Listening is the Solution
About the Guest
Feeling tempted to "fix" problems your wife happens to mention? Instead of "fixing" it, why don't you try becoming an avid listener? So advises opinion columnist Shaunti Feldhahn and her husband, Jeff, co-authors of the book For Men Only, today on the broadcast.
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Jeff and Shaunti Feldhahn encourage husbands to becoming an avid listener.
Bob: As a husband, have you ever been in a conversation with your wife and been thinking, "If you could somehow get past the emotion and get to the root of the issue, maybe we could solve this thing?" Author Shaunti Feldhahn says you're missing it.
Shaunti: You men have trained yourself from childhood that when you're listening to somebody sharing an emotional problem, you know what? All those emotions, all that feeling, is clutter, it's counter-productive, it gets in the way, so you've trained yourself to filter it out. And, actually, the thing is, is that for the woman, what she's feeling, is actually what she most wants you to focus on.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Thursday, April 20th, and today we'll hear the input of hundreds of women who really do want to try to help men understand what's going on in a woman's heart and in her mind.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us on the Thursday edition. This week the thing we've been trying to unpack is how a husband can – Dennis? He's not even looking at me – the thing we've been trying to unpack is how a husband can live with his wife in a understanding – what are you looking at over there? Dennis?
Dennis: Oh, excuse me, Bob.
Bob: We're on the air.
Dennis: I wasn't listening. What were we talking about?
Bob: It was obvious that you weren't listening. We were talking about how a husband can live with his wife in an understanding way.
Dennis: It does help when your eyes are focused at the person who is speaking, doesn't it?
Bob: It helps when you're paying attention, yes, it does.
Dennis: Just the mere fact that my head was turned away from you as you were talking.
Bob: What was distracting you?
Dennis: Nothing. I was trying to demonstrate how some of us men listen to our wives.
Bob: I see.
Dennis: We look at the paper, we go through the bills – "Yes, now, what was that you said?"
Bob: You were saying that to live with our wives in a – 1 Peter, chapter 3, verse 7 – we've quoted it this week. It says that a husband is to live with his wife in an understanding way, and you're saying one of the things that he needs to do is to be a good listener, right?
Dennis: He does.
Bob: And you're saying that on the authority …
Dennis: He is not naturally good at listening. A lot of classes on speaking, public speaking, we have an attorney with us who has been trained in how to make a presentation all the way at Harvard as an attorney, right?
Jeff: That was one of the classes.
Dennis: Did you take a class in listening?
Dennis: Did you take any classes in listening to your wife?
Jeff: Ah …
Bob: He's been to the School of Hard Knocks on that one.
Dennis: The answer is yes, Jeff.
That's what's been happening for the past – how many years have you guys been married?
Jeff: Eleven years.
Dennis: Eleven years. Jeff and Shaunti Feldhahn join us again on FamilyLife Today, and I actually have a little something I wanted to bring out at the appropriate time, Bob.
Bob: I saw this under the table, and I said, "What is that?" And you wouldn't let me get it.
Dennis: Well, Jeff grew up in Michigan, and he is a Detroit Tiger fan. He married a young lady who is from the East Coast who kind of fancies the Red Sox, right?
Dennis: And a number of years ago, Bob brought this back to me. It's a St. Louis Cardinal …
Bob: Yeah, I remember, I bought that in the airport for you.
Dennis: The St. Louis Cardinals.
Bob: It looks like it has never been worn, either.
Dennis: That is not true.
Dennis: No, no, it's faded, it's faded, you can tell that. Anyway …
Shaunti: You're allowed to be a Cardinals fan.
Dennis: We are allowed to be a Cardinals …
Bob: Because the Red Sox cleaned our clocks in the World Series a couple of years ago.
Dennis: Yeah, yeah, and they had too much fun when we got together and talked about that. But Jeff and Shaunti have written a book about helping men understand their wives – the results of talking to more than 3,000 women all across the country in focus groups and research, and all this week we've been talking about the various aspects of their findings.
Bob: Yes, we've been talking about the things you've uncovered, like women have an ongoing need to know that they are loved. They need to have that affirmed for them over and over again, and that's a primary responsibility for a husband, right?
