With all the challenges and uncertainties that hit in 2020, many women are feeling increasingly anxious and overwhelmed. Watching them struggle, most husbands want to help but aren’t sure how. Because men generally process situations and emotions differently than women, their efforts may not provide the support their wives need. The good news is, they can grow in this area, greatly enhancing their marriage in the process.
Here are 6 things husband need to know about giving emotional support:
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1. Your wife needs your presence more than your solutions.
Early in my marriage, when I shared fears, frustrations, or anger, my husband immediately offered ways to fix the situation. While he acted out of love, his response failed to provide what I needed. What’s more, his words tended to irritate me or shut me down. While there were times when I wanted to hear potential solutions, more often than not, what I needed most was space to vent and feel heard. I needed to know my husband was with me.
When those I care about experience pain, I often think of how Job’s friends responded to him in his tragedy, both what they initially did well, but then also where they caused pain.
Scripture says “When Job’s three friends, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite, heard about all the troubles that had come upon him, they set out from their homes and met together by agreement to go and sympathize with him and comfort him” (Job 2:11).
It appears these men took immediate action. They didn’t simply send Job a message or offer a prayer on Job’s behalf. They discussed the issue with one another, realized their friend needed them, and bridged the gap between them and Job.
The Bible doesn’t tell us where they lived, but the wording suggests they traveled some distance. They were willing to be inconvenienced and to sacrifice their time and agenda to simply be present. And notice their initial motives. Scripture says they went in order to “sympathize with him” and “comfort him.” This could also be translated as to “mourn” or “grieve” with him.
At first, that’s precisely what they did. Verse 13 tells us “they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was.”
They remained silent at Job’s side for a full week. That took significant patience, and I’m certain their behavior brought Job great comfort.
Many times, when we’re hurting, that’s precisely what we need. Our most painful and frightening circumstances become more bearable when we know that we aren’t alone.
But then, their behavior changed. Perhaps they lost their patience or maybe their hearts simply couldn’t take their friend’s grief any more, and they began offering solutions. They said, in essence, “Hope in God and seek help from Him.” They then proceeded to give their “wisdom” on the situation. They made hurtful and theologically false accusations in assuming all suffering was the result of sin. They also began to “lecture” Job regarding the nature of God and man and how they felt those truths impacted the situation. As a result, those words likely only inflicted further pain, making Job feel alone in the company of friends. Sometimes that hurts worse than if our friends and loved ones had never come.
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2. Empathy conveys care.
While you may not have experienced the same hardship as your spouse, chances are you’ve been in a situation that triggered similar emotions. Empathy requires listening to understand not just the facts but also the other person’s feelings regarding them. This also means not judging the validity of those emotions. There’s such power in simply saying, “Wow, that must be really hard.”
Asking empathetic questions such as, “How did that make you feel?” or “What is most difficult with that?” can help as well. Such conversations convey care and encourage deeper dialogue. They help your spouse on a neurological level as well. When we verbally express our feelings, the activity in our brain’s emotional centers decrease and activity in our reasoning centers increase. This in turn can diminish the reactive edge one feels.
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3. She may need to be held.
Human touch communicates love and support, deepens our connection, and helps flood our bodies with feel-good neural chemicals. As Dr. Susanne Degges-Whites, author of Lifetime Connections states, “Once you reach out and offer a hand, a pat on the back, or a supportive embrace, you set in motion the body’s own means to a natural high—oxytocin production.” Often referred to as the “love hormone,” this neurochemical helps reduce anxiety levels, decrease stress, and build trust, thus increasing psychological stability.
Physical affection also conveys that you care.
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4. Women need to know they’re heard.
According to Avid W. Augsburger, author of Caring Enough to Be Heard, “Being heard is so close to being loved that for the average person, they are almost indistinguishable.” This goes much deeper than listening and involves seeking to understand the other person. Active listening conveys the message: You matter. This helps reduce one’s defenses while creating a safe environment for transparency to thrive.
In addition, Neural science suggests when one feels understood, they’re less apt to experience depression and their sense of connection increases. This makes the person feel valued and respected, which in turn increases their resiliency to handle life’s greatest challenges.
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5. Most women process verbally.
My husband and I realized early how differently we process problems. Verbalizing my concerns and emotions tends to reduce my anxiety and helps me work through my sorrow. This doesn’t mean I’ve decided on a solution or course of action. More often than not, I’m simply expressing my emotions. Once I’ve done that, I’m often much more able to consider the situation rationally.
Most men, however, contemplate situations and feelings internally, discussing them once they’ve reached a conclusion or course of action. This is, in part, what motivates many men to focus on solutions. That’s how their minds naturally function and how they tend to attack challenges. Understanding their wife’s differences can help them turn off their “internal problem solver.”
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6. Tears are healthy.
Men aren’t always comfortable seeing others cry. I suspect their spouse’s pain and tears trigger their God-given protective side, which stirs within them a strong desire to eliminate whatever is causing their beloved pain. Plus, few of us, men and women alike, know how to handle our loved one’s intense emotions. They might make us feel anxious, overwhelmed, or confused. As a result, we might be tempted to disengage or shut the person down. Our discomfort tends to decrease when we remind ourselves that crying can give our spouse a healthy release.
Studies demonstrate that tears trigger the release of oxytocin, mentioned earlier, and endorphins. Another “feel-good” chemical, endorphins help alleviate pain, reduce stress, and act similarly to opioid pain killers. As a result, crying provides a powerful self-soothing effect.
In Genesis 2, God made it clear that we are not meant to live alone. Instead, we’re to lean on one another, encourage, comfort, and support one another. God ordained marriage to provide a sense of unity and connection so deep, it resembles Christ’s love for us. When husbands remain present in the midst of their wives’ pain, demonstrate love through active listening and physical affection, resist the urge to fix the scenario, and quite literally hold their wives through their tears, deep healing occurs. In fact, God can use whatever trials come to increase trust and deepen the marital bond. Conversation by conversation and hug by hug, men can actively build the type of relationship God desires and their hearts crave.
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Originally published Friday, 18 December 2020.