How can I get my wife to stop playing games with me?

Dear Shaunti,

How do I get my wife to not play games, and just share what she’s thinking? Two days ago, we dropped off our youngest child at college, so my wife and I planned two days of empty-nester sightseeing on the way back. Yesterday was fine, but this morning, my wife seemed down, but she wouldn’t tell me why. It drives me nuts when she does that. I asked about four times, and finally she told me she was disappointed that I had needed to be on my phone with a client for a couple of hours instead of truly taking the day off. I got irritated because she knows how hard things are at work, and she was letting this one little thing ruin our day. How do I get her to share things earlier and more directly so they don’t ruin our day?
–Driven nuts

Dear Driven Nuts:

Wait, let me get this straight: you ask your wife to tell you what is wrong, and then you get irritated with her when she finally does so? Am I understanding this correctly? Because surely a smart guy like you can figure out cause and effect here.

Your wife isn’t playing games. You have taught her to not share what she’s really thinking. Because she knows when she does so, that you’ll react in a negative way. In our research with women for one of our books, we heard frequently that one of the main reasons women aren’t as straightforward as men want them to be, is that women have learned that if they are straightforward that their man will overreact! In fact, females learn this from very early ages: even among the teenage girls we surveyed, 88 percent said they had learned that being direct with guys would turn out badly.

If you want your wife to stop “playing games” and share what she’s actually thinking and needing, you have to stop taking her comments as criticism. I know it feels like criticism to you, but in most cases, it really isn’t. In this case she was simply disappointed, and needed a forum to be able to share what she was actually thinking. If she could have gotten it off her chest earlier, it might not have loomed so large in her mind.

My advice is to go to her and apologize for reacting that way when she was only doing what you asked her to do. And if you are willing to work on this, tell her so. The key for you is to be able to listen to her comments and say something like, “I’m sorry; I’m disappointed too. I didn’t want to have to be on the phone either” without shutting yourself off in irritation. If you can prove to her over time that she can trust you to react calmly instead of angrily, she’ll be much more able to be direct from the beginning.

Shaunti Feldhahn is the best-selling author of eye-opening, research-based books about men, women and relationships, including For Women Only, For Men Only and her newest, The Surprising Secrets of Highly Happy Marriages. A Harvard-trained social researcher and speaker, her findings are regularly featured in media as diverse as The Today Show, Focus on the Family, and the New York Times.

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About Shaunti Feldhahn

Shaunti Feldhahn is the best-selling author of eye-opening, research-based books about men, women and relationships, including For Women Only, For Men Only, The Surprising Secrets of Highly Happy Marriages and her newest, The Good News About Marriage. A Harvard-trained social researcher and speaker, her findings are regularly featured in media as diverse as The Today Show, Focus on the Family, and the New York Times. Shaunti speaks regularly at churches, conferences, and corporate events. Learn more about speaking inquiries here.


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