What your wife would like you to bring home at the end of each day (as most wives would also want from their husbands) is your attention. Not the kind of attention you give when something is spilled, messed up or needs fixing. Rather, the positive attention you give your wife when something nice about her catches your eye: You notice her, you turn your face and shoulders in her direction; and with an open mind and heart, you give her your full attention. That is, you are emotionally present and engaged.
Maybe she needs your help with something, and you notice on your own instead of waiting until she asks. You give a little extra assistance with setting the table, dressing one of the children or taking out the trash. Or you see she is stressed and remember how meaningful it is to her when you come up from behind and rub her shoulders. Maybe you ask if she would like a foot rub later in the evening. Or if she wants to talk through a situation, you make time to sit with her after the kids have gone to bed and listen. And you do just that, listen. No fixing, just listening. You make eye contact when she talks, you nod to let her know you are following her trail of thought, and occasionally ask a question. You practice the long-lost art of being present and directing your emotional attention toward her.
What is so difficult about being emotionally present and giving your spouse your full attention?
1. Busy Schedule, Weary Soul
At the end of the work day, couples are exhausted by the demands of a highly competitive world in which they feel they must more than succeed in order to provide for their family. Adding to the pressure is a read-and-answer-my-emails-the-instant-I-send-them work expectation often blurs the line between when work ends and home life begins.
Various seasons of life can affect the amount of time, energy, emotional capacity, and leftover attention you and your wife have for each other. When you have little kids at home, they consume all the available, spare energy. Caring for children, supervising homework, organizing extracurricular activities, and taking care of the house leaves little time (never mind energy) at the end of the day to spend gazing into each other's eyes. Yet, emotionally connecting is exactly what you each need to re-center, refuel and feel loved.
2. Empty Nest, Empty Conversations
Maybe your kids have left home and the empty nest has left you both feeling like strangers without the activity of your kids to keep you connected—and you've forgotten how to relate to each other. It becomes uncomfortable spending time together, and paying attention to each other only leads to complaining and blaming. At that point, you almost need to rebuild your relationship from scratch by starting to date and court one another once again, getting to know each other anew, and rediscovering what it is you really enjoy about each other.
3. Unresolved Hurts, Distant Hearts
If you and your spouse spend years arguing and hurting each other, the hurts can leave your hearts overly guarded, eventually creating an emotional barrier between the two of you. The thought of coming home and being fully present becomes painful. You may stay busy at the office just so you don't have to come home and face yet another argument. Your outside interests become more satisfying since home life is emotionally draining. Distractions work to numb the emotional pain and can give you some peace for a while, but you'll eventually need to go home and begin a journey of resolving issues and healing hurts.
Research shows us that marital satisfaction is highly correlated with whether a person perceives his or her spouse to be emotionally available. Husbands who had confidence that their wives would be emotionally available were less rejecting and more supportive when they were problem solving. And wives felt more assured of themselves when their husbands listened attentively during problem-solving discussions.
These are powerful findings! You can actually build your spouse's self-esteem and help him or her better cope with stress by being more attentive and emotionally supportive. With this in mind, at the end of each day, turn your full attention toward your spouse. It will positively impact you, your marriage and family life together.
"Be kind to one another, tenderhearted…" Ephesians 4:32