For men: understanding women!

By Dr. Batya L. Ludman, Psy.D., FT · Published September 18, 2013

After more than thirty years of working with couples in my office, I am convinced that women and men, for the most part, really do want the same things in a relationship. But they often go about pursuing this in completely different ways, and as a result, inadvertently can alienate the very person they love the most. We all know how frightening the divorce statistics are and I really do believe that if couples with difficulties sought counseling early enough, they, and more importantly, their children, who almost always get caught in the middle, could be greatly helped. While I ultimately want to talk to both men and women, men, today this column is for you!

Dear husbands around the world,

Your wife may not realize that she generally is the one who sets the tone in the house. You may not realize this either. Remember the adage: "a happy wife is a happy life"? Well, if your wife is happy, then the environment in your home will be a more pleasant one and your marriage will most likely be as well. This is where you come in. If you make her happy, and go out of your way to keep it that way, at the end of the day, you too will actually be much happier. What goes around, comes around. I know that some days this may seem to be an almost impossible task, but, if you try, you really can please her.

You just have to get into her mindset, and learn to understand her and where she is coming from a bit better. You see, many women come to me feeling overwhelmed by the responsibility they feel that they carry for managing the house and the family, often while simultaneously handling their outside employment. While most women multitask and try to handle it all, and are unbelievably competent at it, they do at times end up feeling angry, resentful and unappreciated. When women feel this way, men – look out. You are likely to ultimately receive the fallout from this, whether you choose to or not. As someone who has done both, I promise you that it is often far easier to work outside the house than to remain at home. At work, you are likely to be given a 15 minute coffee break and can probably grab lunch without any children pulling on your leg, putting their fingers in your food, or covering you with particulate matter while squirming on your lap. And a peaceful trip to the bathroom alone – well that is practically unheard of for the stay at home mom.

For the woman - who ends up being CEO of the house and family- often not by choice, one of her biggest complaints is that she can never cross anything off 'her' list. This list, of which she'd like to have shared ownership, is long, may grow exponentially, and ultimately leads to great relationship stress. You, dear husband, may not even be aware that such a list exists and indeed often it is to be found only in her head and not on paper. So your very responsible CEO may definitely feel resentful and be ready to hit you if you act as if you are doing her a favor, when you offer to "help out," or take on some of these tasks only after several reminders. You need to understand that your partner doesn't want to 1) have to ask you to do things, 2) have to remind you to do them or 3) have you respond to her request resentfully. She also does not want to do these tasks herself or have you suggest that she should. Finally, and this may surprise you, she hates being put in the position of and gets zero enjoyment from nagging you (honestly) and will resent you if she does have to repeat herself. She believes that she has more than enough to do.

I hope that at this point you are saying, in a sweet voice that suggests you really are interested, "so what is it that I can do to make the situation better?" I respond, in all seriousness, on her behalf. For starters, she wants you to take the initiative. In a not so exaggerated form, it sounds like this: " Honey after I take out the garbage, I'm going to call the babysitter and see if she is available for tomorrow night. I want to take you out and I want to surprise you as to where. Is that okay?" At this point you can pick her up off the floor. You see, your taking responsibility, making the plans and showing that you care have earned you major "bonus" points. Furthermore, if you are remotely thinking of intimacy and you know you probably are, this is the kind of foreplay that will be greatly appreciated.

Now, please put away your smart phone, ipad, TV remote, and all your other toys - especially when she is trying to chat with you - and give her your full and undivided attention. Finally, be, or (if you must), act really interested in what she has to say. Lean into the conversation and even ask questions that show that you really do care, and well….she will go crazy.

As a typical woman, at this point I have lots more I could say in an endeavor to have you better understand what your wife might be thinking, but I'd be happiest if you would instead sit down and ask her.

In the future, I will address communication, tone and language, because what she says often doesn't mean what you think it does, and this can just create more difficulty. Then, we will attempt to have your wife understand just where you are coming from. While men and women are very different, this should be a wonderful thing. Feel free to send me your comments to the address below. Let's see if we can't change those statistics.