Unhelpful Husband


I’m a stay-at-home mother of three children (all under the age of 7). My husband works hard at his job, and I appreciate that; but he doesn’t help out at home with caring for the children or helping with any of the housework. I’m physically and emotionally exhausted, and the situation feels unfair (to me and to the children). How can I get him to understand the importance of helping me and of spending time with the kids?


Most of us have heard the old saying, “You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink.” We say you can make a horse drink if you add salt to his oats. As you can imagine, adding salt to something would most likely create a thirst that only water could quench.

One of the most frustrating experiences is when we try to communicate something important to a spouse and he just doesn’t get it. Spouses have the unique ability to make each other feel like they’re speaking a foreign language around each other.

Thus, the main question is, is it possible to communicate with our mate so that they not only hear what we’re saying, but experience our words as well? Absolutely! As long as we use a process called emotional word pictures. Using an emotional word picture is like adding salt to your communication. It literally creates a “thirst” for your words.

An emotional word picture is when you use either an object or a story to express your feelings. Emotional word pictures simultaneously activate a person’s emotions and intellect—it’s a fancy name for an analogy or parable.

Emotional word pictures have this effect because they cause someone to not only hear our words, but experience them as well. Communication is most powerful when you can get someone to activate both their mind and their emotions. Emotional word picture do just that. Christ was a master at communication because every truth He communicated, He did so through a parable.

Some of the world’s greatest communicators used emotional word pictures. Walt Disney used an emotional word picture back in the 1940’s that almost bankrupted the hunting industry: Bambi.

The impact of using emotional word pictures is that people will remember what you’ve said for the rest of their lives.

It’s the gateway into deeper intimacy. They help focus our attention. They bring communication alive. This results in a desire to do something or motivates change.

Every time you say things like, “That blows my mind,” you are using an emotional word picture because we can imagine brain matter flying everywhere. When you declare that your “head is splitting!” instead of saying you have a headache, you’re using word pictures. Advertisers have spent millions of dollars to discover how to sell us products. What do they do: they create emotional word pictures. Instead of selling us a car they sell us a “Mustang” or a “Piece of the rock” instead of insurance.

How do you create a word picture? Carefully study the other person's interests because it must activate their feelings! Unless a person is interested in your object or story, the connection will not be made. If your husband is in to sports, don’t use a flower to illustrate your point. Likewise, if your wife is in to shopping, don’t use cars to communicate your truth. When you are creating your word picture you can utilize anything from nature, everyday objects, imaginary stories, or past experiences and remembrances. Just make sure they have some interest in the picture you create.

So if you want to communicate your feelings and concerns to your husband, let us help you to create a word picture. First, you need to get crystal clear on what you’re trying to accomplish by sharing the emotional word picture. What is it that you really want your husband to understand about you? It sounds like you want your husband to understand several things: (1) the importance of helping you with housework, (2) the importance of spending time with the kids, (3) that you feel the situation is “unfair,” and (4) that you feel “exhausted.” We would encourage you to pick the one that is the most important so that you don’t overwhelm him with issues.

Next, let’s say that the most important issue is to help him understand the importance of helping you around the house, you need to pick something that he is interested. For the sake of this example, let’s say he’s interested in jet fighter planes. You could say something like this: Managing the kids and keeping up with all the housework makes me feel like I’m a fighter pilot whose jet has been riddled with bullets and can barely fly. But to win the war, we really need my jet flying at full strength. When you help me with the kids and with the housework, I feel like you’re a dedicated ground crew, working overtime to bring me back to full strength and getting me ready to soar into battle again. It makes me feel like we’re a team and that you value me enough to help me recover from battle. Most importantly, I’ve realized that I need my excellent ground crew because I can’t fight without you.

Remember, when you use a story or an object to communicate your feelings, it will help your mate to not only hear what you’re saying, but they will experience your words as well.

Greg Smalley, PsyD
Website | + posts

Dr. Smalley previously served as the director of Marriage Ministries for The Center for Healthy Relationships. He is the author or co-author of twelve books concerning marriages and families, and currently serves as the executive director of Marriage and Family Formation at Focus on the Family.

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