How To Speak Up and Build A Legacy Marriage – For Men

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If you want to build a lifelong legacy with your spouse, you must know how to speak up about problems. Most men would like to show up and just be the good guy. We would like to serve, protect, provide, and mow the lawn. But, it’s hard for most men to learn how to speak up when something difficult needs to be talked about. 

To stay on the road of legacy with your wife, you will need to know how to discuss uncomfortable things. During conflict, men often have one of two responses. Some men become silent bystanders. They hope things will work out if they just stay out of the way. They don’t want anyone to get upset. This man feels he may make things worse, so he just watches on the side of the road. 

Other men become the angry bully. They use a booming voice and emotion to force people to do what he thinks they need to do. If people yield to him things will seem peaceful on the surface, but things will be boiling up under the surface. 

Both of these tactics can appear to work in the short term. But the long term impact is not healthy. The silent bystander will allow things to drift off course. He will not look guilty because he was just watching, but in his heart he knows that he saw this trouble coming. The silent bystander does not help his family steer clear of messes, he is just there to help clean them up.  

The angry bully may control people for a while, but eventually the people in his home want to leave the road he is on. His wife and kids may appear to go along with him, but they do it out of fear and they look forward to their chance to escape. The angry bully can make his family look like they have a good relationship with him, but what he really has is a dictatorship over them.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. In order to lovingly build a family of legacy, a man must learn how to navigate the times of conflict. In order to help you be more confident as a leader, I’d like to share three things with you. 

  1. Knowing when to speak up
  2. Changing how you think about conflict
  3. Two tools for leading through conflict

When do I speak up?

  • Do not listen to fear. Fear and insecurity will normally tell us to keep quiet and let things just work out. Fear will also say that getting involved will make things worse. 
  • Pay attention to the tension. When you find yourself feeling uncomfortable in your heart about a situation, it is wise to pay attention to that tension inside of you. Your instincts may not give you an answer, but your gut instincts can help point you to a problem that needs to be addressed. 
  • If you are not sure if you should bring up a situation with your wife, reach out to a mentor or trusted friend and let them give unbiased advice. In order to get help you can trust it’s important that you reach out to someone who has a healthy marriage. (If you do not have someone like this in your life I recommend you find someone. Building your life without mentors is an unnecessary hazard.) 
  • When you speak up, don’t see yourself as someone who is causing a fire.You are being the smoke alarm who is saving people from a much bigger problem down the road. 

How should I think about conflict?

  • Conflict is normal. It does not mean you have failed. Every human endeavor involves conflict. It’s the human experience. 
  • Conflict cannot be avoided. All progress will cause conflict. Forward movement is hard when the goal is to avoid conflict. The attempt to avoid conflict will also stifle your thinking. Those who live to avoid conflict will be forced to avoid progress. 
  • Conflict is helpful. Problems show us the areas where we need to improve in order to gain the results we are looking for. Leaders understand that conflict is a friend and they will use it for good. 

What tools can I use during conflict? 

  • Create connection. Most people fear conflict and assume the worst. People fear that relationships will be harmed, feelings will be hurt, and long term damage will be done. While fight or flight is a common response, you can be the leader who lovingly stands in the middle and offers a conduit for connection. We don’t have to fight each other, nor do we have to run from each other. Instead you can help others feel your confidence, composure, and love.  

Here are things you can say or do:

  • “I know this is hard for us to talk about right now, but we are going to be ok.”
  • “I’m not against you. I’m for us.”
  • “How about we just pause? We can talk about this later after the kids are in bed.”
  • “I know we need to talk about this. But what if we go grab some dinner first and talk about it on the way home.” 
  • “This is stressful for both of us right now. How about you go read or head to the gym to take a break. I’ll take care of the kids and we will work this out later.”
  • Cast vision. When a problem arises, people allow fear to overwhelm them and lose sight of the big picture. All of the attention goes to the problem. As a leader, you can cast vision to the much larger picture and help bring a better perspective to all those involved.

Here are example of vision casting statements:

  • “I am working on being the man I was made to be.” This is a good statement to make when your wife is questioning your behavior or habits. Men don’t like it when people start treating them like a misbehaving teenager. This is a statement that a man can boldly say. This has the potential to reassure his wife. 
  • “I am going to do anything I can to help you be who you were made to be.” Notice this statement does not blame your wife, and it doesn’t cast blame on yourself. Instead it casts a vision to something you want to do for your wife. Hopefully it causes her to ask herself, “Who was I made to be?” 
  • “I don’t want anything to get in the way of us having a strong sense of connection.” Once again, instead of putting all of the focus on a problem you are facing, you can give a powerful and loving statement that casts a vision to what you want in the future. (Part of this connection is being lovers. And that involves sexual intimacy. But during conflict you don’t want to bring this up. Your wife may assume you are making this about sex.) 

