A women’s ministry leader once told me, “With a woman, if something is unsettled in her marriage or dating relationship, it’s like nothing is right with the world until that is resolved.” So true! Whether it is a single woman who is wondering why her latest date won’t call her back or a woman married fifty years, we are relational creatures. It is so hard to thrive in life, if we’re not thriving in relationships!
If you are a woman who leads women – a women’s ministry director, for example – you find yourself part leader, part counselor, part event planner, part cruise ship director, and part shoulder-to-cry-on. You WANT to help the women you lead thrive in their relationships, but how do you do that?
In more than thirteen years of research, I’ve found one often-overlooked secret makes all the difference: help women understand a few key things about men that they don’t know right now.
You might be thinking: Huh? Stay with me. In the decade since For Women Only came out (has it really been that long??!) I’ve spoken at hundreds of churches and women’s conferences, and with hundreds of thousands of women. And in those events and in my national surveys, I’ve seen this one incontrovertible truth: most relationship problems – for both women and men! — aren’t usually caused by the big-ticket issues, but by the little ones. There are some exceptions of course, but in most cases we simply don’t know something absolutely critical about what makes the other person feel cared for… or what hurts them. So we are trying hard in the wrong areas, or hurting or turning off the other person without ever realizing it!
For us as women, everything changes when we learn a few simple, eye-opening truths about the way men secretly think and feel –those vital, deep needs and insecurities that affect every part of him, but which he didn’t always know how to explain. Once we “see” just a few of those things, and apply them, it is amazing how much of the conflict and heartache goes away and how much more we enjoy our relationship.
Here’s just one example.
It turns out, men look so confident but secretly have much more self-doubt and vulnerability than you realize. A man most wants to be good at what he does — to be a good husband or father, for example — and know that you think he is good at what he does. So feeling like you appreciate him is like oxygen to a man. Yet at the same time because of his deep self-doubt, a man’s most private – and painful – question is, “But wait. Am I any good as a husband, a father, a businessman? Am I adequate? Do I measure up?” And every day, he is looking to the woman in his life for clues as to the answer to that question.
In other words: This self-doubt is like a painful, raw nerve and you can hit that nerve without even realizing you’re doing it. You can really, really hurt the man in your life (or the man you want to be in your life!) without ever intending to.
For example, something that is to us a simple question –like ‘why did you let the kids stay up so late on a school night?’ — can actually imply ‘I think you’re incompetent, you do not measure up as a father, get out of my way.’
Now, if he were to get angry (a man’s signal of feeling inadequate), it is easy to dismiss it as him being oversensitive – but don’t. Put yourself in his shoes. Remember that he deeply wants to be a great dad – but deeply doubts his ability to be one. And now (in his mind) you just confirmed he’s incompetent, so it will be a whole lot better next time not to try.
Yes, that is truly how men think. All the time.
Now imagine: imagine the difference it will make for us to truly see that inner man, the vulnerable one, and recognize that it is not so much what you say as how you say it that makes all the difference. For example, to know that if you need to ask why the kids were up so late, it will make a big difference if you say, “Thanks so much for taking the kids while I went out to my women’s bible study – but help me understand… you know it’s a school night… did you want some more ‘dad time’ with them? What was going on?’
And there is even another possible way to respond. One that is a lot more difficult—and far more powerful. Say “thanks”… and force yourself to not ask the question at all. Force yourself to choose to trust that he is capable but may just have different judgment from you – and that is okay. To not say “did you do this and this and this and this while I was gone?” It is so hard to let go enough to do that, but even if you only do it sometimes, it frees a man up to be a dad in the way he wants to be.
Now yes, of course, we cannot put our brains on hold, and from time to time we may have to raise truly important issues. And yes, there may be times your hubby gets so caught up in the basketball game that he misses little Brandon’s bedtime even though you reminded him of that important math test tomorrow.
But here’s the bottom line question – especially for us women who are used to taking charge and may need reminding of the big picture. Ask yourself: what is more important? Little Brandon’s sleep and his math score? Or meeting your husband’s most important need of feeling that you respect him and think he’s a great dad – especially IF he does actually make a mistake from time to time, which he already feels bad about?
Put like that, there’s no contest.
Tell the women you minister to: while there will be some sad exceptions, the vast majority of married men (more than 99% on my surveys) deeply care about their wives. A man wants to be the man his wife needs. A dating relationship is obviously a bit different, but among the single men in my research it was clear that a man is looking for a woman who will be safe with his tender heart, and can believe in him despite his inevitable mistakes.
Tell your women: Choose to trust your man, choose to believe in him, and watch him become so. Learn those little things you just didn’t know about men and put them into practice. The results I’ve seen in the research are amazing, and if you – or your women — try this, you’ll see amazing results too.
Do you want Shaunti to share these life-changing truths at your church or event? Inquire about Shaunti speaking, here.
Shaunti Feldhahn is the best-selling author of eye-opening, research-based books about men, women and relationships, including For Women Only, For Men Only, The Surprising Secrets of Highly Happy Marriages and her newest, The Good News About Marriage. A Harvard-trained social researcher and popular speaker, her ﬁndings are regularly featured in media as diverse as The Today Show, Focus on the Family, and the New York Times. Visit www.shaunti.com for more.