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.

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.)

The Number One Complaint I Heard from Husbands (Part 4)

This is a continuation from Part 3. (See also Part 1 and Part 2.)

I think one of the reasons we are on this planet is to understand our passions and to get them under control. I’ve noticed in the scriptures that the Lord never says, “Don’t have any passion!” but there are numerous appeals to bring them under control and to keep them under control. James chapter 3, for example, is a plea for us to overcome our fiery tongues.

One of the ways our adversary deceives us is by tempting us to seek gratifying results when what we really want are satisfying results.

For example, we sometimes let our kids raise our hackles and then we justify using anger or loud voices or sharp words or threats or whatever to get them to do what we want them to do. When we get a quick response we are deceived into thinking that bitterness is a great motivator when really it is not.

We may use the same method with our husbands or wives and get fast results, too. We learned this as children when we said to ourselves in essence: “If I throw a hissy fit, I might just wear down my parents and get what I want.” Then we get older and use the same methods in our marriages or with our children and pow! Instant gratification. We’re hooked!

But consider this verse:

And, ye fathers [and mothers], provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. (Ephesians 6:4.)

And then cross-reference that verse with this one:

For the wrath of man [or woman] worketh not the righteousness of God. (James 1:20.)

The long-term results of wrath will not be satisfying. Over the years, as I have seen parents and spouses use “wrath” as a means to an end, I have seen their children or spouses get quite disheartened. Some even lose their way.

Fathers [and mothers], provoke not your children to anger, lest they be discouraged. (Colossians 3:21.)

We cannot work the righteousness of God with our wrath, as the scriptures teach. The two are incongruous. Too often we justify our “reproving betimes with sharpness” but then don’t show “an increase of love” (see D&C 121:43-44). We err on the side of reproving, and don’t do enough loving.

What we don’t always realize is that we are planting thorns and thistles as we treat our loved ones this way, the deep seeds of resentment and rebellion. Those seeds may take time to grow and bring forth their ugly fruit, but they certainly will bear that fruit if we don’t root out and displace poisonous plants with flowers.

The discouragement created by a parent’s or spouse’s wrath can lead to a child or spouse to seeking acceptance elsewhere, often with the wrong crowd or with new companions or through secret, virtual pleasures. The seeds of wrath may very well bear fruit by the shocking delivery of divorce papers, a last minute exit before entering the MTC, or the announcement, “I don’t love you any more.” The reasons behind those tragic moments are wide and varied, but sometimes we plant the seeds that bear this fruit without realizing it.

Satan is always tempting us to go after things that will bring us quick, gratifying results. Perverted uses of alcohol, drugs, money, pornography, sex, even junk food which can also bring us down physically and emotinally. He likes to throw things like this in our path when we are physically, mentally and emotionally worn down, when we are the most vulnerable.

Sin does not usually bring with it an instant punishment, but it often brings an instant “reward”; however, a moment’s indulgence can be followed by decades of regret.

So my advice to couples and parents is to turn away from the temptation to go after gratifying results and instead seek for deeply satisfying results.

One last verse:

Bridle all your passions, that ye may be filled with love… (Alma 38:12.)

This verse seem to indicate that when we get our passions under control, it makes way for love to flourish. Invest in patience, long-suffering, gentleness, meekness and love unfeigned. (See D&C 121:41-42; see also Galatians 5:22-23.)

Our passions are real. They don’t go away. But we can bridle and control and guide them. Don’t let the adversary deceive you any longer. Sharp-tongued words cannot bring you what you really want.

Only the virtues of love, patience and gentleness can bring you the deep, meaningful and peaceful relationships that you really want. Those virtues require discipline and perseverance and daily repentance.

Those virtues will not let you down. Those around you may let you down, but true principles and virtues will not. Like a seed planted in the ground, they take time to grow, but when nurtured, they will in due season yield their beautiful, satisfying fruit. 

The Number One Complaint I Heard from Husbands (Part 3)

This a continuation from Part 2. Here also is Part 1.

