By the Rev. Dr. Ed Hird
Most men are ‘experts’ on women, until we marry one. Experience can be rather humbling to our most treasured pre-conceptions.
Flowers are, by far, the most popular gift that men like to give to women, followed by chocolates, candies, and other such delicacies. But perhaps the most valuable and most dangerous gift that we can give the women in our lives is the gift of listening.
Heartfelt, non-critical listening is a rare phenomenon in our fast-paced, analytical culture. Listening takes time. Listening takes energy. Listening takes courage. To be honest, it often seems a lot easier just to give them chocolates. Most of us as men know that we need to grow in the area of listening.
The most offensive thing about listening is how helpless it can make us feel. Very few of us as men either like to feel weak or admit our weaknesses. Despite the male consciousness-raising of the last thirty years, such radical vulnerability does not come easy.
I well remember the first year of our marriage as a great time. My wife however has somewhat different memories…‘little things’ like our living on a shoe-string budget so that we could go on vacation in Europe, and my spending all my time studying for my Master’s Degree.
Years later, she finally told me that the first year wasn’t a bed of roses. I said: “Why didn’t you tell me?” “Well, Ed”, she said, “You weren’t listening”. Sadly, she was right. One of the dangers of listening to women is that we just might hear something that we don’t want to hear. Our equilibrium may be so unsettled that it will take us quite a while to recover.
The key women in our lives usually have a remarkable ability to impact our sense of inner calm, in a way that our male acquaintances rarely do. When a male upsets another man, we often just ‘write them off’ and carry on. But when a key woman ‘gets under our skin’, we have to deal with it, or our life begins to shrink.
One of the key signs of a man going through a marriage breakup is the radical energy loss, and the consequent impact on his work. As men, we are usually so ‘thick’ that when a marriage breakup hits us, we rarely see it coming. It’s like being hit by a Mac Truck. So many men say: “I had no idea”. Exactly. More than any other offense, the action that most drives our wives to the Courts (and I don’t mean ‘tennis’) is our unwillingness to listen.
Another danger of listening to women is that we might have to change. None of us like being controlled. We certainly don’t like being treated like children by the key women in our lives. Sometimes we confuse our fear of change with our fear of being controlled. Without change, there is no growth. Without change, there is no future. I have found that if I am willing to change the things that I can change (which is me), then the rest of life begins to make more sense.
The famous A.A. Serenity prayer asks God for the serenity to accept the things that we cannot change ( which includes anyone else, especially the women in our lives). When we finally wake up and realize that women are ‘unfixable’ (that is, by us), then we can stop trying to change them, and start actually listening. Genuine listening to women can be unnerving, because to listen is to change.
Most of us as men have an amazing ability to block out parts of conversations that make us feel uncomfortable. Ever wonder why women get so irritated with us, as so many men are forever flicking on the TV channel changer. This filtering ability can make men look like their memories are extremely selective. As the old saying goes, the problem with men is that they never remember, and the problem with women is that they never forget.
I remember when a former secretary in another city came up to me and courageously shared some concerns with me about our work environment. My ‘walls’ were down that day, and so I actually heard what she was saying. I said to her, “Why have you taken so long to tell me?” She said, “Because until now you would have never listened. You would have just explained it away.” I felt stunned and challenged. Here I was, a trained Social Worker and Priest, and I couldn’t even see my own ‘walls’.
The Good Book says that our hearts are deceitful, and that no one can really understand them. (Jeremiah 17:9) We have an amazing ability to fool ourselves. Have you noticed how often we judge our spouses by their actions, and ourselves by our good intentions. That is why Jesus challenged each of us to first remove the log from our eyes, before we try to do surgery on the splinter in someone else’s eye.
Courageous listening is choosing to remove that log of defensiveness, and actually give the women in our lives our full, uncompromised attention. I have found that my wife is virtually always right even when she is wrong. She, and most other women, have a God-given intuitive ability that functions like a radar system in discerning basic truth. Sometimes she can’t even tell me why she is feeling so uncomfortable about some area, but in hindsight, my listening to her has saved me a lot of grief. That doesn’t mean that she is always right on all the details, but she usually intuitively grasps the core of issues.
That is why the famous author Gary Smalley says that every woman has a built-in marriage manual, if we men would only have the courage to listen and not reject It has taken me a long time to fully benefit from this ‘dangerous’ gift of my wife.
Have you ever wondered why Jesus after his resurrection turned up to women first? Perhaps it’s because women are so spiritually open. No one in that 1st century culture listened to women, except Jesus. So Jesus, after rising again, broke all the rules and showed up to rejected, despised, ignored women. Did the male disciples initially believe the women when they shared about the risen Jesus? Not in your life. Like so many of us men today, they wrote off the women’s stories as “old wives’ tales”.
I pray that we men may have the courage to listen to the stories of women, especially their stories of Jesus’ love.
The Rev. Dr. Ed Hird, BSW, MDiv, DMin
-author of the award-winning Battle for the Soul of Canada
-previously published in the Deep Cove Crier
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