Men, finish this sentence. Your wife is upset and says “I don’t want you to fix it, I just want you to ____.”
Most of you have heard that… and most of you are confused because you think you are listening! So, guys, from our research about women here are 3 simple tips to clear up the confusion so you can listen in the way your wife is looking for.
- Realize: what is most important right now is not what caused her to be upset. The problem is that she is upset. Once your wife is upset or worried about something, the problem needing to be solved isn’t what you think it is. You think it is whatever is causing all the hurt or worry – say, her boss is suddenly demanding an unrealistic deadline that will cause all sorts of chaos for her and her team. In your mind, if you solve the cause of her worry, you solve her worry. (“Honey, here’s how I think you can meet that deadline.”) But in her mind, the first and most important priority is to deal with how she is feeling.
- Then: Don’t listen to the problem. Listen to her feelings about the problem. This will feel weird, but ignore the technical problem itself for a minute, and focus in on all her feelings about it. Pull them out. Ask questions. “What did you think when he came in your office and told you that?” “Were the other team members horrified?” And empathize. “I’m so sorry.” “That sounds really tough.” Give her a hug. Tell her you’re there for her.
You might be alarmed by the idea of pulling out all those jangling emotions even more, rather than doing whatever is necessary to solve and minimize them! One guy told me, “That sounds like pouring gasoline on a flame!” That analogy is understandable but wrong. A better analogy is this: you are pulling poison out of a wound. Your wife is tense and upset and worried, and all those feelings need to be pulled out and aired in order to be dealt with. She can’t feel listened to on her own. You don’t need to become her best girlfriend and listen for hours. But in most cases, even ten minutes of empathizing and asking questions will work wonders.
- Finally: Once she feels heard, then offer your technical solutions. Once the poison has been pulled out of the wound, she will feel heard. You will see her relax a bit. Then you can offer your solutions. (“Honey, I have an idea for how to address this; do you want to talk about it?”) She may or may not even need those ideas, but if she does, this is when she’ll be more ready to hear them.
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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 groundbreaking The Good News About Marriage, and her newest book, Through A Man’s Eyes. 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.