I think that as wives, most women want to support their husbands and be supportive of their ventures. Sometimes we just don’t know exactly the best way to do so or frankly, if we were honest, there are days we just don’t want to know-how set aside. And there is the reality that women and men are hard wired differently. The numerous jokes that exist and self/relationship improvement books point this out time and time again. Let’s use this slight joke/example:
Husband comes home from a day of fishing. He is quiet and appears down.
The observant wife asks, “Everything ok?”
Husband, shrugs and replies, “Yeah.”
To his wife’s observations, he sulks back to the couch, plops down and turns on the TV. He seems distracted, distant. Even though the TV is on, he doesn’t seem to really be watching.
Again, the observant wife asks, “Are you sure nothing is wrong?”
Husband again says, this time a little frustrated, “Yeah.”
By this point, the wife starts to think: I’m sure something is wrong. He isn’t normally this way. He isn’t talking to me. I wonder if there is something I have done that he isn’t happy with? Was it something from yesterday?
She pays even closer attention. Every now and then, he mumbles to himself. Shakes his head. Through dinner, their conversations consists of silence, her occassional comment or question met by his single word response or some grunt or no word response.
By this point she is convinced, she has done something. Questions of self doubt and worry run through her head as she tries to figure out what she has done, what has happened. She tries again, “I know something is wrong. What have I done?”
The husband, taken aback replaces, “What?! I said nothing was wrong!”
At this point she gives up and goes to bed. She writes in her diary: I have no clue what is wrong. It feels like he is mad at me and I don’t know why. We were fine and then today. He won’t talk to me. He got angry at me trying to find out what was up. I never even got to ask how to fix it. Is this the end? Does he even love me anymore? I feel so lost.
She turns over as she hears her husband come to bed so he doesn’t see her tears.
He crawls into bed, lays his head down and falls asleep thinking…”I can’t believe I had that monster fish on the line and he slipped the hook!”
Now I know this is an exaggeration but every exaggeration starts with truth. In this case, I challenge you to think about a time in your relationship with your husband/boyfriend that was similar. Probably wasn’t that difficult. I know better and I will be honest and say I fall prey to thinking and making more of something than there is in reality. And being the introspective person I am, I always look at what I could have done first.
Men and women are hard wired differently. As an anthropology student, this was a fascinating subject and I did a lot of self study. As someone looking to make relationships work, I did even more. As someone in a relationship, I realized it is so much harder than in theory. And in tough times, we have gone to seek intervention in third parties…counseling. And there is nothing wrong with that. Not only is it helpful from a neutral party perspective, but if taken seriously, you can learn a lot. I want to share, probably over many intermittent posts, some of the things I have been fortunate to learn. That said, I will admit I am not perfect, I find myself forgetting to do them on occasion.
Give Men Their Transition Time
Every man has a transition time (sometimes called going to his cave) – most noticeably between when they leave work and the first moments of getting home. For most, this is a quiet isolated time to shift their focus. (I think the only man I have met who is the exception to this is my husband. He does a brain dump with a constant and fast rattling of everything that has been on his mind pretty much the moment he walks in the house. After that, he continues into his quiet and isolated transition time.)
As women, we generally want to start sharing our day, ask questions, basically TALK. Even with my husband’s brain dump, its him talking, not me. I will admit for me this is frustrating because I’m expected to listen but often feel unheard and like he doesn’t want to hear me. Even though its still hard at times, I do have to remember that its not personal. Its what he needs to switch from work mode to home mode. When his transition time is over, then he is far more open and ready to hear me.
Watch your husband and see what his transition time looks like. It may be a kiss and hug hello, then a plop down in front of the TV or a visit to the throne room. Don’t push him to engage until he is finished. You’ll find the conversation and mood shifts to a more receptive one.
Be aware, transition time can occur any time he is required to make a major shift in focus. Trying to discuss a major upcoming expense or an issue that is important to you should be avoided during this period.
Determine His Needs and Honor Them
According to Willard F. Harley, Jr., men and women have about 10 basic needs that they expect to be fulfilled in a romantic (marriage) relationship. They are Affection, Sexual Fulfillment, Intimate Conversation, Recreational Companionship, Honesty and Openness, Attractiveness of Spouse, Financial Support, Domestic Support, Family Commitment, and Admiration.
Would it surprise you to know that while everyone has these same needs, that men and women prioritize them differently? In fact, the top 5 for men are often the bottom 5 of women. But its the top 5 that are the most important. The top 5 male needs are generally are, but not always, sexual fulfillment, recreational companionship, attractiveness of spouse, domestic support and admiration. Each of us is unique and are priorities are too. In the case of my husband and me, my top priority was male – Admiration.
Finding out what his needs are can go a long way to supporting him. I’ll share more on what I read in Willard F. Harley, Jr.’s His Needs, Her Needs: Building an Affair-Proof Marriage in future posts. I do suggest it as a good read. Not that I believe anyone feels they need to affair proof their marriage, but the communication and understanding of our basic needs and how we can meet them for our spouse is well worth the read!
Find Common Ground
One of the things men do generally need is a recreational companion. And while I do believe that couples should have some separate interests and hobbies that support them as individuals, its equally important to find common ground. If he likes to bike ride and you don’t hate it, then take a bike ride with him every now and then. If he likes photography, ask about being his model. If you both like board games, make it a standing date. Be his companion. Even Doctor Who at 2900 plus years old still needs his companions. (Okay, I am a major Doctor Who fan so forgive me for inserting him. :-))
Be Their Cheerleader
And yes, I do mean rah, rah, sisk boom bah cheerleader. If your husband (or boyfriend) has something they participate in similar to a sporting event, show up and cheer for him and his team. Every man I know loves having his girl there and cheering him on, especially when other wives are not. It feeds that whole admiration need.
But it goes beyond that. When he does something he is proud of at work and shares, be equally involved and enthusiastic. Ask him questions on it. Be engaged.
Listen, Don’t Interrupt and Don’t Compare
So here is a communication difference between men and women. When women share a problem or come to talk, we are coming often to vent, not seek a solution. As a listener, we often share similar stories to show our understanding and support. We usually ask a woman, do you want my advice, getting permission to offer a solution. Women like to talk when a relationship is good and see non-talking as a sign of a relationship problem.
Men don’t. Men talk with other men when they need a solution to a problem. Men sharing similar stories is a one-upmanship. A man coming to a man with a problem is the green light for the other man to offer THE solution. And they only come as a last resort. Its an admittance that they can’t figure it out and its important enough to them to seek help. (Think men not asking for directions.) For men, silence or not talking is a good things. It means there are no problems that need fixing.
So when your spouse comes to talk to you about a problem, remember:
1. Let him talk. Its hard enough for him to admit he can’t solve it on his own. Just listen and take in the problem.
2. Don’t offer understanding by offering similar stories or times you have encounter the problem. Just say, “I understand the problem.”
3. Give a solution – that means one. Don’t ask permission. That’s kind of like adding insult to injury. Instead say, “Here is what I would do. (Insert your advice.)”
4. Remain silent and let him speak next. Let his clues and words lead the conversation.
Let’s face it. Men and Women are complicated. Communicating, supporting, loving and understanding are difficult. If they were not, counselors and a whole lot of writers would be out of business. Just because they are from different planets, hard wired differently, doesn’t mean that they can’t speak the same language with work. As women, we can support our men in the way they need.