Ladies, if you could improve your relationship with your man by applying a few simple truths, would you? Seriously: think about that question. Because I’ve found in my research with thousands of men for For Women Only, that the things that light your man up — and which hurt him — are probably quite different from those that would do the same for you.
Which means that if we want to improve our relationship, we need to be willing to learn. We need to be willing to humbly set aside our preconceived notions, our habits, even our indignation about whether our man “should” feel this way or need that thing at all — and see our man for who he really is.
If you’re willing to do that, here are four secrets about your man’s heart that every woman needs to know — and the changes that you might want to make in response.
Secret #1: You man’s heart is far more vulnerable than you realize — specifically, about what he does.
Deep in the heart of most women (about 8 in 10 on our surveys) is a secret question: Am I loveable? Beautiful? Am I worthy of being loved for who I am on the inside? And that doesn’t go away just because we are married, right? This is why it hurts so much when you are in an emotional conflict with your man and he shuts down and withdraws, saying he needs to get away and get some space. It triggers the anxious subconscious question (as crazy as it might be) about whether he still loves you. The thought, “Are we okay?” roils in your gut. Even as you go about your day, it is hard to concentrate until you get that text or call from your man, apologizing or making up. There is a deep need for reassurance.
Well, your big strong husband has his own secret question – it just happens to be very different from yours. His question is Am I able? Do I measure up? Am I any good at what I do? (In other words, “Am I any good at what I do on the outside?”) Depending on the survey, 75-85% of men have this question. Down deep, they wonder whether they are any good at what they try to do for you, wonder whether you think they are a good husband, or a good father. With all the little things that they do for you – changing the lightbulbs, getting the right groceries from the store, going to work each day, choosing the best seats for your family in the movie theater – they are secretly holding their hearts out on a platter, wanting to please you yet doubting they are up to the task.
So realize when you respond to your husband, you’re responding to the inner, vulnerable man – not the confident-looking outer one. Which leads to Secret #2….
Secret #2: Your man is always looking for signals about how he is doing – and you’re always sending those signals, whether you realize it or not.
Because of your man’s subconscious vulnerability, he’s looking for signals from the people around him about whether he’s doing a good job (“Does my wife think I’m a good dad? Did my co-worker seem to think I have what it takes to run this project? Did the kids notice that I set aside my own work tonight to drive them to baseball?)
When you regularly share your discontent (“Why did you send the kids outside without their coats?” “You forgot the extra butter at the store again”), you send a very painful signal. It is roughly equivalent to the signal you would get if you tried to hug your husband for reassurance during an emotional conflict, and he stonily set you aside, and said ‘I do not want to talk to you today.’ By contrast, when you express overt appreciation for the little things he does, you affirm your husband in the most tender places of his heart.
Believe it or not, when it’s raining and he drops you off near the door to the movie theater, your simple words, “Thank you for keeping me dry, honey” is a huge encouragement to him. (“She noticed what I did, and thinks I did a good job.”)
Secret #3: The reason he needs to hear affirmation is that he probably doesn’t see it the way you would
Although there are exceptions to this, many men don’t pick up on “vibes” or body language in the same way many women do. So he truly may have no clue how you feel about something he did. He needs to hear your words of affirmation telling him he’s good enough. He needs to hear how proud you are of his work or a simple “thank you” for his efforts. He needs to know that you’re pleased with what he did. Don’t leave it to chance for him to try to figure it out – actually tell him.
As I’m speaking at women’s events, I often get the question, “But, shouldn’t he “just know” that I think he’s doing a great job? Why should I have to tell him?” Sure, he may intellectually “know,” down deep, that you appreciate him – but he still deeply needs to hear you saying it. Wouldn’t you hate it if your man rarely hugged you or rarely told you he loved you because, well, after all, you already know he does?
Your words of affirmation encourage him and keep him going. They reassure that inner voice asking “Am I good enough?” Just like you want to hear, “you’re beautiful and I love you,” he wants to hear those words that signal, “I noticed what you did and it was good.”
Secret #4: Affirmation in the bedroom is the deepest salve for his secret vulnerability
We women tend to misunderstand what physical intimacy means to our man. We think of it as a physical need – which can often feel quite optional, especially when our physical need is sleep!
But instead, the importance of sex for a man is primarily emotional: when he knows that you desire him, it gives him confidence about how he’s doing in the other areas of his life. And when you sexually flirt with him, respond to him in the bedroom, or even initiate intimacy, it says something very powerful to the vulnerable places in your husband’s heart: I do desire you… you do measure up… you are not alone.
As with all things, there are always exceptions, and some women are the ones with the higher libido (see a response to that here). But most probably, your man is secretly longing for sexual connection not primarily for physical pleasure, but for a deep connection with you, the woman he loves, and for the deep reassurance that you care, that you believe in him, and he is worth you being one with him in every way.
Helping people thrive in life and relationships is Shaunti Feldhahn’s driving passion, supported by her research projects and writing. After starting out with a Harvard graduate degree and experience on Wall Street, her life took an unexpected shift into relationship research. She now is a popular speaker around the world and the author of best-selling books about men, women, and relationships. (Including For Women Only, For Men Only, and the groundbreaking The Good News About Marriage).
Her newest book, The Kindness Challenge, demonstrates that kindness is the answer to almost every life problem, and is sparking a much-needed movement of kindness across the country. Visit www.shaunti.com for more.