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Guys, there’s a lot going on in your wife’s or girlfriend’s mind—and you can learn to read it.
No, there’s no such thing as actual mind-reading (sorry)—but there is a way to confidently understand what is going on in there, rather than feeling a bit confused or even helpless at times.
As Jeff and I speak at date nights and marriage events, one of the topics that gets the most laughs is also the one that most ends up with a wife elbowing her husband to pay attention—and the men looking very thoughtful. Which is the explanation of some of the differences in the working of the male and female brains, and how a husband can be his wife’s hero and make her feel loved simply by understanding a few scientific truths.
So since we know you want to understand her better, here are three truths that will help.
Truth #1. Your wife’s brain is designed to process a lot at once
Guys, in the minutes before you started reading this article, what were you thinking about? If you’re like most men (about 75%, according to our research) it probably was about one thing. Perhaps you were visualizing how you’re going to handle a difficult work conversation tomorrow morning. Or pondering how recruiting is going for your favorite college football team. Or wondering what you’re going to make for dinner, since it’s your turn.
One. Thing. At. A. Time.
But as you know, the mental landscape of your wife or girlfriend probably looks very different. If she’s like most women (79%, according to our survey of women for For Men Only), there’s a lot of thoughts going on at one time—sort of like multiple windows open on her mental desktop.
So one way to really understand this about your wife (and to admire her multi-tasking ability!) is to turn to her once you’re done reading this article and ask, “Honey, out of curiosity . . . what is in your mind right now? What thoughts are running through your brain?”
Then take note of what she says (“Well, I’m wondering whether I can get an extension on the financial presentation, and whether my boss is going to be irritated, and if I have time to run an errand after dinner, and whether Kayla’s fever is still going to be there tomorrow, and if I should ask Mom to come watch her since she won’t be able to go to daycare . . .”), and realize: this process is going on all the time.
Truth #2. If there’s something going on—there will be multiple thoughts to “read”
The ramification of all the processing going on in the brain of your wife or girlfriend is that if you want to read her mind, you’re not just going to be reading just one thing. This is something that often trips men up when, for example, they try to diagnose “What’s wrong?” (Why is she mad? All I said was it would be better to not fuss about Kayla, since she might be better by morning anyway.)
You may be trying to get to one “root issue” (Is she worried about paying for the doctor if Kayla gets worse?) and need to realize: there are probably several factors swirling around in your wife’s mind. They may be all intertwined. And that leads to a surprisingly simple way to both understand what those things are and to make her feel loved rather than frustrated.
Truth #3. It will help her—and you—if you encourage her to process the swirling thoughts out loud
One of the best ways to approach her with confidence instead of confusion is to not try to magically “read” her mind but to get her to verbally share what is on her mind. And for that to work, you need to remember this truth: although some people (roughly one in four) are exceptions, the way most women process things is very different in two relevant ways from the way most men process things. (Take notes here, guys: it will save you a lot of trouble later!)
First, most female brains are designed to think things through by talking them through—where your brain is likely the opposite. (Most male brains need to process something internally before the man can talk about it.)
Second, your male brain is designed to “compartmentalize” in a way that your wife’s brain likely is not. You are concerned about Kayla’s fever too. But since you need to finish your prep for that difficult work conversation tomorrow morning, you can choose to just think about work and give that your full attention. In fact, you may feel you need to be able to give work your full attention in order to think about it at all! It’s as if you click the X to close the “Kayla fever” window on your mental desktop, and it stops bothering you until you’re ready to turn your attention to that window.
Your wife probably cannot do that. She probably needs to talk through her concern about your daughter’s high fever and all the ramifications of it—both so she can think through what to do and so that she can figure out what action to take to “close” the windows that are most bothering her.
If you try to short-circuit that process (“Listen, we won’t know whether the fever will even be there tomorrow, so just don’t worry about it tonight.”) you have shut down both of these crucial processes for her and made her feel dismissed. (No wonder she was angry, right?)
But if you can encourage her to talk it through without frustration or judgment, and honor what matters for her process, it will make her feel so loved. And it will give you a cruciallook into what is really going on in her mind.For example, you might learn that what is most on her mind and heart is not just that a) Kayla is feeling miserable, but b) she’s needing to be sure that she has childcare so she can get the financial presentation done for her boss, and c) she’s on edge with her Mom, who has said several times that she feels “taken for granted” when she is asked to babysit last minute instead of the night before.
So now you have essentially “read her mind.” You know what is on her mind and heart. You can respond well. (Hint: Listen to her feelings about all of it, rather than just come up with a solution.) And if you want to really be a hero—and figure out what matters most to your wife or girlfriend in these situations—take a look at For Men Only: A Straightforward Guide to the Inner Lives of Women and ask her to highlight or make notes on what most applies to her.
Then you can start applying it. One. Piece. At. A. Time.
This article was also published at Patheos.
Check out the online courses of Shaunti’s research and teachings at SurprisingHope.com.
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