Shaunti Feldhahn is a Harvard-educated analyst who wants to help men and women to have healthy, long-lasting marriages.
“I travel a lot,” says Feldhahn. “People frequently ask me what I do, and my usual response is: ‘I help women understand men.’ The men usually laugh and say, ‘You know, we really aren’t that complicated.'”
Feldhahn’s research found that in most cases, relationship problems happen when a husband and wife care deeply for each other and are trying really hard, but often in the wrong areas.
“I ended up writing What Women Need to Know About Men to help open people’s eyes so they start trying hard in the areas that will help them avoid hurting each other unnecessarily,” Feldhahn says. “We asked men and women ages 15-75 to tell us: ‘What are your fears, what are the things that light you up, and what makes you feel really bad?'”
Women wanted to know: Am I lovable? Am I special? Am I worth loving for who I am on the inside? Guys wanted to know: Am I adequate? Am I able? Am I any good at what I do on the outside?
“These responses were significant,” Feldhahn says. “‘Am I adequate?’ leads to an entirely different set of primary needs than, ‘Am I lovable?’ A solid three-quarters of the men surveyed said, if they were forced to choose, they would choose giving up feeling loved by their wife if they could just feel respected by her.”
Feldhahn realized that women could tell their husbands they love them and be critical at the same time. It happens by questioning his decision-making skills and constantly telling him what to do and how to do it.
“Trying to gain a greater understanding of this, I was speaking with a friend who made the statement to me, ‘I love my wife, but nothing I do is ever good enough,'” Feldhahn says. “I asked what he meant. He told me that they recently had friends over for dinner. When the friends left, his wife needed to run to a meeting so he cleaned up the kitchen. When she returned home she kissed his cheek and looked over his shoulder into the kitchen and sighed. She then went into the kitchen and started cleaning the countertops. I asked the husband if there was anything his wife could have done differently. He said, ‘Yes, she could have said thanks.'”
Feldhahn contends that many women make men feel that what they do isn’t good enough and that they are idiots. In fact, women often say it is their job to keep their husband humble. In reality, underneath the mask of confidence, most men want to do a good job in whatever role, but they aren’t sure they know what they are doing. And they hope nobody finds out.
“When we as women are thinking about something you know it because we process out loud,” Feldhahn says. “When men are thinking, they almost do an internal chess match before they ever talk about it. Our research showed that in most cases, if you see a decision, instead of asking ‘Why did you do that?’ if you will ask, ‘Help me understand,’ in most cases you will hear a long explanation.”
For example, a wife went out to a birthday party, leaving Dad with the kids. When she returned, she asked her husband why he had given the kids juice for dinner instead of milk. He got mad. She got defensive, and things went downhill from there.
“I asked the husband to help us understand. He said, ‘I went to the fridge to get the milk and realized if I gave them milk for dinner there wouldn’t be enough for breakfast. I was going to go get more milk, but the baby was already asleep, and we’ve been having a terrible time with her sleep cycle, so I didn’t want to wake her up just to go get milk. I decided to give the kids juice, which I diluted by half with water so they wouldn’t have as much sugar.’ The look on his wife’s face said it all. This was a perfect example of assuming there was no thinking behind the behavior.”
Feldhahn believes it’s important to let your husband be the dad he wants to be, not the dad you want him to be. Stop sending signals or telling him he is inadequate and doesn’t measure up. Instead of questioning his decisions, assume he has thought about it and seek to understand.