Family Talk: In 2018, choose to listen to your partner
As I pondered topics for this column in the year 2018, I tried to think of what would be helpful. What would be insightful? What would be encouraging in the arena of utmost importance: The family.
Then it struck me like a slap across my face. It was staring at me from my reading table. “The Man’s Guide to Women” by Drs. John Gottman and Julie Schwartz Gottman.
What could be more helpful, insightful or encouraging than explaining women to men? After all, didn’t I have some practical experience having been involved in an almost 40-year marriage? Well, don’t ask my wife.
Not far into the book, the Gottmans stopped me cold with this statement:
Men, you have the power to make or break a relationship. That’s right. Research shows that what men do in a relationship is, by a large margin, the crucial factor that separates a great relationship from a failed one. This does not mean that a woman doesn’t need to do her part, but the data proves a man’s actions are the key variable that determines whether a relationship succeeds or fails which is ironic, since most relationship books are written for women. That’s kind of like doing open heart surgery on the wrong patient.
The Gottmans are not engaging in hyperbole to make a point. They run a relationship lab in Seattle, Washington, where they study couples. They are relationship experts with evidence-based credentials. If I were going to take advice from anyone about how men could understand and relate to women, the Gottmans are the ones I’d listen to.
So here’s Lesson 1 in our series of the man’s guide to women: Recognize you hold the power to make or break a relationship. You, big guy, can make a big difference in the quality of your relationship with your woman. What you do and say matters. And especially what you do when you’re not saying.
The most frequent complaint women have about men in their lives is “they don’t listen.” Many men think, like I did for years, that if I wasn’t talking while my wife was talking, then I was listening. Wrong. Really listening means “active listening.” Leaning in, physically. Nodding your head. Asking clarifying questions. Not (repeat NOT!) offering “solutions” to problems (unless she asks). And above all, not looking at your phone, TV or some other distraction. Focus on her. Maybe even hold her hands while she talks.
Yeah, I know. The talking could go on for a while. And the conversation could wander. And you could feel “trapped” or “smothered.” But think of the time you spend listening well as an investment. Money in the relationship bank.
Try this one-week experiment. Listen really well to the woman in your life for just one week and see what happens. Jot down your observations (not while she is talking) and let me know what happens. I’m willing to bet Lesson 1 will be the first step to a better relationship with your woman. Remember: You have the power to make or break the relationship.