A wife who does not feel heard will never feel loved.
Every wife wants to feel heard. Many times, especially in a purely "loss of love" driven separation, her decision to leave will revolve around her increased belief that she will NEVER be heard inside the marriage.
No matter where you are in your marriage, this is one thing that MUST happen in order for you and your wife to maintain a lifelong relationship together:
You must genuinely listen to your wife, and she must be able to FEEL that she's been heard. If you do not at least make an effort to make her feel heard, you are not fulfilling your duty as a husbandly leader.
I have said before that communication is not "the thing" that saves marriages. That hasn’t changed. But, being a good communicator is part of being a good leader, and it’s an area many men struggle with (myself included).
While unconditional love and forgiveness can overcome poor communication, it will be harder and more painful for both. Eventually, this simple truth must be addressed…
If your wife does not feel heard, she will never feel loved.
What you'll find below are seven truths that will enable you to be a better listener. Understand and adopt these things into the mindset you use when communicating with your wife and you will help her feel like her words and feelings actually matter to you.
This post is for you if...
- You and your wife constantly argue or fight
- Communication has gone downhill in your marriage
- You and your wife always come back to the same issues or problems over and over again
If any of those apply to you, pay special attention. For the rest of you, you’ll probably still learn something, but some of this may not apply as much. Let's get started.
She Talks To You Because She WANTS To,
Not Because She Has To
This applies equally whether you and your wife have a wonderful relationship or you have the polar opposite and fight all the time. In both cases, when your wife initiates a conversation, it's because she WANTS to talk to you. Not because she has to; your wife does not have to talk to you. It is not a need; it is a desire, and it’s one that can fade if you give it a good reason to.
I’ve certainly seen plenty of women who choose to take their conversations elsewhere… Either to single coworkers or toxic friends or even to another man. The fact that your wife has a desire to talk to you should not be taken for granted.
When your wife communicates with you, it’s because there is something she wants. And it usually isn't what lies on the surface. Many times, what she really wants is to feel heard and valued, regardless of the outcome. Other times it will be more pragmatic.
We’re going to talk more about identifying and empathizing with her motives below, but for now, just understand that when your wife talks to you – even if that talk turns into a fight – she talks to you because she wants to. She desires to. That desire may not be about you (as would be the case with an unfaithful wife who picks fights to mitigate her own guilt), but there is always a desire there for something.
If you ignore her or turn her down or shut her out of the conversation, you are essentially telling her that you don’t care what she wants.
Make a Conscious Effort to Understand
What She’s Trying to Gain…
And remember that your wife never wants to fight just for the sake of fighting. Very few people enjoy fighting and making another person miserable for no reason (FYI, if your wife falls into this category, it’s very likely she is having an extreme midlife crisis or suffers from a mental/emotional disorder such as BPD).
Even when all of your communication with your wife is combative, what that means is that there is something your wife wants that she’s not getting.
Sometimes, figuring out what your wife wants from a conversation is very easy. For example, after dinner when my wife says, “Ugh, dishes!” as she looks at the sink – that’s my cue. I know what my wife wants is for someone who’s not her to do the dishes. No great mystery there.
Other times though, it will be very hard to figure out what your wife really wants, especially in the heat of an argument or difficult conversation.
When you find yourself knee-deep in a heated discussion with your wife and you realize that you have no idea what she really wants (because it's clearly not what you thought), stop. Let go of your anger or frustration. Take a deep breath and look at her – say, “I’m sorry for fighting; I know that you feel like I’m not hearing you right now. What do you want that you are not getting from this conversation?”
It’s okay to ask your wife these kinds of questions! In fact, it is good to do – it shows her you care about what she wants!
Every Conversation is an Opportunity
to Make Her Feel Heard
Go into every conversation you have with your wife with the goal of hearing and understanding what your wife wants. Make your goal in every conversation to make her feel heard.
Obviously, this particular rule doesn’t apply quite as much when your wife is extremely cold and distant. In fact, many of the rules here take on a slightly different meaning when you’re dealing with a wife who NEVER makes an effort to communicate with you… For example, she’s already moved out and is ignoring your texts and calls. Obviously, in that case you’re not going to have very many opportunities to make her feel heard, even when you DO manage to get her to engage in conversation. She may simply shut down.
However, for the rest of you who still have a wife who communicates with you with even the slightest shred of consistency, even if that communication is rarely productive, every conversation is an opportunity to make her feel heard.
Assume That What She's Telling You MATTERS To Her
This goes hand-in-hand with the last two points.
You must assume that every time your wife initiates or engages in a conversation with you, the thing that she’s trying to tell like you – the thing she’s trying to gain from the conversation - it MATTERS to her.
It will hurt her if you ignore or disregard the thing that matters to her.
