In answer to Paul’s closing question from the last post; yes, life would be a great deal simpler if husbands knew the mental paradigm for making the decision of when and when not to physically comfort their wives during a trying experience. Unfortunately, I doubt very much that men could survive the mental deluge that would flood their minds should they ever find a way to tap into a distressed female’s thought patterns. That sad fact being stated, I do think that husbands should make the effort to understand how best to comfort their wives in any number of situations (doesn’t that just fill all men everywhere with joy!? : ) Remember our post on learning to love your very unique spouse? Well, this will be a very practical application of that post. (Paul added some of his thoughts to the post so, as always, his input will be bolded.)
First, I’ll give you my responses to the situations that Paul provided. The only two things I’ll say now are that 1) I am not a “huggy” person in general but Paul is the exception to this rule. I love to hug him! So I don’t ever resist his hugs because I don’t like them. 2) In my mind hugging is reserved for showing love, support, or sympathy. I don’t see hugs as a form of complex communication. You can’t hug in an effort to get out of a conversation you don’t want to have. If you wife is freaking out at you, a hug alone will not suffice : )
In the case of that horribly embarrassing final-piano-note debacle he made the correct assumption about my very strong desire for him to back off while walking back to our seats. While he thought of the gentle touch as a sympathetic gesture intended to convey his love and support, I didn’t see it as such. I didn’t want sympathy. I didn’t want to be patted on the back in a “don’t worry, we all fail at some point in life” kind of way. I wanted him to pretend like nothing had even happened. To extend the type of confidence that I wished I could portray in that very un-confident moment. So if you wife is embarrassed, a sympathetic hug or squeeze or touch might end up just reinforcing her feeling of failure. At least, that is how I respond. [So for Liz, I don’t have to feel guilty for not hugging her in this situation. I’m not hugging her to show love and support!]
If I have just received bad news I would say that I almost always want Paul to hug me (or hold my hand or something similar). Even if I don’t invite the hug (really though, have you ever been aware of a women who, in the midst of a tearful moment, looks up and says, “Please, what I need right now is a hug.” No? Wild : ) [Additionally, I wouldn’t suggest asking if she needs a hug. Once you ask, the answer is always no with overtones of “you’re in big trouble.”]I can’t remember a time when I regretted Paul’s attempt to show concern. Now, I might not throw myself into his open arms (that’s just not my style), and he might even have to tug me into the embrace (because I’m still angry and upset and probably want to beat something rather than hug something) but once there, I almost always calm down and feel better. The only caveat to this would be if he caused the bad news in the first place : ) In that case, all bets are off.
Hugging after a fight. Now that is tricky business. Going back to the idea that hugs show either love or support in my mind, hugging after a fight can be confusing. Is it an “I’m sorry I hurt you” hug? A “let’s stop fighting and be friends again” hug? Or is it a “I’m sorry that you can’t see things my way and since you’ve resisted all my vastly superior propositions with supporting evidence I figure this fight is useless so I guess I’ll hug you in an attempt to make you feel better, forget your crazy ideas and thus let us get to bed as a reasonable hour” hug? [I have found she is remarkably unsympathetic with my need to go to bed :-)]And maybe I give Paul too much credit for the motivations behind an attempt to hug me. But since I am not an instinctual hugger (I decide to hug, I don’t just reflexively hug anyone for any reason), I figure that Paul isn’t either. So there must be a reason. I want to know the reason before he tries to hug me. So after a fight, I need him to verbally explain his hug before he tries to hug. [This is less awkward than you might think. Saying “I’m so sorry I’ve hurt you” while moving to hug her would suffice.] In short, I have to know that I can trust him. That the fighting is over and he won’t draw me into a comforting embrace only to present me with four more reasons that I should agree with his point of view. Again, hugs are to show love and support. They shouldn’t be a tool in your “how to persuade her” box.
So to recap for me: When embarrassed, don’t hug. When distressed, hug (even when you have to pull me in). After fight, maybe hug—if you mean it in a caring way. [It can’t be this simple, I smell a trap:-)] These are my answers and from those answers (and from some conversations I’ve had with Paul today), here are some pointers. [Men, don’t generalize from Liz’s responses, find out what communicates love to your wife!]
Before you even get into one of these types of situations, ask your wife what she prefers. Granted, it’s every woman’s dream that their spouse will somehow just know when to hug and do it at the perfect time with the perfect amount of sympathy along with perfectly tender endearments accompanying it. Sigh….A girl can dream, can’t she? : ) However, since we don’t all live in a world governed by the rules of Nicholas Sparks and his romantic dramas, I do believe that most women realize the stark improbably of this happening very often. Still, they might feel awkward asking for a hug in the moment. A much better plan is to talk through this topic at some totally non-emotional time. [So, you would actually enumerate the different situations (embarrassment, bad news, fights, etc.) and ask. Understand that you may choose poorly at times, but it’s a lot better than doing nothing and merely wishing it would get better. Don’t take yourself too seriously, and feel free to debrief (well) after the fact.]
For women, if your husband takes the plunge and tries to hug you – go with it. Even if it wasn’t what you wanted in that moment. Maybe you wanted space. Maybe you wanted him to get you the tissue you so obviously need. Maybe hugging the pillow kept you from punching the wall. But whatever the case, if your husband goes out on a limb, do you best to respond in kind. Hug him back. This is really you loving him sacrificially. It’s putting his needs above your own. That’s a hard thing to do, especially when strung out emotionally, but it will defiantly help your relationship in the long run. I have struggled with this and have realized the damage caused to Paul when I push him away. Rejection never strengthens a relationship.
For other sage advice for dealing with crying women such as “If you wouldn’t use it to wipe your own nose, don’t offer it to her as a tissue substitute,” or (if desperate) “Apologize, even if you have no idea how you could be related to the cause of her crying,” or “When all else fails, offer a woman chocolate” see this very helpful (hilarious!) link—How to Comfort a Crying Woman. (And lastly, I thought I’d throw in the worst of the worst… : )