Tuesday, November 15, 2011

How to Get Your Husband to Listen to You

Generally speaking—as if you haven't already noticed—men and women communicate a little differently. Understanding the differences is important if you want to improve communication with your spouse.

I am not saying that men and women are always miles apart in the ways they talk, but that there are notable differences. I am not saying that men are always right in the way they communicate, or that women are always right. I am going to make a few rather broad generalizations, and hoping that as we gain more understanding, we will take positive action on what we learn.

This is a continuation (sort of) of the series "The Number One Complaint I Heard from Wives." (Here are Part 1 and Part 2 of the series.)

We like to joke about these differences. And sometimes we might put the opposite sex down, especially in their absence. I don't do that and I don't like hearing things like that. I don't think it's right or smart to disparage others. I want to understand others, especially my darling wife; I want to be part of the solution, not a liability to everyone around me.

Here's a story that gives these differences in communication some perspective.

A few years ago, when our second oldest daughter was in college, she invited her roommates and friends over for a Sunday dinner. Our table was full. They are all wonderful girls. And it was a fun evening, if you were a girl.

I sat at the table as the lone male. I could not get a word in edgewise. I could not keep up with the conversation. It went too fast for me. Way too fast. Men out there, have you ever been in that spot?

Is this a bad thing? No, not at all. I just am not fast enough to keep up. I thought at the time that it was actually kind of fun. Eventually, though, I left the table and crawled into my shell someplace else in the house, probably in the basement office, my favorite man cave. 

No doubt there are some males that could keep up with the speed of that conversation, but I am not one of them, and I have yet to meet one who is. If you are male and a supersonic talker, congratulations! How do you do it?

What I have learned from this and other experiences is that I am uncomfortable communicating when all alone in a roomful or car full of females. I am more comfortable talking one-on-one with my wife or daughters, or among couples. I am sure that women often feel the same way, too, that is, they might feel uncomfortable being in a situation where they are outnumbered by men. (But there is probably a reader out there who loves it.)

Here is another example. My wife and I went up to Park City for a few nights in August. We went to the pool while we were there. Actually, we moved back and forth between the hot tub and the pool. You know, the hot and cold thing. Anyway, there were two women in the hot tub. They were talking incredibly fast. No men were involved in the conversation to slow them down, so they were talking at light speed. Inwardly, I smiled, but I still couldn't keep up.

I thought then, maybe women have to r-e-a-l-l-y s-l-o-w d-o-w-n to communicate with men. Maybe that's annoying to them. No, that's too broad of a generalization. Or is it.

I don't say any of this to deprecate men or women. There is just a difference, generally, between the way men and women think and talk. I haven't captured all the differences, but one of the reasons why a difference exists, something I have mentioned in an earlier post, is that women have 40 percent more connections between the right and left hemispheres of their brains. That means that they can jump back and forth acrobatically between them. Amazing. Useful, too.

It also means that everything is connected to everything and when she is thinking and talking she is in a limitless ocean. When men think and talk, that ocean is held in individual and varying size buckets.  

This might be one of the reasons why, as a male friend said to me recently, women can "cover a lot of ground" when they get together. I think it is a wonderful quality; I just can't participate fully. (Okay, maybe I'm just jealous or embarrassed that I can't.)

So what's my point? It's a simple one. Ladies, when you think your man is not listening to you intentionally, he may just not be able to keep up with the fast pace at which you are delivering your message.

We men like to hide out in our boxes. We have a lot of them. The work box, the laptop box, the working-in-the-garage box, the golf box, the fishing box, the horse box (I have one of those), the blog box (I am in that one right now), the fill-in-the-blank box. (Usually, things are in those boxes, not people.) When we are in one of these boxes, we have a hard time backing out of it. It takes us a while. We like to concentrate and give something intense focus. My wife understands this about me. She gives me time to get out my current box to talk to me.

I am not trying to excuse men for not listening. I am just saying there is a difference here, though it might not be universal. He might be in one of his boxes—focusing narrowly on one thing—while you are trying to talk to him, and he may, therefore, have a tough time catching or focusing on everything you say until he has time to back out of his box.

There are things you can do. 

Once when my wife really wanted my attention and she see saw that I was distracted, she held my face between her hands and forced me to make eye contact with her. I remember when she did this. It was when our youngest daughter was small. She had to go away and wanted to make sure I attended to our little girl's needs while she couldn't.

It struck me as a tender thing. I didn't feel put down when she did it. I think it was pretty cute, actually. And I got out of my box and listened.

Just last Friday when I was at work and we were chatting online, my wife asked, "Do I have your face?" We both know what that means, especially since we have been talking about it over the last little while.

Two other things that wake me up and get me into listening mode is when (1) my wife addresses me by name ("Mike?") and waits until she sees my ears and eyes pointed in her direction before proceeding; and (2) she asks for my attention directly and won't continue until she has it (but she doesn't do this in a bossy way).

So, these three things my wife does help me give her my full attention: Hands around face (my favorite), addressing me by name, openly and directly asking for my attention.

In addition to this, let me say that it's not my wife's job to get me to listen and pay proper attention to her. I know it is the best and rarest compliment to give someone your full, sustained attention. It is a great gift, especially when it is voluntary. The need for attention from others, and all that it implies, is among the deepest human needs.Without it, we shrivel and die, first inwardly and then outwardly.

That is why I try to give others this kind of attention. I try to give my wife this kind of attention every day. Nothing says "I love you" like giving someone your intense interest and attention.

I have a lot to learn about how to communicate better with my wife. But it is fun game, and now that I know a few of the rules, it's even more fun.

I am not saying women are better communicators than men. But I will say that I think women are often but not always better at communicating their feelings than men, and that it is frustrating to wives when their husbands clam up and won't talk about what is going on inside of them. That was the number one complaint I heard as bishop: men not talking, especially about their feelings.

Wives can't force their husbands to talk, but they can draw them out. They can persuade them and encourage them. They are not powerless to change their situations. They may be frustrated—and I don't blame them—but they are not powerless. My wife has ways of getting my attention and drawing me out. She does it gently, so I trust her. She is safe to talk to, and she hears more about my feelings than she used to because of it.

I still have a long way to go, but I am making progress.

2 comments:

  1. Women just talk too much-pure and simple. Most of the talking serves no practical purpose for men.

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  2. Michael, I have a household of girls and there is nothing I love more than listening to them talk when they get together! I think the more we genuinely listen, the more we understand; and the more we understand, the less we are inclined to misunderstand. I love spending with and listening to my wife. I understand her and I strive to cherish every word she says. The result is we have a very happy marriage. -Mike

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