On the other hand, it will make her feel valued and loved if you validate the thing that matters to her. And yes, you can validate what matters to her even if you do not agree with it. Here's an example:
Let’s say your wife wants to schedule a vacation, but YOU know that a vacation is not financially possible or wise.
For many men – myself included – it would be very easy to respond to your wife’s desire for a vacation by saying, “Nope, not possible, not going to happen. We don’t have the money right now. Maybe next year.”
However, while you may have resolved or addressed the practical, surface issue that your wife brought up, you have not addressed the underlying thing that your wife wants – she wants a break. She needs a break. When you dismiss her desire for a vacation, what you are really doing is dismissing her need for a break. You are telling her, essentially, that she will just have to suffer.
Whoa! Obviously that’s never what you meant, but because you didn’t really hear your wife – because you didn’t really take the time to understand her motives or her feelings – you made a snap judgment that ended up hurting your wife.
It is still possible to tell your wife that a vacation is not in the cards. The point is not that you do whatever your wife wants. However, you need to also acknowledge what she really wants, and why she wants it. In this case, maybe that would look a bit like this:
“I understand that we have had a very tough year, and I know you’re ready for a break from the stress. I am too. I don’t think that it is possible for us to go on a vacation this year, but maybe we could do [insert alternative source of relief] instead. How does that sound?”
Do you see the difference?
In the second example, you are HEARING and FACING what your wife really wants and why she really wants it. She feels overwhelmed and frustrated and she needs a breather from every day life. There are ways to provide that for her without going on vacation, and even if there aren’t, you will make her feel much more valued and loved if you at least empathize with why she wants the vacation. That way at least she knows that you have heard her and that you care about her wants and needs.
Be Willing to Admit She's Right
& You're Wrong
This reveals another fundamental requirement not just for skillful communication, but for marriage and even life as a whole.
Humility. You must be able to acknowledge and accept your imperfections. Abandon pride.
I will not lie – I am a prideful man. It is something I struggle with almost daily. When I do not willfully, consistently set aside my pride, it always creeps back in. I frequently find myself praying a very frustrated, “God, get this pride out of my heart! I don't want it!” It is a constant thorn in my side.
Practically speaking, it is very hard to communicate with a prideful person. I know this from experience, both personally and from speaking to men Inside the Haven.
Setting aside your pride means that you are willing to admit you’re not right, or that you made a mistake. It is willing to say that sometimes you don’t know best or misjudge what is best.
Even if your wife is going through a MLC or affair, there are some areas where she is right about your marriage. She may heavily over-exaggerate where the marriage went wrong or where you failed, but there will be elements of truth. Of the 10,000+ men who have come Inside the Haven, I’ve never met a one that could say he was a perfect husband.
I know that you know this. I don’t think this is news to any of you that there are times where you failed as a husband. It is true for me too.
But, you need to make sure that the way you communicate with your wife reflects and incorporates the humility that you know you need to have right now.
I’m not saying you need to bend over backwards for your wife or throw yourself on the ground begging for forgiveness while your wife is out having an emotional affair. I’m not saying you have to be gentle and wishy-washy in your communication, or that you shouldn’t be decisive and confident as a man.
You can be confidently humble. In fact...
When you can admit your weaknesses and your failures, you will become more confident in your strengths and your successes.
- You can still be firm with your wife when there is something that needs to be said firmly.
- You can still sometimes say, “I’m sorry, but I know I’m right on this. I hear what you’re saying, but my decision stands.”
- When a conversation goes south into a fight that’s getting nastier by the minute, you can still pull the plug and say, “This conversation isn’t helping either of us. Let’s try again later,” and walk away.
But you can’t do those things all the time. Because if you do, there is a good chance it reveals a pride problem in your heart.
Another practical application of this lesson…
Let Your Wife Have the Last Word (sometimes)
Like many men, I have a tendency to be controlling sometimes. I have a bad habit of always wanting to get the last word in a conversation, especially if there has been some sort of misunderstanding or disagreement.
This need for me to control conversations is a bad habit and it is one that I have to be conscious of.
It sounds counter-intuitive to say that one of the ways you can lead in communication is by actually giving control of a conversation to your wife, but it is true. Your wife wants to get the last word too, sometimes, and you need to be able to swallow your pride and let her be right.
Let her get what she wants sometimes, even if it is objectively sub-optimal for what you believe is right for your family.
You don’t have to be in control of every conversation, even if you are right 100% of the time like me ;-)
Maintain an Open Mind &
Give Her the Benefit of the Doubt
When making decisions with your wife, instead of starting with the assumption that you are right and your wife is wrong, start with the desire to be neutral.
It’s not about right or wrong; it’s about figuring out what is best for both of you as individuals, for the marriage and for the family.