You may be familiar with Shakespeare’s Much Ado about Nothing where the bickering between Benedick and Beatrice—”My dear Lady Disdain, are you yet living?” is entirely overthrown. Friends trick Benedick into believing that Beatrice loves him—”Love me, why?”—and also trick Beatrice into believing that Benedick loves her. It amazes me what a change takes place in a person when they feel loved, truly loved, by another. It changes everything.

But we can lose sight of that when we fall into the trap of focusing on the mistakes or weaknesses of those we love. To me, it is one of the biggest mistakes we can make in our relationships.

One thing that took me nearly a lifetime to recognize is this: that the things we complain about are most often brought about by our own actions or inaction. We deceive and distract ourselves from the real, core problem by blaming others for our troubles, and this, I believe, is one of the ways we hurt ourselves the most. We think our limitations are caused by others, but it is we ourselves who hold the key to our own prison cell.

As a young friend once said to me, “You are your only limitation.” He was so right. We have little idea how much power we really have, to the delight of our adversary.

What you put out there comes back to you. We often call it the Law of the Harvest. The underlying doctrine behind this is very well founded in the scriptures, and if we believe the scriptures are true—that the Word of God is true and reliable—we will recognize more clearly where our blessings and troubles come from.

Let me with a simple yet powerful concept found in the Sermon on the Mount:

Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy. (Matthew 5:7.)

And then add this illuminating cross-reference:

The merciful man doeth good to his own soul: but he that is cruel troubleth his own flesh. (Proverbs 11:17.)

See how it works? If you show mercy, you will receive mercy in return. If you are cruel, cruelty will haunt your days.

These things don’t always come back to us immediately, but they will surely come over time in the economy of God. Our lives, in time, always yield the same kind of fruit that we plant.

The Savior asked later in that same sermon:

Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. (Matthew 7:16-17.)

So if you are planting thistles and thorns in your marriage, what are you going to get back?

So what I am saying in this series, especially to the men, the husbands, is to lay down your weapons of defense and just love your wives. See the good, all of it, and emphasize that. Everyday. See her beauty. See her intelligence and cleverness and wisdom. Adore her darling habits. Truly appreciate the things she does for you every day. Notice the effort she puts in to be beautiful, mostly for you. Start making more sacrifices for her. Love her truly, deeply, madly. Tell her that you do, and really mean it.

Now what will you get back?

At first, she will be suspicious. She will say, “What do you want from me?” Don’t place demands on her. Just love her to bits. In my experience and close observation, if you love in this way, she will pay you back 100 times.

If you do this consistently—no, unremittingly—your relationship will start bearing more pleasing, more shapely, sweeter, more delicious fruit.

The key is making the commitment within yourself to love her even if she is grumpy, mad, or upset. See past that and keep moving forward. This is the key to winning in love.

P.S. Once again, as always, this won’t work readily if there are serious emotional issues at play. But even if there are, keep trying anyway. One way or another, it will all come back to you, good for good or grudging for grudging. The law the harvest is immutable.

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

Here I am continuing the conversation on marriage I started a few weeks ago in Part 1.

Do you remember how excited you were when you got married? Your relationship was so strong. You were head over heels for each other. Everything was so new and different and fun. You got along so well. Your wife felt wanted, needed, and cherished, and your husband felt honored and respected. He was everything to you, and you were everything to him.

Then you hit a pothole.

In the weeks or months following your marriage, you started to doubt your place in each others life. You discovered that you didn’t see eye to eye on everything. Warm contentions arose. Worst of all, your husband started to seem more interested in things besides you. You felt like you were absolutely number one in your husband’s eyes until one day the intensity of your relationship started to lessen. All of a sudden he seemed more focused on work or school or golf or football or hunting or his laptop or cell phone. The day that doubt crept into your soul was a sad day. Or your wife became disappointed in you and you didn’t realize how snippy she could be about little things.

This is not the case in every marriage. Some women, sadly, have never felt like they were number one with their husbands, and some husbands feel like they can never live up to their wife’s expectations. Whatever the case, it is all sad to me. And unnecessary.

I did this to my wife. I mean, I caused her to doubt. It’s in her journal, her sad feelings about being displaced by my other interests and priorities. I feel terrible about this now. I didn’t understand what to do when I was first married. Now I do.

