7 WAYS YOU HELP YOUR HUSBAND MEET YOUR EMOTIONAL NEEDS
Simple But Effective Suggestions You Can Start Using Today No Matter How Teachable Your Husband Is.
By Bryan Zitzman
Though it was more than 23 years ago, I can still remember how enamored my wife and I were with each other during our months of dating and engagement. Like most couples at that stage, I’m sure we were a little annoying to be around. Our friends probably grew weary of hearing how amazing our fiancé was, though they were kind enough to not say anything.
No doubt, during those months it was hard for us to see anything but the good in each other. Despite learning about “confirmation bias” in psychology class – a phenomenon that essentially means you see what you want to see – I was under its spell, as was my fiancé. We loved each other, wanted to get married, and therefore looked for reasons to validate that desire.
In this way, most couples enter marriage with their eyes half shut. Unfortunately, many of us trade “confirmation bias” for what you might call “perfection bias” – a completely made up phrase that basically means, “I don’t want to live with my spouse’s imperfections for the rest of my life.”
We begin to realize that living with our spouse’s imperfections doesn’t quite match up with our vision for “happily ever after.” With good intentions, we get into the business of helping our spouse become a better person. Our initial efforts are generally subtle and kind. However, if the soft tactics don’t seem to be working, we tend to pull out the hammer of frustration and the chisel of criticism and begin the not so effective method of shaping our spouse into our version of who we think they should be.
A Better Way
The good news – there is a better way. The bad news – most of us don’t adopt it until after heaps of heartache have been caused by the “hammer and chisel” method. It’s a lesson that took me years to learn, despite the fact that for the first seven years of our marriage I was studying to become a marriage and family therapist. And if I’m honest, it’s a lesson I still fail to apply at times.
So, what’s the lesson? It’s simply this: Pointing out the good in others is much more likely to help them become a better person than pointing out the bad.
I’m sure you’d agree, it’s a principle that is far easier to believe than it is to live. It takes patience, practice, and quite often prayer (for those who practice it). To overlook someone’s weaknesses seems saint-like, especially when those weaknesses are inconveniencing us on a regular basis.
Shifting Your Mindset
Right about now you might be thinking, “Hey, wait a minute. I thought this article was supposed to be about how to help my husband better meet my needs.” You’re right. It is about that.
So why would I start with an invitation that seems to be saying, “Overlook his weaknesses, and focus on his good qualities?” It’s because the best way to invite change in others is always by focusing on changing ourselves. Trying to change others is not only out of your control, but it’s often counterproductive because it tends to invite resistance and counter-blame from the other person.
My hope is to set you up for success, not frustration. Thus, the suggestions below are all within your control. They are founded in research and proven by experience. They are the best way to help you achieve your goal of having your husband meet your emotional needs. In truth, they are the exact same suggestions I would give to your husband. (They are not gender specific.)
When it comes to the power of seeing the good in others, Mister Rogers may have said it best: “I don’t think anyone can grow unless he’s loved exactly as he is now, appreciated for what he is rather than what he will be.”
This is true for children and adults alike. Instinctively we know it’s true because when you and I think of those who have helped us grow the most, they are individuals who saw the best in us and helped us see it as well.
Yes, adopting this mindset of seeing the good in your husband (and pointing it out to him) is the first step to inviting your husband to better meet your needs.
Understanding Your Needs
The next step in helping your husband meet your needs is making sure you are clear about what those needs are and how they can be met. That’s something only you can determine, but in my experience as a marriage therapist and a husband, there are four core needs that every woman wants her husband to fulfill.
- The need to feel important
- The need to feel understood
- The need to feel supported
- The need to feel safe and secure
To better understand these needs, what tends to happen when they are not met, and specific ways your husband can help fulfill those needs, consider reading this article
Getting Your Needs Met
Sometimes we want to be heard so badly that we do or say things that undermine our efforts to get our needs met. This happens in marriage more than in any other relationship. The following suggestions will help you not get in your own way as you invite him to take care of your needs.
Share your perspective versus the “truth.”
Too often spouses present their version of what happened as if it’s the whole truth and nothing but the truth. However, numerous research studies have demonstrated that our memories of events are biased for two reasons. First, without even realizing it, our brain filters the information we take in by looking for details that confirm our expectations and beliefs. Second, we simply are not capable of seeing and remembering all the details of an event.
In addition, Dr. John Gottman’s research has demonstrated that when individuals are physiologically aroused (experiencing stress that results in accelerated heart rate, secretion of stress hormones, sweating, etc.) they can experience tunnel vision and reduced hearing, as well as a tendency to perceive the events as more threatening or negative than they actually are.
This research ought to make all of us quite skeptical of our own view of reality, especially when it comes to recalling the details of a past argument with our spouse.
