted to do, so I thought I was being helpful when I really wasn’t.
Unspoken expectations cause mayhem in my marriage. If I assume what Nadia wants, I can completely fail to do what she actually wants. If I assume that she knows what I want, I can become bitter at her for not doing things that she never knew were important to me.
Confession #3: I don’t make enough time to listen
I’m amazed at the things Nadia says when I make real space for her to share. Hilarious stuff. Frustrations and tears that I knew little about. Last night, it was only us around the fireplace, with the kids in bed and me asking questions. She told me how she’d borrowed my dad’s construction earmuffs to sand a table. Then when the kids are loud after school, she started wearing them around the house also. She’s an introvert, and her inner self was getting squashed by the incessant noise.
At work, I make time to meet one-on-one with people I manage. We set goals together. Follow up on important items. See what I help I can give. Why not do something even better with my wife? Are the people I manage more important to me than her?
Whether it’s a date, dinner at home, or talks before bed, be intentional about doing whatever works. If you don’t make time to listen, you’re likely to hear what she’s thinking later. When it’s too late.
And here are four other tips that will help your marriage. I admit,
Confession #4: Validate her feelings
Feelings aren’t right or wrong. They’re feelings. My biggest challenges when Nadia shows emotion is that I feel like it’s directed at me and I’m responsible for solving it. That’s rarely the case. In fact, I can’t make everything right. That’s God’s role, not mine.
Giving your wife space to express her emotions safely helps her trust you more and helps her speak more freely. And that’s when you come to a deeper, truer understanding.
Confession #5: Beware of bad patterns
Do you have sore spots? Topics or patterns that bring on conflict. It could be how you make decisions, your views on politics, or how you discipline kids. Often, these bad patterns develop because the two of you have communicated poorly about them in the past. In turn, you continue to build upon these habits that worsen your communication. Try asking new questions. Use new language. Even take some breaths before responding to help break a bad habit.
Confession #6: Pray for her
Prayer is an amazing space to grow empathy and wisdom. I often ask God to help me understand what my wife is thinking and feeling. I pray for her priorities. I reflect on what I value about her, and how I can best communicate that to her.
When I listen to prayers on the Abide app, I pray for Nadia. I pray for our marriage. I ask God for wisdom in how I can be a better husband.
Want to pray for peace in your marriage? Click the button below and be guided through a short, 1 minute prayer.
Confession #7: Remember something she said
Seriously. This may sound obvious, but most men don’t do it. Remember at least one thing your wife says when you talk to her. Ask her about it the next day. You’ll be amazed at how much goodwill this can build.
To listen well is to love well.
Neil is the CEO and Founder of Abide, a Christian mobile prayer app. He is also the team's unofficial relationship counselor. He listens and provides insights to all who seek it. The other day he advised a co-worker to get his wife flowers. It was a good idea.