Sometimes, It is About the Nail

by | May 3, 2019 | Marriage | 14 comments

A lot of marriage teaching is quite gender based.

One of the big things that we often hear is that, when you’re discussing a problem, men want to fix things, whereas women just want to be heard. So what a guy is supposed to do is stop trying to fix anything and sit back and just be compassionate.

There is value to that–it’s important to be a safe place for your spouse to vent and share feelings. When we try to fix something, it’s almost like we invalidate their feelings (“If you had just done things my way,  you wouldn’t be feeling this right now!”). But I don’t think it’s a gender thing. In our marriage, I tend to be the one to run in and try to fix things, and I have to learn to step back and listen. In fact, I would venture to say that many women are in that position.

Guys, you see, don’t tend to get as many chances to vent their feelings or express themselves as women do, since studies show that women tend to talk about their feelings with other women far more than men do with other men. And because guys, in general, are less comfortable naming emotions, they often benefit from being able to talk things through with their wives, just so they understand themselves a little more. When we short circuit that by trying to micromanage, it can be harmful to a marriage.

Nevertheless, sometimes we can take this a little far. Here’s a video that I think is actually quite hilarious, that we show at marriage conferences quite a bit. It’s seriously worth watching–you’ll laugh, and it’s pretty short (scroll down below “My Latest Videos” if that pops up):

The lesson to be taken from that video is, “It’s not about the nail.” The important thing is to be a sounding board for your spouse, and especially for your wife.

However, when we show that video, I often make a different point, which is just as important:

Sometimes it is about the nail.

Sometimes this whole “you should listen to me and not try to fix anything” can be taken overboard. It can become an excuse for not trying to fix the problem. You get so comfortable talking about it, and you don’t want to take the difficult steps that may be necessary to stop the issue from popping back up again.

One of the things I’m grateful for in my marriage is that Keith has a different perspective than I do.

He doesn’t see the world in the same way. Because of that, he often has insights into the things that are bugging me that I don’t have. And when I have something that’s driving me nuts, he can often suggest one or two ways of handling it that I hadn’t seen before.

In fact, I’ve recently asked him, “when you see me not doing the new habits that I’m trying to learn, and spiralling into old bad habits, I want you to call me on it and help me get back to what I really want to be doing.” Often I get into these funks because I’m upset about something on the blog or online or in the news, and then all of my plans go out the window. I appreciate it when Keith tells me, “Even if you want to sit and do nothing, we’re going out for a walk and we’re going to do something fun tonight even if you don’t feel like it.” He knows me better than I know myself sometimes, and he knows how to get me out of the funk. He could just sit and listen to me explaining all that is wrong and all that is bugging me, but he knows that if I get a change of scenery, those things won’t matter as much.

Do you have a hard time asking for what you want?

You can change the dynamic in your marriage and make talking about your own needs easier!

If your marriage is in a communication rut, it’s time for some change.

We need that balance between honouring our spouse’s emotions but also listening to our spouse’s insights

I had a comment on an older post come in from a woman yesterday whose husband criticizes her every move. If she tries to feed the kids, he criticizes the time she feeds them and what she feeds them. If they get ready to go outside, he criticizes her choice of clothes for them.

That’s not healthy (in fact, it’s emotionally abusive).  We need to honor our spouse’s boundaries and let them make their own choices and have their own emotions.

Yet in a healthy marriage people also call each other to account, and people also do have insight into each other. So next time you’re in a conflict with your spouse, and you feel like he (or she!) is trying to fix things, try stepping back and asking, “is this about the nail?” Sometimes it certainly isn’t, and your spouse just needs to listen more. But sometimes maybe it is. And maybe you should listen to your spouse instead!

Listening Vs. Fixing Things: Sometimes we need to let men fix the problem!

What do you think? Are the kind of person who fixes things or who just listens? And do you think this is a gendered thing? Let’s talk in the comments!

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Sheila Wray Gregoire


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Sheila Wray Gregoire

Author at Bare Marriage

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

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  1. Phil

    Hey Sheila so I think they word balance works here. For example: when my wife tells me her car needs to be fixed I need to take action the way I relate to this for both genders is through my bipolar disorder. Not very many people understand it. There are a few but in reality very few and even the ones I do understand sometimes can’t even help me sometimes there are no answers but I need someone to just hear me thankfully I have a very good friend who I can call when I need to talk about it. Grace has gotten much better at just listening also good topic today. Happy Friday everyone.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Yes, sometimes we do need to fix, and sometimes we need to listen. That’s really what I wanted to say–sometimes it IS about the nail (and sometimes it’s not). But it’s not black and white!

