By Cait Johnson
Helpful advice for strengthening your relationships, right here:
1. Learn how to empathize. Most people refuse to empathize. This is not a gender issue; women are just as prone to this problem as you most likely are. I can‘t tell you how many people I‘ve heard saying, “If I show empathy, doesn’t that mean I agree with what my partner is saying? And I don’t! They’re wrong!” Empathizing does not mean you agree. It just means you care enough to listen and hear what your partner is saying. If empathizing as a communication skill were taught in every elementary school, our world would be a less violent place. Start at home. Now. Allow your partner to speak her heart. Listen without judgment. Then mirror back what you think you’ve heard until you get it right.
2. Stop trying to be an emotional Mr. Fix-It. Empathy is not about charging in to make it all better. Most of us get all bolluxed up thinking our partner wants us to solve the problem for us. It isn’t true. We just want someone to say, “Wow, that must really hurt. That must feel really hard,” to say it with deep concern and love and mean it. Just put yourself in your wife’s place–even for a moment–and feel her pain. That’s it. It can be very, very difficult when you’re in emotional reaction to what she is saying. But that’s the key to all of it–not only to happier marriages but to happier relationships in general. Think of it this way: your wife’s issues are hers, and part of the learning and growing work she needs to do in this life. You don’t want to take that soul-strengthening process away from her. But you also don’t want to continually re-wound her in her hurt places. You need to be her cheerleader, as she is yours.
3. Own your stuff. We all have emotional baggage and issues. Deal with yours and encourage your wife to do the same with hers. Chances are you chose each other because your issues dovetail neatly and you bring them up in each other. Commit to loving yourself and all your flaws, and to gaining a deeper level of self-acceptance. Then simply Be There as your wife struggles to do the same. Do what you can to encourage and help with the process. But if your issues are the Marriage-Killing variety, you may need some outside help in dealing with them. Please, please do not fall into the predictable and all-too-common male trap of refusing to get professional help. If you want to kill your marriage dead, this will do it. You show yourself to be a finer, stronger man when you admit that your stuff could use a little assistance.
4. Speak your heart. Your wife might need some help here, too, because this is truly a tricky one. Most of us allow the poison of judgment and blame to creep in when speaking to our significant others. This is counterproductive. Speaking from the heart means going deep to the feeling place and saying what you know to be deeply true FOR YOU–in other words, make “I” statements rather than “you” statements. Not “You’re thoughtless and selfish because you forgot my birthday,” but “I felt so hurt and not cared for when you forgot my birthday.” Nobody can argue with an “I” statement. Your feelings are your feelings. Most people get caught in the trap of “I must make them get it! I must make them understand!” You can’t legislate whether or not your partner will really hear you, or how they will react to you if they do. But it is a true balm for the spirit’s wounds for your own deep self to hear you speaking your truest truth, whether the Other hears you or not.
5. Avoid being judgmental. It might help to keep this little maxim in mind: Where there is judgment, there is fear. If you’re feeling massively judgmental of your partner, take it as a golden opportunity to look more deeply to see what’s really eating at you. What triggered you? What old feelings does this situation bring up? Nobody wants to self-expose and show their vulnerability to someone who will shame them for it. Most shamers and blamers are overcompensating for feelings of inferiority, trying to make themselves look better at their partner’s expense. It is far better to face the fact that you are both flawed and messed-up human beings, but capable of self-acceptance. If you have chosen a partner you truly do not respect in an attempt to work out old childhood stuff, this is a Marriage Killer; refer to # 3 above.
Simple advice for creating stronger, happier marriages, right here.
6. Be generous and fair. While gender equality in the workplace has made great strides, it is still more than likely that you have more earning power than your female spouse. Do not expect her to pay half of everything if she is earning less than you: make your contributions to shared living expenses proportional to your different incomes. Be as giving as you can be without feeling resentful or put-upon. Take steps to leave her provided for in case anything should happen to you, especially if you are planning to have children. If you have financial worries, share them with your wife. Work together to make your lives as secure as possible. If you do not trust your wife with finances, or if you want to keep what you work for all to yourself, these are potential Marriage-Killing issues that you need to address with a counselor, either individually or as a couple.
7. Think like part of a team. If there is a problem, assume your wife is on your side and wants to work with you to figure out a solution. Your wife is not the enemy. You can work together to problem-solve creatively, and to have more of your legitimate needs met. Nothing warms a woman’s heart like hearing the word “we.” Use it often.
8. Be affectionate. While men seem to think women just want hot sex (and we do, make no mistake), it’s actually tenderness and affection we crave even more. Men are often so focused on their own performance that they lose sight of their wife’s need for cuddling and closeness. While an aerobic romp between the sheets can be great, if it is followed by indifference or coldness, any benefits to the system or the partnership are cancelled out in a major way. Sex without vulnerability and closeness is just friction. If you truly do not feel affectionate toward your partner, this is a Marriage-Killing issue you need to look at, and get some professional help with.
9. Own up when you’ve messed up. It takes largeness of heart and spirit to admit when you’ve been in the wrong, to apologize, and to mean it. It is also just about the only thing that helps to heal the hurt you may have unwittingly caused. If you can empathize with what your partner is feeling because of something you have done (or have left undone), and can express your sorrow for it, you will be forgiven. I guarantee.
10. Care about her well-being. People usually get married hoping to get their needs met. In other words, most marriages start out with a selfish desire for one’s own well-being. But somewhere along the way, things need to undergo a radical shift. You need to start caring as much about your wife’s welfare as you do about your own. You must be thoughtful of her health, even when this conflicts with your own personal desires. (An example is the ban on actual sex after childbirth. Good husbands put aside their own needs for their wife’s safety.) Ideally, you begin to think as much about her happiness as you do about your own.