I feel like I am in hell. I am separated from my wife and do not know how things got so messed up so quickly. She recently moved out with our 10 year old and 14 year old children. I tried my best to be a good father and husband, but my wife always complained about me being insensitive to their needs. I did what I knew how..which was put a roof over their heads and food in their stomachs. My wife often told me that I was a great provider, but not a good nurturer or lover. I often told her that I could not give what I did not receive. She would get frustrated and so did I. I want my wife and children back. How Can I Become More Nurturing and Sensitive Toward My Wife?
Dear Committed Husband,
I can relate to your frustration associated with giving what you know how to give, but it still is not good enough. Expressing love and being nurturing are learned skills and many fall short if they did not experience or observe such behavior growing up.
Like you, I was raised to be a provider and protector, but struggled with being sensitive toward those close to me. I had difficulty relating to people from a nurturing perspective because I saw things through my emotionally detached lens. This phenomenon is unfortunate, but is common among a large percentage of African American men.
Through educational and professional experiences, I learned the importance of practicing empathy, which helped me become more nurturing. Empathy is commonly defined as the ability to understand and identify with others by seeing the world from their point of view. If you want to become more nurturing and sensitive toward your wife, I highly recommend that you learn to become more empathic.
Being empathic will enable you to connect with your wife by walking in her shoes. Remember that the nurturing process begins and flourishes as a result of emotional bonding, not intellectual bonding. Pay close attention to the emotional undertones of your wife and try to identify the underlying emotions before you respond to her.
If you successfully apply empathy, your wife and children will feel respected, understood and valued. Also, you will feel greater satisfaction and your family will be more sensitive toward your needs as well.
Remember that your primary goal as an empathetic husband is to help your wife feel safe enough to discuss their emotional needs with you. As you strive to become an empathetic husband you should possess a greater understanding of your wife’s emotional needs. If you struggle to practice empathy, please apply guidelines from my Five Step Empathy Model.
Step 1: Apply the Golden Rule. In order to connect with your wife you must treat her like you expect to be treated. Do unto her as you would have her do unto you. If you struggle to understand your wife, put yourself in her shoes and respond to her in the same manner in which you would want or expect her to respond to you. This task is best accomplished by identifying with your wife’s subjective experience by asking yourself, “How would I feel if I was her and what would I want.”
Step 2: Suspend Judgment. Matthew 7:2-5, reminds us that we will be judged in the same manner in which we judge others. We are encouraged not to be hypocrites and to think about our own shortcomings before we preach to others. After reading this, you are probably asking yourself, “Why is suspending judgment important and how it is associated with being an empathetic father and husband? I am glad you asked.
Suspending judgment is the most important step in the entire process because it empowers you to create an environment built on respect and trust. If your wife feels that you will pass judgment on her, communication will not occur or will end immediately after it begins. Furthermore, suspending judgment is important because it will enable you to engage your wife with an open mind and clear conscious.
Step 3: Focus on emotional distress and not the cause of it. Completing this step is easy if you comply with step two above. By suspending judgment, you can focus on your wife’s emotional distress instead of focusing on why she is in emotional distress. When your wife is in emotional distress, she needs your support and comfort, not a lecture or premature solution. The following question will help you focus on her emotional distress. What emotion is present and how can you help relieve the distress?
Step 4: Validate emotions. What does this mean? It does not mean that you have to agree with how your wife is feeling, but you should acknowledge how she feels. This is challenging for most men because many of us believe that we are justifying inappropriate behavior if we acknowledge our wife’s intense emotions. This is not the case. Your task in this step is to simply remind your wife that she has a right to feel how she likes. Work hard to recognize and express understanding of her emotions. This is important because behind every behavior there is an emotion.
Step 5: Resolve emotional distress. Show compassion and avoid instruction. Work to resolve emotional distress before offering solutions. Relieving emotional stress is important because women generally speaking, do not process well when they are very emotional. Moreover, premature problem solving can cause your wife to feel that you are more concerned with “fixing” her behavior than you are with helping her feel better.
Learning to become more empathetic is a skill that must be practiced and mastered in order to thrive emotionally and intellectually in life and love. Remember that women need more than material items and protection. Basic needs such as food and shelter are wonderful gifts because they meet our loved one’s physical and physiological needs, but experiencing affection meets their emotional needs.
If you have questions for Dr. Dwayne Buckingham regarding relationships (married, single, etc), parenting, or personal growth and development, please send an email to [email protected]
Disclaimer: The ideas, opinions and recommendations contained in this post are not intended as a substitute for seeking professional counseling or guidance. Any concerns or questions that you have about relationships or any other source of potential distress should be discussed with a professional, in person. The author is not liable or responsible for any personal or relational distress, loss or damage allegedly arising from any information or recommendations in this post.