An iceberg is typically 90% below the surface, with only 10% visible. Does your man ever seem like that iceberg, with so much hiding under the surface compared to the small portion you can actually see? Like many men, he probably doesn’t volunteer a whole lot about what he’s thinking and feeling deep down.
So if your husband’s mood turns a bit icy when you ask him certain questions, you can feel the chill, but you might not know why he’s responding in that way. You’re seeing the small visible portion—his response—without being aware of the thoughts and feelings that are submerged underneath. And you’re left wondering what’s going on.
In researching my book For Women Only, we learned a lot about what men are really thinking and feeling so I have a good idea what’s underneath your husband’s reaction. It’s a hidden vulnerability that goes to the very core of his being.
By understanding that vulnerability and being sensitive to it, you can build your man up in the way that he needs—and eliminate some of those chilly moments in your relationship.
Men Experience Much More Self-Doubt Than Women Realize
Most men appear confident and strong on the outside. That’s the tip of the iceberg that you see every day. But what’s hiding beneath the surface is self-doubt and insecurity. And the scope of that self-doubt is much bigger than we women realize. A man wants to be good at what he does—to be a good husband or father, for example—and he longs to know that you think he’s good at what he does. So feeling like you admire and appreciate him is like oxygen to a man. At the same time, because of this deep self-doubt, a man’s most private—and painful—question is: “Am I any good as a husband, a father, a businessman? Am I adequate? Do I measure up?” And every day, he’s looking to the woman in his life for clues in answering that question.
This self-doubt is your husband’s secret vulnerability. It’s like a painful, raw nerve. And you—the most important person in his life—can hit that nerve without even realizing you’re doing it. You can deeply hurt the man in your life without ever intending to.
Men Constantly Question Their Competence
Here’s one example. When you ask what to you is a simple question—”why did you give the kids fast food for dinner again?”—he hears this: “you can’t provide decent meals for the kids, you’re not cutting it as a father, let me take over and do it right.”
Now, if he responds to the question by getting angry (which is a man’s signal of feeling inadequate), it’s 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 he also deeply doubts his ability to be one. And now (in his mind) you just confirmed he’s incompetent, so it would just be a lot easier to not even try next time.
Yes, that is truly how men think. All the time.
Now imagine what would happen if you were aware of that self-doubt hidden below the surface, if you understood his vulnerability. If you recognized that it’s not so much what you say as how you say it. For example, if you need to ask why the kids had fast food, it would make a big difference if you said, “I know you were pressed for time between soccer and youth group. Thanks for taking care of dinner. Next time they beg you for chicken nuggets and fries, you should give that new sandwich place a try! I hear it’s good!”
Be Sensitive To Your Man’s Vulnerability
But there’s even another possible way to respond. This one is much more difficult—and far more powerful. Force yourself to not ask the question at all and just say “thanks.” Choose to trust that he is capable but may just have different judgment than you—and that is okay. Try not saying “did you do this and this and this while I was gone?” Your intent is information gathering, but to him it sounds (and feels) like you’re checking up on him. 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 husband and dad in the way he wants to be.
Of course, we can’t 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 Connor’s bedtime even though you reminded him about the 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 Connor’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 actually does make a mistake from time to time, which he already feels bad about?
When you look at it that way, making the choice to honor your husband is easy.
Build Your Husband Up By Believing In Him
Your man does want to do what’s best for you and for the family. And while there will be some unfortunate exceptions, the vast majority of married men (more than 99% on my surveys) care deeply and sincerely about their wives. A man wants to be the man his wife needs. But he wrestles with the self-doubt that’s hiding below the surface—every single day. So use your knowledge of this vulnerability with care. Show your man that you believe in him. Build him up with your appreciation, understanding and love. Every single day.
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This article was first published at Patheos.