There are a few truths most men will agree on, that women might not suspect, …because they’re outside the female experience. You’re about to gain some fresh insight into the mysteries of masculinity. These gems are brought to light in a recent publication, For Women Only: What You Need to Know about the Inner Lives of Men, by Shaunti Feldhahn. The book is a compilation of field research involving 1600 men surveyed about their significant relationship with a woman.
“The majority of relationship problems do not stem from big insurmountable issues. Instead, they tend to spring from basic human cluelessness. From simple avoidable misunderstanding, or a “lightbulb on” moment that sadly, never happened.”
— Shaunti Feldhahn
In this post you’ll get a feel for 5 key findings from this paradigm shifting study, including why your respect means more to your man than even your love and how his need to provide for you weighs him down… but why he likes it that way.
Men need respect
While it may seem foreign to a woman, the male need for respect and affirmation is so hard-wired and so critical that 80% of men said they’d rather feel unloved than disrespected. In other words, if he had to choose, a man would give up feeling that his wife loved him, if he could just feel that she respected him. Putting him down in any setting is far more painful to the soul of a man than registers with most women. Example: At an invitation for a deep sea fishing couples trip, if a wife responds, “Oh, my man would NEVER be caught on a fishing boat, he just pukes and pukes for hours. Better count us out.” Even though this scenario may be true, reflecting your man’s weaknesses to others makes him feel just as frustrated and starved for what needs as a women feels who rarely hears her man say “I love you and appreciate you.”
If you wonder why the man you once thought of as so smooth is not giving you the adoration you long for, take a close look at how your words about him may cast him in a disrespectful light. Just as a wife feels dreadful if her husband never expresses his love, so a husband feels dreadful if a wife never demonstrates her respect. To him, it’s the very stuff of love and it’s not negotiable.
And surprisingly, the way he needs to feel your respect is quite different from the way you need to feel his love. Most women appreciate it when a husband says, “I love you” or “you look really beautiful.” But, it just doesn’t do it for a guy to hear, “Honey, I respect you so much.”
What he does need to hear is “I’m so proud of you” and “I trust you” and “Thank you for what you provide for me and our life together.” And sometimes you need a little more than words to get through to him. In the survey, men revealed 6 key needs around Respect including:
- Respect his knowledge, opinions and decisions – sadly, many men felt as if their opinions and decisions were actively valued in every area of their lives except at home.
- Respect his abilities – Men want and need to figure things out for themselves. When they do, they feel like they’ve conquered something and are affirmed as men. When women step in to help uninvited, guess how they interpret that? You got it: distrust. This may be why they don’t like to stop and ask for directions. They like the challenge of figuring things out for themselves.
So, the next time your man drives stubbornly in circles, ask yourself which is more important: being on time to the party or his feeling trusted? No contest. Instead of supporting him by giving him advice…even good, constructive advice (which often demoralizes more than helps). What he hears is “you’re not competent” or “I don’t think you can handle this.” What he needs most is for his woman to simply stand up and say, “I know you can do it.” No matter what we think we are saying, in the end what matters is what the guy is hearing.
As one married man put it starkly: “The male ego is the most fragile thing on the planet. Women have this thought that, He’s got such a hug ego that I need to take him down a peg. No way. The male ego is incredibly fragile.”
Men need space to figure things out
On the surface, it may look as if men avoid issues by checking out. But in actuality, men address issues by pulling away so they can process and think so they can better talk about them later. A big truth is hiding underneath the stormy surface of these conflicts, and it applies not just to conflicts, but to all verbal communications and can dramatically reduce how often conflict happens in the first place. You see, caring men want to commiunicate with the woman they love, but how they need to go about it is likely to be very different from the way a woman automatically prefers. Understanding that difference offers great promise for our relationships.
Reading his signals in a new light. The study identifies several significant differences in the way men like to ‘talk about it’. Here are 3 of them:
- Men like to think it through before they can talk it through. In contrast, women tend to think out loud, circling through the options until finally arriving at what she actually thinks or feels. This is largely a function of the wiring of his brain compared with her brain. Better for him to get some distance to think each thought through. Then move on to process the next thought. Once they’ve thought through each option, then they begin to process how they feel about the whole think. Men tend to be single processors taking a linear approach through the material at hand. And emotions seem to inhibit their ability to process through.
- Men feel just as much as women do about the matters of their life. But guys can’t talk about their feelings right away. They are much more able to “do something” about it now than to talk about how they feel about it now..the way a woman does naturally. Women seem to like discovering their feelings as the conversation evolves. Men, on the other hand like knowing the scope of the conversation, like having a roadmap of what I’ve thought through, like a trip ahead before just putting the conversation in drive and hittin’ the gas pedal.
- Men need time on issues of emotional importance. Part of the basic process for thinking things through is time apart. And in fact, men feel better able to talk about big issues the next day. They can talk about about social issues, sports or politics on the fly, but when it comes to big issues involving a relationship bond or anything involving big emotions, most men need time and space.
