Are you married to a man who likes to fix things? Do you get perturbed when you look to your husband for sympathy, and he insists on offering answers, instead?
It’s tempting, when you’re upset, to interpret this hasty rush to a solution as evidence that your husband doesn’t really understand the situation, doesn’t fully appreciate the distress it has caused you, can’t adequately feel your pain. You may even think that his no-nonsense approach to the matter is just an attempt to shut you up, because he’s tired of hearing you bellyache.
I’ve entertained such thoughts myself in the past, and still have a hard time believing they aren’t at least partially true.
Yet, according to a growing body of scientific evidence, our husbands respond the way they do simply because that is how their brains are wired. (If you’d like to read all the fascinating details regarding this research, I highly recommend Louann Brizendine’s The Male Brain.)
Studies have now confirmed what we’ve all long suspected: Men and women think very differently.
A man can’t understand why his wife would waste valuable time complaining about something he could easily fix in just a few minutes. And a woman is equally perplexed, because her husband seems incapable of listening without taking on an advisory role.
Often, all we really want is a little sympathy.
We need to realize, however, that this is a husband’s way of sympathizing. Mentally searching for a solution is his way of communicating his concern, of proving that he cares, and of expressing heartfelt empathy in the way that comes most naturally to him.
Even so, it grates on us. So what’s a beleaguered wife to do?
If you want to avoid the conflict that sometimes springs from your spouse’s different method of thinking about and dealing with problems, then you really have only three options:
- Stop complaining
- Warn him ahead of time if all you want is a hug or a prayer or a shoulder to cry on
- Listen to his counsel and accept his advice
The first option — stop complaining — is just a good rule of thumb in general. Nobody likes to be around a whiner or complainer, and the more positive we can remain towards our life and circumstances, the better off we’ll be. Nevertheless, there are times when difficult situations must be addressed and discussed. So what, then?
The second option — letting your spouse know up front that you just want him to listen without offering advice — may (theoretically) help from your point of view, but it will probably feel like torture to your husband.
Consider how you would react if the tables were turned: Imagine your husband comes home complaining of feeling famished. You offer him a snack, try to cook him some dinner, point him to the pantry, propose going out to eat, but your every suggestion is met with fierce resistance. Not only that, but your spouse accuses you of being insensitive for even attempting to come up with a solution.
“Why do you always have to fix things?” he might ask in exasperation. “I haven’t eaten all day! I’m starting to feel faint! Can’t you see how upset I am? I don’t need advice; I need sympathy. I just want to know that you’re on my side — that you understand!”
Wouldn’t it feel a little disingenuous to merely pat your husband on the back in such a situation and tell him that you’re sorry he’s having such a hard time?
Well, that’s exactly how our husbands feel, too, when we put such constraints on them and attempt to dictate their emotional responses.
In the same way that you’d feel compelled to let your hungry husband know there’s hot bread in the oven, your husband feels obligated to share his best answer to whatever problem is troubling you.
And that brings us to the third option — you can listen to your husband’s counsel and accept his advice. Don’t automatically pooh-pooh his suggestions, like the woman in this video:
He’s offering you a fresh perspective, a different vantage point, so hear him out, then do your best to implement his most reasonable recommendations.
Believe me, I know this is easier said than done. I do not like change in general, so my knee-jerk reaction to any suggestion that we do something differently is to argue in favor of the status quo.
This usually backfires.
That’s because, in God’s great providence, I married a man who embraces change with hearty enthusiasm. You might even say he likes change for change’s sake, although life with me has tempered that tendency somewhat. (Isn’t it wonderful how God balances extremes in personalities by uniting them in holy matrimony?)
I’ve learned not to complain about trivial matters, because I know my doing so will trigger my husband’s problem-solving circuits, which will inevitably lead to some sort of change that feels (to me) like more of a hassle than whatever matter I was grousing about to begin with.
Unfortunately, this does not get me completely off the hook in the advice department, because sometimes my spouse will simply see something he thinks is not working as well as it should and will make suggestions based on that observation.
My husband is very smart, extremely attentive to detail, and amazingly adept at “thinking outside the box.” So why wouldn’t I want to immediately adopt whatever measure he’s proposing?
My inborn aversion to change is only part of the problem. If I’m honest, I must admit the rest of it stems from my pride.
The Bible tells us, “Pride leads to conflict; those who take advice are wise.” (Proverbs 13:10, NLT)
Ouch! Isn’t that verse convicting? What makes me resistant to my husband’s advice? What makes me want to argue about the best course of action? The Bible says it’s my pride. “Where there is strife, there is pride,” is how the NIV translates it.
Whenever strife and arguments and contention exist, we can be certain pride is somehow involved.
It boils down to this: I want my way. I’m convinced my way is better. Is it better? Maybe. Maybe not. I’ll never know unless I hear my husband out. It is arrogant and stubborn and foolish for me to cling to my own way without even bothering to consider his ideas about a given matter.
His ideas are almost always reasonable. It would be fair to say that many of his ideas border on brilliant. We both know this, so it’s insulting and hurtful to him when I blithely discount or dismiss his suggestions.
Taking my husband’s advice does not mean I’m incapable of thinking through problems or coming up with solutions on my own. It just means I’m willing to consider his perspective and give his way a try.
Why not do the same at your house?
Don’t fight against the way God wired your husband’s brain to work. Next time you face a problem, ask for his advice. Then take it.
Doing so does not mean you’re weak. It means you’re smart.