On the show How I Met Your Mother somewhere in the middle of the series, Ted is dating a girl named Zoe. Zoe literally opposed Ted professionally as she rallies to keep a building standing that Ted needs to tear down to build a new one launching his architectural career to new heights. Meanwhile, Ted’s best friends Marshal and Lilly also have a work related issue. Marshal has just quit his job to take an unpaid internship with an eco law firm. It’s Marshal’s dream and Lilly is constantly and enthusiastically supportive – even when the job starts costing them money and she has to throw parties at the last minute. Ted finds himself wishing he could just know what some support felt like and Lilly thinks she’ll go crazy saying “Sure baby, whatever you think” before Marshal realizes what his job is doing to him.
One thing I am confident that we will never be able to grasp as women is the absolute desire from our men to provide for our families. No matter what our husbands do for a living and no matter what we do for a living, our husbands feel a need to provide financially for their families.
For a lot of men, this means added stress in an already stressful environment, where they are constantly trying to prove themselves and their worth in the workplace. [Shaunti Feldhahn has some great insight on this in For Women Only which you can buy through this link.]
So this gives us as women and wives a very unique power, specifically in how we talk to him about his work. With our words and our attitude, we have the power to build up and the power to tear down.
This isn’t new information (or at least I doubt that it is). So I want to look back at the example from our intro story and talk about what these women are doing.
Zoe, works against Ted. In this case, literally. But this could also look like putting him down or calling him a loser, complaining about the job he has not making enough money. Really the possibilities are endless.
Of course the other extreme is just the blanket support that Lilly gives without ever voicing her concerns. She wants to encourage so badly that she almost runs away to some foreign country just so she doesn’t have to be supportive anymore. This is where women start looking and acting like doormats, and where we as women forget that it’s not just a free pass to our husbands, but it’s an active skill that we use to encourage them, to be their helper, and to be a soft place to land.
Read that last sentence again: it’s an active skill that we use to encourage them, to be their helper, and to be a soft place to land.
To stop the pendulum from going from one extreme to the other, you have to actively do something positive. So I created a little list of ways we can be awesome encouragers, building our husbands up in their role as provider and asking questions to help build the intimacy and trust that is needed in these interactions.
- Be an active listener. – When your husband talks about work, ask him questions. Try to avoid questions that start with “Why?” as these sound like a challenge. So instead of “Why did you do your presentation like that?” try “I’d really like to hear your motivations and thoughts behind your presentation. Will you walk me through it a little more?” Also, avoid questions that can just be answered with “yes” or “no” unless you plan to build on those questions. And if you don’t know how to ask good questions, check out The Birthday Question Game (it’s how I learned to get my husband talking for hours!)
- Do something. – Is he telling you about a stressful day? Is he wearing stress on his face, shoulders, or in his words? Try offering a back rub, or to run out for a little dessert. If he says no (especially if he’s grumpy about it) don’t own that. You can’t just fix the problem so if he wants some time to just let it all work through in his mind let him do that. While his brain is working, get your stuff done (dishes, homework with the kids, writing a blog post) so if/when he becomes ready, so are you.
- Be positive. – Truthful and positive interactions go a long way. “Thank you for going to work today. I know your job is hard and I really appreciate that you do that for us.” Or if you’re talking about career moves, try “Wow, honey, I can see that you have given this a lot of thought. I want you to know that I support your decision no matter what it is and that I’m so excited to see what God has in store for us in the next chapter. Let’s pray about it. And if you’d like to weigh pros and cons out with me, I’d be happy to do that.”
- Ask questions instead of giving a list of concerns. – So your husband wants to start his own business. Or change jobs. Or move across the country. You could rattle off a list of flaws you see in this plan. Or you could try something like “I see you’ve given this a lot of thought. And you know what, I trust you to make the best decision for our family. I’d really love to know more about your thought process on how we’ll make this work financially. Could we set up a time that you could walk me through it?”
- Be truthful, gentle, and encouraging. – I know, I might as well have said “be positive” again. But this one is different so I called it something else. Acknowledge that your husband, no matter how awesome-sauce he is will mess up. He will make mistakes and he may make a wrong decision when it comes to his career or starting a business or a big financial piece. But I bet there is still something gentle and encouraging, while still being truthful, that you could offer him. “Hey honey. I know you’re really bummed that this job isn’t what you thought it would be. I’m so proud of you for trying something new, being up for the challenge, and working to make it better.”
We have amazing and beautiful power. And with great power comes great responsibility. So how will you choose to wield your powers of encouragement today?