Husbands, let’s get some critical things clear: You didn’t marry your wife so she’d be your female roommate or a poker buddy. Instead, you married her to build a deep friendship and a great family with her. That requires collaboration, but also conflict. Honestly, you can’t have one without the other. Collaboration and conflict are inseparable in a thriving marriage. Bottom line: You married her to make you better, and better requires battles.
Let’s face it: No couple is perfect at conflict, but some are really bad at it; I mean really bad like they either avoid conflict (“Everything is fine.” But it’s not. They’re both driving each other crazy, but neither one will talk about it.), or a couple lives for conflict (everything is a fight to the death).
Nevertheless, here is one thing that will set you up to win conflict every time: Listen without defensiveness. Listen just means “to pay attention.” So, whether you started the argument or not, determine that you’re going to pay attention to your wife rather than defend yourself. This is very hard at first because, let’s admit it, our male ego gets so easily offended and defensive when we hear something negative from a female. We interpret it as an assault on our competency and character as a man. So, when the stress goes up, we choose fight, flight, or freeze, instead of just receive.
Look, just because she is not being your cheerleader in that moment doesn’t mean she’s your opponent. This woman signed up to be on your team and to help you build a winning one. Think of her like an assistant coach in that moment. The role is to let the head coach know what the team needs to win. Think about it: If you’re losing the game, would you rather have a cheerleader or an assistant coach defining reality for you? If you’re wondering, coaches help you win the game, not cheerleaders (nothing against literal cheerleaders; I married one).
Let’s go back to the listening. Even if you think she’s wrong or ridiculous, let her talk it out. Sometimes she’s just verbalizing or venting a frustration, and it has nothing to do with you.
A lot of men think they understand how to listen without defensiveness, but then they get in the battle, and all reason goes out the door – fight, flight or freeze. So, here are some practical moves:
1. Keep your mouth shut.
Just like it’s impossible to breathe and swallow at the same time without choking, it’s equally impossible to talk and listen without choking. Keep that illustration in your mind, and make listening a personal contest in your mind. Give yourself mental points every time you resist the temptation to lawyer up and defend yourself. Here’s how that might look: “She’s being completely ridiculous about that!” you think, but instead of saying it, you catch the thought and count it as a touchdown.
2. Open your eyes.
This is both literal and mental wisdom. Look at your wife’s eyes while she’s talking to you because it communicates attention, but also process what’s she is saying.
3. Posture yourself humbly.
This is the most critical move. Everything depends upon this. You will fail at listening and conflict if you don’t get this one. Humility is not weakness, nor is it inferiority. Humility means to choose to be less to make someone else more. If you tell your heart, mind, body, and soul, “My wife is more important than my ego,” she will see it all over your face and in your body language.
I’ll “bottom line” this point with a question I’ve heard and applied: Do you want to be right all the time, or do you want to be married for a lifetime? Because you can’t do both.