This is what I do.

Beyond my daily devotion to God, my top daily priority is to reassure my wife that I love, cherish and honor her, that nothing and no one is more important to me than her. I want her to know that she can count on me to stand by her no matter what, sickness, health, grumpiness or bad hair day. I want her to know that I am always going to see the goodness in her and that I think she is absolutely beautiful, inside and out, which I do.

When it comes to marriage, as you have heard me say before, I play more offense than defense. It’s an absolute commitment to myself that is not guided by mood swings or defensiveness. It comes from knowing where I stand myself and letting her know, too.

I have a very happy marriage. Very happy. It’s not because I am “lucky.” I don’t believe in the common concept of good or bad luck which I think is just ignorance of how things really work and why things happen.

There are three reasons why I am extremely happy in my marriage and I think you can have the same three reasons to be happy.

  1. I deeply appreciate my wife. I have almost lost her several times to post-surgical trauma. That taught me appreciation like nothing else. And as a result, I made certain strong, unbreakable commitments within myself to cherish her each day. I think she can feel that and it makes a huge difference.
  2. Talk, talk, talk, talk. We talk a lot. I mean a lot. I am not a husband that can be accused of not communicating with his wife. She knows my heart because I expose it to her. I used to express my ups and downs with my moods; now I express them with my words. But I control those words to make sure that they are calm and respectful no matter the circumstances. I never put my wife down, ever, in or out of her presence. I hold her in great honor both on the inside and on the outside. 
  3. We are still on our honeymoon. You may doubt that, but we are. We love to be together. We go on one or two dates a week. We have lots of fun. We do new and interesting things together. We laugh and cry together. We work together and solve problems together. We are a team. We are together.

A few weeks ago, my wife and one of our older daughters were talking about our life as “empty nesters.” (It’s coming up fast. Too fast.) Our daughter said, in essence, “You won’t have any problems. Your relationship is different than most others.”

She is right. It is different. Why? Because we consciously choose to make it different and it is.

Don’t get me wrong. We still have our rough spots and disappointments and disagreements, but we handle them so much better than we used to. We get over them quickly.  We put them aside and move forward. We take out the emotional trash regularly.

Let me close by saying this: I adore my wife. I think she is absolutely darling. My devotion to her is not based on how she behaves or how she looks at a particular moment, but it is based on who she is, who I feel that she is. Because she knows this, it makes all the difference.

The Number One Complaint I Heard from Husbands (Part 1)

I have to say that, with little exception, husbands who came to see me as bishop were respectful of their wives. They honored them in spite of their difficulties with them, or weaknesses in their marriages. I was always very impressed by this.

Though they were respectful, one complaint emerged as the most common one offered across the bishop’s desk.

This is what it was. Sometimes wives could get almost entirely focused on the negative aspects of a situation or a person, especially those of her husband or children, and close friends or relatives. This negative focus could turn into long, painful bouts of bitter criticism and stinging complaint.

Men, to be sure, do this, too. But I have seen or heard of it coming from women more often than from men.

This is pretty discouraging to men. Little, I think, is more discouraging to them. Some men put up a wall of resistance and engage in defensive arguments with their wives. Others turn off their ear drums and drift into silence.  In both situations, most men build up walls of confused resentment. I say confused because few men understand where this bitterness comes from or what to do about it. Most men just write off the behavior and say, “She’s just that way.”

The fact is that nearly all women can be “that way” at one time or another, some more than others. And it’s not just because of a monthly hormonal imbalance, either. It goes deeper than that. Much deeper.

I don’t know or understand every women’s situation—of course not—but I have seen this behavior in enough marriages that I can offer a little insight. These bouts with negativity and bitterness occur in women when their deepest needs are not being met, when they are not getting the attention or respect they deserve, or when they do not feel completely loved for who they are. Some feel judged, others ignored. Whatever the case, they are unhappy and unfulfilled.

