Stop Trying to Cheer Up Your Wife

Stop Trying to Cheer Up Your WifeIf 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 (my wife) 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 (4 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 my wife 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 two 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.

photo credit: Robby Ryke
(An earlier version of this piece appeared on www.timandolive.com)

Comments

The Beginning
About timchan

Tim is a cheerful pessimist who loves hockey. He proposed to his wife Olive with a goat and together they blog about thoughtful marriage, parenting, and life at www.timandolive.com. Their first ebook, Fight With Me: How We Learned to be Married, is available for free. Tim and Olive live with their daughter near Vancouver, Canada.

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Comments

  1. This concept revolutionized my marriage. 🙂 It took us a little while after we got married to figure it out, but once I realized that sometimes she just wants me to listen and isn’t looking for solutions (and sometimes I do as well) things improved dramatically during those times.
    This actually happened the other day at work: A co-worker came into my office and was complaining about something or another and I immediately start to give her advice, but stop. And with my usual tact I say, “Oh, this is one of those moments when I’m just supposed to listen and not try to fix the problem.” She’s a middle-age lady and the look on her face was priceless. She made some comment along the lines of how lucky my wife was and we continued our conversation.

    A great concept that took me far too long to figure out. 🙂 Thanks for sharing.

    • If not for a patient wife, I might not have figured this out at all.
      Interesting how marriage trains us to better relate to other people as well – thanks for sharing your story with your co-worker!

  2. Jayme says:

    Finally a man who gets it-spread the word!!

  3. James Hudyma says:

    I took some counselling classes in college with similar advice and it always stuck with me. This is great advice. Thanks for sharing.

    • You’re welcome. I’m glad you had the chance to learn this early on in college

  4. AAAAAaaaa!!!!! I feel like you were hiding in the car on my ride down to see family for Thanksgiving. My wife literally said, “Sometimes I don’t need an answer or a theory from you, but just need you to listen and acknowledge.”

    This isn’t the first time she has expressed as much to me either. I just can’t resist the urge to try and fix, but I know I have to. Great, great stuff.

    This line stole the post for me: “One of the most important things I can do for my wife is to listen, understand, and empathize with her.”

    Here, here!

  5. TRUTH. And despite knowing this truth, it’s still hard NOT to try and fix.

    WOMEN! Am I right?

    • Totally agree! It takes everything in me to bite my tongue and NOT try to fix my wife’s problem, especially when I KNOW I can fix it.

  6. happiestdaddy says:

    Wow. Excellent post. This took me a while to figure out as well! Men are problem solvers. I believe that’s why we immediately want to fix any issue that arises in the life of those we love.

    Women, I have found, also want to solve problems but are more contemplative and less reactionary. They want to live in the moment for a bit.

    I appreciate your line about reflective listening. I’m going to put that in my relationship toolbox.

  7. AskAGreatDad says:

    You said it all! Common mistakes made by all husbands, not just Rookies. I’ve learned certain tells from my wife, and when I see them I know it is time to give her some space. I will take the kids in the other room and let her do her thing. Gossipy talk and bitchathons with the girls over the phone usually clears the mood. I would love to be that superhero you are referring to, but my wife is a strong woman who likes to do things without help.

    • Great advice! I’m going to have to remember to take the kid away next time this happens.

  8. Yes, yes and even yesser! That’s exactly right. We just want a sounding board to complain to while we sort through things in our mixed up cerebellums. And a hug or two (just a hug, boys) and then a free pass for a pedicure = husband of the year.

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