When my car breaks down, I think safety first. I pull off the road and then find a way to transport my car to my mechanic. Last month, I wrote the first article about how to get your damaged marriage in a safer, more hopeful place after a difficult season of stress and conflict. This article is about a diagnosis or knowing what is breaking down in your marriage. Just as an auto mechanic will take time to figure out what is really wrong with your car, you will need to take the time to diagnose the biggest challenges in your marriage.
In Ephesus 5:28-30, the Apostle Paul helps men find the motivation to save their marriages.
“In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church- 30 for we are members of his body.”
When men are hungry, they eat. When men are tired, they sleep. If men are in pain, we stop and find out what is wrong. The Apostle Paul is saying that If men take care of their bodies, how much more should husbands pay attention to their wives?
Men, here are five ways to better listen and learn how to love your wives.
First, don’t rush to a conclusion.
Women have a sixth sense and know when men are feeling inpatient or faking sincerity. If you rush to tell your wife what is wrong with your marriage. She will at least feel slighted and probably not respected. In Ephesus 5:32, the Apostle Paul refers to marriage as a mystery. Men, your wives want you to find her complex, captivating, and worthy of your attention.
Second, review the story and ask good questions.
When I bring my car to my mechanic, he asks, “what’s wrong?” I tell him a story of thumps, bumps, or poor engine performance. He listens, writes down some notes, and then asks something like, “When does the noise happen?” or “Has anything else been acting up?” My mechanic wants to fix my car, but he also treats me with respect and listens to my thoughts about what is wrong. A car mechanic shows respect to his customers because he wants repeat business. A husband asks questions because he genuinely wants to know and love his wife.
To ask your wife the best questions, start with open-ended questions. Avoid questions that can be answered with a yes or no. “How was your day?” is the most generic but a great question to ask. It allows your wife to answer how she wants, and you get credit for taking the initiative. Other good questions to show you care for your wife are: “I want us to spend time together, when is the best time for you?” and “What can I do to make your day (or week) better?” If your wife is angry and skeptical of your new behavior, do your best to listen to her entirely without arguing or defending yourself. It is so tough not to respond defensively, but your calmness and willing to ask her more questions about the problem is a massive step towards trust and healing.
Third, pay attention to your wife’s choice of words.
I listen to people for a living. The words people use are usually the best clue to know about what they really want to talk about most. It is common for wives to use words or phrases that seem out of place. Many wives will use words that hint at a more significant issue they want you to pursue. Men, don’t avoid her hints like it is a dangerous trap. Instead, be like Captain Obvious and repeat or rephrase your wive’s most passionate or curious statements. For example, you can say, “I noticed you said ….., can you tell me more?”
Fourth, do your research and seek the wisdom of others.
My mechanic will listen carefully to me and says he will call me later with what he finds wrong with my car. I wouldn’t trust him if he instantly knew what was wrong and told me how much it will cost. I want him to fix the car the right way, not just sell me on what is the easy fix. A healthy, trusting marriage is built on commitment and communication.
My wife feels loved when I show her I really listened, and I am invested in a long-term effort to stay connected with her. Remember the scripture from your wedding – Love is patient, love is kind (1 Corinthians 13).
Now, here is the truth. Sometimes I listen to my wife, I ask the follow-up questions, and I still don’t understand my wife. When she says or does things that frustrate me, it is almost impossible for me to hide my irritation. What I have learned to do is to take a deep breath and remind myself that my temporary emotions do not derail my commitment. When my frustrations linger, I call up a friend, and we hang out for a while so I can ask for some advice. I have also sought the counsel of pastors and counselors. Men, seek help but avoid the impersonal, dangerous resources on the internet.
Fifth, know your specialty.
My mechanic does almost everything for my car, but he knows his limit. When I needed welding and radiator work done, he referred me to a specialist. You and your wife have different personalities and strengths. She may be an extrovert who wants to talk about everything at a moment’s notice. You may be an introvert who needs to analyze everything with a reasonable amount of time. What matters is both of you know your personalities and challenge areas. At times, you may have to say to your wife, “I am trying to understand, and I need to sort out my thoughts.“
Be the Leader in your Marriage
In Ephesians 5, the Apostle Paul made it abundantly clear that husbands are to be the leaders in their marriage. A leader who is willing to sacrifice his life and time for his wife and family. If you believe that you both can’t work it out and need help, then take the initiative to find a Christian marriage counselor. Seeking a counselor does not make you weak as a man. King Saul and King David leaned on the counsel of the prophets and wise men in their courts. Husbands, you don’t have to have all the answers. Men, you are responsible for being the leader in your marriage. Take time to diagnose what is hurting your marriage and find the support you both need.
Paul Arnold is a husband, father, grandfather, and currently serves as a chaplain to a senior living facility in Ann Arbor, Michigan. He hosts several podcasts – Man to Man (career advice for men) and Pardon the Confusion (Sports) that are found on iTunes and www.redcircle.com