Recently, a man at one of my conferences spoke up about a marital issue that had been bubbling up for a few months. He works long hours in a high-stress job, and his wife texted or called him several times a day to talk about small matters such as dinner plans or what happened on the playground that day with their preschool-aged daughter.
As he talked, I realized that he was getting frustrated because he thought she was bothering him with minutiae. Of course he appreciated having dinner with his family! Of course he loved his daughter! But really, did she need to interrupt his day to tell him every single detail?
But what I also realized was happening (that he was completely missing!) was the motivation behind his wife’s communication throughout the day. It was not to annoy him. It was simply this: his wife was really missing her best friend.
Even though I didn’t know his wife, it was clear to me that she just wanted someone to talk to and a deeper connection with her husband. While she thought that was achievable by sharing parts of her day with him, he didn’t see those things as worthy of his attention. Whether it was a phone call during the workday or something when he walked through the door at night, he was annoyed and she was left hanging. Lately, they had been arguing about things that didn’t seem to matter much. He didn’t realize that she really needed to be seen . . . and heard.
This husband needed a little guidance on the why behind his wife’s behavior and how he can truly show he cared for her.
A woman needs the listening ear of her husband.
I told him that just like he needs to be able to tell her his frustrations about work, she needs an outlet too. A woman needs the listening ear of her husband. And while he doesn’t mean to convey that he’s uncaring, his lack of attention or choice not to call her back during the workday makes her feel like her needs are not as important as his.
The man said he loved his wife and wanted to care, but his job takes a lot out of him and—at the end of the day especially—he needs to unwind, without straining to make a decision that seems to have little impact. He said, “Some of the things she talks about are almost trivial. It’s like she needs me to decide what we serve for dinner when company’s coming over. I’d rather not be involved in that.”
Husbands need to develop the skill of listening to their wife.
What he was really saying was that he doesn’t understand how to listen to his wife. She doesn’t want his permission to plan a menu; she craves his attention and wants to share a piece of herself with him. Even though it may seem trivial, it’s important to call her back or send a quick text that asks a question about at least one of the topics his wife is sharing with him. It only takes a few minutes, but it will help her feel heard and valued. When her relational needs are met, he’ll find himself in fewer arguments over “the little things.”
I told him to try listening in a more connected way for a few weeks, and then find time to tell her that he values her and wants to stay in touch with what’s going on. He needs to also explain that sometimes it’s overwhelming for him to hear about every little thing—especially in the middle of an intense day at work—because he can’t discern what the most important things are.
Ask your wife this question to show her you care.
As I said to the man at the conference, when your wife realizes that you actually are listening and trying to pay attention, she will respond well to the question: Honey, how can I focus on what matters most to you? As you get used to asking this, she’ll start to prioritize what she shares. And you’ll realize that choosing to care has a high return on investment. Expressing your interest and your concern about her will ultimately bring peace to your relationship and create a more tension-free day-to-day for you both.
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Shaunti Feldhahn loves sharing eye-opening information that helps people thrive in life and relationships. She herself started out with a Harvard graduate degree and Wall Street credentials but no clue about life. After an unexpected shift into relationship research for average people like her, she now is a popular speaker and 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 latest book, Find Peace: A 40-day Devotional Journey For Moms, focuses on discovering biblical direction to become a woman of serenity and delight in all seasons – and have impact for generations to come.
Visit www.shaunti.com for more.