Understanding women! Part two

By Dr. Batya L. Ludman, Psy.D., FT · Published November 1, 2013

Dear husbands,

Last time I wrote that men and women want similar things in a relationship. They want to feel valued, loved, needed and appreciated. How each sex expresses or feels this may differ, and this causes confusion and a communication breakdown, which if not dealt with, can lead to the dissolution of a relationship. I wrote about what makes a woman happy and spoke of her "list" of things that she feels needs attention before she can attend to her partner. This list, often including tending to the children and household tasks, may inadvertently make you, her husband, feel that you're low on her priority list, if there at all. If you can appreciate that she usually has a lot on her mind as the household CEO, and are there for her in the way that she values, she'll happily be there for you and will lovingly look after your needs.

Imagine arriving home after you've had a difficult day at work. Your wife proceeds to tell you about something. Hearing her go on and on, and feeling perhaps a bit bored and impatient, you wonder why she's telling you all of this right now, just minutes after you've walked in the door. You are tired and hungry. You cut her off and in some way signal to her that you don't want to hear more now. That's it. She becomes angry and withdrawn, and you are confused. You cannot possibly imagine how you offended her "this time" but at least the silent treatment gives you some much needed space, and so for that, you are grateful. At this point the male readers are probably wondering what you did wrong and the females are thinking "of course she is angry". From her perspective, you've been gone all day and she has been in the trenches. She proceeds to lovingly share with you just one aspect of her busy day. She may simply want to vent her frustration, feel heard and appreciated and move on. No big deal. She may want your opinion and thoughts but probably not. If you respond with, "wow, sounds like you had a horrible day," she will agree and move on and is now ready to be there for you and hear about your day.

Okay men, why were you angry and frustrated? You were tired, had a long day, and you simply wanted some quiet when you walked in and the last thing you needed was to be "ambushed". You may be thinking "what does she want me to do, why is she telling me all this?" If you went further and tried to give her your suggestions, you are now shocked that she is even angrier with you. You can't imagine why she is so unappreciative of your help and wonder why you even bother. You now become angrier. From her perspective you've not listened but instead gave unsolicited advice. She simply wanted you to listen! From here, you each go to your corner, the silent treatment begins or a fight ensues.

Relationships are tough. You spend your life trying to figure out your partner and just when you think you "get" her, you're shocked to discover you've completely misread her signals. Feeling angry and hurt, you may be tempted to throw in the towel. Imagine this scenario instead.

Your wife begins to "describe" her day and while not interested, you stifle your yawn, lean forward, make eye contact, empathetically nod and say nothing (this isn't instinctive but can be learned). Or you mirror her words with, "it sounds like you had a tough day". When she stops, you do not tell her you know just how she must feel (how could you) or even worse, tell her what she should do. You know she just needs to vent. Your woman is smart and can figure out what she has to do. Often she doesn't need to do anything. You need not search for any solution. She simply is telling you what happened. You're not insulted. When you nod and appear interested, she feels you "get". She feels heard and validated. Your job is almost done. Now, sometimes, and it is rare - she just may want your opinion. This is often because she may want to hear someone else's perspective. It is not because she'll follow your advice. So don't get hurt, storm out, or blame her for not listening to you. She heard every word. She just chose not to follow it but to do it her way. It has nothing to do with you. It is not that she doesn't like or value your opinion. In fact, she often likes when you solve things, take responsibility, are proactive and make decisions.

Your wife wants to feel safe and protected. That means she wants to be able to talk to you, at her speed and cadence, without feeling attacked for what she says or how she speaks. She is very sensitive to your tone, nuance and criticism: sometimes, oversensitive. Hence the shutdown and anger when you appeared not to want to listen and hence not to care.

Through greater understanding of your wife's needs, communication will be better and your relationship will be more fulfilling. Here are some thoughts:

  1. Take full responsibility for your actions. Don't blame. The goal is to find solutions, not attack.
  2. Ask your wife in what way you could be helpful. You might be surprised by her response.
  3. Look inward and ask yourself what you need to do to make her happy. Don't try and change her. If she is happy, you will be also.
  4. Check your tone…and then check it again. Your partner may hear anger before you even know you're angry, or think you are angry, with her, when it's really your boss who upset you. She reads your body language well.
  5. When you are together give her your undivided attention.
  6. Surprise her-she loves romance. Send flowers, leave her a note or finish a chore she hates.
  7. Notice at least 5 things she did today that you appreciate and tell her throughout the day.
  8. Ask yourself, if you could live your day over again, what would you change? Would you be more giving, forgiving, understanding, patient, warm, loving? Then, just do it.
  9. Take your wife's hands in yours, look her in the eye and say I love you – every single day.

Next time I'll have something to say to the females. There is much we can do to make our partners happier.