I recently read For Women Only and I now realize how important it is for my husband to know I respect him – which I do. But I come from a long line of “strong women” (as my dad puts it) and none of us is afraid to voice an opinion. Including telling our husbands how to do things, like what to do with the kids while we’re out for a few hours, or the most efficient route to soccer practice that avoids the traffic bottlenecks. It’s not that I don’t trust him, I’m just very particular, I guess. But it makes him upset. How do I convey respect to him when I just know he’s in over his head and needs help?
Dear WIT, I’m trying hard to read your last sentence with a straight face. Did you really just say “how do I convey respect” and “he’s in over his head and needs help” in the same sentence?
Sister, you need a wake-up call. Let’s be really honest about the main problem here: you don’t trust him. If you did, you wouldn’t have to give him a minute-by-minute schedule of everything that needs to happen with the kids during the three hours that you are out with your sister. You’d be totally fine with the fact that he prefers taking the five extra minutes on the way to soccer, instead of appreciating the brilliance of your winding-back-road-and-hair-raising-left-turn-across-two-lanes-of-traffic route.
Instead, you want it your way … so you feel a need to tell him what to do. Which comes across as though you view him in the same way as you’d view a slightly in-over-his-head 14-year-old on his first babysitting job. (“So first, you have to make sure you microwave the soup about 90 seconds, because 2 minutes will make it too hot…”)
I mean, seriously: how must your approach look to him? After all, there are other day-to-day things you probably trust him with completely, right? You trust that he’s not going to take Fido to work in the middle of the summer, and leave him locked in the car all day with the windows rolled up. You don’t need to tell him that, because you know he’s not an idiot.
So realize that each time you tell him what to do in these other similar day-to-day things of life, that it automatically means that you think he needs the help, the poor dear. In other words: in your mind, he is an idiot. And that feeling is terrible for anyone – but especially guys, since their greatest emotional need is to feel able and respected for what they do.
Yes, absolutely, there are always things that any of us might need help on. The first time my husband showed me how to use the snowblower, it took some getting used to. The first time I showed him how to use a complicated inhaler contraption for our toddler daughter, he needed to try it a few times. All the men I interviewed for my book For Women Only told me that they realize there are times help is needed. The key is to ask him, “Do you want any help, or are you good?” And if he says he’s fine, let him give it a shot… without standing there anxiously, which means (in his mind) you’re just waiting for him to fail.
If you can reach out to your husband and find a way to be a true, respectful partner and not an I-want-it-my-way-criticizer, I promise you it will build your relationship. Because instead of giving up because he feels like he can’t win, he will feel confident that he can step out and become the man you want him to be.
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.