As women, we are keenly aware of the pain and frustration of being misunderstood by men. But, we are often not as keenly aware of the pain and frustration men suffer at being misunderstood by women.
Henry David Thoreau said “Most men live lives of quiet desperation and go to their graves with a song still in them.” Sadly, I think Thoreau is right.
So, today, I want to speak to you on behalf of the silent gender - I want to speak to you about men.
For helping me to better understand men, I am indebted to John Gray and all of his “Men Are From Mars & Women Are From Venus” books, Laura Doyle and her book “The Surrendered Wife”, and Bill & Pam Farrell and their book “Men Are Like Waffles & Women Are Like Spaghetti,”. I am also indebted to Studly, who has endured hours of conversation through the years as I try to better understand him, and who courageously shared his thoughts for this post!
Before we get started on the list, I want to point out that many of these characteristics of men are deeply rooted in biology and their historical role as “hunters” and providers for the family. Why are men so preoccupied with work and money and toys? Well, quite frankly because biologically that spells success to women (i.e. he can provide food and shelter for me and my kiddos), and gives them, biologically speaking, the best options for procreation. Why do men have a hard time being emotional, and having a long, heart to heart conversation? Historically, they had to travel and sit in silence for hours on the hunt bring home food – if they were emotional and chatty like women, the human species might have died out from starvation.
I won’t belabor the point here, but my hope is that as you read this list that you will not judge men - for they cannot help the design of their brains and their biological tendencies any more than we can, and they are learning and growing, just as we are. My hope is that you will read with an open heart, that you will see men through the eyes of love and compassion.
10. Emotions Are Scary & Difficult For Men Because Their Brains Are Wired Differently. Men’s brains are larger, but they are less dense and have less connectors between the right and left hemisphere than a woman’s brain. Think of the brain as a map. The woman’s map would have super highways all over it, connecting each side of the brain. The map of a man’s brain would more resemble a map of the back roads of Kenya. Women easily shift from one topic to another, from one emotion to another, from being rational to emotional and back again because we have those super highways. Men tend to think rationally first and travel VERY slowly through their back roads – trying to get to the emotions and then travel all the way back on those winding dirt roads to the rational side to respond. Quite an arduous journey – and often times, in the moment of conversation all they are able to offer is a rational solution or thought to what you’ve said. Because of these differences in the brain, it is much more difficult for men to get in touch with and express what they are feeling emotionally.
9. Men Are In The Process of Learning Agape Love. The Greek Language has two different names and definitions for love. The first type of love is called “agape” love – and it is a sacrificial, lay down your life, your desires, your wants for the benefit of another kind of love. The second kind of love is called “phileo” love – and it is a fun-loving, brotherly, friendship kind of love! I want to stress here that both kinds of love are incredibly important in a marriage. Phileo love comes more naturally to men, while agape love comes more naturally to women. Men tend to give and respond better to receiving phileo love, while women tend to give and respond better to receiving agape love. Life truly is a journey of learning, and just as we are learning the importance of phileo love, learning to let go, to relax, to enjoy and have more fun in our marriages, the men are learning the importance of agape love – they are learning and growing in the sacrificial, putting others needs above their own type of love.
8. Men Are Under An Immense Amount of Pressure To Succeed. Men want to be successful in all areas of life, but there are three that are critical. They want to be successful at providing financially for their family. They want to be successful - uh, how shall I say it – “romantically”. And, they want, in general, to please you in all areas of life – they want to know that what they are doing (providing, mowing the grass, taking you out . . . ). makes your life better. While they don’t tell you this, they put a tremendous amount of pressure on themselves to be successful. And, they find it very frustrating that you think they don’t care, they don’t try! Providing for you, doing things to make you happy = love for men. Because they don’t have as great of a need for empathy and conversational connection, they are confused when their efforts to please you have failed.
