Romance for the Clueless Husband Part II - Tilling the Soil
Have you ever come home with flowers to your wife only to hear "Hmmm... Ok." as she moves on down the hall? Maybe your first thought was "Wow, that was insensitive..." Maybe you would love to say that out loud but you know that she has a collection of "insensitive" things of yours she would be happy to unload on you if given a reason (some of them recent). Maybe you would love to say anything at all at this point but you know deep down that it's very likely that somehow you have earned this response. If so, this is great news! For one thing it means you are likely the problem, which is great because you are something you can actually control. It also means that there is hope. If you can see the problem, you're one step closer to fixing it..
Over time, I have studied my own behavior and monitored the responses I get from that behavior. And, I've tried not to write off those responses as general female craziness like we men sometimes tend to do. Instead, I've tried to look for patterns that can be leveraged in an ongoing attempt to understand this complexity that I call my wife. On top of that, I have seen some great relational seminars, conferences, books, etc. And with all of that, I can honestly say that when it comes to romance I still sometimes feel like I have no clue. I definitely want to figure it out, and I am slowly working toward that goal.
I will say this: I don't think there is a man alive for whom this comes naturally. Most of us have what I would consider to be an innate, severe, romantic disability. We can certainly get better over time, but not without a lot of work (something similar to hardcore physical therapy). That certainly doesn't give us a pass on this. Our women need us to step up and learn how to make them feel loved, wanted, and respected. So let's start wading in! If you have ideas, please share. We can all learn from each other. Feedback from the ladies is certainly welcome and appreciated as well. Heck, maybe you can straighten us out a bit.
Preparing The Soil
I think for many guys, romance falls into three categories: flowers, candy, and physical touch. Others of us only have one category (I'm sure you can guess which one). There is so much more at our disposal than that, fellas. We desperately need to add tools to our toolbox. But first, we need to start thinking of romantic gestures as if they're seeds that you want to plant. Good luck getting anything to grow if the soil you're working with is bad. And yes, your wife is the soil (stay with me here). So how do you make good soil? I think there are three foundational keys to romance that, if you don't get these right, nothing romantic you try to do is going to make any difference.
1. She needs to feel understood.
2. She needs to feel supported.
3. She needs to feel respected.
Below are more detailed comments on each one. Let's start tilling some soil, gentlemen!
She Needs to Feel Understood
I have heard that women mentally are able to multitask much better than men (see the link at the bottom for more information). I totally believe it, for two reasons: 1. I've seen my wife do it. 2. I know I can't do it. I used to think I could multitask. I've since learned that it feels like I'm multitasking but what I'm actually doing is task switching. In other words, I have to temporarily suspend the current task so I can focus on the new task. If men are a single processor CPU, women are a quad-core.
For instance, I do not have the ability to navigate an area of town I've never seen before in my car and carry on an intelligent conversation at the same time. I can have a conversation, it's just not intelligent. While I'm trying to figure out what the heck to do at the red light, my brain has put the actual conversation on auto pilot. I wonder how many of you women have seen this phenomenon before. "Uh huh. Uh huh. Wow, really? No kidding." We think we're actually getting away with it, but women are generally much smarter than that. If you catch a guy doing this and you can tell that his brain is wrapped up in something else, ask him a complex question that cannot be answered by yes or no. It will completely screw him up and he will have no choice but to come back to reality.
Conversational auto-pilot seems like a wonderful thing to us because we really can't do two things at once effectively and we really want to finish what we've started. It's actually an ok strategy if all of the following are true:
- What I am doing is more important than the feelings of the person I'm ignoring.
- I care more about this particular task than I do about my relationship with the person I'm ignoring.
- I'm actually talking to my dog, who will love me regardless of how much I disrespect him.
When talking to women, it's not so great. So how do we avoid this pitfall? One very simple answer is to actually look at our wives when talking to them while doing nothing else at the same time. Simple, and effective! Practically, this means:
- pause the DVD player. You have the remote and you know how to use it.
- pause the DVR or Tivo (don't worry, it's recording for you). If you can't do that, it really is better to just mute the TV (unless you can reach an agreement with your wife that all new conversations that don't constitute a crisis must start during a commercial). Your wife is worth it, isn't she?
- close the lid on the laptop while she's talking to you. Don't try to type while one of you is talking. You can't pull it off and you will end up missing something important.
Speaking of which, has your wife ever jumped on you because she's sick of imforming you about the same life detail over and over? It drives my wife crazy. In my case, this happens primarily because of my occasional use of conversational auto-pilot. Women, don't talk to your man about something important unless he's actually looking at you. Seriously, this one is on you. If you're in a completely different room from him telling him something important, all bets are off. You're not doing yourself any favors at that point. If you want to tell him something and he's on the computer, ask him to face you so you can talk. Don't start until you have eye contact. Again, simple and effective!
And finally, when your wife comes to you about something she's upset or angry about (whether it's about you or not), don't try to fix it unless she asks you to problem solve it with her! This one is such a struggle for me because I am naturally a problem solver. If there's a problem, I instictively want to jump in, fix it, and move on to the next problem. Apparently that's just part of my God-given wiring. I get a little bit hammer-and-nail happy. But a woman's first priority is to be heard and understood. Ask your wife if this is true for her. I bet she'll say yes. My wife often says "I just want you to be in it with me." While there are multiple applications of this, a big one is for me to be in it with her emotionally and to make that a priority over whatever the solution might be. Not doing this right will make her not want to share things with me, because she isn't getting what she needs from the conversation.
She Needs to Feel Supported
Part of being "in it with her" is being on her team in the home. When my wife has a bad day, I should be there for her. I should be involved in the day to day parenting issues. She definitely shouldn't feel left to deal with all of that herself. If she makes a disciplinary decision when I'm not there, I need to uphold that! My wife tries to text me any major disciplinary events that occur during the day so I'm aware of them when I get home. The worst thing I can do is kick her legs out from under her when I walk in the door. The child needs to know that she and I are 100% united and on the same page. He should not be able to triangulate one of us against the other.
Guys, let's be reasonable. If your wife works outside of the home then how does it makes sense for you to not share the duties around the house? I think the same thing applies if your wife spends all day at home with the kids, especially if they aren't school age and she has to deal with them all day long. My wife gets to offload my 7 year old son to school for 7 hours every weekday, but when I get home I take over, including the shower and bedtime routines. I also try to deal with whatever child-related crisis is going on once I get home. By the time I get there, she has been managing him for 3 hours. Clearly it's my turn! I still help around the house as well (and not just yardwork). I have my list of chores, and once a week I cook dinner so she can have a night off (usually on Saturday). At the end of the day, our wives need to feel supported and that we are on their side. Ask her to tell you where she feels like she needs help.
She Needs to Feel Respected
If she doesn't feel understood or supported, she probably isn't feeling respected either. At the very least, she isn't feeling like she's very important to you. It is impossible for any person to feel loved when they don't feel respected or important. Don't fly by that too fast. Let it sink in. We all do things that affect that feeling either positively or negatively in our spouses. It could be tone, or harsh words, or just generally being inconsiderate (ex. going out with friends without discussing first to make sure you're on the same page). These things will derail your attempts to romance your wife. First make sure she feels loved in your day to day routine. Once you have that down, then it's time to step out of your routine and start doing the special stuff.
To Be Continued
So now hopefully we're working with good soil. What's next? Here's where the rubber meets the road, as they say. In the third installment, we'll start actually planting seeds.