Bob: We also have talked about the fact that women are multi-tasking – they're thinking about many things all at the same time, and it's not because they're distracted but because their emotional windows stay open, and we've talked about the fact that security for a woman has more to do with a relationship than it does with a big house and a new car. Once the basic financial needs have been met, she really cares more about having her man with her than she does about more stuff, right?
Dennis: And today we're going to talk about listening – what I was trying to demonstrate over the radio but it doesn't work real well, because it's not …
Bob: … because it's not TV.
Dennis: Not TV, but every man knows exactly what I'm talking about. Jeff, as you did the research on this, and you determined that our wives really want us to listen, that listening is the solution, was that a big "Aha!" for you?
Jeff: I didn't think it was going to be, because I had a definition of what I thought listening was.
Dennis: Which was?
Jeff: I thought that she talked, and I sat there and didn't interrupt, and when she got done, however long that was, I would then offer my solution and try to fix whatever was wrong. And I'd always heard from women that – in fact, the survey itself came back that this was pretty much the number-one thing that they wished their husband understood.
Shaunti: But the thing is, Jeff tells me that you guys hear all the time – "She doesn't want you to fix it, she just wants you to listen."
Bob: We've heard this for years and, first of all, it doesn't make any sense that you would just want to lay out the problem and then what – nothing? Right? And then, not only that, but the things you're talking about, we can fix some of these for you, and you don't want that? I mean, we've heard it, it's still hard to believe.
Shaunti: Well, and the thing that was, I think, the most helpful for guys, since this is all about stuff that guys tend not to get, is – what we did was, we actually, in this chapter, we actually defined what does it mean when you hear that – that she doesn't want you to fix it, she just wants you to listen? And here is, honestly, the thing that has helped guys get this. You men have trained yourself from childhood that when you're listening to somebody sharing an emotional problem, you know what? All those emotions, all that feeling, it's clutter, it's counter-productive, it gets in the way, so you've trained yourself to filter it out. Let's set aside all that emotionalism and focus in on the problem. You know, what's the issue at hand?
And, actually, the thing is, is that for the woman, what she is feeling is actually what she most wants you to focus on. And so all that emotion, all that feeling, that you've trained yourself to filter out is actually the thing she most wants you to listen to. So instead you guys have to practice going to the problem and filtering it out and listening solely to how she's feeling about whatever it is, because that will make her feel heard, feel listened to, and that actually solves her problem.
Bob: That's just insane.
That is just absurd, I'm sorry. Do you know what I mean?
Dennis: I do.
Bob: You know exactly what I mean.
Jeff: And it takes a significant amount of retraining for the guy.
Jeff: To understand this.
Dennis: It takes discipline, and how do you do that at the end of the day when you're exhausted? You come home, and you've been solving problems all day and so, all of a sudden, you come home, and you have to put on a different hat, and you have to instead focus on the emotions – if I heard Shaunti correctly …
Dennis: Focus on the emotions and filter out the problem?
Jeff: That's right and, actually, we can put our solution hat on, actually, for this, in that we can try to figure out what is the particular emotion, feeling, that she's experiencing and that she's describing. So that's our solution.
Shaunti: It's so funny, because we actually had this exact scenario happen while we were writing this chapter, where I was bummed one day because I had an invitation to be on CNN to talk about "For Women Only," and the invitation fell through, and, you know, I know not to get my hopes up about the big TV networks. Things always come up, and we were sitting there, and Jeff's, like, you know, "You look a little" – you know, I said, "I'm a little disappointed," and he starts sort of a pep talk. Like, well, "Yeah, I know it's disappointing, but think about what a neat opportunity it is to even be considered, and you're on other TV and radio all the time," and I’m, like, "Yeah, but" – he keeps going with the pep talk and, you know, things about, "Well, maybe if you do this, that, or the other thing, maybe you can get back on." And I said, "I feel like I'm trying to explain something, and you don't care about me."
Jeff: To which I said – "Okay, fine," and turned on the TV.
