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Don't just do something, stand there.

By Michael Ceo


There is a curious irony about marriage.  It seems that women want their husbands to change while men want their wives to stay the same.  While I repeatedly hear men long for the way their wives used to treat them,  I hear women say how their clueless husbands need to change and become more thoughtful or caring or understanding.  So this is an article for men.

As an overview of the problem for men, this is how the marital dance step goes.  She wants him to change. He tries more of what he always has done.  She’s not satisfied.  He starts feeling like can’t do anything right anymore, so why try.  He withdraws into his “cave” which can be sports, work, TV or beer.  Things get worse as she gets more hopeless about getting her emotional needs met and he experiences himself as more inadequate.  She turns up the volume on nagging him and the dance then turns into a tailspin for the couple.  At its worst, a crisis erupts in the form of an affair, sickness, DUI or a violent episode.  Let’s name this pathology, the dance of the wild woman and the passive man.  Both parties end up hating their own behavior.

The way out of the trap, guys, is for you to exert a different kind of power.  In the days of John Wayne and Bogart, power meant dominance and control.  Today men need to learn to experience the power of understanding and empathy.  Rather than power from making money or shooting straight, the challenge is to strengthen your communication resources to really satisfy your woman by learning the language of her emotional needs.  And by the way, this is very effective foreplay; you will be rewarded to your wildest dreams. 

Men have been socialized to show they care by fixing and doing.  We have learned to achieve competence by being task oriented.   In the old days it was enough for a husband to bring home the bacon and occasionally the chocolates.  In my marriage counseling practice, I often hear men assert that their wives should know they love them because they do things like keeping  the house from falling down or keeping the plumbing  from turning into “Das Boot” or theTitanic. 

Women today have moved up the hierarchy of needs from survival and shelter to a need for satisfaction in their lives.  Rather than husbands becoming doomed to being continually misunderstood, there is an historic opportunity for men to expand and enhance their range of competencies into the arena of intimacy. 

The first hurdle is to get over the old thinking that talking feelings is a sign of weakness or worse yet that real men don’t do that.  Believe me,  those  real men are spending a lot of time sleeping on the couch these days. 

Next, avoid the reflex to get defensive or try and quickly fix the problem when your woman comes to you needing to talk.  A marriage counseling professor told me once that in marriage a woman’s primary fear is to be abandoned while a man’s fear is to be overwhelmed.  So keep your balance and stay engaged with her even if you see the sharp edge of her disappointment history ready to slash.  Don’t just do something, stand there. 

Now, here is where you start flexing your communication muscles.   Learn to make reflective feeling comments such as, “I can see how important this is to you,” or,” it’s clear to me you feel strongly about this.” Try saying, “this is really frustrating for you, isn’t it.”  If she’s upset saying something like,” this is triggering a lot for you,” works well.  If she is angry, affirm rather than deny her anger by saying,” I can tell that you’re miffed (or frustrated or enraged) about this.”  Now just watch the magical power your words have on her as you join her in her feeling world.

Another crucial step at this point is to make a statement how important it is to you that you understand her, for example: “ let’s go take a walk and see if we can make sense of this.” Or simply say, “ I really want to work on this with you.”  .  If her disappointment blade  start glistening, it’s because she has not seen you as an ally when she has needed you the most.  If you hear her say something like, “ you never cared before how I felt,” tell her you’ve had growing up to do.  You will disarm her instantly.

Let me share with you the secret of “Michael’s  Law.” This irrevocable truth states that when a woman needs her man the most, she will push him away.  Guys, don’t fail the test and keep your balance by continually trying to engage and join with her. Even if you have a few arrows sticking out of you, she will eventually tend to your wounds with tender loving care.

Where’s the payoff for all this effort?  Men have a fundamental need to feel competent and to be seen as powerful in eyes of their woman.  Women want to trust that they can lean on their man, that he will be an ally who will join with her in her view of the world even if it seems irrational.  When a man takes charge of caring for his partner’s emotional needs, she will invariably see him as safe.  She will recognize his value and power and surrender to him. But this will be the surrender that comes from respect and trust rather than subservience.  Wives really do want to look up to their husbands.

Men, it is time for you to move beyond the power of your mighty hands to the strength of your mighty words.