I was sincere when I got married, but made a lot of mistakes. One of those areas was in communicating to Paula that I cared for her….in a way that meant something to her.
As I write this we’ve been married over 37 years, but I feel like I’m just now learning what genuine love is. The most basic responsibility of a husband is to love his wife.
“Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it”. (Ephesians 5:25)
The sad thing is that love is what a woman wants most from her husband, but what he struggles with the most. It isn’t in a lack of his trying to show love, but in knowing how to express it in practical ways.
Love at it’s most basic level is expressed by giving. Christ, our standard, modeled this for us when He died for us; sacrificial giving that was costly.
This post will focus on one way to show your wife that you care about her. It’s one I still battle with, not because I don’t care for Paula, but it is not as intuitive to a man as it is a woman.
A woman interprets love through the lens of attention. She wants to feel that she is heard and that her husband is genuinely interested in the details of her life. There’s the rub for a man. Most men aren’t interested in minutia, but the big picture, the bottom line.
Giving time and careful attention is a more precious gift than money to a woman. When a husband listens and focuses on his wife’s words she knows he genuinely cares for her.
Here are two ways I violated this God-given need with Paula. Perhaps you can identify.
- I would become impatient with her when she was giving me the details of a situation. I wanted the bottom line. Rather than hearing the whole story I wanted a summary; even better was when she just got right to the core issue. It saved me time, but it cost me respect and closeness with my wife. Every time I did this I rushed through a conversation I was communicating that I didn’t value her.
Dave Simmons taught me the different ways men and women communicate by using the metaphor of a spider web and a rope.
A spider web has many connection points, but is anchored by a central core. Everything can ultimately be related to that beginning place. A rope is linear and not as complex.
Women typically think like a spider web; men process information like a rope.
Sometimes I’ll ask Paula if we are having chili for dinner. To me, that’s a yes or no question. She might say, “Well, when I went to the store today it was raining and I forgot the umbrella. So I had to run and left the list in the car. I had to start a new list and then Beth walked up and we started talking. By then I had forgotten everything I needed to buy and…..”
Eventually she will tell me, though there are times when I’m still left wondering about the menu.
When men gather they tend to communicate like a rope. One story will begin and when it is completed a “knot” is tied. Then a new line of thought starts and when it is over another “knot” is tied. You get the picture.
My problem was I was selfish (and ignorant). I wanted Paula to share information with me that required the least effort for me to follow. Even after I learned the spider web/rope analogy and knew better I would get impatient and ask her to get to the bottom line.
I noticed that over time she began to change the way she communicated to accommodate me. Her responses weren’t rude, but they were short and she didn’t expand as much as she had before. Rather than loving my wife and sacrificing for her I had made my life more comfortable.
God convicted me about my lack of love and I began to change, rather than requiring her to change. I’m better at accepting her now, but still need grace to be the man she deserves and that I want to be. I want to keep changing and getting better at being patient and just listening.
(Paula understands the spider web and rope analogy when I speak on communicating in marriage. Sometimes when I need some information quick I’ll say, “Paula, you’re spider webbing on me and I need a fast answer”. I’ve grown and don’t use this often!)
- Another way I violated this need in her life is advising her when she just needed a listening ear. To her, this must have felt like a lecture. Nobody likes being lectured to. Paula wanted to know I was paying attention to her heart, not so much that I had answers.
I learned this in a comical way. One evening Paula was in the kitchen and I noticed that she was troubled. I asked what was wrong and she began to pour her heart out to me. As she talked I was looking for related themes so that I could come up with some practical ideas on how to help her solve her problem.
When I saw an opening in the conversation I began to share my pearls of wisdom that would help alleviate this burden in her life. I was barely into my second point of logic when I noticed that she had an incredulous look on her face.
She said, “Rick, I just want you to hug me”. And so I did.
We stood embracing and I was thinking, “Well, I like hugging, but we aren’t making any progress in solving the problem”.
I had enough sense just to be quiet and let her know she was loved. That was a turning point for me in how I communicated with Paula. I began to listen more and say less.
At that moment she didn’t want me to solve her problem; she wanted to be assured that I had compassion for her. She needed my attention and awareness that I understood her stress and cared enough to just listen.
“The word ‘listen’ contains the same letters as the word ‘silent’.” (Alfred Brendel)
(Ladies reading this, please be patient with us. We mean well, but it is intuitively alien to a man to listen without trying to find a solution. We are wired to fix a problem as quickly as possible – and that means as little conversation as possible).
Steven Covey wrote, “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” I suppose when we are preparing a response we really aren’t listening at all.
Today, if I’m confused as to whether or not I ought to give input or just listen I will kindly ask, “Do you just want me to listen or do you want advice?” And she will tell me. Sometimes she does want direction and I provide that.
George Eliot wrote, “Oh, the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person; having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words, but to pour them all out, just as they are, chaff and grain together, knowing that a faithful hand will take and sift them, keep what is worth keeping, and then, with the breath of kindness, blow the rest away”.
I want to be like this. Most of all, with my family. I want them to feel safe with me, able to pour out their heart without fear of being misunderstood.
To a woman a listening ear is romantic. She responds to her husband, emotionally and physically, when he does this. Wicked men use this as a tactic to gain the affections of a woman – paying attention to the details in her life, listening without interrupting. And later, he follows up on what he heard to let her know he “cares”, only to get what he wants.
Remember, sir, if you aren’t winning the heart of your wife, someone else is trying to do so. And they will do it by being quiet and paying careful attention, however bad their motives.
Both of my problems above were rooted in selfishness and failing to listen with a heart to simply understand and empathize. I was a poor husband in our early years. I hope you can gain wisdom from my mistakes and do better.
General George C. Marshall had wise words for dealing successfully with people. Here is a powerful statement that can apply to your marriage and improve it. Both men and women need to do this consistently.
Substitute the words “my spouse” for the phrase “the other person’s”. Write it down and put it in a well-traveled place to remind you of it’s importance.
Marshall said concerning successful relationships one has to, “1. Listen to the other person’s story. 2. Listen to the other person’s full story. 3. Listen to the other person’s full story first.”