The Number One Complaint I Heard from Wives (Part 2)

This is a continuation of a discussion I started last week in Part 1

I would like to confess one of my bad habits: I wait until the last minute to pack for a trip. Not every time, but usually.

There are too many details to manage in my detail-oriented mind. It shorts me out, so I put it off until the clock forces me to act. Bad policy, I know.

This drives my wife to distraction. I don’t blame her. I am not proud of my disorderly conduct, especially when I really like things to be orderly.

I took a short trip last week. I knew I had to pack by early Tuesday evening. I have a packing list—several, actually (one for regular trips, another for camping). When I focus on a list, I do a much better job of packing.

What would you expect my wife to say? Hmmm. She said just two things.

Thing #1, in a kind tone (really): “Would you like me to help you pack?”

I told her at what time I planned to pack and that I was using my “list,” which I now store as a checklist in Evernote.

Then a little later, thing #2: “Are you sure you don’t want my help?”

By then I was mostly packed.

My very kind wife of 32 years, who could predict my every move, refused to naggravate the situation by throwing spicy words at me. Instead, she conquered me by kindness. Or, better, she helped me conquer myself through her kindness.

Rather than sniping and griping, she offered her help, without saying things like “You always…” or “You never…” Unwilling to belittle me, she completely won me over with her love. She used her power to persuade me, not her bitterness to force me. I get packed with time to spare, and she keeps her sanity, and our love is stronger. Wonderful arrangement, don’t you think?

But life goes fast and we get in a hurry and we tend to rush the ones we love and forget that the power of patience must preside over every relationship. Patience pushes out the boundaries of love so it can grow ever larger.

With our patience we say, “I love you, so I will help you. I love you, so I will wait.”

When you are involved with a human being, patience is an absolute requirement if you want that relationship to last and grow.

My wife has no trouble getting me to talk to her. Can you see why?

P.S. Ours is not a storybook relationship yet. We still, each of us, can get a bit snippy. But that is getting more and more rare as time passes.

The Number One Complaint I Heard from Wives

Does your husband talk to you as much as you would like him to? Probably not. This is a common frustration among wives. I found this out after talking to a lot of them.

Some men are more naturally talkative than others; but most are not talkers. Why is that? I don’t know. I really don’t, but I have a few guesses. If you have a husband who talks to you as much as you would like him to, you’ve got a rare man.

Husbands not talking to their wives. That was the number one complaint I heard from wives when I was a bishop. 

Recently a friend of my wife wished out loud that her now ex-husband would talk about his feelings—or just talk about anything.

Men are like that. They seem to prefer to hide or ignore their feelings rather than to bring them out in the open or deal with them. As if it were a weakness or an inconvenience to even have feelings or to share them.

I know. I am one of those men.

I have been a husband for two-thirds of my life, and I have a wife who understands exactly how to get me to talk. Most of what I’ll say below is inspired by her actions over the 36 years we have known and been falling in love with each other. And we keep falling.

First off, I am not saying it is your fault that your husband won’t talk to you. What I am saying is you are not powerless. You can do something about it, even if he won’t. 

If you would like to have your husband, or any man in your life for that matter, talk to you, this is what I would do.

Secret #1. A man is a turtle who lives in a shell.

Show him respect—even if he does things that are not worthy of your respect. This is what he longs for more than anything else. Though he is imperfect, he still has qualities worthy of your respect. Let him know what those qualities are, and you will, little by little, draw him out of his shell. 

Secret #2. He can’t keep up with you verbally. Word for word, you have him outmatched. 

Don’t talk over him. Don’t talk down to him. Don’t use your verbal machine gun to get your point across. If you do, he will hide in his “trench” until the enemy fire dies down. Kindness is your white flag that will get him back to peace talks.

Secret #3. You may not realize how much your words hurt and silence him.

Don’t criticize him. That will shut him down and you will get the opposite of what you are after. He wants and needs your gentle acceptance, in spite of his weaknesses and mistakes. Unfeigned, unconditional love is what will win him over. It will win you over, too.

Secret #4. He needs time to think.

Ask him direct, personal questions respectfully and then listen patiently for his answer, even if it takes a few days to get an answer. But do it without judgment or wrath.

Say something like this, “I really want to know what you are feeling about how Emma’s acting at school.” Then wait. He might answer you on the spot, or it may take time. Then, even if you don’t fully agree, respect his answer.

You would like it if he communicated with you in this way, too, wouldn’t you? Of course. But to get that, you have to apply the Golden Rule in marriage, “Do unto husbands as you would have husbands do unto you.” That goes the other way too, gentlemen. (See Matthew 7:12.)

I am not saying, “Don’t disagree with your husband.” By all means, you should disagree with him! He needs that and expects that. You need to express your feelings and you should do it daily and fearlessly. But the way you express those feelings will make all the difference in the way he communicates back to you.

Almost more than anything, he does not want to be pounded by vocal artillery.

He is not perfect. He knows that. He gets reminded of that every day. Reinforcing his imperfections will not get him to talk openly with you, but reinforcing his gifts and higher qualities will, over time, get him to open up more and more.

And you won’t be able to pry things out of him (or her) by force. Love is unenforceable. It is a respectful invitation to love you back. All the anger and threats and complaining and sharp words in the world will not, for all the world, get you what you really want, momentary victories notwithstanding.

If you must be “right” at all costs, you cannot and will not have peace or the fulfillment you long for. 

I am not saying that these things will work for everyone or that they apply to you or that change comes overnight.

It takes “patient continuance” (see Romans 2:7). The persistent application of fundamental virtues are the only thing that will work on the eternal scale. Following Christ’s example is the key.

Don’t wait for others, not even your husband or wife, to do the right thing before you do the right thing.

This is what it means to “overcome the world”—to do right and to be right with God, no matter what anyone in this world says or does. (See John 16:33.) And overcoming the world is, first and foremost, overcoming yourself.

(Here is Part 2.)