This goes hand-in-hand with the last point. Do not auto-assume your wife is wrong. Nor should you auto-assume your wife is right. Assume that you both want to be happy and to do what’s best, and if there is a disagreement about something, it’s because one of you feels that either of those two things isn’t happening.
Just because you know what is right does not mean you have to make sure your wife knows she is wrong.
Assume your wife is “in the know”. Assume that she knows what she’s talking about, even if it is something outside her area of expertise. It should be said that there comes a point in some circumstances (e.g. high-level MLC, ongoing affair) where you have to start being very cautious with those assumptions and in some extreme cases you have to turn them off altogether and assume the opposite. But even then, that’s not an excuse to ignore her, put her down or belittle her intelligence.
Develop Your Listening Skills
(yeah I know, it’s cliché, but it’s the only one)
I feel pretty confident that most of this article has not been the stereotypical listening advice. That is, until now.
You need to develop good listening skills.
It’s cliché, but it’s the truth and it needs to be said because an astonishing number of men who care about being a good husband have not put effort into being a better listener.
There is a plethora of information about is available on the Internet, and really, this subject deserves its own article. Several chapters talk about it in Manly Marriage Revival. So I’m going to keep it pretty brief in this one; here are a few quick points to become a better listener.
- Stop what you’re doing and focus on the conversation you’re having with your wife.
- You cannot engage in a conversation while you are watching TV, looking at your phone, browsing Facebook or doing something for work. Put it down; pay attention.
- Make eye contact with your wife when she’s talking. This is non-verbal communication.
- Nod your head. Softly say, "Mmhmm," "Yes," "Okay I see," etc. as you follow along with what your wife is saying.
- Actually listen to what she says; open your ears and HEAR what she’s saying.
- Don’t always immediately respond to your wife; take time to think about what you want to say.
- Never interrupt her unless absolutely necessary.
- Ask questions.
- Restate what your wife says back to her, or repeat it in your head so that you see it and understand it.
- Even when you disagree with her, make an effort to hear her out and reassure her that you empathize with what she wants and why.
- Finish the conversation with some sort of conclusive, “Okay, so this is what happens now,” type statement. An actionable takeaway.
Obviously, you don’t have to do every single one of these tips all the time in every conversation. You don’t have to spend an entire conversation looking your wife straight in the eyes, nodding your head, and restating every single sentence back to her.
Again, these are tips. Start incorporating them into your communication style in a way that feels natural to you. With time, they will become second nature.
Reassure Her That
You're Willing to Make Sacrifices
The end goal of communication in marriage is to keep your needs and her needs equally met.
Sometimes, it simply isn’t possible. As we said all the way back at the beginning of this post, it always takes more than just good communication to save a marriage.
Becoming a good listener and making your wife feel heard has the potential to unlock your wife’s heart and help her heal. Because just as you need healing and your marriage needs healing, your wife needs healing too.
Good communication alone won’t save your marriage, but it will make a difference. And really, good communication is a natural result of good leadership, because to truly listen to your wife you first have to truly love her and care about her happiness at or above your own.
Read that one more time and that is what will finish this article with.
A wife who does not feel heard will never feel loved.
To truly hear your wife,
you must first love her & care about her happiness
just as you do your own.
For Christians, remember that in the same passage where we are told the husband is to lead the marriage, we are also told “… Husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it…”
- Excerpt from Ephesians 5:28-29
Starting today, be more conscious of making your wife feel heard.
Much manly love,
Enlightening the world, one helpful article at a time. Thanks Stephen.
Great words as well as comforting. It’s interesting that most, if not all men, believe they are the only person going through these challenges. In another article you said,”In other words, there’s nothing your wife can do to make you stop loving her. That’s what this kind of love should mean.” So true and I have thought of this often and especially after one of her telling me, “you should have done it this way or here’s what I would say” everything I am going to send an email. Too often I have thought it would be better without her, buy always realize, I am in love and that’s what matters. Something like that would crush her and I am not willing to do that. So… I tighten my belt and look inwards to see what I can do to make it better. We all know it takes 2 for a relationship to work. Thanks for the inspiration.
This article was a Godsend. Thank you. I realized very recently that I do not feel VALUED by my husband. Because everytime (I may be exaggerating here) I come to him with an emotional complaint (even about someone else and not him), he asks me “qualifying” questions to see if there is any TRUTH to my complaint instead of acknowledging my feelings. Over and over and over and over and over again (not exaggerating here) we go through this same cycle. And there has been an infidelity in the past on my part, BTW, and this is the reason why. I end up feeling worthless in his eyes which actually affects our intimacy. If I don’t feel loved and valued by him, I certainly don’t want to have sex with him.