In the research for For Women Only and The Kindness Challenge, I’ve seen an overlooked, seemingly old-fashioned secret. If you want to be a wife that your husband adores, practice using an affirming tone and eliminating a contentious one.
We’ve all heard the saying “You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar,” right? We all agree with that, and most of us try to do that. If we have a difficult relationship with a colleague, we are careful to speak respectfully to avoid making it worse. That step-sister situation is a bit tricky, so we go out of our way to say “Thanks so much” for something she did. With our good friends, of course, we want to speak sweetly, so they continue to like us! Honey, honey, honey.
But for some reason, when it comes to how we speak our own husbands, we don’t realize how often our next words have somehow been removed from our vocal chords, dunked in a vat of vinegar, and returned to our mouths…before they come out with a pungent astringency.
Why does this happen to even well-meaning wives? I see three main reasons – and ways to fix it.
Reason #1: We’re stretched or stressed
The other day, we were packing for a trip and I was in “efficiency mode” with a lot to do. Everyone else in the family but me likes getting on the road at an hour that any normal person would like to be asleep. Which means that at 5 a.m. I’m not only grumpy and tired because of the early start, but I usually have the most to do to get the car ready to pack – and I’m resenting both those things. In my irritation I start snapping at the kids or at Jeff like a drill marshal. “No, that bag can’t go in the car yet! Not until all these snacks are packed up, and I wash the grapes, and get the drinks in the cooler!”
Finally I realized: I don’t even like myself. There’s no excuse for the vinegar here. Either I tell Jeff and the kids that I don’t want to be on the road that early and/or I let them do the tasks I’m trying to do, or I go along with it all with a determinedly good attitude. It is unfair of me to let a situation occur in which I know I will be resentful and “vinegar-y” and ruin it for everyone else.
Reason #2: We are taking him for granted
Let’s be honest. We speak carefully (honey, not vinegar) with the colleague and the step-sister because we’re aware of the need to. We usually speak sweetly to our friends because we know friends are not guaranteed and we want them to continue to like being around us. So at home, one of the main reasons we get our vinegar on is that we’re taking our man for granted! We just put it all out there because we’re married and it is permanent… so we feel like we don’t need to think about it.
And of course, being a life commitment, marriage is permanent – but we want it to be fun, too! We need to be just as aware and intentional with our man as with others. We want our man to enjoy being around us, in the same way we want our friends to enjoy being around us.
Reason #3: We don’t realize a man is allergic to vinegar
No-one likes an astringent tone. But for men it goes deeper than dislike. In the research for For Women Only I found that men have a deep, emotional desire to be a good husband and make their wives happy – and a deep, emotional doubt that they are up to the task. As a result of this secret insecurity, there is nothing more painful to a man than the feeling that he is failing at anything – much less his most important job, as a husband. A vinegar tone means, by definition, you are unhappy – and he has failed you. Men who feel like a failure withdraw. Quite understandably, they just don’t want to be around the person or thing that is making them feel that way.
While there may be many things you wish were different, you’ll see positive changes much more with the honey-flavored tone than the vinegar one. That doesn’t mean ignoring problems, and it doesn’t mean a falsely sappy, syrupy-sweet tone of voice. (Let’s not take this analogy too far!) But it does mean realizing that men respond far, far better to positive appreciation (“Thanks so much for taking the girls out so I could get some rest”), and want to spend less and less time with someone who seems constantly to be in a state of exasperation (“What were you thinking, taking them to the store in their PJs?!”).
Your man loves you. He wants to adore you. Be your best with him – in the same way you are with your friends. A practice of using honey instead of vinegar won’t solve all those issues that that you do have to deal with, but it sure will make him more willing to listen when you do.
Want to know how to be kind, when you’re really not feeling it? My research uncovered three daily actions that will transform your relationships – and you. Check out The Kindness Challenge, now available!
Helping people thrive in life and relationships is Shaunti Feldhahn’s driving passion, supported by her research projects and writing. After starting out with a Harvard graduate degree and experience on Wall Street, her life took an unexpected shift into relationship research. She now is a popular speaker around the world and the author of best-selling books about men, women, and relationships. (Including For Women Only, For Men Only, and the groundbreaking The Good News About Marriage).
Her newest book, The Kindness Challenge, demonstrates that kindness is the answer to almost every life problem, and is sparking a much-needed movement of kindness across the country. Visit www.shaunti.com for more.