One morning Tom found that the battery in his new car had died because he’d left the lights on overnight. He quickly ran back inside the house to ask his wife, Tracy, to help him start the car. Since Tom was in a hurry to get to work, he decided against taking the extra time to use the jumper cables.
“You get into your car” — he pointed to Tracy’s prehistoric oversize gas-guzzler — “and push my car.”
“Do you think that’s a good idea?” Tracy asked, somewhat perplexed.
“It’s the fastest way,” Tom quickly explained while getting back into his car. “Since I have an automatic transmission, you’ll need to push me going at least 30 miles an hour for it to start. Now hurry. I’m going to be late!”
“Wait … How?” Tracy tried to ask as Tom’s door shut. “Men!” she yelled while rolling her eyes in the exasperated way that most women do in response to their husband’s crazy ideas.
Tom impatiently tapped on his steering wheel as Tracy slowly started her car and drove off. He started fuming as he watched Tracy disappear around the corner. Where is she going? he wondered. Doesn’t she realize that I’m in a hurry?
After about 30 seconds, Tracy’s car finally appeared in the rearview mirror.
Tom’s eyes widened in horror as he helplessly watched Tracy drive straight at him. At that moment he realized he probably should have been clearer. Tracy slammed into his new car going 30 miles an hour — precisely as he’d instructed.
This story is only an urban legend, but it illustrates how challenging communication can be as we seek to understand our spouse. That shouldn’t be news to anyone in a significant relationship.
The importance of understanding
When responding to our spouse, we need to make our primary goal to understand rather than to be understood. King Solomon seemed to love the concept of understanding as well: “Though it cost all you have, get understanding” (Proverbs 4:7, NIV). Even one of Christ’s disciples, Peter, added his two cents when he encouraged husbands around this idea of understanding: “Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered” (1 Peter 3:7). You don’t need a seminary degree to understand the point of this verse. A lack of honor and understanding can ultimately lead to broken communication with God. That’s a serious problem!
So, how do you practically apply understanding to your relationship with your spouse? It’s actually quite simple. The key to understanding your spouse is through curiosity. Instead of judging or ignoring your spouse’s emotions, you have the opportunity to be curious about his or her feelings. Curiosity leads to discovery. You learn new things about your spouse when you choose to be curious.
King Solomon understood this when he wrote, “The purpose in a man’s heart is like deep water, but a man of understanding will draw it out” (Proverbs 20:5). How can these deep waters be drawn out? By consistently using the phrase “help me understand.” It doesn’t sound glitzy, but it is effective. This powerful statement is a shift from reacting to trying to connect and care. It will help your spouse’s heart feel safe, and he or she will begin to open up.
Now the conversation is situated perfectly to go to the next level and take your intimacy even deeper. You’re ready to validate each other.
Dr. Greg Smalley is vice president of Family Ministries at Focus on the Family.