Understanding men! A guide for gals

By Dr. Batya L. Ludman, Psy.D., FT · Published November 15, 2013

In the last two columns I tried to help men better understand women. These columns were also popular with women, many having shared them with, or read them to, their husbands. What have we learned and how will this help us understand what men want? For the most part, men want their wives to be happy. Why? A happy wife is indeed a happy life. So women, are you happy and where does the joy in your life come from? If you are not happy within yourself, your partner can not bring you joy. If your goal is to have him simply fulfill your needs, you'll become angry and resentful, as will he. You'll end up unfairly blaming him for your unhappiness. How can you have a better relationship and re-create the intimacy that often seems to get lost, the longer you are together? Remember, you both want to love and be loved. Isn't that why you are together in the first place?

You and your partner generally want the same things, but go about getting your needs met in completely different ways. As a result, you may get annoyed when your partner doesn't understand you. In turn you may blame him and he is clueless as to why. Instead, if you can go out of your way to understand where he is coming from, as a male, you'll have a greater chance at having a happier marriage.

For instance, while you may multitask and do several unrelated things at once, your husband is not programmed to do more than one thing at a time, and if you talk to him while he is doing it, he's likely to become angry. While you may see yourself as very organized and efficient, remember, he neither wants you to organize him nor appreciates when you define what you think should be his priorities. In fact, he may quite resent it! Your partner wants to do what he wants, when he wants. If, for example, he wants to sit playing with his electronic devices, (as he is generally more into things than people), he doesn't really want to hear that you have different plans which you feel take precedence and will probably resent your suggestions as to how he could best spend his time. So, in order to have your husband work beside you in getting your needs met, you must be cognizant of where he is coming from and how he hears you when you start telling him what is important. His approach may differ from yours and be an ongoing source of frustration – to you both. He wants peace and quiet, no stress and may want to just be left alone. You on the other hand, want to chat.

What does he need from you? He needs you to be straightforward and direct with respect to what you'd like. This applies to the bedroom as well as the kitchen. He is not a mind reader. If you want him to bring you home flowers, tell him! If you'd like intimacy in a certain way, spell it out. How can you otherwise be angry at him when he doesn't know what you want? Say what you mean and mean what you say, and state it clearly and concisely. Women tend to talk more and use more words than men. They see a man's directness as being abrupt. You embellish your thoughts and while it may feel warm and romantic to you, it is often irritating for men who ultimately must wade through your prose to figure out what you actually might be trying to say! Get to the point! Keep to one topic at a time. Your chatter is confusing to him and may feel like extraneous noise. Don't make your partner guess because you're vague about what you' want from him. He needs you to be direct and honest. Game playing confuses him. Imagine how confused he is when he thinks you are asking his opinion, but don't really want it. Case in point – "Honey, do I look fat?" By the way, when he's silent, it doesn't mean he's angry. Your talking may make him anxious as he thinks you are looking to him for solutions. After all, he can't imagine why else you'd be regaling him. Tell him you just want him to listen and not problem solve and you may see him visibly relax.

Your tone is also very important, and just like you can, he will hear "that tone in your voice" when you don't mean to have it. He may feel you are acting aggressively and with anger. Remember, most men don't want nor take kindly to what they think are instructions. In other words, talk calmly and with kindness so he can hear what you are saying. If he perceives you as being nagging or critical, he will tune you out, retreat or become annoyed.

While your mind is rarely resting and may have many unrelated thoughts flying through, men actually can zone out and not be thinking of anything. Really! For the female this is an almost impossible concept to grasp. Just think how often you lay awake thinking over things, while your husband is happily snoring next to you. In addition, with your remarkable memory, you encode minute details from twenty years ago. Men rarely can remember what someone wore or said while you can recall it vividly. This may anger you because if he can't remember, you erroneously think he doesn't care. Because your partner doesn't dwell on things in the same way as you can and deals with only one thing at a time, he may explode more easily but then let it go completely and move on, while you, still ruminating, continue to draw blood. You need to learn how to forgive, and move on, while he may need some help with anger management.

What men do need (as do women) is to feel appreciated. That means they do like to be thanked for changing the toilet paper roll, and other things you think they should just do routinely. They may see themselves as "helping out" and you may feel incredibly angry that they actually "need' to be thanked and don't simply work beside you in the world of endless chores. Really, he just wants to be treated with kindness, caring and appreciation. Are you quick to blame, do you leave your partner feeling inadequate, are you slow with words of genuine praise? Remember, your partner wants to make you happy and if you complain, he feels unappreciated. Tell him what is helpful for you and find out what would be helpful for him. You can say just about anything, but remember, how you choose to say it will determine how it gets heard.

Finally, one important topic: let's talk intimacy. You probably want more intimacy-- cuddling and romance-- than sex. He typically wants sex. He needs sex in order to feel loved and you need to feel loved in order to have sex. He'd love it if you'd put your to-do list away and just be spontaneous and fun. He wants you to initiate on occasion, experiment, and tell him what pleases you. Sometimes, variety excites him, at other times, routine and predictability are preferred. Not telepathic, he'd be happy to tell you what he likes if you'd ask.

Talk about your mutual expectations and do things that show how much you care. Love is a choice. Ask yourself, have I been a good friend to my spouse? After all, isn't he your best friend?