Recently I wrote “This is what inadequacy feels like to your man” to pull back the curtain on some deep male emotions – and help women see that seemingly “minor” things can trigger painful feelings in our men.
But the next step of understanding is just as important. So let me ask you a question:
Have you ever seen your husband or boyfriend suddenly shut down in the middle of an emotional discussion, right when you most wish he would engage?
Has he ever said, ‘Fine, you do it,’ and walked away – leaving you to handle the kids/that decision/that chore on your own?
Or have you ever seen him check out emotionally and even physically for days or months at a time, leaving you bereft, anxious and worried? (And eventually withdrawn, angry, and even bitter yourself?)
There could be many different reasons for those reactions, but let’s look at the most likely one – and what to do about it.
He is feeling inadequate – which is far more painful than we recognize
You can see a better description of this perplexing reality in the previous article, but here’s a quick review. Men’s insecurity is different from ours. We women are more likely to wonder, “Am I worthy of being loved for who I am on the inside?” while men are more likely to wonder, “Am I any good at what I do on the outside?” And both feelings are far more easily triggered, and far more painful, than the opposite sex realizes.
Ladies, think of it this way. Imagine that you are having an emotional argument over breakfast with your man. He angrily says he needs to get to work, and drives away. If you’re like most women in our surveys, you have a painful feeling roiling in your gut much of the day, right? Well, that’s sort of what your man feels like when his inadequacy insecurity has been triggered; when he starts questioning whether he’s any good at what he tried to do with the kids / whether he’s capable of making that decision / whether you think he did the chore wrong.
The most painful choice is to keep trying and keep feeling inadequate – so he shuts down instead
If inadequacy is a man’s most painful feeling, he will eventually shy away from trying to do whatever makes him feel inadequate.
So if he feels like he often “gets it wrong” when he tries to do things with the kids (for example, because he hears dissatisfied comments from you, teachers, or the kids themselves), he is eventually going to stop doing things with the kids. If he feels like he can’t win in presenting his case for a given decision, he’s going to stop presenting his point and let you have your way. If he feels like every time he cleans the living room you come along behind him and re-do it “better,” he’s going to step back from that chore. Why? Not just because he’s annoyed (although he probably is), but because he feels like he is continuously trying and continuously failing, and it is just too painful to try again.
I still remember one man I talked to who, privately, told me he felt like this a lot. And my guess was that his wife simply had no idea. At the time, he was still smarting from offering to take his kids to their well-check-up at the doctor, because his wife had a big meeting. He understood his wife’s desire to give him detailed instructions (“make sure you ask this and this and this…”). But then she wanted him to write out exactly what he was going to ask. (Uh, yeah, ladies, treating your husband like a boy who needs supervision is never a good thing!)
Then during the exam the female pediatrician implied annoyance that he was there instead of his wife, assuming he wouldn’t know the answers she needed. (“Do you have any idea if Johnny recovered from his ear infection okay?” This dad was thinking, “Uh, yeah, I live in the house too, you know.” What he actually said, politely, was, “Yes, thank you. He was better two days after we started antibiotics.”) And then after the check-up, his wife asked many questions and was annoyed that he couldn’t give her minute details on certain elements of the visit. (“Yes, they got their shots, and I got the immunization form. No, I don’t know when the next immunizations are due.”)
This man told me, “No way am I doing that again. My way of handling things clearly isn’t good enough, so she’s welcome to do it. I’m out.”
Of course, we as women usually don’t intend to send the signal that “you’re not good enough,” and we certainly don’t want them to shut down! So what do we do instead?
Ensure your man knows you believe in him.
Just like you long to be reassured when your man drives angrily away after an argument (“I’m sorry for driving away without saying goodbye, honey.”), your man longs to be reassured that you believe in him.
In other words, he needs to know and see in the daily things of life, that you’re on his side. That you won’t second-guess him all the time. That you’ll appreciate him when he folds the clothes and puts them away, even if he didn’t fold them the way you do. That you may have differences of opinion about certain tactics with the kids, but that doesn’t shake your appreciation for him or your trust in him as a husband and father. He needs to know, in short, that you see any disconnects or mistakes as momentary blips on the radar, not as giant signposts of his inability or inadequacy.
After reading that blog on how terribly inadequate I felt when a brand-new talk on a new topic didn’t go well, Jeff had a great insight on this. “I think it might help if women realized that that inadequate feeling often keeps us from trying things. It would be as if you just stopped doing speaking events on the new research because the discomfort you felt that day was so great. Yet you know that you can only get better by speaking and testing out the material. You have to keep trying. And we need to keep trying too–even when it is really uncomfortable. We don’t want to check out either, you know. This is where it is so important for a man to know his wife is in his corner, believing in him, even when he doesn’t believe in himself.”
After all, the men tell me, a wife knows her husband better than anyone else in the world. So it is your signals that matter most.
Even when we have differences, most of us do believe in our man. Let’s make sure they know it.
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Shaunti Feldhahn loves sharing eye-opening information that helps people thrive in life and relationships. She herself started out with a Harvard graduate degree and Wall Street credentials but no clue about life. After an unexpected shift into relationship research for average people like her, she now is a popular speaker and 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 latest book, Find Rest: A Women’s Devotional for Lasting Peace in Busy Life, focuses on a journey to rest even with life’s constant demands.
Visit www.shaunti.com for more.