Sunday, June 04, 2006

For Guys Only

The following is for guys only, it is about women, and applies to many (though not necessarily most or all) women.

Women are different from men, in a lot of ways. But, your wife is not:

  • Your co-worker
  • Your mother or your sister
  • Another guy

Lots of guys think they know all about women because they have female co-workers. That just is not true. You will discover that there are many things about being married that are completely different from working with women.

Lots of guys think they know all about women because they have a mother or a sister(s). That just is not true. You will discover that there are many things about being married that are completely different from having a mother or a sister.

Lots of guys think of a wife as just another guy. That is just not accurate. Guys are pretty simple. Food, sports, sex and sleep. Kind of like having four food groups. Guys generally do not have hidden agendas and, there are lots of ways guys relate to each other that just don't work with women.

Multiple levels, is one of the places where a wife is different from a guy, a difference in relating. All of the things a wife is not come together once or twice a year if you are going to be married to a woman, because you can expect to have meltdowns, flash-overs or similar things as life adds up. Your partner will have times when she is either very angry or very sad or very hurt. But knowing about it is only a start, "What do you do when your partner is raging because they are hurting?"

Said otherwise, "What does a guy do when his wife hits that point of raging (driven by hurt) that happens when the stack of issues his wife has builds to overflowing, no matter how she tries to acknowledge, accept, nurture or heal? When it comes to head once or twice a year?"

With co-workers you will never see it. I've had lots and lots of female co-workers in the last thirty-five years. Never had an event like that. Female co-workers did little to prepare me for marriage. I've got a mother and a sister. Most guys with mothers and sisters never deal with meltdowns.

None of the guys I know act that way -- they don't have meltdowns. however, I'm in a men's group, and when a guy who was married for the first time late in life brought up this question -- thinking it was happening only to him -- and every guy in the room just smiled. We let him know he was not alone.

There are two sub-sets of times that your wife will get upset that are useful to know about.

The first is "'bumps in a crowd' sorts of collisions or hurt feelings" -- those small, accidental things that happen. Generally, the guy thing to do if someone points out that you've done something is nod "ok" and go on. The best way for a woman to look at it is like playing backyard basketball or walking down a crowded street.

Minor collisions or fouls are just nodded at and shrugged off. Most women shrug them off too, unless there is something else going on (and think the ones who don't shrug them off are drama queens or need Prozac). For a guy, you need to remember that if your partner says something about something like that (e.g. "hey, it hurt my feelings when you put the peanut butter in the fridge") you need to stop, look them straight in the eye (stopping whatever you are doing) and say "I'm sorry, it was my fault, I'll try not to do it again."

If they were bothered enough to say something (and they aren't a drama queen or just unhinged -- this is general marital advice, not psychotherapy and I'm not responsible if you married a drama queen), then you need to take it seriously enough to give a real apology, no matter what it seems like.

There is a three part apology message. Unlike the rule in basketball (where you don't stop what you are doing) or a crowd, if your partner feels she needed to say something, then if you want to care for her, you need to stop and pay attention to nothing else.

Then you say
  1. I'm sorry
  2. It was my fault (no excuses) and
  3. I won't do it again
(Hidden trap in number three: you may need to say I'll try not to do it again -- though you need to know if your spouse is from the side of the street where they expect you to try, or the side of the street where they use the word "try" to mean "I'll make a failing effort and do not really care." That makes a big difference out of a little word. Some expect it, some see it as diminishing anything you say).

The second type of time is "what do you do when the problem isn't the real problem (which is often why your wife is complaining about things that don't seem like real issues -- it is a warning sign)" -- and part of learning to be a guy is learning that when you deal with women their stacks are going to overflow (the old computer analogy) and it is all about to hit the fan. Part of what you sign on to when you sign on as a husband is to deal with those incidents with kindness and care.

You need to know first, that whatever the reason it is, since it is causing an emotional meltdown, the reason is "good enough." Second, that it may not be your fault (though we've all heard the message "it is always the guy's fault") and third, it may be your fault. Fault and justification aren't that important in your first response, the first thing you need to do is to not treat a melt down as an attack.

