Ladies, imagine that as part of your dream job or volunteer work, you are offered a project that is really exciting, and could also earn you a very welcome financial bonus. You step up to do it. Eager to please your boss, you spend long weeks binge-drinking caramel macchiatos, getting little sleep, and pouring your soul into the work.
Finally, it’s presentation day. You work through the slides and answer the questions like a seasoned pro, and you know you’re nailing it. You’re proud of yourself. As you wrap up, your boss stands up, shakes your hand, and says, “Thanks for that presentation. But it would have been better if you’d done it this way…”
It’s a punch in the gut, right?
Now, imagine that your boss sees your face fall and says, “What’s your problem? I said ‘Thank you!’”
You might be thinking, “Yeah, right. That did not feel like appreciation. In fact, that was the no-thank-you-thank-you.”
What does this have to do with personal relationships? Let’s rewind a few days and think back to the last moment that you felt like your husband (or perhaps your son) didn’t do something the way it should be done.
Perhaps your husband cleared the table and loaded the dishwasher – but not the way you’d do it. Maybe there were plates facing all different directions, plastic containers on the bottom shelf, and even a cast iron skillet shoved in somewhere. (Can you say r-u-s-t?) But here’s the thing: In your man’s mind, he had stepped up to do something. He was trying to please you. As I’ve covered elsewhere, men have more emotional vulnerability than you would ever realize, about whether they measure up in what they try to do for their wives. So your man might even have been waiting for a big smile; something to tell him that you appreciated him. Instead, he hears you chuckle and say, “Oh my gosh, look at these dishes all over the place!” as you undo his work and redo it the “right” way.
How does he feel? You guessed it. It’s that punch in the gut. It’s the “no-thank-you-thank-you,” in action.
You may think this seem minor compared to a boss’s lack of appreciation of a long project. But I found in my research with men for For Women Only that the “dishwasher”-type examples are in some ways far more serious for us as wives. Why? Because they happen all the time, cause unseen, daily pain to someone we love — and we often don’t even recognize it.
The natural follow-up (and often indignant) question that we ask is: “Well, what are we supposed to do if our man has done something wrong? I mean, the dishes have to get cleaned! Are we just supposed to smile vapidly, coo “Great job, honey,” stroke his ego, and forget about what is important to us?”
No, of course not. But if we want a happy husband (and a happy marriage) we have to learn how to address things in a way that doesn’t cause that regular, unseen, punch-in-the-gut feeling to our man.
Based on my research with thousands of men, there are two clear steps you can use to determine whether or not you should speak up, and how. The men often described this as “The Next Day Rule.”
Next-Day Rule Step 1 – Determine if the issue will be important the next day
In the grand scheme of things, will this situation matter tomorrow? Decide whether this situation, if left unaddressed, will create some sort of longer-term negative impact. If so, then it might be worth hurting your husband’s feelings, to address it. If not, then it probably isn’t.
Ask yourself: does it really matter that your husband loads the dishwasher differently than you? Will the dishes still get cleaned? Maybe you do need to rescue that cast-iron skillet (more on that in a moment), but otherwise let him have his triumph when he’s done the dishes and is feeling pleased with himself. Because regularly correcting him will trigger his secret feeling that he doesn’t measure up. And since that is his most painful feeling, he may just shut down and stop trying. (See this article for more information on that pattern.)
And really, is your way always “right” and his way “wrong?” Or is it just different? It’s not worth risking your relationship with your husband over something that’s really just a matter of opinion.
So instead, simply say “thanks for doing the dishes, honey,” with no qualifications. That will light him up.
But suppose it is a more important issue? Suppose you’ve noticed that when your husband takes your middle-school son to football practice, that he berates him a lot for how your son handles things. Now, the kid probably deserves some discipline, but you feel your husband is consistently too rough on him. And since you believe it could hurt their relationship, this one is definitely worth addressing.
Which leads us to Step #2….
Next Day Rule Step 2 – If it needs to be addressed, if at all possible address it the next day.
If something needs to be addressed, it will often be received much better if you address it the next day. Imagine the difference if your boss had simply applauded your big presentation, said “Thanks for that presentation. I can tell you poured a lot of work into that, and I really appreciate it.” Then the next day, your boss came back to you and said, “Thanks again for your presentation. I’ve been thinking about a few of the points you covered, and we’re probably still missing a few things, so I’d like you to change it in this way….”
You might still be a bit a bit bummed (‘You mean it wasn’t perfect? I worked so hard on it!’) but you would definitely still feel that what you did was noticed and appreciated.
It works the same way with your man. Waiting until the next day to correct something, if possible, will help you convey “It was noticed and appreciated (even if it wasn’t perfect),” rather than “It was noticed and you failed.”
For example, when you see that cast-iron pan in the dishwasher, just pull it out without comment. Then the next day, you might say, “Hey, thanks again for doing the dishes after dinner. Just FYI, I learned a while back that a dishwasher will rust a cast iron pan. I figured you would want to know.”
Or when you’ve heard your husband getting on your son’s case, if possible, wait until the next day and kindly say, “Honey, do you mind if I raise something? I was watching Billy’s face when you were talking to him about his attitude at football, and ….”
Bottom line, the Next Day Rule might sound old-fashioned, but it honors not just what you need, but how he is wired. By waiting overnight, and then addressing things in a kind-hearted and respectful way, you can allow your husband to keep his dignity while gently nudging him to change a behavior.
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.