I sat at the edge of the bed, staring at the floor, wondering what had just happened. I walked into the bedroom not ten minutes before, hoping to discuss an issue with my husband that was bothering me. What I wanted was for him to listen intently, open a meaningful discussion in which we would analyze all options, possible solutions, maybe play devil’s advocate for a bit, end with a sigh of relief and maybe a hug. What I got was a blank stare as I motioned toward him as if to say, “Ok, your turn!”
“What?” he said.
“Umm, did you hear what I said?”
“Yeah,” and then proceeded to repeat what he heard verbatim.
“So what do you think?”
“Umm, what do you want me to say?”
I felt my mouth start to open and one eyebrow lowered in disbelief. “Is he serious?” I thought to myself. But not wanting to make a big deal of it, I just said, “Never mind,” which, I’m sure, carried enough disappointment in the tone to make him walk out of the room.
Similar conversations followed over the next few years, and I couldn’t quite put my finger on what I was doing wrong, or why he wouldn’t follow my train of thought. Talking with other married friends who had the same issues helped me to clarify the communication styles between men and women and at least I felt like I wasn’t the only woman at a loss for meaningful connection.
It wasn’t until I read Sacred Influence by Gary Thomas that I realized that I had been operating in a view of marriage that was both unrealistic and harmful to my relationship with my husband. I had longed for a particular type of connection and communication from him that is really only meant to be shared between girlfriends. I hoped for a relationship where I could talk to him as easily as my mother, sister, or lifelong best friend, and it caused more pain and disappointment than I could have anticipated before marriage.
If you really want to motivate your man and have healthy communication with him, then stop expecting him to act or think like a woman. There are very few men who can do that effectively. I want to encourage those of you today, who may have unrealistic expectations of your husband to consider what I’m about to share; you may begin to see your spouse in a whole new light, and hopefully appreciate him for how he is wired, and seek your female fulfillment in healthier outlets. Let’s start by looking under the microscope.
Biology: A Physical Reality Check
In his book, Sacred Influence, Gary Thomas goes into great detail to point out that the male brain is not meant to function the same way as female brains. Men actually have less oxytocin in their brains, and he sites research from Michael Gurian who makes this observation:
Oxytocin is part of what biologists call the “tend-and-befriend” instinct, often contrasted with the “fight-or-flight” instinct. The higher the oxytocin levels, the less aggressive the person is likely to be. Furthermore, the person with higher oxytocin levels will tend to be more immediately and directly sympathetic, and more likely to link bonding and empathy with verbal centers of the brain, asking, “How are you feeling?” or “Is everything okay?”
Thomas later goes on to say that men’s brains need to “rest”more than women’s brains do, and that “men may take up to seven hours longer than women to process complex emotional data. I can’t treat my husband like I would my girlfriend, it’s truly a different dynamic. Here are some conclusions I have come to:
Women listen differently than men do, they’re more empathetic and less likely to tell you “hold on, go back to the first thing you said; I can only handle one subject at a time.”
Girlfriends go with the flow of a conversation, whereas my husband needs an introduction to the subject at hand, why it’s important enough to stop what he’s doing, and whether or not I need him to fix it. He absolutely needs the “point” stated at the onset, so as to determine how he should prepare himself to listen.
Ladies can navigate through a complicated flow of thought, jump from subject to subject. My husband will not necessarily understand how to dialogue with me about something when his goal is to get from point A to point B with as few words as possible, but I need to talk through many different subjects and feelings that all seem to center around one issue (in my mind). I’ll ask him for feedback and he won’t know which pathway to follow. Which only ends with me being frustrated, rolling my eyes, and saying, “okay,” and then, “thanks for listening,” (sarcasm intended).
I had to realize that my husband does not enter into the same area of readiness to use his words as I do. His thoughts and feelings are more compartmentalized than mine, which is why he needs at heads up at the beginning…something like the following:
“Hey can we talk later about _______? I’ve been worried about this lately and I need to vent about it.”
“Honey, I want to know what you think about _______(summarize the topic in three sentences or less!), can we talk later once you’ve thought about it a bit?”
“Babe, I need to bring ________ up with you because I just don’t agree with ________. Can we make time to discuss this later?”
My husband was finally able to explain that he just needed forewarning, especially if the conversation was confrontational in nature. When I came at him “guns blazing” and started in on every subject related to the topic, he felt defenseless and vulnerable (not in a good way), and most of the time retaliated out of anger or frustration. (Remember that fight or flight thing?)
He Does Not Complete Me
When I found myself continually frustrated with his level of involvement or ability to converse the way I did, I inadvertently began to label him as lazy and unloving in my mind. But that just increased my inner resentment. What I needed to do was look at myself and evaluate my own expectations. It was my responsibility to cultivate relationships with girlfriends, hobbies, recreational activities that brought joy and life to my soul. It took a lot of honesty to admit to myself that my husband cannot meet every one of these needs, and it is way too much pressure on him to expect that. I soon came to appreciate his strengths and differences in a way that doesn’t make my happiness or well being depend on him. Now we enter into conversations in a much healthier way; with expectations on the table.
What I Learned
A good marriage doesn’t necessarily mean that we agree on all things or see eye to eye. It’s about respecting differences, working through our issues, and setting each other up for success. Wives, set your man up for success in conversation. Talking is our strong suit as women, and we want the best outcome, right? So do yourself a favor, get your thoughts together, and present them in a way that respects your man’s ability to process and respond that meets both of your needs – and when you need to let more words out, call a girlfriend.