Sometimes I think the clamor is an attempt (usually unconscious) to get attention. Observe children and you’ll know that they’ll sometimes do just about anything to get attention, be it positive or negative. If we don’t get enough positive attention in our lives, especially from spouse and family, we can wilt and shrivel. And we’ll take negative attention over no attention. I think this is what is at the core of the negativity I have seen in a lot of marriages.

Let’s start with the opposite end of the spectrum, with a wife who feels loved, honored, respected and cherished, and who, most importantly, loves herself. When this is the case, you will see little of bitterness and complaining. The poison well just dries up. A wife who has these needs fulfilled consistently is less likely to be overcome with negativity. If her spouse is showing her love and honor and respect consistently, and she is still angry and negative most of the time, well, there often is something else going on.

Although there may be a logical reason behind these negative emotions, there is a higher standard for expressing them. For example, in the epistle to the Ephesians we read:

    Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers.
    And grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption.
    Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice:
    And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you. (Ephesians 4:29–32.)

I think we should all be free to express ourselves, openly and honestly, but without the adornment of anger and bitterness. If anything is coming out of your mouth that is not edifying, that is not building others up, then the devil has power in your life. If you are blaming others for your unhappiness, you are laying your power at the feet of an idol.

And that which doth not edify is not of God, and is darkness. (D&C 50:23)

I trust the Word of the Lord to guide me. I don’t let darkness have power in my life. (I have dark moments, but I don’t let them last long.) I can say what I need to say without holding back, but I say it with respect and kindness. If I imagine that Christ is part of every conversation I have (and He is whether I recognize it or not), I have learned that I can say anything I have to say to anyone with grace and honor.

One of the reasons we feel a need to “vent” is because we hold in our feelings so long that they start to rot and fester. If you are a stuffer, you are going to suffer. Don’t stuff your feelings. Let them out, but not on the tip of a dagger.

What about a husband who does his level best to show his wife his love, honor and respect, on a regular basis, and she is still bitter and unhappy. Often when this is the case, there is something troubling going on. Something more profound and personal that may not involve the husband that much. It might have something to do with a past relationship or experience where feelings are unresolved and the wife takes it out on her husband. Or it might be something worse, like an addiction, a serious transgression, a grave temptation, or past abuse. I have the greatest respect for those husbands who patiently endure marriages where the relationship is dominated by their wives’ negative or unresolved emotions. Happy is the man who learns how to help his wife untangle her feelings, get them out in the open, and start finding ways to communicate positively.

My wife sometimes says to me,”You can’t make me happy” meaning that she realizes that it is her choice to be happy, no matter what anyone else does or says. When she says that, I usually quip, “But I can do more for your happiness than any other person on the planet.” I think we are both right.

My advice to husbands and wives was always to keep their covenants at all cost. The covenants you make in holy places are primarily between you and God. You can keep those covenants, no matter what someone else says or does, or doesn’t say or do. But I also know that there are times when a marriage becomes unendurable if your spouse is involved in repeated infidelity, or evil, abusive, or even criminal behavior.

Whatever the case, I would err on the side of kindness and mercy and patience. I would give my spouse as many chances to get it right as I would want for myself. (But there is a limit in extreme cases.)

Finally, here is a little test for husbands. If you find that your wife is more negative than positive, ask yourself these questions and what you might do differently:

  1. How often do you plan and take your wife on a date?
  2. Do you read the scriptures together as a family or as a couple regularly?
  3. Can you admit that you are wrong and sincerely apologize?
  4. Do you pray together as a family or couple on a daily basis?
  5. When was the last time you went to the temple together?
  6. Do you ever offer to give your wife a break and send her away for an evening while you clean up after dinner and get the kids to bed?
  7. Do you sincerely compliment your wife or tell her honestly that you love her every day?

If you have answered no to any of these questions, you will probably have more negativity in your home than you’d like. But I promise you that, if you follow the seven items listed above, you can do more to help your wife resolve her feelings than anyone else. You may disagree with me, but I consider it my number one job, outside of my devotion to God, to love, honor, respect and cherish my wife, no matter her disposition for the moment.

