This piece serves as a follow up from my previous article  entitled, “What Wives Want Their Husbands to Know.” While these articles are in no way exhaustive, they are common stumbling blocks I encounter in my work in marriage ministry. Both in the preparation side and marriages in crisis.
One young husband stated after reading my previous article, “you are expecting the impossible.” Perhaps from his standpoint, it can feel that way. The onus is not on one OR the other, but rather BOTH spouses, to make small efforts that narrow the gap of expectation. Generous amounts of patience, love, and always giving each other the benefit of the doubt, go a long way in minimizing conflict and misunderstanding.
I propose that we have much to learn from each other as well. God made us unique and different for a purpose, so let’s endeavor to better understand each other. Wives that I spoke with, agreed that there are further efforts we can make as women, to effectively communicate what we want or need in a loving and respectful manner, so that we might work together as a team.
Below you will find recommendations from men in long, healthy marriages. The suggestions they offered were expectedly similar and I am most grateful for their frank honesty.
“Lay it on the table, be honest about how you feel.”
Men are usually upfront and straightforward. What you see is what you get. When checking if their spouse is okay, and the response is “fine,” they are going to take her at her word. Wouldn’t we want them to do that anyway?
They likely won’t consider body language or deduce if what she says equates to how she is acting. Avoid miscommunication and just say exactly what it is you want your husband to know or do for you.
“Let us know if you want us to fix your problem or just to listen.”
Men are “fixers” by nature. They want to help make things better and easier if they can. “We may mentally start working on your problem as you continue with your conversation and are not giving you our full attention as we do so. We don’t multitask well. So, if you state that we “aren’t listening” you are probably right, because we are busy trying to find a solution for you.”
“Listen to the words I am saying, don’t get distracted by the tone or volume.”
“Louder doesn’t necessarily mean I am angry at you.” In retelling frustrating events, emotions can come raging back. “It isn’t necessarily about you, or that I’m mad at you. If I’m getting a little loud, clarify. You sound angry, is this directed towards me?”
“State plainly what you need.”
Don’t demand. Don’t talk to us like we are dumb or lazy or a child. If you want the trash taken out, define your parameters.” If you want something done faster let us know, otherwise we will get to it on our time line.
“When I share something with you, and you overreact towards me or worry anxiously for days, you are effectively making sure I will keep it to myself in the future.”
I have heard this a lot from men. If the personal cost is too high due to our over reactions, i.e. yelling, pouting, excessive anxiety or the silent treatment etc.; they learn to keep things to themselves. If we want them to be open and share their world with us, then we must learn to moderate our emotions. It’s important to ask if he wants feedback or to just have you listen. Men don’t want to stress out their wives, nor have them needlessly dwell on the topic. Let him know you are there for him, encourage him, and support him. Your belief in him making the best choice, goes a long way.
“Be patient with our hard-headedness when we are wrong.”
Being wrong is a “hard pill to swallow” for anyone, but especially for men. This is not the time to try and fix or correct him. Men are usually aware when they are wrong. Give him time to work it out. It is particularly unhelpful when wives keep reminding them when they were wrong. Men can be much “harder on themselves” when they’re wrong and wives who “poke the bear” will rightfully get growled at.
“We don’t show affection as often as we should.”
“We are different than you. We know we should be more romantic, we know we can take you for granted at times. But know this, we really do love you and just because we don’t do all the little things you want doesn’t mean we don’t care.”
Marriages that strive to live out sacrificial love, image God’s unconditional love to the world. God made us different on purpose. There is a complementarity to the male/female relationship when understood and properly lived out. St. John Paul reminds us in Love and Responsibility,
Love is never something ready made, something merely ‘given’ to man and woman, it is always at the same time a ‘task’ which they are set. Love should be seen as something which in a sense never ‘is’ but is always only ‘becoming’, and what it becomes depends upon the contribution of both persons and the depth of their commitment.
Marriage is lifelong because it takes us a lifetime to learn to die to self and serve the other. It is sacrificial, because love seeks to do what is best for the other first, and to subordinate self.
When we as spouses take the time to really love one another, to constantly pour our self out in a gift to the other, we grow in virtue, and beautiful things start to happen in our marriage. Grace flows from the Sacrament, and we begin to transform and do what used to seem impossible. Not taking our spouse for granted or thinking we have them all figured out, denies them the opportunity to continue “becoming.”
May God abundantly bless us in our efforts to live this love out in our marriages.