Men, have you ever found yourself feeling frustrated when, after a fight with your wife, she seems to doubt your relationship and commitment? It made perfect sense to you that you stopped talking to her when you were mad. You were worried you might say something stupid and be a total jerk. But the next day, after things have simmered down, she kept saying she was concerned if you still loved her. Totally irrational? Of course, you love her! So why would she think that? And how do you explain that an argument is just an argument?
Well, YOU know you’re committed, but your wife may not, at least subconsciously. I know what you’re thinking: “But she should know I love her! I mean, we’re arguing and I’m upset, but it doesn’t mean I care about her any less!” The problem is: that is what you are thinking. You need to know what she is thinking. (And it’s not the same thing!) Let’s consider a few insights into her thoughts and some tools to provide the assurance and security she needs – before – during – and after the arguments that are part of any intimate relationship.
What is she thinking?
There’s something you need to know about women. The vast majority of women (somewhere between 80 and 90 percent according to our nationally-representative surveys for For Men Only) secretly wonder things like: Am I lovable? Does he really love me? Would he choose me all over again? Yes, even confident women in great relationships have those doubts and questions running under the surface. You see, when you said, “I do,” you thought the deal was done, and in all likelihood, the question “Does she love me?” hasn’t crossed your mind since. But she is wired differently.
For her, “I do” will probably always mean “Do you still?” She needs to hear your “I love you.” Now, on a conscious level, she probably knows that your love hasn’t changed just because you’re arguing. But under the surface is where the doubt lives – and when there is conflict, that doubt often rises to the surface and tries to move in! So suddenly her feelings need convincing proof that you’re still there for her. In fact, either conflict or your withdrawal from the situation can trigger her worry — and arguments between men and women usually have both!
What do you do?
So, now what? When there is conflict, she needs to be reassured. She needs for you to remind her that you still love her, because if you don’t, her doubts will keep roiling. And growing. Many women in our research told us, “I know it isn’t the most liberated feeling, but when I know he’s displeased with me, it is like nothing is right with the world until that is resolved.” In fact, without specific reassurance, she may continue to wonder and doubt even after the skirmish seems like yesterday’s news.
How do you do it?
What does that reassurance look like? Men, when you’re upset and need space, reassure your wife that you love her and that you’re going to be fine, before you pull away. Tell her something like, “I’m angry and I need some space… but I want you to know: we’re okay.” Then after you’ve had some time to think, give her a hug. Do something thoughtful to show her you still care (post a sticky note on her mirror where she’ll see it; give her that sideways smile that the two of you know means the argument is over; apologize for being grumpy…).
And next time?
When there is conflict, you’ll need to know what your battle plan will be in advance, so you don’t forget it all in the heat of the moment. And the more you try this type of reassurance-before-and-after-getting-space, the easier it will be. With the right words and actions, you’ll win and she will, too. And soon, you’ll be so good at making her feel secure that you’ll look back and hardly remember the days when her doubt used to rise up and move in.
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.