WARNING: this post may tick you off.
But please read! Here goes:
About a year or so ago my husband and I were just overwhelmed with busy-ness. I was speaking a lot, and he was working a lot, and we weren’t connecting. Two nights in a row we didn’t make love because I was preoccupied. Then I was away speaking. When I came home it was the middle of the night so we didn’t, either. The next night I was still tired, but neither of us slept well because both of us were feeling that something was wrong in our relationship. The next night we did make love.
And then he bought me flowers.
I got mad. I interpreted it like this:
“My husband wants sex too much, so he’ll reward me when we make love, and punish me when we don’t. He’ll be distant when we don’t make love deliberately so that I will start putting out.”
And I got really frustrated.
And then it hit me: maybe the reason Keith bought me flowers was simply because he felt closer to me and lovey towards me. I thought what was going through his brain was this:
“I need to manipulate my wife into doing what I want.”
What was really going through his head was this:
“I love my wife. I think I’ll buy her flowers.”
You see, my friends, men are usually quite simple.
In general, men need two things: to feel appreciated and to feel wanted.
Usually we say men need “respect”, but I think respect can be more easily defined as both affirmation and appreciation. When we affirm what they do and show them appreciation, they feel ten feet tall. When we make love to them, we affirm their manhood and they feel loved. And when they feel loved, they tend to feel less antsy, more compassionate, and more eager to keep pleasing us because they feel like the relationship is something they do well. (Now, I know some of you are married to men who don’t WANT to make love, and that’s a different problem. If you’re facing that one, I’d recommend reading this series that I wrote on what to do if your husband doesn’t want sex).
Men tend to want to put in effort in areas they feel they are good at.
That’s why if a man feels he’s lousy at marriage he’ll start working more, or playing on the computer more. He retreats to areas of competence. Make your man feel incompetent and irrelevant, and he’ll retreat. It’s as simple as that.
Now, of course, some men are louts, and it doesn’t matter how much we try to please them, they’re going to retreat and be insensitive. Absolutely. But I think the number of honest to goodness natural louts is far fewer than the number of men who currently ACT like louts. I think many men act like louts because that is how they have been treated.
Too many of us have virtually no respect for what a husband really needs, but we have unlimited respect for our own needs. And we’re not only hurting our husbands–we’re hurting ourselves.
Let me talk about a couple I know who has been married for 35 years now. I watch them every now and then, and while I know they’re not splitting up, I don’t see a lot of tenderness. She snipes at him and criticizes him every chance she gets, and he bristles and walks out of the room. Every now and then he retaliates, but not often. She isn’t showing him that she appreciates him; she’s showing him that she doesn’t think he’s good enough. He’s always wrong. And it’s no wonder that he doesn’t act tenderly towards her!
If you take that same couple at year one of their marriage instead of at year thirty-five, though, and his wife started thanking him for his contribution, and asking about his day, and making love to him with relative frequency, and respecting his opinion, I bet at thirty-five years they’d be a lot more affectionate and a lot more tender.
Men really aren’t complicated.
Do those two things: appreciate him and make love frequently, and you’ll likely find that he starts being nicer to the kids. He helps with the dishes. He phones if he’s going to be late. He feels competent and appreciated, and he wants to keep excelling in the family sphere because it’s something he does well. Make him feel like he’s not doing it well, and he will start to wither.
Why can’t we just give to our men this way? Because we don’t work that way. Remember the book “Sex Begins in the Kitchen” by Kevin Leman? I know it was written by a man, because only a man would think the sexual relationship was that straightforward. He’s thinking the way men do, and then reversing the equation. When a man gets his primary needs met, he tends to reach out and start meeting a woman’s needs. So Leman assumes that women act the same way: when we get our need for affection met, and when he starts helping around the house and caring about us, we’ll start to make love more.
It’s not true.
I’ve known many men who are saints at home and their wives aren’t helping at all, because we tend to question men’s motivations. We think either that they’re trying to manipulate us, or we come up with other things they’re doing wrong. Or, perhaps even more likely, we think to ourselves: “I’m glad he cares about me, because I work really hard. I need to take a break now so he can carry more of the load”, and we don’t think of returning the favour much at all.
We women are far too focused on what is “right” and what is “fair“.
