Most married men just do what comes easy, natural, and whatever others are doing. However, I’m going to ask you to deny yourself, prize your spouse, and enjoy the fruit that grows as a result.
Receive and Believe
I do this with my wife Brooke about 5-6 nights a week.
- Make her comfortable. Give her a foot rub, cup of coffee, or a warm embrace—whatever you know relaxes her.
- Ask her, “What do you like about us lately?”
- Ask her, “What would you like to see be different about how we have been lately?”
- Compliment her.
I don’t start this exercise unless I’m prepared to keep my mouth shut. (Read Psalm 39 about how difficult it can be to keep your mouth shut.)
When she tells me what she’d like to see change, I believe her. The point of this exercise is to learn to receive and believe her emotions. Brooke may be tempted to hide what she feels from me or use this opportunity to take a verbal jab at me, but I am going to believe her and say thank you.
Then, I’m going to move the conversation away from what she likes and doesn’t like and towards a specific example of something I appreciate about her, not something vague or general.
It is not, “You are so smart.” Instead, it is, “Today, I really didn’t know how to handle that issue, but talking it over with you cleared everything up. I want you to know I admire and appreciate your thinking, and I know we are a stronger family because of it.”
It is not, “You are a beautiful woman.” Instead, it is, “When I left for work yesterday, I noticed the way you fixed your hair for work really set off your eyes, and I held that picture of you in my mind all day.”
It is not, “I can tell you are trying to make this marriage better, and I appreciate it.” Instead, it is, “I noticed when we were talking with our friends you had the perfect opportunity to make me look bad in front of them, but you defended me and defended us. Thank you. That makes me feel like Superman—like I can do anything.”
Conversation Without Critique
Again, the goal is for her to tell me what she is feeling without receiving critique. It can be excruciatingly painful for a man who is used to critiquing his wife’s emotions to receive and believe them. But over time, it has allowed me to see Brooke:
- Discover what she is feeling more easily. (Many women will say they don’t have easy access to their own emotions, other than sadness and anger because it’s easier to simply shut them down than defend them to their spouse.)
- Find the words to tell me about it. (When a wife gets used to defending her emotions like a court case, they start choosing words more carefully instead of speaking freely. I want Brooke to speak freely, which means she is going to say things I don’t agree with.)
- Trust that I won’t use her vulnerability against her.
One Last Thing
If you are going to try this exercise:
- Please don’t try to teach her. You don’t have that role. Right now, you’re just learning to listen like a good friend.
- If you hear something that you know should change, tell God about it. There will likely come a day when you have the credibility to talk it over with her, but that’s not what this is for.
- You’ll know that you have become good enough friends to help her think through her emotions when she starts asking you to do that.
Until then, listen to her, believe her, and thank her for telling you.