Marriage,  Relationship skills

My 2 cents

The average man sees women as mysteries to be solved but isn’t it fascinating that women can’t always figure out how a man’s mind works? Why else will l be writing this piece if men were the open books some claim to be? And if you’re beginning to think that a Daniel has come to judgement with the wisdom of a sage equipped to unravel the enigma that wakes up beside you each morning, l’m sorry to disappoint. I’m another bloke trying to feel my way in the dark, making sense of the vast, often poorly mapped out landscape called marriage.

Maybe l should start by telling you my story.

I influenced my national service posting to Lagos because l needed to be close to my girlfriend. I guess that sounded romantic until you hear what happened next. Within two weeks of arriving in the orientation camp, our relationship was over. It was like a bad dream and the only thing that could interrupt my misery was the news that a friend from my uni days was gravely ill in hospital and needed blood donors. In Nigeria those days and l think not much has changed , if you receive blood transfusion, your relatives or friends are expected to replace the stock. Determined to help I got myself together and asked Tolu if she could go with me to the hospital. I met Tolu during our orientation camp and we got on really well. Tolu whispered to her friend, Nneka, who l barely knew to come along. It soon became a party of three wannabe blood donors. I was too caught up in the moment to even acknowledge the kindness of a stranger.

Fast forward to eighteen months, Tolu invited me to join an investment club pioneered by a few of our youth corper friends. At this point I was saving every penny to migrate to the UK for my residency so l wasn’t really interested. As Tolu wouldn’t give up, l attended just to get her off my back. Guess who l met there? Same Nneka-now busy with a small business start up-sitting across the table. Of course there were other people but none caught my attention like Nneka. Was this fate, coincidence, answer to prayer or one of Tolu’s over-the-top ‘arrangee’ moves? Nneka was still the kind, free-spirited daredevil who left an impression on me during national service. Much like me, she was also single. Within weeks, l was seeing Nneka almost everyday smitten by deep affection. Communication was effortless. Good humour and laughter were in plenty supply. We had no time to waste- l proposed and she said ‘Yes’. Even before our wedding, Nneka gave up her business and relocated to the UK with me.

What’s the point in telling you this story?

Life happens to every relationship. Some weather the storm and innovate while others remain dysfunctional or fall by the wayside. While Nneka and l were trying to adjust to the shock of living in a completely new culture, our kids arrived. Parenting wasn’t straightforward as we read in those self help books. There were kids to raise, bills to pay, careers to pursue, in-laws to appease and endless home chores to attend. Then the cracks started appearing and we dropped the ball often much to each other’s dismay. It started as polite arguments but soon morphed into non-violent but angry outbursts. The cold treatment was always on the menu ready to be served at short notice. Our love was dying under the weight of unmet expectations. We needed to stop the rot, change tacts and invest time and patience. This approach didn’t solve all our problems but at least it set us on the path towards healing and reignited the old spark which we desperately wanted.

Nothing prepares you for life like life itself. The same is true for marriage. As much as everyone would like the happily ever after, the truth is that it’s hardly most people’s reality. Men and women deal with these unmet needs differently but it’ll be simplistic to suggest quick fixes based on gender stereotypes.

Trying to cut and paste what worked elsewhere isn’t always helpful for the mere fact that each relationship is unique and solutions have to be tailored to their unique circumstances. Can two walk together except they are in agreement? This is an insightful line from the bible (Amos 3:3). Nneka and l have now been married for over 14 years and l have learned a few things during this period. Here are a few suggestions, not silver bullets.

First, men are fixers.

By instinct our brains are hardwired to fix problems. While this quality may be celebrated in some settings, it takes a long time for most men to realise how unhelpful it is for intimacy in marriage. Nneka is a good mum, a resourceful wife, a loyal friend and a dedicated worker. When she comes home trying to offload how challenging her day has been, being the naive man that l am, l jump in with lots of practical advice. It has taken me a long time with lots of practice to understand that when she tells me about her day, what she wants is an emotional response, not a logical one. She wants me to know how she feels rather than how she thinks. Listening with genuine concern, a gentle squeeze of the hand or a cuddle is probably all she wants. And when she needs practical advice, she is capable of saying so without needing me to second guess. While this suggestion may help men understand the women in their lives, it doesn’t address the frustration that most practical, hands-on men feel when their motives are misunderstood. Nneka has become used to me repeating, ” l meant no harm. I was only trying to help. ” So women can help their men by gently steering them away from the need to fix things when the situation requires them to be better listeners. You can only do this if you know they mean well.

Second, articulate your needs and not his failing.

It doesn’t take a lot for men to feel inadequate. Don’t be fooled by that tough exterior, men feel vulnerable when regularly criticised. They want to be told how to get better rather than focus on their weaknesses. For example, how would you deal with a husband whose eyes are often glued to his phone when you are trying to discuss something important? You may respond this way, ” Why are you’re so engrossed in your phone and never listen to me? ” A more constructive way to rephrase that statement could be, ” l’d really love if you can drop your phone and look at me when l’m telling you about my day. ” Although both responses address the same behaviour, the first approach focuses on his failing while the second highlights your need. Another scenario that trips most women is how mindless some men can be when buying presents for their wives on special occasions. I’d be the first to put my hands up that I’m no saint in this matter. Like me, he may be one of those men who hates shopping, often leaves it too late and tries to wing it. This can be quite underwhelming and frustrating for the woman who has been waiting to be blown away only to be greeted by a sheer lack of imagination and effort. While not absolving any man, you can help your man by giving him hints ahead of time. l accept that this isn’t romantic and hardly a fix to this problem but working at a more sustainable solution shouldn’t rob you of receiving the decent presents you deserve. With time he may just learn how to be spontaneous, imaginative and romantic much to your delight.

Third, your opinions are wanted but please plant them and not push them.

I enjoy listening to Nneka’s weird and wonderful ideas provided l’m not obligated to accept or run with them. This sounds simple, doesn’t it? However, l found out to my confusion that Nneka’s ideas weren’t suggestions. They had her DNA so not responding favourably to them was as unpardonable as rejecting her. This was problematic until we knew how to manage it. Now Nneka has learned how to drop her ideas as seedlings requiring nurture. This takes time and tonnes of patience and negotiation while l work out the details in my head. She is also learning to use probing questions rather than direct interrogation. A lot of the time, l find out that her ideas are actually brilliant, I just needed time to process and own them. Our decision making has definitely improved in leaps and bounds so also are the results we achieve.

Finally, please give him a breather.

This may sound as going against the grain of intimacy but it isn’t. If anything, having appropriate head space is crucial for a healthy marriage. Men love to hunt and explore (not in a bad way). Your spouse needs room to think, discover themselves, connect with other people, sharpen old skills, learn new ones and feel fully independent. They still care about their marriage but they need to recharge their batteries for better performance. I’m not suggesting neglecting the needs of their spouses or permitting destructive entanglements but rather a healthy journey in self discovery. When done properly, it’s a win-win situation.

I’m sure you will agree that the above pointers only constitute scratching the surface. Arm yourself with good grace and open mindedness as you journey towards what can be a whirlwind but truly transformative odyssey. This can be a fascinating game of learning and growing together if the conditions are right. All things considered, you may still not fully understand your man. And that’s ok. After all, he isn’t a book to be studied. I hope he’s another bloke with beautiful imperfections. If you don’t mind l need to run off now.

Best wishes.

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