That’s because we’re naturally multi-taskers, and we have a million things in our minds at one time. If our husbands meet one of our needs, we’ll simply think of 99 others that are unmet, because all of it is sloshing around in our brains, all the time. We’re asking ourselves, how much did he care for the kids today? How much housework did he do? Did he let me talk? Did he care? And if the answer is no in any of these areas, we tend to hold it as our right to pull back from him until he improves.
We don’t tend to feel all lovey dovey towards him when he does something right. We don’t feel ten feet tall when he does the dishes or takes care of the kids. We simply think, “that’s what he should have been doing anyway”–and then we focus on all the other things we still need.
So the adage, “meet your spouse’s needs, and they’ll meet yours” has much more of a chance of working for women than it does for men.
Because men can focus on one thing at a time, then when you show appreciation, he feels appreciated. Because women are multi-taskers, we’re not as straightforward, and it’s harder for us to feel all lovey dovey.
When it comes to husbands, then, if you put yourself out and really show him appreciation and make love, he will, more than likely, become a different person over time. On the other hand, if he does the same thing, there is no guarantee that you will change, because we don’t work the same way. What he needs is the affirmation that he receives through sex, and so many of us are so focused on being exhausted and not having time that we don’t think that maybe, just maybe, we should consider his needs for a second. In our way of thinking, our husbands often impede on our ability to enjoy our life, what with all their demands, and frankly, they’re far too much like animals, anyway.
And then women wonder why, fifteen years into marriage, their husband seems so distant and so insensitive.
Now, I understand that “just have sex” won’t work in all situations–in fact I have a post where I write about 3 cases where “just have sex” is exactly the WRONG thing to do. But in most marriages, it really will change the dynamic and put you on the road to feeling much closer and much happier with your husband.
Does that mean that it’s women’s fault if men don’t care about our feelings? If they don’t help with the kids? No, it’s not, because men are morally obligated to do these things anyway, whether or not we return the favour. But here’s the thing: just because you can’t be morally blamed for it does not mean that you could not have taken steps to make your marriage better.
We honestly have an easier deal with marriage than men do because men are so relatively simple (and I don’t mean this in a derogatory way; we’re just made differently). Give them appreciation and make love, and they will tend to feel tenderly towards us. We, on the other hand, are far more complex, and we’re not easy to figure out. Men actually have it harder.
I know this isn’t popular to say. I know a lot of you are mad at me right now, and thinking what an idiot your husband is, and how I’m blaming you for not having sex with an idiot. I don’t walk in your shoes, and it could be that your husband really is that horrible.
But then, if you don’t mind me asking, why did you marry him?
When you were dating, he probably was nice to you, and that was probably because he did feel ten feet tall. You appreciated him. You affirmed him. You “made out” with him and seemed so hot for him! Then you got married and he didn’t feel like he had to woo you, but you also stopped with your affection, too. The difference is that you justify your behaviour; he often doesn’t notice his. And as the months and years pass, your relationship takes on a different dynamic. Maybe the problem is not your husband, but the dynamic of your relationship.
You saw something nice in your husband once. I believe those attractive qualities can come out again.
So, please, ladies, even if you don’t believe what I’m saying, can I ask you to suspend your disbelief and try an experiment?
Instead of thinking about how your husband wants sex too much, commit for six weeks (it has to be a long enough period of time) to do the following things:
1. Thank your husband once a day for something (try to make it something different each time)
2. Compliment your husband to your mother, your children, your friends, whoever, within earshot of your husband, every chance you get.
3. Do not nag.
4. Do not give the silent treatment.
5. Make love with relative frequency (say at least 2-3 times a week).
At the end of six weeks, see if you feel differently towards your husband, and if he is acting differently towards you. I bet you will! Just the act of being nice to him will make you start thinking more nicely about him.
And as you make love more frequently, you will feel closer to him and you’ll feel more goodwill, too. Maybe that’s hard for you because you honestly don’t enjoy sex. If that’s the case, The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex has great info in a fun way that can help you turn it around! If you don’t like sex, it’s really worth trying to tackle the problem, because it will help your marriage so much!
I know you may not believe me, but so many marriages would be saved if we women would just learn how to love our men.
Will you try?