Here is an interesting question we recently received at the CMR:
"My wife often mentions that I don't pick up on how she is feeling, and I don't know why I need to if she isn't upset at me or upset at something that happened during her day. Can you help?" Signed, Missing It.
This is a great question, and I think we can help. It is clear that this man’s wife is like most wives—she seeks to be heard and understood, and desires to be known by those she is most intimate and connected with. This happens when she senses that her feelings are being noticed and understood, whether happy or sad or angry or upset.
This is an important lesson for us as men—a golden opportunity—because it shows us a process by which we can increase our marital intimacy. It is like having a “secret code” to our wife’s heart. She is expressing to him how he can love her better, and how she feels cared for. It is as if she is telling him, “The key to my heart is hearing me, really listening to me, for when you do this I feel understood and cared for. I feel loved.” What husband on earth would not be grateful for this secret code?
It is like having a “secret code” to our wives’ hearts.
When we compare couples with happy, strong and intimate marriages versus those who struggle, some key differences stand out. I discussed these differences in a past blog (5 Qualities of a Happy Marriage), but to summarize, five qualities mark the happy, intimate couples: friendship, togetherness, affection, other-focused, and shared spirituality. Unhappy couples tend to lack these qualities.
… five qualities mark the happy, intimate couples: friendship, togetherness, affection, other-focused, and shared spirituality.
Findings from the field of neuropsychology and research by Daniel Golman (e.g., Social Intelligence: Wired to Connect) support the idea that happy marriages and satisfying relationships are marked by a form of synchrony, a togetherness, where it feels like there is flow, a matching of beliefs, values, ideas, humor, marked by body language movements that are literally in sync. And that is what emotional intelligence is—having a good awareness and a growing understanding of the emotional reactions and tendencies of yourself and of another person. It is being intelligent not just about our relationships but also in them. A key is then our ability to act wisely in our relationships, using this understanding and insight to experience empathy and compassion for one another and to soften our reactions toward them.
Another leading researcher, John Gottman, finds that happy, emotionally intelligent marriages are marked by a strong, vibrant friendship. This means a mutual respect for and enjoyment of each other’s company, and they know each other’s likes, dislikes, personality quirks, hopes, and dreams very well. It involves having a detailed “love map” of what your spouse likes and is like (see Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work).
Knowing each other so well and then purposefully responding in friendship builds positivity that helps protect against feeling like adversaries and actually causes couples to feel optimistic about each other and their marriage.
So, if you want a more intimate marriage, to be a great husband, and at the same time make your life partner feel known and cared for, working on your emotional awareness is key. It will involve some effort, but the good news is that it can be developed with practice. Research shows that it helps to work at understanding our own emotions (what happens when I feel sadness, anger or disappointment) and what often causes it. Such awareness can lead to better intuition about how your partner may feel, based on how believe you might feel in a similar context or situation. You have specially designed circuits that constantly monitor your own and others emotions – this without your awareness. Even animals with less complex social brains do this. Your dog reads your mood and reacts accordingly.
So, if you want a more intimate marriage, to be a great husband, and at the same time make your life partner feel known and cared for, working on your emotional awareness is key.
Guys, remember when you and your wife were dating, how you enjoyed hanging out with her and doing things together like going to games or events or even shopping together? You’d take every opportunity to be with her and enjoy activities you might not otherwise in order to guarantee more dates with her in the future. Continuing to do this in marriage is a very practical, tangible way to say to her, “I still love you!”
With a little practice, some self-reflection, and listening to your brain (which is designed to pick up such things, sort of like a built-in Wi-Fi for other people and their intentions and feelings) you can begin to lay a great foundation for a strong relationship.
I love how the Bible calls us to be emotionally intelligent—to show mercy and compassion (Luke 10:25-32; Micah 6:8), to be self-aware (Psalm 139: 23-24) and other-aware (Philippians 2:3-4) and to be kindhearted (Ephesians 4:32). We are told to be quick to listen, slow to speak (James 1:19) and soften hurtful responses (Proverbs 15:1; 16:24), thus building emotional (and spiritual) intimacy.
So remember: In a good marriage, a good husband hears the events his wife is talking about, whether she is upset or not. But in an emotionally intelligent marriage, a great husband listens for the deeper emotions underlying these events, seeking to know and discern what his wife is feeling, and thus caring for her heart in the process.
…a good husband hears the events his wife is talking about… a great husband listens to the deeper emotions underlying these events,…
So be a great husband to your wife. Enjoy greater intimacy with her, and make her feel known and cared for by working on ways to grow your emotional intelligence. I think you’ll find that the old adage really is true: Happy wife, happy life.
Christopher Grace serves as the director of the Biola University Center for Marriage and Relationships and teaches psychology at Rosemead School of Psychology. He and his wife, Alisa, speak regularly to married couples, churches, singles and college students on the topic of relationships, dating and marriage. Grace earned his M.S. and Ph.D. in experimental social psychology from Colorado State University.