You start by realizing that meltdowns are going to happen every-so-often no matter what. It is just part of life.

Then, what you do is you find a way to react to a meltdown with kindness towards your wife and yourself.

Find a pattern that works. If you followed my advice about back rubs or foot rubs that have nothing to do with making a pass or sex, you can often rub her back (if she is willing to be touched). Or take her for a walk. Listen to her. Listen without defensiveness and without offering solutions. A guy complains to you, or a female co-worker complains, they want a solution. Your wife complains to you, she wants you to listen and acknowledge. She probably does not want a solution and offering solutions will probably not make things better.

A good pattern is to go for a walk or to have your wife sit and talk to you while you do the dishes. Find a way to go for walks whenever something like this happens or seems to be building up. When what is happening is that someone is lashing out because of pain, and that will happen, the key is to not take it personally, let it expend itself while you listen without adding fuel to the fire, and then reassure them of your love (remember that three part pattern, or recipe, about telling your wife that you love them?).

While you listen, realize that while you may not be at fault and should not take it personally, there may be things you are doing wrong. Regardless of when those sorts of things come out, you need to address them. Maybe you leave your dirty clothes on the floor instead of the laundry hamper. It isn't a big thing, but you might as well change that (you should have outgrown it by the time you were twelve, anyway).

Maybe there are other things like that. Little things, but they add to the friction in life. It just isn't worth it not to reduce the friction, but most women won't really mention them unless they are upset enough at life to let it all out.

On the other hand, maybe there isn't anything, except you've gotten a little out of synch. That just means spending more time communicating.

Maybe it is just build-up and you need to get past it. Or maybe there is also a real issue, like the anniversary of when her dad died, or the time you buried your child, or something similar. Maybe this never happens in your life (or never did until something real happened) or maybe you really didn't notice, being a guy, until recently that it does happen in your life. But it does, it will, and you can either make it better or worse.

Making it worse is treating it as an attack, fighting back or being dismissive and suggesting that she just take some Prozac and get some sleep, better diet and exercise. (I'm not suggesting that any of these are bad things, just that suggesting them is futile, dangerous and doesn't help).

Making the situation better is noticing when emotions start to build up and addressing those emotions with love, attention and support -- by being a husband. You listen, you are patient, you do something positive and you express love.

You have a duty to be patient, to be long suffering, to love and to serve, to care for your wife as Christ would. That is what it means to husband. Not to be in charge, or to exercise dominion, but to be kind and caring and to be responsible. The priesthood is the primal call to service, to be like Christ, to be the servant, not the master, to be a caretaker and a protector, to be a man.

This is one way to make sure you are doing that.


Anonymous said...

I'm so grateful that you take the time to give thoughts like this space. Perfecting the saints and all :)

Really, thanks for taking the time to write it up.

I hope all the husbands and husbands-to-be out there stop and take note.

You're right; sometimes all we need to do is be allowed to ride the wave of our emotions--but not alone. That's so true. And yeah, sometimes the meltdown is a symptom of a problem to be fixed, but, even then, the meltdown has to be allowed to run its course. Meeting it with openness and understanding, without getting defensive, being a 'pillar' or a 'point of sanity' is about the best thing a partner can do.

I'm personally grateful you took the time to just lay it out like this--thanks.

Anonymous said...

The post is titled "For Guys Only" and the first two commenters (unless someone beats me to finishing mine) are women. You gotta love it. :)

Not only does my husband appreciate knowing that it's not only his wife that melts down so does his wife! I hadn't really noticted it before and I thought I was beginning to develop something serious. It's good to know that other women feel this way sometimes too. :)

annegb said...

Blessings, Stephen.

Stephen said...

Thanks annegb.

Robyn said...

Okay, now you're making me homesick for Texas. Schlitterbahn is the best place on earth. I am glad you all had a great day.