A husband is talking to you at church. “I don’t think we’re actually going to make it to the potluck after the service,” he says. “My wife is working again. She has to get some big project done. I’m just sick of this. We’re so busy that I feel like we don’t have time for church or friends, or even for each other. I don’t even remember the last time we were able to kiss goodbye or anything.”
Does this situation sound familiar? Have you heard married people you know describe a similar scenario where one spouse or both are too busy to connect with each other?
- How does this make you feel? Are you feeling ignored? Missing time with your wife?
- If so, why not tell your wife how you feel? Tell her that you would love to spend some time with her. She probably doesn’t even know you’re feeling this way.
- Ask if there’s a way you can help her out during her busy work season.
Being too busy to connect with your spouse is a common problem. Couples often have their plates overflowing with many good things, careers for example, or they simply find themselves in an extremely busy season while raising their young kids or caring for aging parents. Unfortunately, they’re so busy that they aren’t connecting as a couple.
As a mentor, you don’t have to find the perfect solution for a couple. All you need to do is use the L.U.V.E. response (Listen, Understand, Validate, Equip).
Listen carefully to the spouse and maintain good eye contact. Repeat what you hear. After the person affirms that you’ve heard him or her correctly, start asking questions.
Mentor: “So you can’t go to the potluck because your wife has to work. And she’s been working a lot lately?”
Ask questions to better understand the underlying issue and the person’s emotions. Try sharing different feeling words with your mentee. Ask the person if she or he feels neglected, sad, disrespected, etc.
“You have to be willing to be wrong about the deeper emotion the person is experiencing,” explains Greg Smalley, vice president of Marriage and Family Formation at Focus on the Family. Once you name the emotion a person is feeling, he or she will respond immediately, Smalley says. “They’ll say, ‘Yes, that’s it!’ and start to relax a little.”
As a mentor, you want to move the focus from the mentee’s spouse to the mentee. In this case, what can the husband control? He can’t keep his wife from working and being too busy to connect. But he can focus on his emotions and how to communicate them to his wife.
Mentor: “So tell me a little more about what’s going on for you.”
Mentee: “I’m just so frustrated. She has no time for anybody else or for me.”
Mentor: “I imagine that makes you feel — what? Unimportant?”
Mentee: “Yeah, I guess … ”
Mentor: “It sounds like you feel super alone, like you’re not the priority for your wife.”
Mentee: “Yes! That’s exactly right.”
Empathize with the person or couple, repeating the expressed emotions. When you do that, you’ll focus the mentee on the deeper emotions he or she is feeling.
Mentor: “I can imagine how that must feel — to feel alone, like you’re not a priority. Like your wife is too busy to connect with you. That must be super discouraging. I imagine you must want to just push away from your wife.”
Here’s where you’ll supply a tool, skill or information the mentee can use.
You’ve already given this husband insight into why he feels so frustrated: He’s feeling disconnected from his wife. That awareness might be all he needs to move forward.
More than likely, though, you’ll need to prepare him for a conversation with his wife. Usually when husbands or wives are frustrated, every sentence they say to their spouse begins with “You”: “You always do this” or “You aren’t doing that.” This type of communication puts the other spouse on the defensive and builds animosity.
To avoid this problem, equip your mentee by preparing him to talk to his wife in an honoring and honest way, a way that encourages connection. Here’s what you could say to the frustrated husband:
“Hey, your wife probably doesn’t even realize how you’re feeling. I wonder if she’s feeling stressed with the workload and feeling pressure from her boss? She probably has no idea you’re feeling this way.
“How about if you’re just honest with her and say something like this: ‘I really miss you. I would love to be able to connect with you. I was looking forward to today’s potluck because I really wanted to spend time with you and with all of our friends together. And I would love to figure out something we could do together. Maybe we could take a walk later? What do you think? Is that something we could do?’ ”
Now you’ve empowered this husband to suggest a way that he and his wife could connect. He’s being honest, he’s asking for the connection he’s craving and he has allowed his wife to respond to that without being defensive.
To prepare for a discussion about busyness and disconnection, role-play a conversation with your spouse. One spouse is the mentee with the busyness problem; the other acts as the mentor and practices the L.U.V.E. response.
“Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:4)
Encourage the mentee to consider his wife’s situation. Is she stressed and overwhelmed by work? He could say to her: “What can I do to help you? How can I help you bear this burden?”
Encourage the couple to create micromoments of connection. Explain how they can strengthen their bond by paying attention to each other in small, daily ways. How do they say goodbye in the morning and greet each again after work? Do they respond to their spouse’s comments or questions in a positive, interested way?
If the couple’s conflict continues, suggest counseling. You can help them find a counselor, or they can call Focus on the Family at 1-855-771-HELP (4357) weekdays from 6:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. (Mountain Time) to request a free consultation with a counselor.