Tip #25: Women, when you know you need to ask your husband to accept guidance or help, and you know he might feel painfully inadequate as a result, say it with kindness and in a way that makes it about your need rather than his failure.
One of the things I was most surprised by, when I started researching how men think, is how important it is for a man to feel that his wife trusts, respects, appreciates and is proud of him. And how surprisingly easy it is for him to feel that she doesn’t!
But what happens when we women know we’re at risk of triggering that painful feeling – but we still need to say something?
A classic example is what happens when you’re late for an important dinner, your husband is lost, the GPS is wrong, and you have no clue why he doesn’t want to stop and ask for directions!
Now before we can tackle the more urgent late-for-an-important-dinner situation, let’s remember why situations like this matter to a guy: it’s not about the problem he’s trying to solve, it’s about whether you think he’s adequate to solve it. For him, trying to find his way is an adventure, and a test of whether he is smart enough to figure it out on his own. So when you tell him he needs to stop and ask some other man for directions, you are (in his mind) telling him that he’s inadequate – which is a man’s most painful feeling. So even though it sometimes takes every shred of willpower, it is amazing what happens when you force yourself to let him find his way.
My husband, Jeff, explained, “It’s easy for a woman to say, ‘Oh, he’s just being too sensitive.’ Well, maybe she’s right…but that’s because a guy has a deep doubt that he knows what he’s doing — and therefore a deep need to know that the person who knows him best is going to choose to believe in him, regardless. Aren’t there things that women are insecure about, too, and thus ultra-sensitive about? For example, would a woman like it if her husband teased her about gaining ten pounds? Everyone is ultra-sensitive to something that touches on a deep insecurity.”
Which brings us back to the question of… what do we do when we know we might hit that insecurity?
Some time ago, when I was speaking at a women’s conference on what I learned about men for For Women Only, one woman asked this during Q&A time: “So, then, what do you say when your husband is driving around in circles, late for the party, and you’re biting your tongue? ‘I’m proud of you’?”
Everyone in the room had a good laugh over that one, me included! But it is valid conundrum: if you are in a situation where you must address something, even though you know he might take it a painful signal that you think he’s inadequate – like when you’re at risk of being late for that important dinner meeting — how on earth do you handle it well?
Before you say anything, the first step is to remind yourself that he is not an idiot. It is highly possible that he is even more aware of the time ticking away and is anxious not to fail you. Start from that assumption, and whatever you say will come out much better.
Which leads to the second step: remember that it is not so much what we say, as how we say it that will make a difference. All the men I’ve interviewed said it changed the dynamic greatly if you explain how you are feeling instead of ordering him to pull over. “Honey, I’m beginning to get nervous that we’re going to be late for this meeting. I know you probably are too. Normally, I’d be okay if we drove for a bit longer, but would you mind if we stopped and I asked for directions?”
The men said that those are helpful questions, not demands, and that approach helps him understand where you’re coming from in a way he can hear you. It also gives him an opening to say, “Let’s see if this street up here is the entrance to the highway, and if it’s not, we’ll stop.”
Every guy is different, and men are usually willing to share what would work best with them, once they know their wife cares. So at some neutral time, tell him you’d love to know how you can best handle that type of situation, since you would never want to imply that you think he’s inadequate. You might be pleasantly surprised at how much it means to him that you want to show how much you believe in him!
Join us next Monday for the next in our Marriage Monday series, and learn how highly happy couples reconnect with sign language.
Drawn from Chapter 3 of For Women Only, by Shaunti Feldhahn.
Do you want Shaunti to share these life-changing truths at your church or event? Inquire about Shaunti speaking, here.
Shaunti Feldhahn is the best-selling author of eye-opening, research-based books about men, women and relationships, including For Women Only, For Men Only, The Surprising Secrets of Highly Happy Marriages and her newest, The Good News About Marriage. A Harvard-trained social researcher and popular speaker, her ﬁndings are regularly featured in media as diverse as The Today Show, Focus on the Family, and the New York Times. Visit www.shaunti.com for more.
The post originally ran at the Christian Post for Marriage Mondays.
Welcome to Marriage Mondays! Each Monday, join us here in the Book Corner as I share my top findings on the little, eye-opening things that make a big difference in creating great marriages and relationships. Today’s post is one of a series on the surprising truths that men and women tend not to know about each other–and which change everything once we do.