There’s an old adage that husbands just want to “fix” their wives’ problems, whereas wives just want them to listen. I’ve reflected a lot on that alleged truism in my almost 14 years of marriage—mostly because I often get it wrong.
Are guys “fixers” by nature because we think we always know best? Or because we’re just bad listeners? Or because we view it as our job to solve our wives’ problems?
Whatever the cause, I know I’ve found it to be relatively true for me.
When my wife needs to vent about whatever, my first instinct’s often to offer my own sage wisdom. Some tips on what should be done, or how to make it better. (Which will, of course, no doubt resolve her dilemma—if only she would listen to me!)
God created men and women to be mutually complementary, to round each other out. It should be no surprise, then, that the better I listen to my wife’s problems, two results are guaranteed: (1) I stay out of the doghouse and am able to sleep in my own bed. And (2) I’m drawn closer to our Lord.
I’m drawn closer to our Lord in part because my desire to “fix” problems includes a certain amount of Pelagianism. (Pelagianism is that bad heresy that basically says we can will or earn our way to salvation.) Becoming a better listener helps strip me of that temptation to think: “I can make this right by my own willpower.”
I’ve also noticed that how well I listen in marriage is directly proportionate to how well I listen in prayer.
I’m sometimes tempted to want to maximize the efficiency of my prayer. As if God were some divine mechanic whose work time I’m trying to minimize due to budget constraints. But when I approach prayer as “wasting time with God,” I’m not expecting Him to fix anything, per se—I’m just building my relationship with Him. The fixing comes from the relationship, not the other way around.
This isn’t to say that guys have to be married to grow as listeners, or to shrink as fixers. Some of the best listeners I know are priests who’ve learned they can’t fix people with long monologues in the confessional. Good confessors are good listeners—they get out of the way, and let the Lord do His work.
This also isn’t to say that guys have a monopoly on being bad listeners. My wife, of course, is perfect and has no flaws in this regard (see #1, above).
But us married guys must be especially mindful of the temptation to fix, rather than to listen.
Because it’s all too easy for me to project that “desire to fix” onto God—to tell God if He would just listen to me, then my life and the world around me would be better. But we know our Heavenly Father’s already given us the only real fix: His son, Jesus. And the instruction manual for how to operate that fix is pretty simple: “Listen to Him!” (Mt. 17:5).