Dennis: That's what any good author of a book on listening …
Shaunti: But the thing is, is that even as we were working on this, he was still having to retrain that I didn't want him to be focused on CNN falling through, I wanted him to be hearing, "Wow, that must be really disappointing for you." And that, itself, would have solved it. I would have felt heard and listened to, and it would have actually solved my problem.
Bob: I'm sitting here thinking about a class I took in high school. I don't even remember what the class was, but I remember a project one day where the teacher had said, "We're going to talk today about empathy. That's the word – empathy. It's different than sympathy, it's empathy." And the way we learned this skill of empathy is someone would describe what was going on, and the only thing you could say back to them is "Oh, my, how did that make you feel," right?
Dennis: I can tell this really – this really motivated your learning.
Bob: I'll never forget sitting in that class, and somebody is going through this thing, and I'm going, "Well, how did that make you feel?" And they're talking more – and I’m going, "This is the stupidest exercise I've ever been through in my life – how did that make you feel, how did that make you feel?" I thought, you know, any idiot can say "How did that make you feel." You need a real man to step up and say, "Well, I'll tell you what you ought to do," right? You want "How does that make you feel?" You could get a button – you could get a recording device, you push the button "How did that make you feel? How did that make you feel?" And they're teaching us – I sometimes think that's what you women would like. You'd like us to be just a machine where you tell us what you're feeling, and we go, "How did that make you feel?"
Dennis: No, no, the machine does not work.
Bob: You've tried that? Tried, been there, it doesn't go, huh?
Jeff: Well, the interesting thing on that is that you can't just use that solution for every single problem or …
Bob: You can't just memorize that line?
Jeff: You can't. For example, when we were hearing this, I remember asking the focus group, "So you're telling me that if your husband is sitting there, and you're telling him that the transmission is making some funny sound in the car, if he says, 'Well, I'm sorry that that makes you feel funny that that's making that sound.'" Is that what you want to hear? Don't you want a solution?
Shaunti: And we all said, "Okay, let's have a time out. There are some things that are emotional problems that we need you to listen to the emotion, and there are some things that are technical problems, in which case put on your Mr. Fix-It hat and say, 'I will take the car to the garage tomorrow.'" You're allowed at that point.
Dennis: But see what we're tapping into here? This is how we men are wired – we want a very simple box, put it all in a very simple equation, and we want – okay, you just listen and just affirm the feeling, and you filter out the problem, and you don't attempt to fix it, and yet life isn't wired that way. It's got all these conflicting messages.
Bob: Well, and here is where it gets messy for me. Let's say you've come home, and you're having one of the debriefs with your wife, and she says, "You know, I'm a little worried about John," and John's your son, you know? She says, "It seems like he's depressed, and I'm wondering if there is something going on with him," okay? Now, I'm thinking she is telling me this because we are parents and together we've got an issue here, some symptoms. I may need to step up and say, "Well, maybe I should have a talk with him tonight."
Dennis: Yeah, she wants you to go up in the room and talk to him.
Bob: That's what I'm figuring. If I say to her, "Well, how does that make you feel, honey?" Am I getting – I mean – what's really going on when she's telling me …
Shaunti: Okay, I get you, all right. Here is what the solution is for me, and I think a lot of other women, I think the survey bears this out, is that if you will first focus on how she is feeling about it, what the emotions are, what's really bothering her, and you'll deal with that first. Then you guys can work together on a solution, if there is a solution required to whatever it is. Like, "Well, how about if I go upstairs and talk to him?" But, in many cases, a woman can't really focus on the solution until she feels like she's really been heard, because otherwise she is not sure you really understand what's going on. And learning to listen in a way that she really feels understood will actually make it so much easier for you to develop that real solution, which is actually needed in a lot of cases. But you've got to have given her the idea first that you are totally on her side, you're on her team, you understand exactly what she's feeling what's going on.
Dennis: Barbara is not here, but if she was, she would say at this point, "I want to feel like I'm his partner first before I'm a co-problem solver with him." And me listening to her and affirming her for what she is experiencing and feeling around the problem validates what she's feeling, because she's many times feeling insecure about her feelings. So she's not even sure she's okay. So she's wanting to know I'm okay with what I'm feeling. Now that she know that she's okay, she and I, together, can roll up our sleeves and address a problem, like a child, Bob, that you were talking about, and we can address it together. But she doesn't want me to rush by her to the problem and miss her in the process.