I work pretty hard at this and I can tell you that I am among the happiest married men I know. I really am. Yes, we have our moments, but they pass quickly. Since I believe I am in charge of my own happiness, I throw a lot of forward passes and play very little defense. I hope your wife responds as tenderly and lovingly as my wife does to me. If she does, you will be a very happy man as well.

P.S. I know there are exceptions (read my disclaimer). If you cannot find peace and happiness in your relationship with your wife, I would seek for counseling and other help. If you are at a total impasse, and both of you are in a degree of misery, then I pray that you will find a way to break free and move forward again.

Next, Part 2.

The Death of Masculinity (Part 4)

Let me address a few things that have come up in the comments on this series.

First of all, in love, nothing can be done by coercion or force, neither by a man nor a woman. Well, you might save a person’s life by force, without that person’s consent, but that would be a rare case. You can only really “take charge” in a way that wins the respect of others if you do it in righteousness, that is, “only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned; by kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile” (D&C 121:41–42). These qualities apply to both sexes though the context for the verses cited is that of men holding the priesthood.

Though I believe that men and women are complete equals, I also believe they have distinct ways of expressing themselves that are wonderfully different. I think that this is what keeps men and women fascinated by each other—all those differences keep relationships vibrant and fun. We are similar but different enough to keep our interest up while we try to figure the other out. I am always sad when I see a marriage lose that wonder between the sexes that can be so much fun. We lose the wonder when we stop carefully listening. When we stop listening, we lose respect, and when we lose respect, we lose sight of who we really are.

Some think I am blaming men for all the trouble in male-female relationships. That is not the case. I am focusing on men in this series, but I am not blaming them as the sole source of trouble. When relationships disintegrate, there are always issues on both sides, things that could be done better. While I do not believe men are solely to blame, I do believe they should lead in love, in purity and righteousness, and when they do not, it causes troubled hearts and sadness in a home, especially in a home based in the gospel.     

I’ll conclude by confessing what I really believe about men. I may be wrong about some of the aspects that I have explored with you in this series, but this is what I really believe. First, a foundational scripture:

Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it (Ephesians 5:25).

We men have a holy charge to love our wives as Christ loved the church. Nothing short of a total sacrifice by a man is sufficient to hold and keep his wife in trust and joy. You cannot “purchase” your wife at a discount and expect to flourish in happiness, love, trust and respect. A man must lay down everything if he wants a truly joyous and fulfilling relationship with his wife. I don’t mean giving up who he is or what he likes to do, but giving up the natural man. The men I’ve seen who do this have great marriages, and the men who don’t often struggle in their relationships with women. Every man needs to figure this one out on his own—he must personally discover how he can become a man of God.

This is what I really believe. Many men disagree with me, but those men often don’t have very happy marriages either. At least those whose relationships I am aware of, and I am aware of a lot of them. What I see a lot of men doing is holding back their love and effort, waiting for their spouses to change before they offer themselves. But that is not what Christ did. He offered Himself up completely and out of great love, without holding back, before we had repented, “for the gifts and calling of God are without repentance.” (Romans 11:29.)

Now I have not talked about the main issues I see happening in women’s lives that contribute to failed relationships. Perhaps I’ll do that in another post or series. While I don’t blame men for all the troubles and trials in male-female relationships, I wholeheartedly believe that men who take the lead in a truly Christ-like way win the love and respect and even adoration of their wives and children in ways that others cannot. It is a rare thing to behold, but it is awe-inspiring.

The apostle John taught us this: “We love him, because he loved us first.” (1 John 4:19.) Love first and then you will see changes in others. Don’t wait for the change in others before you make the sacrifices and changes you need to make in your own life. Love first and love will surely follow.

(See Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.)

The Death of Masculinity (Part 3)

I don’t mean to draw stereotypes. Every person is unique and will have a unique combination of qualities and weaknesses. I do not want to judge nor condemn anyone, “for God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.” (John 3:17.) But I do see trends. After working closely with hundreds of men, women and their families, I could not help but see trends. I don’t really understand where these trends come from, but I would like to understand, and I would appreciate your insights. They help me—and other readers of this blog—a lot.