    • Kacey

      I get the concept of wanting sympathy instead of a fix, but whenever I see that video, I think, “Yeah, it’s definitely about the nail.”

    • Phil

      I just got done talking to my buddy and we were talking about an incident he had with his daughter and after we got done talking he said well we didn’t really fix it but just talking about it gave me an opportunity to reset. I really liked that and I told him about this article. RESET

  2. Bethany

    My husband and I were just talking about this this morning. He mentioned that he thought it was helpful to talk about feelings first a lot of times because that gets you in a mindset to be able to think about the situation and about solutions. I thought that was really smart.

    I very much value my husband’s problem solving skills — they help my life so much! I am much more ready to hear solutions when I feel like we’ve connected first, and he understands what the emotional impact of a situation is too.

    I’m trying to do a better job at listening first, too. I get worried about him and want to fix everything whenever he brings up a problem, and I need to reign it back.

  3. Kate

    I’m must be one of the few women out there who the only time you will hear me complain about something is when i actually WANT you to fix it. If i tell you a problem it’s so that it can get fixed not so that i can have company for my misery. I’m trying to get out of my misery and need your helping in doing so. My future husband will not have to worry abut this because if he hears a problem from me it will be so that he can remove the nail. Probably explains why growing up people have told me i don’t complain much. I LOVE when men fix things. I think it’s sexy!

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I’m with you, Kate. I want things fixed, too!

  4. Donna

    This is so good! I often tell couples I am counseling that if they don’t find balance between their two thought processes they will just tolerate each other. I was a micro-manager for a while and my hubby had to tell me to just listen and that he wasn’t venting because he was necessarily looking for my solution. Great blog!

  5. Emily

    After 22 years of marriage, we’ve just about got this one worked out.
    My wonderful husband hates to see me upset, so when I’m telling him about a problem *of course* he wants to fix it. Because he loves me. But sometimes I just need to talk it out first.
    So I tell him. “Please let me finish and then I want to hear your view” – that way I get to give him the whole picture (which often eliminates or refines some of his “fixes”) while he listens. THEN I tell him I’m “all done” and he knows he’s allowed to suggest ways of solving the issue.

    And, of course, sometimes this goes the other way – he needs me to listen before i try to “fix everything” too!

  6. EM

    Oh my gosh that video😂😂😂

  7. Blair

    My husband (who has been emotionally abusive and who I am now working hard at enforcing boundaries with but haven’t confronted) showed me that video. As a justification for what men have to go through and how men are always wrong no matter what. And that I should listen to him. (But not in so many words)

    It is definitely the other way around in our marriage where I always want a solution and to take action. (To a fault of fixing when not my responsibility) I could give many many examples of my husband throwing his hands in the air because nothing can be done, because he’s just a victim of God picking on him, when I’ve offered a number of possible solutions or action steps. I see that video through the lens of setting boundaries. “I’m so sorry you’re hurting. I am so willing to help and support you however I can. But It’s your choice whether or not to accept and deal with the obvious problem you are facing.”

    (I’m learning how to do this more everyday, to love in a way that doesn’t enable bad behavior, and definitely not always getting it right but improving. Thank you for posts related to emotional abuse, boundaries, etc.)

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Oh, Blair, I’m sorry that your husband has decided to live as a victim of God rather than as a child of God. That’s so tough to deal with!

  8. Karyn

    My husband was taking the “I just need you to listen and not solve the problem” thing he learned in marriage counseling a little too far. I eventually had to explain that there’s a difference between “not solving the problem for me” and “doing or saying nothing at all.” Me baring my soul and describing my frustrations with a situation while he just sat there with a blank stare wasn’t really doing it for me…but he thought that’s what a “good husband” was supposed to do (just listen). So, I explained that I didn’t need him to solve the problem (unless I was asking for advice or a solution), but he could still use words and physical touch to show that he had confidence in me and to support me and encourage me. I don’t need him to solve the problem, but having him support me and validate my feelings and letting me know he believes in me and MY ability to solve the problem is deeply meaningful. It’s not a binary choice between “solve the problem” and “just sit there and say nothing.”

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Oh, Karyn, that made me laugh. I’ve heard other women say that, too. Sometimes the stuff we hear in marriage counseling doesn’t always compute, does it? I’m glad you were able to have that conversation with him!


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