It turns out that there is something very major under the surface of this very minor question.
Recently, Jeff and I went on a big shopping expedition for groceries and many other essentials for our college-bound kids. We finally rolled home with about 20 bags and boxes—everything from a shower curtain liner to a boxed coffee maker to cartons of fresh fruit and dorm-friendly snacks. I then watched in disbelief as Jeff opened the minivan door and began gathering up one bag after another, then more, then more, and then moved to put the coffee maker box under his arm.
What was he doing??
“Honey, let me help!” There was no pause in his movements. “Honey, I’m right here!”
He looked up and grinned as he delicately hooked the last bag with his pinkie finger. “Just open the kitchen door, wouldja?”
Speechless, I watched as the precariously balanced items moved toward the door, convinced that at any moment the coffee maker would crash and break, and the strawberries would fall and be smushed underfoot.
Ladies, will you join me in asking: WHY?! Why risk a wife’s mini-heart attack? I know that question is NOT just mine, because when I went on a popular photography site to find an image for this piece and simply searched “grocery bag,” the above image is what came up!!!
So I figured I would put on my social-researcher hat and ask a bunch of husbands this week’s question. What I heard is enlightening—because there is something very important running under the surface. There are three factors here that are pretty simple . . . but also pretty meaningful for all of us who want to have a great relationship with our man. (And these same factors often matter to our sons, as well.)
Factor #1: It’s a challenge—and he can beat it
Although there are exceptions, for a lot of women the related question is, “Why would anyone take the risk of having all the groceries crash to the ground?” It is immensely puzzling—even exasperating!
So here’s the first and most important answer we heard: as one man put it, “But the point is that I won’t let everything crash to the ground. That I can do this.” The lure of somehow managing to carry in everything at once is all about a desire to tackle a challenge—and master it.
Why? Why does that matter?
Secretly, there’s something in the heart of a man that is always doubting himself. You usually don’t see that insecurity but it is there, in at least 75% of men on our surveys. So to overcome that insecurity, a guy subconsciously looks for opportunities to set before himself a challenging task and beat it. This is especially appealing where he knows the risk of failure is low—he’s in front of his wife, not the review committee at work. Successfully balancing 15 boxes of crackers and fruit and getting them all inside safely is his day’s version of climbing Pike’s Peak. There’s a rush of energy as feel-good endorphins and hormones like dopamine flood his brain; a rush that comes with the sense that he’s “done good.”
This is the same reason that back in the pre-GPS day a guy would never want to ask for directions, preferring to tackle the wilds of the urban jungle with just his wits and mental compass. Or why your man today might be trying to keep alive a daily Fitbit streak of going to the gym 60 minutes a day—even though it always makes him have to rush to work. Or why he’s being prickly about your requests to get rid of that old car in the garage because gosh darn it, he’s going to get it up and running again.
He is seeking a chance to push himself. Sometimes, doing the hard things is the path to greatness—no pain, no gain. This is his chance to confront a challenge head-on . . . and emerge triumphant.
Factor #2: He wants you to cheer him on
Oh boy. This is where I often fail miserably. As you can see from my semi-exasperated statements to Jeff, I often do the opposite. Pestering Jeff to not try to carry everything was not a huge deal—but it was exactly the opposite of what he was looking for. Many of us either tolerate our man’s efforts (sometimes rolling our eyes in the process) or get actively frustrated.
I’m quite convicted to realize that what my husband—perhaps like yours!—is looking for is active encouragement. A man might not actually be climbing Pike’s Peak but he is still testing himself against adversity. He wants to feel that he’s “done good”—especially because you think he has done good!
Which leads to the third and final truth that we need to reckon with.
Factor #3: He wants you to trust him
Why do we wince—or even get mad!—when our man picks up that gravity-defying stack of groceries? It’s because we don’t trust him to be able to do it well.
Now, we may think it is perfectly logical not to trust him—after all, we think, we wouldn’t be able to do what he is trying to do! But the men I have asked about this—every single one—have said they wouldn’t attempt it if they hadn’t decided they could accomplish it.
“I’m not dumb—I know when it is truly beyond me,” one man said. “But otherwise, it is exciting to try and show that it isn’t beyond me.”
And that is why this minor little issue touches a much deeper reality: Many issues in our relationship stem from this dichotomy: Our man is longing for us to trust him—and we usually do, in theory! Yet when push comes to shove (or when he is ferrying both the baby carrier and a giant stack of boxes from the car) we don’t know that we can trust him after all. We signal the opposite. Which in any one little situation isn’t a big deal—but all too often the little situations pile up. Most of us don’t want to walk through our days in such a way that we confirm our man’s secret insecurities instead of countering them!
Sure, there will be occasions where to trust is foolish. After all, there are, sadly, unreliable individuals and difficult situations that require sober-minded thinking and intervention instead. Or there may be cases where a man doesn’t realize he is trying to juggle something valuable or precious, and he would want you to rescue that item yourself.
But in most cases, with most of our men, we can choose to trust. We can choose to avoid reacting in a way that rejects the idea of his competence. We can choose to hold our breath and look away if necessary. Or . . . we can even choose to say, “you go, boy!” and enjoy the sight of our man accomplishing something that makes him feel so pleased with himself.
When we do, we can also watch and see how that choice changes our man’s demeanor . . . and our feelings about the whole thing. Because that moment is when we realize that he longs to see his wife being his cheerleader, and that our little bit of encouragement is a minor daily boost to his belief in himself. Which means it isn’t so minor after all.
This article was also published at Patheos.
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“He wants you to cheer him on?” My goodness, I’m so glad my husband isn’t this needy. It’s usually me who tries to carry everything all at once and my husband telling me it’s not necessary to do that. Needing to be cheered on for over extending yourself is just weird. What happened to a simple “…thank you?”