Make your relationship healthier by listening more


  1. For men—listen throughout first with full attention, answer only after
    Men need to be on guard against short-circuiting the discussion by offering a practical solution too early on—it’s typically more important to a wife that she feels her husband hears her complaint and empathizes with her feelings about the matter (though he need not agree with her). She may hear his offering advice as a way of dismissing her feelings as inconsequential. Husbands who are able to stay with their wives through the heat of anger, rather than dismissing their complaints as petty, help their wives feel heard and respected. Most especially, wives want to have their feelings acknowledged and respected as valid, even if their husbands disagree. More often than not, when a wife feels her view is heard and her feelings registered, she calms down.

  2. For women—be empathetic and understanding instead of rushing into fightbacks
    A major problem for men is that their wives are too intense in voicing complaints, wives need to make a purposeful effort to be careful not to attack their husbands—to complain about what they did, but not criticize them as a person or express contempt. Complaints are not attacks on character, but rather a clear statement that a particular action is distressing. An angry personal attack will almost certainly lead to a husband getting defensive or stonewalling, which will be all the more frustrating, and only escalate the fight. It helps, too, if a wife’s complaints are put in the larger context of reassuring her husband of her love for him.

  3. Work on the overall understanding of each other, not the specific problem
    One overall strategy for making a marriage work is not to concentrate on the specific issues—childrearing, sex, money, housework—that couples fight about, but rather to cultivate a couple’s shared emotional intelligence, thereby improving the chances of working things out. A handful of emotional competencies—mainly being able to calm down (and calm your partner), empathy, and listening well—can make it more likely a couple will settle their disagreements effectively. These make possible healthy disagreements, the “good fights” that allow a marriage to flourish and which overcome the negativities that, if left to grow, can destroy a marriage.

  4. Avoid negative thoughts
    Sentiments like “I’m not going to take this anymore” or “I don’t deserve this kind of treatment” are innocent-victim or righteous-indignation slogans. By catching these thoughts and challenging them—rather than simply being enraged or hurt by them —a husband or wife can begin to become free of their hold.

  5. Replace hurt with reminding yourself of the valuable things your partner do for you
    For example, a wife who feels in the heat of the moment that “he doesn’t care about my needs—he’s always so selfish” might challenge the thought by reminding herself of a number of things her husband has done that are, in fact, thoughtful. This allows her to reframe the thought as: “Well, he does show he cares about me sometimes, even though what he just did was thoughtless and upsetting to me.” The latter formulation opens the possibility of change and a positive resolution; the former only foments anger and hurt.


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