Michael Gurian, in his excellent book, What Could He Be Thinking?, explains what brain scientists have discovered. “Men can take up to 7 hours longer than women to process complex emotive data. While there are exceptions, men more than women will not know what they are feeling, nor be able to figure it out. And men, more than women will not be able to put their feelings into words in the moment and will tend to take longer to express feelings in words than women do.
If your guy leaves the room, or leaves the house during a conflict, he’s checking out physically in order to “check in” with what he’s feeling. It’s precisely because he DOES care about the issue at hand that he needs a little space. Most men care deeply about their wives or girlfriends. We’re more likely to get what we need, when we give them the space they need to think it through.
Why sex unlocks a Man’s emotions (guess who holds the key?)
Your sexual desire for your man profoundly effects his sense of wellbeing and confidence in all areas of his life. In the study, an urgent theme emerged. Men want more sex than they are getting. And what’s more, they believe that the women who love them don’t seem to realize that this is a crisis, not only for the man, but for the relationship. Why on earth is it a crisis? After all, a lot of other legitimate needs get in the way, ..like the need for sleep. Isn’t sex just a biological urge that he really should be able to do without? Well, no. For your husband sex is more than just a physical need. Lack of sex is as emotionally serious to him as say, his sudden silence would be to you, were he simply to stop communicating with you. It is just as wounding to him, just as much a legitimate grievance, and just as dangerous to your marriage. Sex fills a powerful emotional need.
Feldhahn explains, “Although popular opinion portrays males as one giant sex gland with no emotions attached, that is the furthest thing from the truth. But because men don’t tend to describe their sexual needs in emotional terms, we women may not realize that in a very deep way your man often feels isolated and burdened by secret feelings of inadequacy. Making love with him assures him that you find him desirable. It salves a deep sense of loneliness and gives him the strength and wellbeing necessary to face the world with confidence. And of course, sex also makes him feel loved. In fact, he can’t feel completely loved without it.”
At the most basic level, your man wants to be wanted. Not only are his emotional needs met by your sexual interest in him, but there are also wounds created when lovemaking is habitually reluctant or lacking.
Benefit 1 – Fulfilling sex makes him feel loved and desired. Having a regular, mutually enjoyed sex life was critical to the man’s feeling of being loved and desired. One plea captured it perfectly, “I wish that my wife understood that making a priority of meeting my intimacy needs is the loudest and clearest way she can say ‘you are more important to me than anything else in the world’. It is a form of communication that speaks more forcefully with less room for misinterpretation than any other.”
The responses to the following question got the most unanimity of any other on this survey. The question asked was, “With regard to sex, for some men it is sufficient to be sexually gratified whenever they want. For other men it is also important to feel wanted and desired by their partner.” The answer for 97% of men was that they wanted to feel wanted by their woman.
Benefit 2 – Fulfilling sex boosts his confidence. Men are more confident and alive when their sex life is working. On the survey 77% responded to the question. “Imagine that your wife was an interested and motivated sexual partner, and you therefore had an active lovelife. How would having sex with her as often as you wanted affect your emotional state?” 23% reported that it would have little or no effect. Sex seemed unrelated to their emotional state or other areas of life”. But 77% chose “It would have a posative effect, It would give me a greater sense of wellbeing, confidence and satisfaction with life.
Shaunti explains the reason this message is so needed. “Many men, even with close friendships seem to live with a deep sense of loneliness that is quite foreign to us ‘oh so relational’ women. And making love is the purest salve for healing that loneliness.”
So women, our sexual desire for our partner profoundly affects his sense of well-being and confidence in all areas of his life. Good to know if you want him out there slaying dragons at the top of his game.
Men are visual
The next revelation to me was that even happily married men struggle with being pulled toward live and recollected images of other women. This is a function of his neurology, not by choice, but by his biology. Women will notice a good looking man, but will still be able to focus on the conversation or task at hand. Because of a man’s single task focus and his brain being built for visual stimulation, even completely faithful men on a group date with their wives will notice a lovely waitress and where she is in the dining room while their trying to focus on the conversation and the food.
What’s more, whether they like it or not, if she is wearing a low cut blouse or tight fitting skirt, the image of her form will stay in his head and pop up without consciously recalling them. And men find this constant visual slideshow unwelcomed and draining. Women too can drink in a beautiful man with their eyes, but it takes more effort to engrave his image on the back of their eyelids and the popups aren’t nearly as frequent without conscious thought. Ask your man if this is true. It’s not something faithful men like to bring up much, but acknowledging the effort he makes to look away and filter his visual input may help you appreciate his loyalty to you more…plus help you appreciate wearing modest apparel.