Bob: And if it's something that's not a parenting issue or a relationship issue between the two of you – let me give you another scenario – you come home, you go, "How was your day," and she said, "Well, you know, I was going to have lunch with Leslie, and she called up and canceled, and I don't know what's going on with Leslie. I don't know what to do in that situation." Okay. What do I say then? Do I say, "Well, here is something you could do," or do – what do I do first before I get there?
Shaunti: Believe it or not, still the first thing is for her to know that you really understand the entire problem, which means you actually have to step up and get a little bit deeper into what are you – you can say thinking.
Bob: "How does that make you feel?"
Shaunti: Seriously, are you thinking that maybe she is backing away from your friendship? Are you concerned about that? And she'll feel you know what? He's on my side. Once she feels that way, she's a lot more able to listen to whatever solution you might bring out because she feels like you know exactly the issue, whereas – and here's the thing that drives guys crazy – is when a woman keeps returning to something over and over and over again, and a guy thinks, "Well, I thought I solved that for you weeks ago." Well, you know what? That's a sure sign that she doesn't think you really understand, and what that really means is really understand her feelings.
Dennis: One of the things, as I've done this with Barbara, is sometimes I'm listening to her, and I can't understand. But I've found, in those situations, when I'm clueless, and I can't quite get to the bottom of what's going on, if I just say to her, "You know, sweetheart, I can't quite figure this out, either, but I want you to know I care about you, and I care about what's going on, and maybe we need to pray about it, maybe we need to talk some more later, but I want you to know that I'm committed to getting to the bottom of it and to helping you."
Sometimes our wives and, for that matter, we, as husbands, can be emotionally confused, just flat-out fogged about something and not be able to articulate what it is we're feeling.
Shaunti: The thing is, is that I think what you just said, Dennis, will show Barbara and any husband could show his wife, that's one of the best ways you can show you care is instead of trying to circle around and, "Okay, well, I've got to figure out," you know, come in on my white horse, which is what a guy's natural inclination is, and say, "Okay, here's a solution," even if maybe I don't really understand this whole thing. Instead of saying, "You know what? I'm kind of confused, too, but I care about you." That's so much more valuable for a woman feeling like this guy really does love me, and he really does care.
Dennis: But I have to tell you, as a husband, you really feel like a failure admitting that, because, as men, we like closure.
Jeff: Absolutely, because we have to close that window and move on to the next thing.
Dennis: And if we don't close it, it's left open, and it feels like it's an unresolved problem, it's back to fixing the problem again.
Shaunti: But, for the woman, the window – you've just enabled her to close the window, and this actually reminds me of something that we asked a friend of ours in New York. We were living in New York; one of our friends was an acoustic engineer, and he designed opera houses, you know, and so Jeff's, like, "Hey, this is a perfect example to ask that old question, you know, if a tree falls in a forest and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?" And he actually answered it really seriously. He said, "No, it doesn't make a sound. A sound has to be perceived. Just hitting a rock, the sound waves hitting a rock doesn't count. It makes a noise; it doesn't make a sound. And that's really the difference here, is a lot of women feel like they're just making noise because there's nobody there to perceive it, nobody is really listening.
Jeff: And we're a bunch of rocks.
Bob: A lot of men are thinking those women are just making noise.
Shaunti: And I'll bet you if they'll practice, though, if they'll actually say, you know what? If I will put on Mr. Fix-It hat but put on my Fix-It hat in order to figure out what she's feeling and say, "I'm so sorry you felt disappointed, honey." Whoa! That actually, for her, that solves it.
Bob: Let me ask the Detroit Tiger fan here – what does baseball have to do with this whole issue of listening?
Jeff: When life gets confusing, I turn to baseball. So what we came up with was a simple way for a guy to run through whether or not he's actually following listening principles. So we used baseball as the analogy, and we had it where you would round the bases – first, second, third, and finally, and hopefully, make it safely home.
