It's tough to be a man. Not that women have it easier than men, but that the natural tendencies of men tend to bring out contradictions between intentions and results. For example: a wife comes to her husband in tears about how someone at the office has been treating her, and the husband, wanting to come to the rescue of his wife, will instinctively want to give her a list of ways to fight back, or ways she should be acting in response to what is happening. The result of all this helpfulness is either the wife will react defensively in which case an argument may ensue, or the wife may just "give up" emotionally with the feeling that her husband is "out of touch" with her. For his part, the man is confused and is usually left wondering what went wrong.
Whether it is with a spouse or with children, men want to be the hero who comes to the rescue, but often ends up the villain perpetuating and reinforcing whatever problem was brought to his attention to begin with. He may even become part of the problem, even though this was most assuredly never his intention. What really is going on? How can a man break the cycle?
I am well versed with these questions because I am well versed in being a man of the male variety in my own home. Whether it is with my own wife or one of my two daughters, I have found myself frustrated by being caught between the desire to be a real help to my family, and sorely failing. When they are feeling down, it seems I cannot find the right words to cheer them up. When I try to shake them up, they look at me as though I were from another planet with no connection to them whatsoever.
Though I have heard the words and read many articles over this, it has taken many years of marriage and countless interactions to finally sink in: before you can really help anyone, they need to know you understand.
It's not that you agree with them, but that in some way, you come around to their perspective and begin to see the place from where their own emotions are being developed. You begin to see why they are frustrated, and see in a way that you understand. You being to see why they feel the way they feel, why they say the things they say, and why they do the things they do. You somehow get to this point, and then communicate to them that you understand. "I get it" is the message you want to convey.
From there, you now have the opportunity to talk with them instead of talking at them. Now you have the possibility of coming along side them to be an encouragement to offer hope, rather than an outsider who throws comments and advice at them to do this or that. When you truly understand someone, and can communicate that understanding to them, you are perceived as someone who is working along side them, and they will see you as someone who is lending your strength to theirs to move forward. In short, when you understand first, then you can offer hope.
Being able to communicate you understand is not easy. It the difference between yelling at someone and trying to direct them out of harms way, and actually coming alongside them physically, wrapping their arm over your shoulder, and lifting them up as you help them limp along out of harms way. Understanding, at it's root, is compassion; co-suffering with someone else, and leading them to a better place. Understanding the value of understanding is one thing, and putting it into practice difficult. However, when you practice understanding with regularity, you will find the relationships you have now will become much deeper and stronger than you thought they could be.