One of the greatest challenges for men is to learn how to stop approaching every conversation with their wife, or partner as an opportunity to solve their problem.
There is rich evidence that men are descended from a long lineage of problem solvers and just because we have that skill set does not mean we must use it. At least not all the time.
This tendency is played up for comedic effect in the movie, “My Big Fat Greek Wedding.” The women in the family conspire to have the patriarch, Gus, solve a problem in how the family should staff the various businesses they run. They act helpless and lay out the problem already knowing what they want from Nick, which is for him to choose the solution which they desire. This leads him to fulfill his role as problem solver, help others and be “the hero”.
Yes, being helpful to your spouse is important. And by going into problem solving mode you can bypass the far more important thing which is to be present and really listen to your loved one.
We are not raised to be good listeners or to attune to the emotions of others. And yet those skills are among the fundamentals of a loving, connected relationship.
I made this mistake recently with my wife. She was asked to provide curtains for our son’s house and could have made them from materials left over from sewing projects or purchase them ready made. I leaped in with a solution by saying, “It is far less effort and pretty inexpensive to purchase them so why don’t you do that.”
She was upset with me and it didn’t take long to realize why. I missed the important part of asking her how did she feel about making the curtains versus purchasing them? I missed the feeling part. It took some time to sort this out and for me to come to the awareness of this essential ingredient in relating to others. So even trained professionals miss the mark.
I made my amends to her and after a long talk agreed that I would check in and ask about how she was feeling about a choice and listen thoughtfully before proceeding further. I even made a sticky note saying, “check in about feelings” and added it to my list of relational skill building list.
Being men who want to learn, grow and enrich ourselves and our relationships we can start by looking at what drives that desire to problem solve. It can be a need to bypass all the feelings. Often, we are less in touch with feelings and our old training says they can only get in the way of getting things done. There is a kind of truth to that and it misses the critical question of so how it feels after you have pushed for a solution: Closer with your sweetheart or distant and cold? The result is less likely to be warm and fuzzy so what kind of life is that?
Another driver can be anxiety. Is there a part of you that feels anxious when compelled to look at the feelings, options, and repercussions of a choice and so wants to rush to a decision? Then work needs to be done on managing anxiety because that will continually get in the way of being present and connected to your loved one.
So, there is much that goes into making a relationship flourish. Keep in mind that dealing with the feelings of others means needing to manage and attend to your own feelings. If you do that you won’t find yourself rushing to judgement and missing the aspects of the feelings involved.