As a counselor who specializes in working with men, I often sit with guys who are at their wits end in trying to talk to their wives. It’s an age old problem: How on earth does he talk to this woman?
She makes no sense to him, much of the time. He wants to have a good relationship, but this seems completely out of reach. Men frequently make a common, three step mistake in attempting to talk to their wives. The mistakes men make when talking to their wives is outlined here.
Step 1: Cracking the Safe
When I sit with men having relationship issues, it is often like watching an old fashioned bank robbery.
He is sitting at the safe door with a stethoscope, listening intently, as he turns the safe dial a little bit at a time, trying to figure out the combination. The man wants to be able to talk to his wife, and is convinced he must figure out the “combination” to do so. To him, it’s a simple trial and error method.
He’s come to session excited, barely able to contain the great news. It has finally worked! He shares with me after years of trying to figure out how to approach his wife about difficult issues, he found a way that seems to work. By “work”, he means she does not become overly emotional or escalate into a rage. Now, he has a tool he can pull out of his toolbox, as needed. No more anxiety and dread, he knows how to handle her.
Gradually, by trying various techniques, he will find a way that works and his problem will be solved, or so he thinks.
Step 2: Managing Her
With his new tool, the man is attempting to do something which is impossible for him, managing his wife’s emotions, behaviors, and attitudes for her. Let’s break it down using his logic: “If I do ________ she will respond with ________. Her response is dependent on and dictated by my action.” The logic seems very compelling, except it is fundamentally flawed. First, as mentioned previously, he is taking responsibility for her emotions, behaviors, and attitudes. These are her responsibility. She must be the one to handle them. Second, if his objective in responding the way he does is to illicit in her the response he desires, that is, by definition, manipulation. Ouch! She is not free to own her stuff and he feels trapped by her response.
Step 3: Seeking Stability
The ultimate goal is stability, not a real relationship. The man, without knowing it, is trying to exercise control over events to create the stability he desires in his life. In other words, if he responds in a certain way, he can and should have her respond to him in the way he wants. No meaningful intimacy or growth, for either partner, can occur in such an environment. Instead, it is a way of avoiding discomfort – that is the ultimate goal.
Relationship is process, not solution driven. For men, this is difficult to wrap our heads around, but we must. We like lasting solutions and routine. However, the reality of a relationship is it is dynamic and changing. In other words, if we actually succeeded in what we were after, our relationship would lack excitement, adventure, and romance. We in turn, would probably lose interest.
Think of the idea of a process this way, if you decided to start exercising and eating right, you would do this on a daily basis. It would be a kind of lifestyle change. You would not look the mirror one day and say “Well, I look the way I wanted, so I guess I am done.” If you did, you would quickly return to the way you were before. You keep going in the process, seeing it as where you need to be and stop looking for the one answer or the destination. Your job is not to find out the exact way to approach your wife so she responds the way you want her to. Your goal is to have an ongoing, growing relationship with her.
The discomfort of friction is essential for both of you. Friction is the means by which we both smooth our rough edges and grow. Focusing all your efforts on avoiding friction will only create stagnation.
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