Rachel had hurt her husband Nathan’s feelings and she didn’t even know how. She just knew he was upset. After the kids were in bed, she asked again what was wrong. Nathan finally admitted that she hurt his feelings when she pointed out some flaws in the painting job he had just finished in their son’s bedroom.
Rachel felt like he was magnifying a few offhand comments and she was sure he knew how much she appreciated him fitting the task into their busy family’s life. But the feedback that echoed in Nathan’s mind and heart was her criticism of a project he was happy to finally complete. Their different interpretations of one conversation had created a disconnect in understanding and emotion.
Have you experienced similar disconnects with your man? In my research with thousands of men for For Women Only, I discovered that the things that light men up—and the things that hurt them—are quite different from those that would do the same for us women. And while we know men are indeed visual and many times “external” in their thinking, there are actually much deeper areas of a man than we might realize.
This means that if we want to improve our relationship with the man we love, we must be willing to learn. We must set aside what we think we know about him and see our man for who he really is on the inside.
Here are four secret inner thoughts that are going on inside your man’s mind and heart.
He Wonders If He Measures Up
Men and women each have a burning question inside of them—but the two questions are very different. For women, the question goes like this: “Am I loveable, beautiful, and worthy of being loved?” Our question doesn’t go away just because we get married. This is why it’s painful for us when we are in an emotional conflict with our man and he shuts down and withdraws. It triggers our internal question and we need to know that our relationship is still okay.
For men, however, the question looks like this: “Am I able, do I measure up, and am I any good at what I do?” When surveyed, 75-85% of men state that they have this question burning on the inside most of the time. They wonder whether they are any good at what they try to do for you, whether you think they are a good husband, whether you think they measure up. With every little thing they do for you, they are secretly holding their hearts out, wanting to please you yet doubting they are up to the task. Realize that when you respond to your husband, you’re responding to the inner, vulnerable man—not the confident-looking outer one.
He Is Looking For Signals About How He Is Doing
Because of that internal question of whether he’s good enough, your husband is always 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? Does my co-worker think I have what it takes to run this project?) And you’re always sending signals, whether you know it or not.
When you regularly show discontent (“Why did you send the kids outside without their coats?” or “You got the wrong brand of lunch meat at the grocery store again.”), you send a signal that is as painful to your man as it would be for you to try to hug him during an emotional conflict and he stonily turned away and said, “I don’t want to talk to you today.” By contrast, when you express appreciation for the little things he does, you affirm your husband in the most tender places of his heart.
He Needs To Hear Words Of Affirmation
Men typically don’t pick up on “vibes” or body language the way many women do, so he may truly have no idea how you feel about something he did. He needs to hear your words of affirmation telling him that he’s good enough. He needs to hear how proud you are of his work or just a simple “thank you” for his efforts. Don’t leave it to chance for him to try and figure it out—actually tell him!
“But shouldn’t he just know that I think he’s doing a great job?” I’ve been asked that question many times at women’s events, and I always answer this way: He probably does know intellectually that you appreciate him but he still deeply needs to hear you say it. Wouldn’t you hate it if he rarely told you that he loves you because he figures you already know? Your words of affirmation answer his inner question of “Am I good enough?” Your words encourage him and keep him going.
He Has An Emotional Need For Physical Intimacy
Women often tend to misunderstand what physical intimacy means to our husbands. We think of it as a physical need—which can make it feel like it’s optional, especially when our physical need is sleep!
What we must understand is that 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 every other area of his life! When you sexually flirt with him, respond to him in the bedroom, or initiate intimacy, it says something very powerful to those vulnerable places in his heart: “I do desire you . . . you do measure up . . . you are not alone.”
There are always exceptions, but most likely your husband 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 that he is worth you being one with him in every way.
So be on the alert for those potential disconnects in understanding and emotion. Know that beneath the rugged and tough exterior of your man is a much softer and deeper part that he keeps hidden. Be sensitive to these four inner thoughts, and put your understanding of them—and of him—to work in your relationship. Then watch the strength of your connection grow.
This article was also published at Patheos.
Check out the online courses of Shaunti’s research and teachings at SurprisingHope.com.
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