Chocolate, Flowers and Bait Fishing
Is it possible that the reluctant Romeo you know, really does want romance? Actually, men enjoy romance (sometimes in different ways than women). They want to be romantic – but hesitate because they doubt they can succeed.
Our culture often depicts men as a bunch of clods who have no desire to be romantic. The husband who buys his wife a belt sander for Valentines day is the hilarious storyline of many a sitcom or television movie. According to the study, a majority of respondents said they feel like they are secret romantics who, like many of us, don’t experience nearly as much intimacy in their primary love relationship as they’d like. Even more surprising is that this desire is, in a way quite apart from sexual intimacy. The great news is that our men long for connection, togetherness and fun intimate time with us. Men want romance too!
Men Want Romance
When asked if they desired romance for themselves, the majority of these men said “Yes, very much.” So, if like me you’ve bought into the popular notion that men really don’t care, listen to this from the survey.
Question: “Regardless of whether you are able to plan romantic events, or whether your partner appreciates it, do you yourself desire romance?” 84% said Yes. One man explained, “On our honeymoon, we were in the Caribbean and were at this dinner place with a dance floor and no one was dancing. So of course my wife says, “let’s go dance”. I’m risking humiliation and we get up and dance. And within 90 seconds the dance floor was full. Someone had to risk it. Most of the women in the restaurant probably thought that the other couples didn’t think about dancing until we gave them the idea. But I guarantee, every guy in that place was thinking about it, but didn’t want to risk it, until someone else did.”
Men want romance, just as much as women do. So here’s how to get past that awkwardness and the misunderstandings and move in the direction of the figurative dance floor. Listen to what men revealed about why they don’t make the first romantic move? The male responses fell into one of two catchall categories, Internal hesitation and The Gender Gap.
88% of respondents felt that they could probably put together a romantic event, but almost half of them felt unsure of themselves and thought they might not do a very good job. About this self doubt, one man explained, “No guy really knows how to be romantic. They just try stuff they’ve seen and hope it works.” Another man said, “The flip side of the need for respect is horror at the idea of humiliation. I’d rather burn at the stake. That is why a man won’t risk trying to be romantic. I’m risking humiliation if I’m doing it wrong.”
Another man explained his anxiety this way. “The reason men practice sports so much is so they don’t get embarrased on the field, so they don’t feel inadequate. But there’s no way to practice romance. So, if we don’t know how, we figure it’s best not to even approach it and risk being seen as inadequate.”
Believe it or not, a man’s willingness to take romantic risks may also be tied to how he’s feeling about his job. A man who feels stressed and inadequate at work may feel particularly unable to risk feeling inadequate at home. In which case, it would feel safer for him to do nothing.
Past Romantic Attempts
If they’ve had a painful romantic failure in the past, that can be enough to shut a man down on future attempts. Another man explains, “If you tease me about not getting the candlelight dinner right, it’ll be 5 years before I try that again.”
Another seedbed of internal hesitation for men can be having created a romantic slam dunk victory in the past that he fears he’ll never be able to top, so he just doesn’t try. Guys are so competitive, they’ll hesitate if they don’t think they can win.
Another consideration is that definitions of romance may not jive. Maybe your idea of romance is formal with roses and candlelight. But for him, he really enjoys just getting out and having fun together. To him, a four wheeler ride in the moonlight is romantic, or playing a round of golf or deep sea fishing with his girl. Ask him what romance means to him. There’s all sorts of it in there. Letting him know that whatever he puts a little thought into will please you, can put his romantic anxiety at ease. Encourage him and affirm his efforts. Anything that tells him you want to escape the routine of life together will speak to him too!
Some of us may be challenged by what this survey is saying. It challenges some cultural stereotypes about men for sure. But the wrap up question to the whole project is worth mentioning. The only open-ended question was, “What’s the one thing you wish your woman knew that you find difficult to put into words.” Here are the top 5 answers:
- 10% said, “I need her to understood my burden to provide and how draining my job is”
- 10% said, “I need more mutually enjoyed sex.”
- 15% said, “I need more respect in private and in public”
- 18% said, “I wish she’d make more of an effort to take care of herself.”
- Number 1 response, 32% said, “I want her to know how much I love her. And that I love her more than she thinks I do.
The Hope of Ordinary Men
For any woman who wants to support her man, here’s what one man offered in explanation of what her support means him:
“It is so true that behind every great man is a great woman. There are alot of men out there who are mediocre simply because their wives will not support them and bring them to greatness. And there are alot of mediocre men who are destined to become great men, who ARE becoming great men because their wives love and support them. My wife expects great things from me, even though I’m a pretty ordinary guy really. She looks at me like I’m a genius in my field. She respects me in public and affirms me in private. I love her, and like all men, I want to live up to her expectations.”
I hope you/ve encountered a truth or two here that captures your heart and encourages you to move ahead with new understanding of your man,. Anything that brings hope and confidence and greater peace will put your body in the zone for greater health and healing.