If you’re a new boyfriend or husband, here is my advice to you: Stop trying to cheer up your girlfriend or wife. At least not all the time. I know this might not make sense to you right now, but trust me, it’ll be one of the best things you can do for your relationship.
Women are difficult to understand. Very difficult.
As a brand new husband, one rookie mistake I repeatedly made was always trying to fix my wife’s problems. Every time she told me about a problem or a challenge in her life, I would simply assume that she wanted me to fix it. As her husband, I felt like it was my job to be the hero and save my damsel in distress. What else are husbands supposed to do anyways? So I would offer solutions. Or give advice. Or try to cheer her up. Little did I know that Olive did not want me to fix the problem. Very confusing right? This is so crazy I need to repeat it again: my wife would tell me about a problem, but not want me to fix it.
On one particular evening, Olive started to tell me how sad she was feeling. The conversation went something like this:
Olive: I feel sad.
Tim: Don’t feel sad.
Olive: It’s just that ________ [explains reason for her sadness]
Tim: Let me cheer you up. (Starts to make a funny face to make Olive laugh)
Olive: (Ignoring Tim’s ridiculous looking face) I don’t like my life right now
Tim: Let me tell you a joke (hoping that the joke will make Olive like her life better)
Olive: Stop trying to cheer me up
Tim: Oh. (confused) Well, what you should try to do is ________ [offers what he thinks is a helpful advice to fix Olive’s sadness]
Olive: Can you please listen to me?
Tim: …(even more confused)
Olive: ...(patiently waits for Tim to comprehend what she just said)
Tim: (finally understanding that the best thing for him to do is simply listen to his wife) Oh sorry. So you’re feeling sad because ________ [repeats Olive’s reason for her sadness]
Olive: Yes, and because _______ [continues talking, feeling much better that her husband is finally listening to her]
In fact, we have many conversations like this. I’m happy to say that these conversations are less common now (3½ years after we got married) than at the very beginning.
I’ve had to train myself to be a better husband. Believe it or not, being a good husband doesn’t come naturally to me (shocking right?).
Whenever Olive told me about a problem or challenge in her life, I used to assume that she wanted me to fix it or cheer her up. That was the wrong assumption. Now whenever Olive tells me about a problem, I assume that she wants me to listen (and NOT fix the problem). In fact, I don’t try to fix the problem unless she specifically and directly asks me to fix it. And even then, I’ll clarify just to make sure I’m understanding her correctly.
One of the most important things I can do for my wife is to listen, understand, and emphathize with her.
Here’s some practical advice I received from my father on how to listen well. It’s called reflective listening. When your wife tells you something, you summarize what she just said to you in different words. This does 2 things.
First, it allows your wife to hear what you just heard her say, and clarify if you have misunderstood. Many times I would either misunderstand what Olive said (because I wasn’t listening properly or because she hadn’t used the right words) or Olive will have said something she didn’t really mean. Hearing what she just said allows her to process what she just said, and to confirm or clarify what I heard her say.
Second, it confirms to your wife that you have understood her. This is very important. When she feels that you have understood her, then she’ll feel comfortable to tell you more.
One of the biggest needs that a human has is to be understood. To be known.
So stop trying to cheer up your wife (all the time). Listen. Understand. Empathize. Trust me, this will go a long way to improving your marriage. And she might even be happier.
PS- My wife and I recently released our first (and FREE) eBook, “Fight With Me: How We Learned to be Married”