“We are so much alike!” Says Elizabeth (Keira Knightley) while she gushes about her love for Darcy. Her father listens in astonishment, brows lifted and mouth hanging open before a foolish grin replaces his shock.
Yesterday I was helping my father go through some old storage items and I chanced on a letter I wrote to my grandmother when I first started dating my husband. I gushed about this special man I met, saying, “We are so much alike!”
This is a common statement among the young and newly in love. Whenever I hear it, I want to laugh and say, “Just you wait.”
Personally, I think it’s a God thing that we see each other through the “We’re so much alike” lenses early on, or we might never get married. Once the newness of marriage starts to wear off and the daily rubbing of shoulders exposes us to each other’s oddities and faults in more personal ways, we begin to wonder–”Who is this person?” or, “What planet did they come from?” Some might even go as far as saying, “Did I make a mistake?”
The truth of the matter is men and women are very different creatures. That’s God’s design, and in His words, it’s “Very good.” But sinful people that we are, we have to learn to love how God does things.
Back in the day, a popular book on marriage came out with the apt title, Men Are From Mars, Women Are from Venus. It didn’t take me long to figure I’d married a Martian.
Communication is such a vital part to a happy marriage, and the most challenging. That is because we think and react to things differently.
Here’s Lesson One in Interplanetary Communication.
A guy comes home, he needs some time to unwind. He doesn’t want to talk problems. He wants a bit of peace from the day.
His wife’s natural response is to rush into his arms and tell him all the hardships the day has thrown at her.
He needs to relax, she needs to unload. When she unloads without concern for his needs, he sees it as being pushy and over-needy. When he doesn’t instantly show the concern she needs, she sees it as uncaring. If they understand this about each other, it helps. They need to talk about it. Figure out a system that works.
When it comes to the actual listening part, women are just better at it. Sorry guys. It’s true. (Granted, there are always exceptions to the rule.) Perhaps this has something to do with our “nurturing” instincts.
As husband relaxes, and begins to unload all the problems of the day, wife is more likely to sit, commiserate, and ooh and ah, with him. Odd thing is, often just unloading helps him organize his thoughts, figure a plan, release some of the anxiety, and move on.
On to a husband’s natural response. He is wired to solve. Efficiency is the name of his game. Not emotions. When wife goes to unload, husband is likely to tell her what she did wrong and how to go fix it. He might even interrupt her because he believes he already knows what she is thinking and where she is going. Not so good.
What he sees as problem solving, she interprets as, “He thinks I’m a terrible person!” or “He thinks I’m stupid.” or worse yet, “How can he love me and think that of me?” This may lead to an angry, accusing outburst or devastated weeping, leaving husband in stunned self defense, wondering what in the world he said to deserve such a tirade.
Guys, take a lesson from us ladies. Learn to listen with your mouth shut. Like you, we sometimes just need to unload. As the frustration is vented, the solution often becomes clear. Don’t cloud this with your words. Don’t jump to conclusions. Soften up and try to “feel” what she’s saying. Please assume the best of us. When all is aired, maybe ask how you can help. Don’t assume we want you to solve our problems. You can’t, even if you want to. This will be hard for you to do, but believe me, it pays off. A woman who feels listened to, feels valued. Cherished. Loved. She is a lot more receptive to other things.
Ladies, take a lesson from the men. Control your emotional reactions. Guys really appreciate (what they see as) rational conversation. Theirs is a whole different language, really.
Always assume the best in your spouse’s intentions.
We are privy to each other’s ugliest thoughts and emotions–but our thoughts and emotions are not what define us. It is how we use those thoughts and emotions that reflect who we are. If we feel rejected or judged we will close off a bit of our hearts and build a little self-defeating wall of “protection,” a wall that will grow with each perceived (or real) injury. This wall will separate us, not bring us together.
Since it’s not a natural reaction, we must be deliberate about assuming the best in our partner. Think like Inigo Montoya: “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”
Thinking the best will save us a whole lot of hurt and frustrated feelings. It may also keep us calm enough to teach our spouse how we need them to respond. But that’s a whole new lesson.
Be encouraged that these are struggles every marriage has. The good ones learn (and learn some more, and then relearn it as necessary) and the learning binds them closer than ever.
So, for you experienced, happily married people out there, what are some ways you have found that help in your listening habits? I’m always interested in hearing the tricks other people have up their sleeves!
“In Christ…When each part is working properly, (it) makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” Ephesians 4:16b