Shaunti: Yes, the thing, honestly, that we said – and, hopefully, this is helpful for a guy, is to say, you know, first – if you think of first base, running first base is giving her your full physical attention, not like what Dennis is doing when he's starting up at the ceiling and off at the walls, and your – wondering, "Are you listening?"
Bob: I tell guys muting the TV is not sufficient. You have to actually turn it all the way off, right?
Shaunti: Or at least, if you mute it, to turn away from it and actually look at your wife so she knows you're at least giving her your full physical attention. And then the second thing is to actually give her the mental attention. Don't just be the rock, you know, that the sound waves are hitting.
Bob: And don't allow the distractions. I know what you're talking about.
Shaunti: To get in the way, you know, he was really attempting to – really to what she's saying.
Bob: And this can be hard. Can we just say …
Shaunti: We can absolutely acknowledge for a guy this can be so hard. But here is the thing, honestly, is I actually think, for a guy, he thinks that listening and giving her my full mental attention is going to be exhausting, because he has a limit on his ability to listen, really, for most guys they do. And to be able to actually talk to his wife at some other point and say you know what? Just so you know, it's almost like my inability to run more than a certain number of miles in a row without totally wearing myself out, like, my brain just starts to shut down after a certain number of minutes of talking about emotional things. As long as the woman knows that, we're fine.
Bob: I know that the challenge for me here is that, if it is going on too long, and I'm thinking would you just land the plane on this thing, you know, would you just bring it in for a landing. If I can stop and say, "Back up and say that part again, because I want to make sure I'm getting the details."
Shaunti: That proves that you are giving me your mental attention, absolutely. And that actually leads into the third base, which is the whole idea of instead of filtering out the emotions to focus on the problem, do it the other way around – focus on the feelings. And then, finally, when you get home, the way to get to home base is actually just to acknowledge. So you say, "I'm so sorry that you were disappointed. I'm so sorry that there's this feeling," or whatever it is that's come up, and that's a relatively simple process. You run all the bases, you're safely home, and your wife feels absolutely listened to.
Dennis: And those words, with my wife, Barbara, that is – she really wants that homebase experience. She wants me to say to her, "You know what, honey? I'm really sorry that you had a tough day," or "I'm sorry the kids" …
Bob: … "that must have been tough, man, I can imagine" …
Dennis: … "treated you that way." What we've been talking about today is that listening to your wife's feelings solves her problems. Now, as a man, we think that listening to her problem is the key to solving the problem, but what Jeff and Shaunti have helped us do is they've helped us put up a screen, and this would be another good product we could sell here on FamilyLife Today, Bob – some kind of screening device that completely screens out for men all the problems and only lets the emotions from his wife come through and labels them, labels the emotions as they come through.
Bob, we could be wealthy.
Bob: Well, we don't have that in our FamilyLife Resource Center, although I'm going to get the team to start working on it and just see what they can come up with. We have the next-best thing, and that is the book that Jeff and Shaunti have written that's called "For Men Only," and it helps us, as guys, get a better understanding of all that's going on inside our wife, inside her heart and inside her mind, and it helps us live with her in an understanding way, which is what the Scriptures call us to in 1 Peter 3:7.
You can get a copy of the book by going to our website, FamilyLife.com, click on the "Go" button in the middle of the screen. It's a red button that says "Go," and it will take you right to the page where there is more information about Jeff and Shaunti's book. There is information about the book "For Women Only," that offers the same kind of insight into the heart of a husband to help women understand what is going on in a man's world. There are other resources available from us that we can recommend to you.
Again, the website is FamilyLife.com. Click the "Go" button in the middle of the screen and get a copy of the book, "For Men Only," or give us a call at 1-800-FLTODAY; that's 1-800-358-6329, and someone on our team can let you know how you can get this resource or any of the resources that we have available sent out to you.
Well, tomorrow we want to talk about a subject that men want to understand their wives better in, and it's the one that a lot of husbands have been saying, "When are you going to talk about that subject?" And we're going to talk about it tomorrow, and if you aren't sure exactly what I'm talking about, then you can tune in, and most of you probably are sure what I'm talking about, right? We'll talk about it tomorrow. I hope you can be with us for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We'll see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas, a ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ.
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