Even if you are 100% sure that you are remembering things correctly, it’s better to present your perspective as simply that – your perspective. It’s often as simple as using phrases such as, “From my perspective,” or “This may not be how you remember it, but….”
This invites your husband to not get hung up on the differences in how you each remember the experience. After all, it’s your feelings (not the facts) that you are wanting him to address.
Talk in paragraphs, not chapters.
When feelings are intense, it’s easy to talk for minutes on end without pausing to give the other person a chance to respond or ask questions. The more information you share at one time, the less likely it is that your husband will be able to address everything you’ve said.
In addition, talking in chapters is more likely to result in your husband “tuning out.” If you’ve experienced this it can be super frustrating, especially if you are being vulnerable and sharing personal feelings.
If this pattern continues, it’s likely that your husband will begin to enter marital conversations already anticipating a negative outcome. If that’s the case, he will need to choose to let go of that undermining belief in order to have more effective conversations. You can invite him to do this by talking in paragraphs and applying some of the other principles mentioned in this article.
Under-exaggerate before you over-exaggerate.
Sometimes, when we are desperate to get the other person to see the problem, we exaggerate the facts or even our feelings. For example, we may toss in superlative words such as “most,” “least,” or “worst” or use of all-or-nothing language such as “always” and “never.”
This only invites defensiveness, especially if your husband is analytical and/or detail-oriented. It’s as if you are inviting him to challenge the credibility of your statements. When in reality, your goal is to invite him to empathize with your experience and acknowledge your feelings.
Therefore, you are far better off describing your experience using words that are easier to swallow and don’t tend to invite disagreement. For example, you’d be better of saying, “I sometimes feel criticized by you when it comes to my parenting,” instead of saying, “You criticize my parenting every single day.”
Talk about what you want (versus what you don’t want).
It’s a simple concept and yet most of us fail to apply it. Maybe it’s because we believe that we must first convince the other person that they are in the wrong in order to get them to agree to do something different. However, that’s often not the case. In fact, as you’ve probably discovered, trying to convince your husband he is in the wrong only increases the odds that he will defend his actions.
Here’s an idea for you. Next time you find yourself jotting down notes about your husband’s past behavior, try dividing your paper in half. Write what you usually do on the left side, but then on the right side write down what you would like him to do next time. Then, tear off the left side and put it through the paper shredder. Yes, I’m serious.
Then, when you talk with your husband, simply give him the context for your concern (without mentioning any of his behavior), along with what you’d prefer he do next time. For example, you might say, “Hey, remember when [such and such] happened?” Then continue with, “If that happens again, would you mind [doing such and such]?”
When he apologizes, keep it positive.
Sometimes when a husband apologizes, his wife sees it as an opportunity to further express how deeply her husband’s behavior affected her. While this is understandable, and sometimes appropriate, if this type of response becomes the norm, it will make it less likely that your husband will apologize in the future. If he’s sincerely apologizing, then he already understands what he did wrong and is remorseful for it. So, take the win (for the relationship), accept his apology, give him a hug, and move forward.
If this is hard advice for you, then try this. When he apologizes, if you are tempted to say more about his behavior, don’t. Instead, write it down, and put it somewhere safe. Then do your best to move on and focus on the good in the relationship. If he does end up repeating the same behavior, you can always pull your note back out and share those thoughts with him at that time.
Show appreciation for his efforts.
Everyone likes to feel appreciated, but there’s a deeper, more important reason to focus your comments on his progress versus his shortcomings. Your appreciation essentially communicates to him the following message: “Thank you. Your efforts are making a difference.” It reassures him that no matter how imperfect his efforts may be, they are accepted by you. This is crucial for his ongoing motivation.
On the other hand, when there is a consistent tendency to focus on what he could do better, or how he could have said it this way instead of that way, it will ultimately lead him to believe that his efforts will never be good enough, thereby smothering his motivation.
Do your best to meet his needs.
This is a tough one. It’s human nature to withhold love from others when they have hurt us or when it seems they are withholding from us. When we feel poorly treated, we typically want things made right before we are willing to treat them richly.
While it’s true that self-respect sometimes dictates the need for boundaries with others who have hurt us, too often our withholding in marriage is fueled by pride, not self-respect.
If there is a feeling of distance between you, or an absence of warmth, then it’s unlikely either one of you will find it easy to reach out in love to the other. While you may hope for the other to take the first step, the best way to initiate change is always with you.
Sometimes the motivation to reach out is hard to come by. Recently, I found a golden nugget of wisdom that helps me in those moments. It comes from the movie, “Before We Go.” There’s a scene where an elderly widow asks a young lady the following question: “Do you know the most important thing I learned after all my years of marriage, after an entire life with one person?” Then came his answer: “You can’t allow the people you love to determine how you love.”
Be true to who you are and the type of spouse you want to be, because doing so is the best chance you have at creating the marriage you desire.