Several years ago I was asked to speak at a prayer conference that took place about two hours away from our home. My husband offered to be my escort and chauffeur. The conference ended on a Saturday evening and I was totally exhausted as I climbed into our ride—a very used, 1985 full-size Ford van. My husband loaded our luggage in the pouring rain and jumped in to start home. About an hour into the winding mountain drive, we had a blowout.

He managed to pull off the road onto the very narrow shoulder that sloped off to a sharp, Ozark Mountain descent. He went to check things out. When he opened the van door to pull out some tools, he suggested that I lie down on the couch in the back and try to get some sleep. This was going to take a while. The rain was still coming down in sheets.

An operation that he could normally perform in a matter of moments, took closer to two hours because of several complications: the torrential downpour, a tire jack that kept sliding down the muddy incline, tire lug nuts that wouldn’t cooperate with the tire tool thingy, traffic that sent road spray shooting into his face every few moments … it was a bad deal.

Completely soaked and physically spent, my faithful road warrior climbed back in the vehicle. In my groggy, half-conscious state, it seemed like I’d only been asleep a few minutes. I raised my head from the couch in the back to cheerily call out, “Well, that wasn’t too bad!” He turned his mud-streaked face to look back in the darkness with a reply, but I’d already settled back into nap position.

Amazingly, he laughs about this story now. But at the time, my lack of appreciation left him feeling pretty whipped. I missed the opportunity to loudly cheer and applaud his manly victory over the wild elements of nature and machinery! That was a prime opportunity to voice a loud affirmation and express admiration for tackling a difficult challenge—and I missed it!

I’m not justifying my thoughtless behavior, but one reason I failed to fully appreciate my husband’s accomplishment that night was that I hadn’t experienced all he’d been through. I hadn’t dealt with the stubborn lug nuts or the road spray in my face. I hadn’t struggled in knee-deep mud with a worn-out tire jack or had to work on a steep incline in blinding rain because I was napping in the nice warm van! In order to truly appreciate his service to me that night, I needed to practice the important process of empathy.

If someone could bottle and sell empathy, they’d probably win the Nobel Prize, find the solution to world peace, and put divorce lawyers out of business. When I empathize with others, I’m identifying with them through imagining what they’re experiencing. I’m crawling into their skin to view the world through their eyes and I’m vicariously experiencing their joys and sorrows, pain and happiness, pressures and disappointments. When I put myself in their shoes, compassion and understanding are birthed.

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To help us get a handle on what makes men feel appreciated, let’s have a few men share their thoughts. I hope this will help us put ourselves in our husbands’ shoes. I’ve gathered several comments from various sources and compiled a list of answers from men that I’ve found helpful in giving me insight on what communicates appreciation to a husband:

  • Say “Thank you” more frequently and mean it.
  • Listen!
  • Watch for signals—men can’t always put into words what they’re feeling.
  • Hand out compliments—men like to know they’re doing a good job.
  • Accept us—stop trying to change us!
  • I’d love to hear my wife say, “You’ve got what it takes!”
  • Let me know when you like something I’ve done.
  • Remind me when I’ve done well previously.

After attempting a home improvement project, one husband said, “This week I picked out the type and color of new shingles for the roof. My wife said they looked terrific when she saw them applied … Phew!”

I can just imagine that husband’s fear and trepidation as he entered the hardware store. “Will she say this color works? Are these shingles the ones she’d pick?” Then as he worked away on the roof, “What if she hates this? Maybe I should’ve gone with the grey color instead …”

I wonder how many husbands carry out their role of protector and provider hoping to hear “You are awesome!!” but instead are greeted with “Why did you do it that way?” or “Well, you sure messed that up, didn’t you?”

James 2:8 describes love’s royal law as an action of empathy. “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Put yourself in his shoes, consider how you would want to be treated and use that knowledge to demonstrate love to your husband. At least nine times this love law is repeated throughout Scripture, spanning both testaments. The same principle is reiterated in the golden rule as we are commanded to treat others in the way we’d want to be treated.

Empathy births compassion. Compassion is the necessary ingredient for loving the unlovable.

I’ve compiled some ways to help in the process of putting yourself in your husband’s shoes, and I hope you’ll add your own ideas as you consider the specifics of your situation:

  • When he’s irritable, remind yourself that “hurting people hurt others” and consider where his heart may be.
  • Enter his world at every opportunity.
  • Ask him about spending a day with him on the job to give you a better understanding of the pressures he faces.
  • Become familiar with his background, family relationships and history, early childhood, and pivotal events of his life in order to gain a better understanding of how he views the world and what impact these experiences have on his responses to you and others.
  • Become acquainted with his hobbies and interests; find out what his passions are and why.
  • Listen! Ask him to help you understand pressures he’s facing by talking to you about them (without jumping in with unwanted advice!). Invite him to share with you his goals and dreams.

You may be thinking this is pretty one-sided and wondering why you have to be the one putting in all this effort. My response to that is: Love is birthed through dying to self. Rewards come from dying. We find freedom in Christ and in turn that freedom flows into your marriage.

Excerpted from Fierce Women, copyright ©2012 by Kimberly Wagner. Used with permission of Moody Publishers.

Kimberly Wagner is joined by her husband, LeRoy, on FamilyLife Today®. Listen to the Wagners talk about how they learned to appreciate their differences and to put love first in their marriage.