Feeling like you are not heard, or misunderstood, is one of the fastest paths to loneliness. When we don’t believe that another person really knows or understands our heart, we can get lost in a crowd, feel all alone. Many men who struggle sexually will know exactly what I am talking about; this may be his daily experience. Tragically, it is also likely that he may feel alone and misunderstood in his marriage.
As a man in recovery learns how to communicate his heart to his wife, it is extremely important that you first listen to hers. This will begin to strengthen the connection between you and hopefully soften each other’s hearts to each other. To go bounding in, expecting her to just listen to you, while you have not listened to her, may become a set-up to recreate the wound that makes you feel so alone and insignificant – possibly leading to relapse.
This is not an article about communication tools or how to communicate (read those too). My primary focus is to encourage you to understand and connect with your wife’s heart and not just what she intends to communicate; her heart is deeper than that. That is not to say that verbal communication in and of itself cannot be intimate, but you can frequently connect at the heart without needing the rules of healthy communication, or even a word.
Likely there are times that your wife will repeat herself. This is both an opportunity and a signal. If your wife is repeating herself, most likely she is signaling that she is not feeling “heard” or connected to you. This can be an opportunity once you recognize the signal, because now you know you have probably missed it. You can clarify her intended message, but the heart needs to be “held.” You may do this simply by holding her. An empathetic word or touch can go a long way. Of course there may be times when a hug is not appropriate. If she doesn’t want you to touch her, maybe she is angry with you, make extra efforts to empathize with her by listening respectfully. The expression on your face may say to her if you care or are just trying to appease her.
Another way to “hear” your wife’s heart is to watch for it. When you first started dating your wife, you may have made an effort to notice things she likes and dislikes. Do this again but in deeper ways. Get to know more fully what makes her happy, sad, what her dreams are, etc. When you know these things, never stop looking for them and use them to exhort and encourage her.
When she is upset after a phone call from her parents: “I know how devastating it is for you when your dad disregards your feelings. Do you want to talk about it?”
When she is screaming at you: “If I hadn’t selfishly had my mind solely focused on work all night, I would have remembered how disrespected you feel when I forget to take out the trash.”
When she won’t say a word to you: “I know when you won’t talk to me, you are usually hurt. I would love to talk about it when you are ready.”
Don’t wait for the difficult moments to engage her. Engage her in the easy ones. It may seem too simple to start dating her again, but it isn’t. First, it will be difficult to be consistent, you won’t always feel like it or fall into old patterns. Second, it may not be complex, but it got you a wife the first time. Just like you hopefully do with your kids, look for connecting moments to share. Just as Mary Magdalene poured her precious perfumes over Jesus’ feet, treat her extravagantly. Extravagance is not about money, although some scrooges will have to loosen up a bit, it is about time, affection, and serving. As you get moving, she will be on your mind more, and it will be easier and more rewarding to continue. You will remember what you once knew about her and learn what you never did.
Healthy communication tools are an essential element to hearing her heart, but this is the long (also essential) way around. When you rebuild the connection between your hearts, it may take time for her to be able to trust it. Be patient and gracious with her, you haven’t earned her trust yet. Many men will come to realize they never “heard” their wife before. Take heart; things may be rough in your marriage right now, but to know and connect intimately with your wife in deeper ways than you have ever known will change things – the best years may yet be ahead of you.