In response to comments on my last post, I would like to add that, yes, of course, all Christ-like qualities apply to both men and women. I see both men and women have the ability to be excellent leaders. I see men and women as absolute equals. I am sorry if I implied something different than this by not coming out and saying it directly.

Men and women can and should be heirs of confidence. This is an area I have needed to grow in. My lack of confidence in the past has led to many sorrows. I have also learned that there is a big difference between confidence and arrogance. Men and women need confidence and the strength that comes from it. But the confidence I need is in different areas than the confidence my wife has. 

I have seen women be just as assertive as men, but I have also seen men be more aggressive and violent than women. Women are capable of aggression and violence, but they are not as inclined to it as men. To illustrate, the incarceration rate of men in prisons in the United States is 15 times that of women (1,316,495 to 92,785 in 2003).  That has to tell us something.

Just the other night I was reading with my grandson about women pirates such as Anne Bonny and Mary Read. I am sure that women like danger and adventure just like men, but these were the only two women convicted of piracy during the 18th century.

So there are distinct differences in the way men and women are wired. We share needs and desires and tendencies, but we express them differently. The balance of testosterone and estrogen that God put into our bodies has an effect on us. I think I am right in saying that while the challenges and temptations that men and women face are not 100 percent unique, they are unique in some ways.

Because of this, I am calling more attention to men because that is where I see the greatest need for improvement. And I am starting with myself.

Women likewise have need for improvement, but after spending five years talking to hundreds of men, women and couples, privately and publicly, I see very distinct patterns and trends. This also comes after counseling with other bishops, especially after conferring with bishops of singles wards.

Here is where I see some other fundamental differences.   

Yes, both men and women can be selfish, but in my experience, women, especially those who have children under their care, are much less inclined to be selfish than men.

Another example is that in my years as bishop, I spoke to many men, young and old, about viewing pornographic images, but I never had occasion to speak to a single woman about this issue, except in relation to a husband or a child. Men tend to get caught up in visual pornography and women can get ensnared by reading pornography in the form of romantic fiction, but still, that was never an issue that came up in a single interview with a woman—I am talking about hundreds of interviews with women. I am not saying that visual or written pornography is not or can’t be an issue with women, but I have never personally seen it.

I know women who like video games, but I see a tendency among men, especially young men and boys, to get absorbed in them, and, unfortunately, in violent ones. I think this relates to the citation above about the incarceration rates of men over women. Testosterone, unchecked, can lead us men into sorrow and trouble.

Likewise, both men and women can exercise unrighteous dominion, but I see more of a tendency of this error in men than in women. Both men and women need to lead out in righteousness, but I must acknowledge the prophetic counsel in the Proclamation on the Family that men are called by God to preside over, provide for and protect their wives and children. This is a huge responsibility which we men too often don’t take seriously enough, and the trends I see are undermining this.

Men also can be very narrowly focused, where women often have a broader focus. Do you know one of the reasons why? Women have 40 percent or more connections between the hemispheres of their brains than men! Their left and right hemispheres can talk back and forth more glibly than men. I believe this is one of the reasons why women can be so much more perceptive of others’ feelings and motives, especially in dealing with children.

Also in my experience, I feel that women are more readily inclined to remain faithful, though in recent years I have seen more and more women being led astray into illicit affairs, I am very sad to say.

There are always exceptions and unique cases, but, generally speaking, there are some fundamental physical and emotional differences in men and women. Also, I focus on men because that is where I see a great need.

Are women better than men? No. Are women more important than men? No. Are men more capable of righteousness or leadership than women? No. Are there differences in men and women? Yes. Are their needs and challenges different? Yes, not completely, but yes.

One of the greatest issues I see is the loss of footing men are experiencing in modern culture. And I think because of that, we have a tendency to back into a cave of confused self-gratification rather than using our God-given gift of masculinity to stand up boldly, be counted among the sons of God, lead our families in righteousness, and follow Christ with all our hearts.

That is the challenge I am taking up: to become, over time, the father, husband, breadwinner and leader God put me on the earth to be. No wrong exits. No excuses. I want to be the man God wants me to be.

(See Part 1, Part 2, Part 4.)

