A few days ago, my wife and I had an impromptu “conversation”. It was one of those times when I needed to talk to my wife and get a response about something time-sensitive, but we’d just not been able to connect for several days. Now I was impatient but the timing was clearly not good. The kids were clamoring about, interrupting and more urgent things were competing for her attention and mine.
Now time was running short and I still needed my answer. I found myself feeling pressure and thinking to myself “why does this have to be so hard?!”. All I wanted was to have a conversation but it seemed impossible.
I was growing frustrated. It seemed like when I was free to talk, it was wrong timing for Zelda, my wife. When she was free of whatever she was doing, I was occupied with something. Then she was tired, then in bed. On and on this seemed to go.
Sometimes talking together feels like waiting for a that perfect moment when the stars and planets align with lightening, a rainbow, and a shooting star all at once. When can we actually both be present with one another? What about us each being in the right mood (especially if it’s a sensitive topic)? When will we not be interrupted by a gaggle of kids with their own important questions or their burning desire to show us next year’s birthday list?
As I was pondering this, a metaphor appeared in my mind of what I felt like trying to have a talk with my wife. First in trying to have the conversation, and then in trying to make it through it.
Here it is, in all it’s video glory… what it feels like for me as a man to have and survive a talk with my wife.
Those who have a family life like my own can probably relate! There is so much to manage in talking with my wife that it gets overwhelming quickly. I get it wrong and next thing you know, I’m going around in circles, disoriented and not making headway! It’s a wipeout waiting to happen! Maybe I should wear a helmet?!
I’ve learned a few things in twenty five years of marriage to Zelda and having three sons and three daughters for bonus training. I wanted to share them in the form of an acronym and mnemonic for finding conversational success with a wife.
Feeling like a lion is important to me as a man. Lions are chill, powerful, and in-control. I’ve watched a lot of public TV and I’ve never seen a lion throwing a tantrum and losing it. I want to be a lion when I converse. This is how I find I have the best chance of maintaining a lion-esque disposition in a conversation.
If I had learned just this one skill twenty five years ago, I would have been greatly benefited. Listening. Not just hearing, but listening to understand instead of to be understood. My lady wants me to understand her – not merely her words, but her feelings. I can’t do that if I am thinking about what I am gonna say or how to defend or explain myself. I just need to listen to understand.
One way that helps me to listen is to inquire. This means asking questions to understand more specifically what is being communicated. This also helps me to listen better as inquiring provides me with more data to broaden my understanding.
For most of my life, I’ve considered myself a highly-skilled problem-solving, ready-for-action fix-it machine. Unfortunately, my wife could give a rat’s ass about ninety percent of the time. She’s not looking for a fix or solution, but understanding. It becomes essential then to offer feedback instead of just giving it. I’m learning – slowly – to offer the opportunity to to hear feedback. That might sound like “wow, you said a lot of interesting things there. Would you like a response from me, or just getting that off your chest?”.
That is also an instance of “inquire” above. If my wife wants feedback, she now has the freedom to ask me. I’ve acknowledged what she shared and offered more of myself if she wants it.
This is another skill I learned two decades too late. Never argue (in a conversation). It’s really of no value and not only a conversation killer, an intimacy killer as well. If I’m arguing, it’s coming from feelings of needing to defend myself and evidence I’m feeling insecure at present. No need to make that my wife’s problem, it’s mind. I have no need of defending myself if I know who I am and am living out of my values and integrity. If I’m not, I still have no need to argue, but may have need of offering apologies.
A secure man has no need of arguing with anyone at any time. If this isn’t you, consider taking a look at Brian’s story.
This is a hard one… staying present. That means staying in a mindset of focused attention on what my wife (or other person) is telling me. Not thinking of my reply, or some important task I need to do, or how many likes my last Instagram post just got, but being present in the very moment I’m living.
For me, this requires a constant awareness of what things are competing for my attention and choosing to redirect my focus to the person in front of me. This is very hard in the digital age when screens occupy so much of my attention.
One helpful practice I’ve tried to implement is putting my phone down – face down, and/or walking away from it during a conversation. Putting devices on “do not disturb” mode, turning off the tv and radio and letting the phone ring are all helpful for this. Stay in the present conversation.
I’ve also gotten in the habit of recognizing when I’m having trouble with this and letting my wife (or kids) explicitly when I’m not in a frame of mind where this is happening and asking if we can speak in a few minutes/hours/etc. This helps me – being a single-focused male – to complete whatever has my attention so that I can be present in my next endeavor such as a talk with my wife.
This might sound like a no-brainer, but relaxing is important when having a conversation with a wife, partner, or significant other. When I’m not relaxed, it shows! Being relaxed invites the same from my wife. Being uptight does too. So… I try to relax and where possible, keep things light, humorous, warm, and relaxing. Wine helps sometimes!
Many years ago, I would have misunderstood “observe” as some sort of strategy for relating. It was an anxiety-based observation looking for clues about dangers that were coming up in the conversation that I should avoid. That’s not what I mean here.
To observe just means to dedicate all of my relaxed and present self toward the person on the other side of the conversation. Do they appear to be upset? Do they appear energized? What emotion am I seeing conveyed? What are they feeling?
All of these are my way of showing genuine and sincere interest in my wife. I really want to understand what she is communicating and using all my senses to do so.
I should note that I don’t mean becoming over-analyzing and definitely not psychoanalyzing! My goal is to observe for understanding, not to offer some sort of impressive “solution” or “diagnosis” or “fix”.
I really hate when I’m talking to someone and leave with that feeling that nothing I said landed with them. One day I realized that this is how most women must feel with most men. I know my wife felt this way! One reason is because I didn’t know how to affirm what she was communicating.
Why? Because as a man, I was listening to the words and as a man, affirm looks like affirming the words. Because I’d always lacked ALL the above skills, I didn’t affirm the right things in the right way. I didn’t affirm the emotions and experience my wife was trying to communicate with me.
Now, I aim to affirm the person, affirm the experience, and affirm the emotion. All of those provide the loving validation and support my wife desires to receive from me as a man
Last, but definitely not least, and in fact, the MOST important. Regard.
Staying in a mindset of regard, specifically high regard is imperative. If I do not regard my wife highly, I will utterly suck at all of these other skills. Keeping her in high regard in my mind – before, during, and after the conversation, is the glue that holds all the rest of these skills together. It is the “why” behind learning to effectively talk to my wife.
Talking to a wife doesn’t need to be hard. It just requires learning the right skills for effectively doing so. I help men learn the skills to turn their conversation confusion into relationship intelligence. Reach out and let me know how I can help!
Did something in this post resonate with you? I’d be greatly honored if you’d add your comments and share this post with others.