There’s a hilarious video that’s been floating around YouTube for a number of years now. It’s titled, “It’s Not About the Nail” and it’s certainly worth your one minute and forty-two seconds to watch. The short video features a young couple sitting on their couch and the woman is describing an awful pain in her head. Her partner sits patiently, looking at the nail coming out of her forehead, and replies, “Maybe you should remove the nail.” This seems like a practical solution, but then the wife responds angrily by saying, “You are always trying to fix things, when I really just need you to listen.” The video continues and is a humorous example on a man’s tendency to ‘fix’ (provide a solution) rather than simply listening.
I can’t begin to count the number of arguments my wife and I have engaged in the past 10 years because my first response to her plight was to offer a solution. I am a solution oriented person and that’s the natural direction my mind goes. So, to simply listen to my wife without thinking through and voicing a solution might be one of the most un-natural processes I’ve had to learn. I’m not perfect at this, but I there’s a simple question I’ve come up with when my wife needs to vent. It might have saved our marriage or at the least, it’s helped create meaningful dialogue instead of an argument. It’s worth mentioning this question must be asked out of care and sincerity and not frustration to work well. Here’s what I say,
Are you needing me to simply listen or are you looking for feedback on solutions?
I know, it sounds too simple, right? But, it works! Once I was able to get in the habit of asking this it revolutionized our relationship. It set clear expectations in what she needs from me and it made her feel emotionally supported. Two birds, one stone (or question that is – you get the analogy). Here’s the important part, if your wife says she just needs you to listen, then that’s all you do. Really, you just sit there and listen, maybe offer some affirmation. Try: “Wow, that sounds difficult,” or “You’re so strong for working through this!” Whatever you do, you don’t offer a solution. She’s an adult and will figure it out.
Men, I know you might think I’m crazy, but at least try it for 6 months. I firmly believe asking that one simple question will create deeper emotional intimacy between you and your spouse.
Plus, there’s plenty of research proving emotional intimacy is the key to great sex, so if nothing else motivates you, maybe that will.