You say that women have worries that pop up in their minds, almost like open windows on a computer. I see that in my wife every day – but to me, it looks like she just doesn’t trust me at all. And it’s become a huge issue in our marriage. For example, I’m in construction today, but years ago I served a tour in Iraq as a medic… but, still, whenever our daughters are sick my wife worries and worries and finally insists on taking them to the doctor instead of trusting me that this particular fever isn’t serious enough to do that yet. So I get angry and she ends up crying, and I feel terrible. How do I get her just to trust me?
Dear UnTrusted Tim –
No offense, but you’re expecting your wife to think like a dude. And I’m pretty sure that when it comes right down to it, you don’t actually want that! So here’s a bit of primer – and an illustration — to help you put yourself in your wife’s shoes.
First, the primer. I explained in another column that the issue isn’t just that women have “open windows” that pop up, but that it is very difficult for her to close them. When something is bugging you as a guy, you can just click the X to close the window (so to speak) and stop thinking about it. But a woman’s brain is structured differently from a man’s; a structure that means all her thoughts and feelings are interconnected. Which makes it very easy for her thoughts to travel to all sorts of “what if” scenarios. And which also makes it very difficult to stop those worries from multiplying and spreading, even if she knows logically that one or more of them aren’t likely.
This is not a very pleasant picture, but imagine dropping a handful of ten spiders onto a floor, and watching them scuttle out in every direction. You could catch and squash one or two or four of them, but by the time you’ve chased those down, the others have found nooks and crannies to hide in. That is a bit of what it feels like in our brains as women, when we have something that is bothering us. And whether we can catch and squash all our worries has nothing to do with whether or not we trust you.
For example, your wife presumably does trust that your medical training gives you a better “read” on whether your little girl’s 102-degree fever is truly worth worrying about. But the worry pops up nevertheless: but what if he is wrong?
Not every woman is like this, but according to our surveys, many of us are. Our mind starts imagining that five percent chance that it’s a really big infection… and remembering the time when our friend nearly lost her child to that sneaky bad illness… we picture our daughter’s face greyer and greyer with sweat… and in the ER… and the doctor saying, “If only you’d brought her in earlier”… and crying over the graveside… and wondering what it would do to the surviving daughter to be brought up without her sister…I’m not kidding. All that can flash through a woman’s mind in just moments. We can and do learn to stop those trains of thought, especially the worst ones. We tell ourselves You’re being ridiculous; don’t go there.
But because, even if only for a moment or two, our thoughts have gone there, by the time we reign in the worst of our worries, calling the doctor seems merely the prudent thing to do. And we are bewildered why you, our husband, would get upset when we want to do so.
It isn’t that we don’t trust you… it is that those worries will still be there until we take some action to resolve them. So we can trust you and take no action and just live with those worry-spiders scuttling around in our brain until the fever breaks, OR we can take some type of action – which will seem like a lack of trust to you – that will give us relief from those worries.
Yes, as girls grow into women, we can and do learn to live with uncertainty. But we also want the man we love to recognize that it is the times when those worries are most difficult to squash that we most need understanding rather than frustration.
If you will in turn stop yourself from assuming the worst – in other words, stop yourself from assuming that your wife doesn’t trust you – and instead look for ways to help her squash the spiders, you will make her very, very happy.
Do you want Shaunti to share these life-changing truths at your church or event? Inquire about Shaunti speaking, here.
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 popular speaker, her ﬁndings are regularly featured in media as diverse as The Today Show, Focus on the Family, and the New York Times. Visit www.shaunti.com for more.