I work long hours at a power plant, and my wife often sends me text messages or calls me about little issues happening that day. Like, a minor problem she’s having at the house. Or that our daughter skinned her knee at preschool. Or something came up with a dinner she’s planning. Usually, I can’t do much about it right then, which I know is frustrating to her. But that means she grabs me when I walk through the door. And I’m so wrung out I can’t even focus. I tell her I need more time, but she thinks I’ve had more time. And even though a lot of the stuff really isn’t that time-sensitive or critical, we always seem to end up in an argument. I don’t know what to do.
— Tested by trivia
Dear Tested by Trivia:
Let’s just be honest about the reason you always end up in an argument: you don’t care about what your wife is bringing to you. And she can tell. And to her that means you don’t care about her.
Now, I assume that in a big picture way, that isn’t true; you love your wife and want to make her happy. If that’s the case, there’s something you need to come to grips with before you ask her to change a thing. Ultimately, you are your wife’s best friend, and best friends care about what is important to each other. It may seem “trivial” to you, but clearly it matters to your wife, so to some degree it needs to matter to you. Even if you can’t deal with it right then, and even if it seems like minutia that makes your eyes glaze over, there’s a reason she’s bringing it up to you, her husband. And you have to care about her enough to honor that.
That said, there is a way to decrease the volume of issues flooding your way. But first, you need to recognize why the volume is so high to begin with.
Your wife may simply be a “talkative” sort. But I’m guessing there is more going on. She could be desperately trying to build connection by communicating with you. Or she could simply believe you want to be in on more “minor” updates because that would be important to her. Most likely, it’s both.
If she’s feeling a fundamental disconnect and lack of closeness between you, take it seriously. Learning how to build closeness in little ways will impact everything in your marriage for the better. One starting point is to learn how to listen to a woman. When you listen to her feelings instead of the actual problem she’ll feel heard. (See my column about that) And feeling heard makes her feel cared for and connected.
It also is one answer to the main answer: to increase how much you care about what she’s sharing. Recognize that what you feed, will grow. If you “feed” your interest instead of your exasperation, you’ll actually get more interested and she’ll sense that. For example, find a time when you can call or text your wife back about a least one of the issues she raises. Ask whether little Courtney’s skinned knee is better, and how the accident happened, and what Courtney said and what your wife did. You don’t have to spend 20 minutes on it; even a few minutes will allow you to stay in touch. You may think, “This is a waste of time.” But trust me: building connection will be the best possible use of your time and will lead to far fewer arguments and less “volume” for you in the end.
Once you have worked on the “connection” for a few weeks, tell your wife something like this: “I care about what matters to you, but I can’t always tell which issues matter most, and I’ve noticed if I try to think through all of them I will get overwhelmed. So it comes across as not caring. How can we arrange this so that I can focus on what matters most to you, honey?”
See what she comes up with. If she brings up that she “assumes you want to be in on the decision of what to serve at the dinner party” let her know when you truly would rather she go ahead without you, and that will free you up to attend to things that matter more to her.
I know you wanted a magic bullet and this isn’t one, because the need is truly for you to step up in a way that cares more about your wife. Sure, you can work out a way to communicate that works well for both of you, but in the end caring more about her will create much more peace for both of you.
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.