5 Times We Want to Step Back in Marriage When We Need to Lean In

One of the most difficult parts of marriage for me has been the conflict. My wife and I are very different people, which means we disagree a lot. Early in marriage, I just avoided the conflict. What this meant, though, is that we ended up having the same fights over and over again. It wasn’t until I leaned into difficult marriage conversations that we were able to grow through it.

This is true for most marriages. When our wives are moody or angry or we make a major blunder, we want to check out. However, difficult marriage conversations don’t have to be threatening. In fact, if you’re willing to do the hard work required, you’ll find the greatest opportunities for growth are in these hard conversations if we just stay connected with our wives. Here are 5 times we want to step back in marriage when we need to lean in.

1. When She’s Angry

Anger is just a signal that something deeper is going on. Often it reveals a deep hurt that needs to be addressed. It’s tempting for a husband to avoid difficult marriage conversations when your wife is angry. But this is a critical time to lean in.

Granted, maybe you need to let her cool off first. But be sure to circle back. Give her space to share why she responded the way she did. This is a key opportunity to build trust and learn to listen well. In the process, you may both come to learn something about yourselves.

2. When She’s Emotional

Aside from just anger, it’s pretty common (though certainly not universally true) for your wife to be more willing to express her emotions than you are. It’s not that she’s more emotional. She’s just been socialized in such a way as to be more comfortable expressing those emotions outwardly whereas most men have not. This can make us uncomfortable.

But just like anger, these other emotions are a signal to something deeper. By choosing to check in, listen, and walk alongside her as she processes these things, you create an environment of safety and trust where she feels free to be vulnerable. At the same time, you can gain valuable insight into who she is and what she cares about.

3. When You Mess Up

Most of us are pretty convinced what we’re doing is right. If we weren’t, we wouldn’t do it. And yet, you will inevitably mess up. You’ll say the wrong thing. You’ll break a promise. Maybe you’ll even lash out intentionally in a way you’ll wish you could take back. You will mess up. So what do you do?

Own it. Ask for forgiveness. And listen. Listen to how your actions communicated certain things to your wife. And spend some time sorting through why you made the choices you made. Dealing with our mistakes in the context of a loving relationship is not only foundational to marriage, it’s also how we grow personally.

4. When She Misunderstands You

You and your wife are likely very different people. Given that, it’s obvious that you will have misunderstandings. Some of these will be silly and even funny. Many times, though, they will lead to frustrations and hurt.

It can be easy to simply vent to your friends at work or at the bar about how difficult or confusing your wife is. But this is not helpful, and it’s not even harmless. It actually deepens the disconnection and creates a sense that you’re on different teams. It’s far better to address the misunderstanding head on. These can be difficult marriage conversations, but identifying places where you’re “missing each other” can lead to a stronger sense of collaboration and teamwork rather than division.

5. When You’re Hurt

Probably the most difficult marriage conversations you will have are the ones you have when you’ve been hurt. Many men feel uncomfortable voicing hurt feelings. It doesn’t seem “manly.” We’d much rather stuff it down and just move on. However, in so doing, we build resentment, frustration, and can silently create distance between ourselves and our wives to avoid hurt in the future.

It’s critical to engage our wives when they do or say something that hurts us. Unaddressed hurt eats away trust. A marriage can’t flourish without trust. Besides, choosing to not acknowledge hurt isn’t “manly;” it’s cowardly. Lean in when she hurts you.

Sound off: What other difficult marriage conversations are necessary to have?

Huddle up with your kids and ask, “What was the hardest thing you did this week? How did it feel?”