My friend Joe McWilliam and I stood at the kitchen sink after a church potluck lunch. He washed the dishes, and I dried. Joe’s in his early 40s, married and a father of two — a boy and girl.
“You want to know my secret to happy marriage?” he asked. “I learned a long time ago that my wife is always right.”
Joe’s not a small or timid man. Broad-shouldered, he’s well over six feet tall. He’s brave enough to be an industrial arts teacher at Kelso High School, in Kelso, Washington. Teens can be a rough bunch. Before he became a schoolteacher, Joe and his wife, Melody, left the comforts of their home in Washington for the jungle of Guyana, a small country on the northeastern shoulder of South America. There, Joe dragged heavy logs from the rainforest and built a two-story home. Joe and Melody lived there among the natives on a reservation, serving as Christian missionaries.
This man is not alone in his attitude about embracing his wife’s opinions. Psychologist John Gottman has been studying married couples for over 30 years in his laboratory at the University of Washington in Seattle. In a long-term study of 130 newlywed couples, he and his research team discovered that men who accept their wives’ influence have happier marriages — and are less likely to divorce — than men who resist their wives’ influence.
This works both ways. Men who accept their wives’ influence usually have a wife that will accept her husband’s influence. It’s not a situation where the man wears the pants but the wife tells him which ones to wear. The husband who accepts his wife’s influence is more likely to have won the right to influence his wife.
“When one yells, the other should listen — because when two people yell, there is no communication, just noise and bad vibrations.”
By hearing and responding positively to his wife’s opinions, the husband opens up a channel of communication that enables the marriage to thrive — even when there’s marital conflict.
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Opera tenor Jan Peerce was an American celebrity from the 1930s until he died in 1984. After nearly 50 years of marriage to his wife, Alice, he said, “My wife and I made a pact a long time ago, and we’ve kept it no matter how angry we’ve grown with each other. When one yells, the other should listen — because when two people yell, there is no communication, just noise and bad vibrations.”
Gottman has learned that husbands tend to be the ones that make a lot of noise when conflicts arise. It’s the man in the marriage who is more inclined to escalate emotions when conflicts arise. Wives tend to match their husband’s emotion, or tone it down. Many men become defensive, and choose to hold their ground rather than consider their wife’s point of view. Others ignore their wife, criticize her, or show outright contempt for her opinions. These men miss out on the advantages of accepting their wife’s influence.
Some men like to quote the Bible passages that tell wives to submit to their husbands. They conveniently omit what the Apostle Paul wrote in the same context: “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5:21). But Paul’s counsel hasn’t been forgotten. Gottman found that even in traditional Christian homes, where a husbands takes the role as head of his home, many couples had achieved mutual satisfaction with their marriages by accepting each other’s influence.
The following is a short list of the benefits a man can expect when he learns to accept his wife’s influence by turning toward her with respect, listening to her, acknowledging her, and considering her opinions.
1.) A happier marriage
When spouses accept each other’s influence, it strengthens their friendship. They enjoy their time together. They understand each other’s likes and dislikes, respect each other, and learn to value their different perspectives, interests, and dreams.
2.) Conflicts resolved
By accepting each other’s influence, couples learn the skill of the collaborative compromise. In discovering each other’s values, dislikes, and opinions, they learn to see through their conflicts to a solution they both can live with.
3.) Being a better dad
A man who accepts his wife’s influence will be more open to learning from her. What he’ll learn is how to better connect with his children, as he learns to understand how his actions and emotions influence his kids. Women, more than men, tend to be more in tune with the emotions of others. Social intimacy comes more easily.
As the man learns how to connect with his kids on a deeper level, he’ll learn about what makes them happy, sad, and afraid. He’ll be more in touch with their world, and more useful in helping them thrive in it.
Jon Beaty, life coach and father of two, lives near Portland, Oregon. He’s the author of the book “If You’re Not Growing, You’re Dying: 7 Habits for Thriving in Your Faith, Relationships and Work.”