I was walking through the Dallas airport when I received a panicked call from an administrator at my 6-year-old daughter's school. "Is anyone coming to pick up Annie today?" My heart sank! My husband, Greg, and I had talked about this, and he assured me he would pick her up. I frantically called Greg.
"Greg! Annie is sitting in the school office. You were supposed to pick her up today!"
Shocked, he shot back, "No, you told me she was going home with a friend!"
If your marriage is anything like ours, you know how the rest of the conversation went. Defensiveness and accusatory comments, and ultimately a total disconnect. The bottom line: Communication is hard.
I've sat with many women who were feeling alone and disconnected from their husband because they couldn't seem to get him to talk — especially about his feelings. They were tired of hearing him respond with the basic "-ad" emotions — glad, sad, mad — or listening to him reply to "How was your day?" with a meaningless "Fine."
I totally get it! Greg and I went through years of struggle as Greg developed his "emotional vocabulary" and I worked to help him understand why I hated the word fine. But when I heard the definition of fine expressed as an acronym (Feelings Inside Not Expressed), it all made sense. Fine was such a noncommittal, non-emotional word. And I wanted more. I wanted a deeper connection with my husband. I wanted to engage in heartfelt conversations.
But it has been a journey — one that continues. Greg eventually began to call me "the husband whisperer" because I was so determined to train him to talk to me. I wanted to engage in conversation not just about strategic details, but also about what was going on in his heart.
Wouldn't it be great if there were a switch to flip and suddenly our husbands could be just like us? They'd be able to quickly go to deep emotional places in conversation; they'd sit and have coffee while empathizing and validating our experiences and feelings; and they'd be able to share freely while "talking to think." Or would it really be that great? I contemplated this, knowing that Greg brings a lot of balance to me in my emotional states. Although I desire to connect with him heart-to-heart, maybe there's a better way than having two of me!
Here's a bit of what I've learned:
Embrace the reality that you are different and set your expectations accordingly.
God made us to want different things within communication. Typically, men want a purpose for conversation (i.e. a problem to solve, a question to answer, something to fix) and many women crave deep emotional connection. Simply embracing the fact that men have different goals in communication can allow women to set appropriate expectations.
Be a student of your husband.
As I began to study how Greg communicated with others, it gave me keys to communicating with him — offer fewer details, be clear about what I need and what I don't need, ask more questions. I also learned to watch for Greg's high-energy times, taking note of what activities helped him come alive.
Get him active.
Most men will never enjoy the coffee-shop conversation that we love. However, I've noticed that Greg has a much easier (and enjoyable) time talking when we are doing something active. Instead of asking him to sit across a table and talk, I'll ask Greg to go for a walk with me or take a drive together. Men have an easier time talking when they're doing something side by side with their wife.
Praise him instead of criticizing him.
Ladies, I've learned to use my words wisely. I'm not perfect at this, but instead of offering only criticism, I've learned to intentionally praise Greg. Men long to know they are successful not only at work but at home and in their marriage, as well. Praise anything you can possibly praise him for, and always praise your husband before you offer a negative comment.
Proactive and meaningful communication is the lifeblood of any relationship. Taking the time to understand how your husband prefers to communicate will bless your exchanges and strengthen your marriage.Erin Smalley serves in the Marriage and Family Formation department at Focus on the Family. She is a co-author of The Wholehearted Wife.