The Death of Masculinity (Part 2)

I’m finally continuing my post from a month ago about the missing masculinity in the modern male. (Wow, that was a lot of ms.)

What I am about to describe is not the rule, but it is common, and it seems to be getting more common. This is of great concern for a lot of women I have talked to.

When I was a bishop, a number of women would come in for interviews and were quite frank about their feelings (hurray for honesty). Almost all of them were respectful of their husbands and of men, but they could not hide their disappointment.

The second most common thing I heard from wives or young women of dating age was that the men in their lives were not taking charge. They were not taking a leadership role. They were sitting back and not stepping forward. They were not demonstrating true masculinity. These women felt forced to take on a broader leadership role in addition to their other roles. And they didn’t like it.

(Pssssst. Women really, really, really are attracted to genuine masculinity.)

Many of their husbands or boyfriends were absorbed in computer games or television or their laptops or worse. These men weren’t leading the family in prayer or in scripture study and other sacred duties. They seemed to their wives to be in a constant state of escape, letting family life pass them by as they huddled close to their electronica. They also didn’t feel like their husbands or boyfriends were pursuing them. They got along most of the time but they were living parallel lives. Emotional interaction was missing, except when arguments broke out.

Unmarried women of marriageable age had similar complaints. Young men, it seemed to them, were happy with just hanging out. They were not being chased by them, though they wanted to be. Girls and women like to be pursued by men who are attractive to them, but these men seemed self-satisfied, preoccupied with personal pleasures and pursuits, and not striving for a higher plane. (Thing of the term self-centertainment and that sort of encapsulates it.) Even though they may attend church or may have served as missionaries, they wore worldly attire and hair and had worldly, selfish or arrogant attitudes.

I can’t tell you how disappointed and disheartened young women are because of this trend of a chosen generation of young men unchoosing themselves. I am somewhat disheartened too, but I emphasize that this is not the rule, blessedly.

Men would complain about their wives negativity and complaining and I would tell these me that much of that would be reduced if they would become true, Christ-like leaders, if they would express their innate masculinity. (Nevertheless, I always encouraged women to not try to change your men through bitter and harsh words. This might relieve some frustration for a moment or two but too often brings about the opposite effect than what they want. Women have much more powerful tools at their disposal, namely their true femininity, the subtle force that is at the core of nearly all positive male motivation. But I digress.)

So what do we do about this? I’ll tell you what I am doing: I am repenting.

I am easy going. But a little too easy going. I have let a lot of opportunities pass me by due to my easy-goingness. I have learned my lessons the hard way. I have disappointed myself, my wife and my children too often because I was not stepping up to my masculine role.

As parents we can do a better job of showing (not just telling) young men what it means to be truly masculine, in the purest, best sense. You don’t have to be perfect at it. You just have to be making a very honest and open effort and be willing to correct your actions when you discover you have gotten off the path.

True masculinity in my view is to be genuinely Christ-like. It is to be bold yet humble. Full of adventure yet loyal to home and family. Having self-control but willing to let go of and express emotions at the appropriate time. Being reliable and true. Willing to sacrifice anything and everything for loved ones, yet wise enough to be kind to yourself.

I’ll close with this observation. A man who does not acknowledge and express his masculinity will go a little crazy. He needs an outlet and a challenge and an adventure to pursue. Daily. Without this, he will seek to satisfy his cravings through video games and pornography and other stultifying pleasures. Wise is the woman who understands this need and supports it.

Here is a personal experience. My last year at BYU, I took 42 credits (fall and winter semesters). I was on task and I got good grades. I was on a mission to finish school and to move on to providing a good income for my family. It was hard work. It took a lot of effort. And my wife was fully behind me. When I finished my last final that April, I felt like I could fly. But a few weeks later, I was depressed. Why? Because I didn’t have a huge goal to pursue. I learned a lesson from that: I always need to have a huge goal. It has taken me years to grasp this, but now I get it. (That’s huge goal things was part of masculinity.)

Woman who control their fears and support and encourage their men to build their “field of dreams” often find the men they love much better able to express their true masculinity.

(See Part 1, Part 3, Part 4.)