When conflict comes it can be hard to know what to say. The right words can help a difficult conversation happen. Below are templates to guide you into these conversations.  

Template 1: General life problems you are facing

The goal of this conversation is not to solve a specific problem. The goal is to get more connected with each other. When a couple feels more connected, it feels like they are battling for each other instead of against each other. Below are statements to help begin and guide a conversation. 

  1. “The stuff that we are facing is really hard. I don’t have an answer, but I don’t want you to feel like you are alone in this.” 
  2. “This has to be hard for your heart to go through. How can I support you?” 
  3. “I want us to be together in this. I want you to be able to share your heart with me, and I want to share my heart with you.” 
  4. “This is messy, but I’m not going anywhere, and I’m going to love you through this.”

Template 2: You feel like your wife is making some bad parenting decisions 

I would recommend that you have this conversation when things are going fairly well. If you have this conversation right after one of your kids has a meltdown, it will be too much to handle effectively. 

Use “we” statements, not “you” statements. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed as a parent, so approach this in a way that puts you on the same team. 

  1. “The kids are driving me crazy when (insert a common time of struggle with the kids). I’m not sure what we need to do differently, but let’s figure something out before they drive us crazy.” (Say this in a light, but serious tone.)
  2. “What do you think would be helpful?”
  3. “I don’t want you to ever feel like you are fighting this alone. I want to have your back and support you. But I want us to both feel open to share how we feel.” 

Template 3: You are concerned with a lack of intimacy with your wife

This topic is one of the most difficult to talk about, but it is also one of the most important to talk about. This conversation is not just about sex. It’s about connection. A lack of sexual intimacy is an indicator of other problems. Sexual intimacy is an indicator of the overall health of the relationship. 

When you go to the doctor they check your vital signs. Vital signs give a quick indicator of the overall health. Sexual intimacy is one of the vital signs in a marriage. So it is critical that this issue is taken seriously. 

Have this conversation with your wife. Not against your wife. Timing will help you develop the best culture for this conversation. 

  1. “I want to talk to you about something, but it’s really hard for me to talk about it. When is a good time for us to talk?” 
  2. “I love feeling connected to you. I don’t want to be connected just to have sex. I want to feel connected all of the time. When we are intimate sexually, I feel really connected to you, and I feel more connected in general.” 
  3. “Is there anything I am doing to push you away?” 

Template 4: You feel like your wife is afraid of ever being wrong

This is a common issue. Sometimes women feel their value is based upon their performance. If they have a problem, they may feel their value will be diminished. This can make her afraid of having anything wrong with her. She may take any complaint very personally and take it as an attack on her value. 

Your wife may respond very strongly to you bringing up a problem. This might cause you to shrink back and reconsider if you should ever speak up again. It would be better to consider your approach, be willing to adjust how you communicate, but keep working to develop your ability to speak up. 

Here are some potential ways of communicating: 

  1. “You know how sometimes you have to go back to the store and return an item that wasn’t right? Let’s say that you love the store, but what you bought doesn’t work. You aren’t going to be mad at the store. You just let them know, and they are glad to help you. Here’s my point, I want us to be able to tell each other if we need something different than what we have. I want you to be able to talk to me if I need to change something. I want to be able to talk to you if I need to ask for something.” 
  2. “I want you to be able to voice your concerns to me. I also want to be able to voice my concerns to you.”
  3. “I could be missing something, but can I tell you something I have been thinking about?” (This is when you can give a complaint. For example, “the other day you said something to me and I have been wrestling with it.”)   

What about more difficult situations than the ones listed above?

Most problems fall under the normal category. Chances are you are not experiencing anything new. But, some problems feel impossible to deal with. There seems to be no starting point to even talk about it. 

In situations like this, you need to bring in someone who specializes in helping couples in crisis. Look at it like this. Imagine you are cooking a meal and your pan lights something on fire. You will probably know how to act and you will get rid of the fire. But, if your garage is on fire, you will call the fire department and let them do their expertise.   

One closing thought

Metaphors are very helpful to my mind. I guess I am simple and I need pictures to remind me of how to think about situations. Think of life as a journey down a river. Rapids will always be part of the journey. The rapids represent the conflict that will show up in our lives. When the rapids come, realize it is not your fault. Conflict, just like the rapids, are a natural part of life. When those rapids come you can be the leader that helps people feel safe, and with your leadership you can help everyone see the great gain that comes on the other side of those rapids.  

Many people live their entire lives in fear of conflict. That does not have to be you. If you want to conquer this fear once and for all, you may want to check out our video course “How to be the Hero During Conflict.”