Last week, speaking primarily to women, we revealed the sneaky trap that will quietly but efficiently kill any marriage:
Never, ever, ever think your spouse “shouldn’t” be hurt by something that wouldn’t hurt you.
The same trap can and often does ensnare men.
For both men and women, we often completely forget (or brush off altogether) the fact that we are very different, and thus have very different insecurities. Different doubts, worries, needs and desires. Which means: things that wouldn’t bother us in any way might legitimately hurt our spouse.
Guys, what does this mean for you? Never, ever underestimate your ability to either make your wife feel secure in your love – or very insecure.
I know this sounds odd to you, but even the most confident woman, in a great relationship, has subconscious doubts that you don’t usually see. Most women (82% according to our For Men Only survey) have a deep hidden question. Am I loveable? Am I beautiful? Especially to him? Is he glad he married me?
Although there are exceptions, most men don’t have those questions. Once you are married, you probably don’t wonder, “Does she love me? Is she glad she married me?” So you don’t realize your wife does have those questions. And you have no idea how easily she can doubt the answers.
So imagine that you are displeased with your wife over something that happened. Maybe she overrode a decision you made about one of the kids. Maybe she did something that made you feel stupid in front of your friends. It isn’t a huge life-altering deal, but it matters to you and you’re legitimately upset. You withdraw. Or maybe it isn’t really about her; maybe you’re mostly worrying over some mistakes at work. Maybe you’re working lots of extra hours, and are just tired and in a bad mood this week.
Regardless of the situation, you can tell she wants to talk. Or she wants to make up. But you’re just not ready. Instead you’re withdrawn, silent, maybe angry, maybe sullen and grumpy for a while.
None of what you’re doing would particularly hurt, if she was doing it to you. At least that much.
For her, it is excruciating.
Why? Because it is triggering her personal insecurity. Without realizing it – and certainly without intending to! — you are answering “Am I loveable? Is he glad he married me?” with a resounding “NO.”
What to do? Two things:
First, you probably assume she knows how much I love her. Don’t! She has the “Is he glad he married me?” question every day, so she needs to know the answer through simple words and gestures every day. (See this column for ideas.)
But second, and more to our point here, realize: what wouldn’t hurt you much (if at all) legitimately hurts your wife. So when you’re upset, she needs reassurance of your love to diminish that hurt, or avoid it entirely. Now, you may or may not be able to immediately change your feelings, or your desire to withdraw. But you can change how you handle it. This reassurance will go a long way: “I’m upset, I need some space to process this, but I love you and we’re okay.” That will tell her that this period of displeasure is not the beginning of things going bad.
Your wife is a smart woman, and she probably knows that logically… but because she is different from you, her heart needs to hear it.
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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 groundbreaking The Good News About Marriage, and her newest book, Through A Man’s Eyes. 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.