In honor of the many respectable women that I know, my wife being the fairest of them all, I wanted to offer this blog post to give some insight and encouragement for those moments when your husband just doesn’t seem to get it. Husbands, this is for you too because this post holds insight into what your best lady might be thinking through the process.
How many men in this world have heard “You seriously can’t remember this?” or “We have gone over this again and again, why is it not sinking in?” Men, are you sick of hearing it? Ladies, are you sick of saying it? What if I told you that the way you think about the issue, much less the words you say, are bound to keep you in this nauseating loop forever?
Early in marriage, my wife and I found ourselves in this irritating loop along with most everyone else I have ever met. The problem of, “I am communicating to you the best I know how and it’s just not working”. Of course this doesn’t happen all the time, but I think we can all agree that it happens more often than we would like and, if you are anything like us, you have tried several ideas with some working better than others.
I remember when my wife, to her credit, took the first and greatest step towards communicating to me what helps her feel loved. For example, she let me know that being invited on a date on a regular basis is an excellent way for me to tell her I love her. She then gave me a list of 50 different date ideas so I wasn’t left hanging on my own. What a great idea! Naturally, I jumped right in. In Colorado Springs, we have lots of opportunity, so I would plan all sorts of dates ranging from free art museums to five star restaurants on a weekly basis and, for a while, it worked like a well oiled machine. Then real life happened: Work got hectic and I would get distracted, we fought and my motivation would suffer, or I would focus on other admirable things and just simply forget. Over time the dates went from well planned and unique to frozen pizzas and a Redbox to nothing happening at all. Did I mean to waver in showing my love? Certainly not! But the damage would happen anyway and eventually my wife would let me know her frustration – sometimes nicely, sometimes not.
So what did I do in those moments? What any good guy would! I gave my sincere apology, made a plan to “get back on the wagon”, and started planning dates again only to get distracted or run out of steam sooner or later, resulting in more frozen pizzas and forgotten opportunities; thus started the slow and annoying rollercoaster of trying my best and imperfection edging my best away. The truth is, my love for my wife never faltered, but the expression of it was subject to the erosion of my imperfections and life’s circumstances.
Can you relate? Is there “that thing” in your relationship that you just can’t understand why it’s not improving or can’t seem to get right? Do you have your own version of frozen pizza’s and forgetfulness?
Earlier I asked the question of “what if our whole approach is wrong?” which leads to another very important question: “What is our frustration really about?” Is it really about forgetting to pay a bill or your anniversary? Is it really about over flowing garbage or frozen pizzas?
When we are calm, we can easily understand that these marital anger traps are not wildly significant as isolated incidences, but rather they signal a deeper need for security and safety that is historically most important for women (men: this is why our wonderful ladies seem to get more bent out of shape than us about these type of things – it’s legitimate!). The cry is not for you to be perfect in your memory, but to show her that she can count on you. This is why if our focus stays on either the isolated incident or the related issue (memory, follow through, or “you just don’t seem to care”) we stay locked in our seat on this awful rollercoaster.
So…if feeling safe and secure is the real point, how can the men help our ladies out and how can the women communicate what they really need instead of the surface stuff? Here are a few ideas:
- Listen beyond the surface. If you are on the receiving end of a frustrated spouse, it is imperative for you to free yourself from the anger or shame traps that invariably get laid in your path. Instead of taking their words personally, work to see what need they are really speaking from. Anger, being a secondary emotion, tends to be triggered by something else. Something like fear, shame, or a lack of feeling secure. Listen for the deeper level and address that rather than getting stuck on the surface.
- Think Secure. If the gentlemen look only at the event and not the need behind it, they might be tempted to take their wife’s frustration personally or think “I’ll never be good enough.” Thinking secure gets at two ideas here: first, trust that your value (and sense of it) is not altered or crushed by this situation and, second, if you put your energy into fixing the issue with security rather than the issue in the situation, you tend to get much better returns for your effort.
- Mad? Or mad about? The late comedian Groucho Marx once said, “Speak when you are angry and you will make the best speech you will ever regret.” How true that when we are mad, the hinge in your jaw suddenly becomes loose and words just fall right out! The antidote? Take a moment before you speak, and figure out what you are truly mad about. The difficult part here, same as point number one, is to not get caught on the surface. Don’t settle for the excuse of the garbage or the anniversary. Figure out which of your needs is really in jeopardy and address that. In short, don’t just be mad…be mad about something meaningful.
- Communicate Early. This one requires balance. The point is to communicate your fear, frustration, or issue with feeling secure before it turns into resentment or a bigger issue than it needs to be. The point is NOT to skip taking a break to cool down before you talk about it with your spouse. Communicating the lack of security both early and while calm usually yields best results. For much more on relationship communication, check out the 9 Steps Guaranteed to Improve Your Communication.
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