7. Men Struggle Deeply With Feelings of Inadequacy and Fear of Failure. John Gray points out that “failure is deadly to a man.” If there is a perceived or actual failure in the ability to provide, to perform, or to please you – it is a crushing blow to a man’s spirit. Now, he will not tell you that. He won’t say – my spirit is crushed. He might withdraw or shut down to you, he might express anger or even blame – but inside he is battling a deep sense that he doesn’t measure up, that he is a failure, and that he is not good enough. A woman’s unhappiness sends the message to a man that he has failed. If he gets this message too often, he will shut down and give up trying to please you. Acknowledging and appreciating the efforts he does make, letting him know that you are proud of him, and that you love him regardless of his success is like a healing salve for a man’s heart.
6. Men Really Do Care About You – They Just Show It In A Different Way. When problems arise, there is a silent respect between men – a code of honor so to speak. Those short, gruff responses that men give to each other (“that sucks”, or “been there, done that” . . .) are sending an important message – a message of trust that he can figure things out on his own. This is very important to a man – they like to be independent. And, because it is so highly valued, he gives it to you when you try to talk with him – truly believing that this is what you need. He is baffled that you are frustrated with him because he really does care - he cares deeply about you and your well-being.
5. Although They Really Want To, Men Cannot Make You Happy. Although they would like to and we would like them to, too – the truth is a man cannot make you happy. A man can be the icing on your happiness cake – but you have to find happiness within yourself. I have learned the hard way that looking to Studly to make me happy simply doesn't work. It puts an immense amount of unfair pressure on him to do something that is impossible for him to do – and creates frustration for both of us. Just like men, we must find our own way to happiness – and bring that happiness to the marriage. Then, the men can truly be the icing on our happiness cake!
4. Men Have All of the Same Feelings We Have, They Just Don’t Express Them. We often think that men are irresponsible, uncaring and emotionally dead. Let me assure you – they are not. They feel hurt, pain, guilt, shame, fear, anxiety, love, joy, empathy, peace and hope just like we do. You see, at our core, we are the same – we are human beings, and we all feel the full range of human emotions. Unlike us, men do not talk about what they feel. They’ve been taught that expressing feelings is weak. But, underneath the silence you should know – he worries about the kids. He gets anxious about the finances. His heart bleeds with pain when you give him a nasty jab of criticism. As you relate with him, remember that under all that muscle and the tough façade is a truly fragile human being who struggles, who desires to be loved and accepted unconditionally – just as you do.
3. Men Need Trust, Acceptance and Lots of Appreciation. Men hate to be bossed around and mothered. They want you to trust them in all aspects of your life – in little things like his capacity to pick out his own clothes and in the big things like finances. Men want you to accept them just as they are. In fact, if you try to change them, they often draw a line in the sand and refuse to change until you accept them first. And, men need a lot of appreciation. We don’t understand this because we, as women, have very different needs. But, these three things signal to a man that he is successful, that he is doing a good job, that you see how hard he tries, and that you love him!
2. Men Hunger for A Loving Companion To Share This Life Journey. Men really do want a close, happy, intimate relationship with their wife. They long for your friendship, for you to take an interest in them, their work and their hobbies. They certainly don’t want to feel like they are a “big pain in the a## that gets in the way of what would otherwise be a perfectly normal life.” (quote from Ben in the movie “Story of Us”). They hunger for companionship, for phileo love. They want to enjoy fun times with you, to get away with you and relax. Remember, some of the very best love songs, romantic novels and movies were written, sung, and directed by men!!!
1. You Have An Incredible Amount of Power to Impact His Life for Good Or for Ill. Because he loves you and has opened his heart to you, you have an incredible amount of power to impact his life. You can use that power to judge and criticize him, to complain and try to control him, to reject him, and to break his spirit. Or, you can use this power to try to understand and accept him, to trust and believe in him, to embrace and appreciate him, to forgive and have compassion for him, to love and encourage him and to make his spirit soar to greater heights. The more you trust – the more trustworthy they become! The more you appreciate, the more they desire to please you and to understand your needs. The more they feel your unconditional love and acceptance undergirding them, the more courageous they become in trying to change and improve.
It is my hope that this post has given you a peek behind the tough, silent curtain that often hides from our view the loving, caring, and strong, yet vulnerable, men who stand behind it, and that, through our love and compassion, we might be wives of men who don’t live lives of quiet desperation, that we might be wives of men who don’t die with their songs still in them!