One of the most intimidating experiences of my professional life happened when I was teaching a marriage seminar at an Army Special Forces base. Sitting in the audience were the tough-as-nails men who wear the green berets. It's one thing to see these guys in the movies; it's quite another to witness their steel and grit in person.
As if the task were not daunting enough, when the commanding officer took to the stage to introduce me, he said to the audience, "Now remember boys: You're soldiers. Don't start getting soft on me. I need you tough and battle-ready!"
And with those words, I stood up to begin a seminar titled "The Heart of Marriage."
Later I thought about that officer's words and how they seemed to echo the "don't go soft" approach that we men often take in our family lives. In striving to be a source of strength for our families, we ignore our emotions. And it doesn't help that our culture often pressures us to believe that it is not manly to deal in feelings.
It's true that emotional connection doesn't come easily for many men. But God desires that we engage our families wholeheartedly — with all our heart, soul, mind and strength! You are probably already there mentally, physically and spiritually. You provide a home, offer protection, solve problems and serve as a leader; you spend time with your wife and interact with your kids. But your family longs for more — they need your heart.
While you may have a natural tendency toward strength, logic and leadership, your heart is still wired to connect with your family. You need to free it to do what it was designed for:
Learn. Emotions are the language of the heart. Learn this language — learn to speak it, and learn to understand it. Share your feelings with your wife, not just the details of your day. Recognize the emotions behind your kids' words and actions. Show compassion and empathy as you start to see their feelings.
Recharge. Take healthy steps to boost your energy so you'll have the stamina to engage in emotional connection. Direct that new energy toward a deeper relationship with your wife and kids. Get excited about playing with your kids and taking walks with your wife.
Listen. When your family comes to you with a problem, suppress the natural tendency to "fix" it. Your wife and kids won't care about what you know until they know that you care. Listen with curiosity. Summarize what you are hearing to show that you understand.
Wholeheartedly engaging your family will lead to lasting fulfillment for you and powerful memories of connection for your wife and children.
Dr. Greg Smalley and Dr. Shawn Stoever are the authors of The Wholehearted Marriage: Fully Engaging Your Most Important Relationship.
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