Example #2 - How to compliment your mate.
Mother's Day is this month, so I thought I would look at make and female differences with regard to complements and support. Many have heard about the 12 Love Languages (1995), a book by Gary Chapman. The book can be very helpful, and although the languages have little to do with male and female differences, I mention it to illustrate that while there are gender differences discussed in these posts, there are many language differences beyond gender that make our communications, lives, and relationships "interesting."
So, as in other posts in this series, please keep in mind that these observations and thoughts incorporate HUGE generalizations. My hope in writing these articles is to highlight the male/female differences to make it possible for couples to address them individually; hopefully resolving a few of the obstacles that can play an influential role in the development of communication problems.
The difficulty with these gender language differences is that they are not easy to spot without an example. For this post I will use a statement I have heard many times from both husbands and wives about feeling respected and valued: "I want to be seen as capable."
In the above sentence Men would generally focus on the word "capable." In the Bible (Genesis 3:17), men are cures in their ability to achieve results: work will be done by the sweat of their brow, weeds will come up instead of fruit, men will die, and all they build will turn to dust. As a result of being cursed in their "ability to achieve" men are generally sensitive to being regarded as "capable."
Women, in general, might focus on the word "seen." The curse on women (Genesis 3:15) is very different. Women generally experience their pain in relationships (childbirth) and in their position as bridge person between the previous, the present and future generations. Part of the second half of the curse is feeling "ruled over" by men. Socially, that "feeling" has been a reality throughout history, and in many ways, in many cultures, it still is.
So, the conversation might look like this:
Wife: "This guy at work is a pompous jerk. Anytime I make a contribution at our team meetings he says, 'uh huh' and 'as I was saying...' He totally ignores my contribution and changes the subject before I can say anything. I go to confront him and he patronizes me saying 'now, now, that's not what I am trying to do. If you're going to be in this business you're gonna have to get a thicker skin."
Husband, wanting to help and defend her, but thinking from a "capability" model, says: "Here's what you need to do. Next time he tries to blow you off, just ignore him and what he thinks. Talk over him if you have to. I know you can do that, you do that to me all the time." (Husband smiles, thinking he has solved "the problem")
Wife (now furious) says: "So basically you are saying I need thicker skin?!! Do you have any idea how I feel when I have been fighting this problem for months, and you think you solved it in 30 seconds?! And what do you mean I don't listen to you - you aren't even listening to me!!!
Husband (now confused) says: "I heard everything you said! What do you mean I'm not listening?"
Path to peace:
For most husbands, a complement requires a comment on her confidence in his capability or achievement - 'knowing what to DO, and HOW to do it.'
For many wives, a complement needs to communicate the message "I see you, and understand it must be difficult to be you in that situation." This can often include the husband speaking his observations out loud, verbally communicating his confidence in her, or to brag about the difference and value his wife brings to his life and the lives around her - letting her know she is "seen" and not invisible.
The husband, in this case, wants to go and defend his wife, possibly talk over the man who would disrespect his wife that way.
Rather than tell her to do what he wants to do, he might translate his desire into empathy - what it must have been like to be her in that moment:
"Wow, you must have been furious. If someone did that to me I would have been really pissed! Especially because I know your ideas are really good! How many times have or clients told you they want you on their projects specifically because of the input you provide!"
Husbands are often confused that this response would help - generally because it does not "address the presenting problem." The response does, however, address her presenting problem - hence the need for translation.
If you are interested in learning how to translate what you want to say to your spouse, in ways he or she can hear the messages, we are here to help. Contact us here at Spirit Christian Counseling Centers: www.SpiritCounselingTx.com
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