I know this is a fairly lofty title but my life experiences have shown that it deserves such. For how valuable these things have been to me I’ve never read them anywhere and hear them talked about none and I believe that they deserve more airtime. These are some things that I have learned from observing many relationships around me but especially my own with my wife. There may be presuppositions that you disagree with but I would encourage you to look beyond the differences and see if there might be any truth that you could learn from my experiences. It was quite possible for this entire post to be one continuous disclaimer about how much we’re all different and how much I don’t know but I decided to forego all of that and just assume that we have some things in common and that it was better to just put my thoughts out there. These are more thoughts and impressions than scientifically proven facts so please engage the ideas as such. Some of the thoughts are redundant and this was written more as a flow of consciousness than to be a published masterpiece. These thoughts assume the reader has a belief in marriage, agrees that there are differences in male and females in physiology and role, and is pursuing a gospel centered approach towards life. Others are welcome to read but the discussion should begin on a much more basic level.
I’ll start off with a story. 7 years ago my friend and I planned a surprise trip for our wives to Hawaii. It was to celebrate our 5 year anniversary. We had arranged childcare and announced the trip with less than a weeks notice. In the short time we had to prepare, Kami confided that she was worried. Our son was 9 months old and it would be her first time away from him. We went on the trip, had a blast. It was our first time in Hawaii, we had a great week with friends, snorkeled, and I impulsively got Kami’s name tattooed on my arm. To this date, Kami and I think of it as one of our best memories. And it almost didn’t happen. My guess is that if Kami and I would have discussed it democratically the trip would have been a coin toss because of Kami’s difficulty in leaving the baby. I’ll speak more on this later but this and many other smaller (and some bigger) examples have led me to the following conclusions: The only thing women want more than what they want is for a man to love and understand them more than they love and understand themselves.
Let me draw this statement out a little more to clarify. In a typical marital conversation it is expected that 2 people approach the table with 2 opinions that they want to see win. When the husband and wife disagree, often the best case scenario we picture is the man acquiescing to what the woman wants. While not always, this often concerns issues of what is best for the family, children, or things of a more practical nature. Sometimes it comes along with some statement like “Whatever you want, Dear”. It also comes along with feelings of buried resentment and de-masculinization for the man. But both people are happy ish because they feel like they are equal and have done the best they could in a democratic process while not stepping on anyones toes or taking any huge risk. The statement I am making is that there is a better story out there. It is better because it involves more risk, more love, more sacrifice, more understanding, more unselfishness, and a better outcome. It does assume that one party is more responsible than another party. Not in an earned or qualified sense. But in an accountable and design sense. While we have seen the abuses of the burden of more responsibility lets take a break for a minute and imagine a world without the baggage. The man and the woman would come to the table to discuss something. There would be some different viewpoints but hopefully common goals. There could be differences. But in these differences the woman would feel cared about and understood. Input would be received by both parties but a past history should make no specific piece of data a huge surprise. The man would make a decision based upon what he thinks will best love his wife and his family and satisfy their collective and agreed upon mission as a family. If there is a track record of this the wife does NOT feel taken advantage of, manipulated or second class in any way. The primary goal is NOT to come to a conclusion that feels good to both partners instantly. The goal is to develop the type of relationship that practices and displays sacrificial love. This will never be the easiest path.
Let’s focus on a few aspects of this…
This is less about knowledge and more about intent.
When reading the statement “The only thing women want more than what they want is for a man to love and understand them more than they love and understand themselves” one could easily jump up and say “Are you saying that men always know what a woman wants better than she does?” or “Why does the man always have to win if they disagree?” It must be stated that I am not saying a woman getting what she wants and a man loving or understanding her are mutually exclusive. In fact, the more a relationship evolves the more they should completely overlap. But in the beginning of most relationships these two things don’t overlap. And when they do we have to resolve a conflict. The way we resolve the conflict is based upon the lofty goals we have set for ourself. For many people the goal is a perfectly autonomous and democratic relationship that is 50/50 in every way. I am just asking us to consider a different, yet still lofty, goal. One where the man is actually more of an advocate for the woman than she is herself. People have been so abused that they’ve gotten to a point where they just want to be equal. And abuse is not ok. But that does not mean that the goal for a discussion should not just be to walk away with the least amount of conflict. We were made for something more. We were made for intimacy. And intimacy is a much trickier thing than equality. But if your mindset is anything like mine, it’s kind of hard to imagine something greater. I will come back to the Hawaii story. I wasn’t planning the trip for myself. I knew once Kami was in the air she would be thankful. I also knew that Kami’s knee-jerk reaction, as a mother, is to try and protect her relationship with her youngest child. Sometimes this comes at the cost of our and her larger goals and values. In our relationship I am more able to see this and act on it than she is. I have come to believe that this is a privilege that comes with a responsibility as more than a peace keeper.
This is less about being right than it is about fostering intimacy.
This is not about denying a woman’s desires. It’s actually about giving a woman MORE than what they might think to desire. This following statement is tricky “The only thing women want more than what they want is for a man to love and understand them more than they love and understand themselves” because it is stating that women want, at least, two sometimes conflicting things. I can not tell you the number of times I see a man roll over and give a woman what she claims to want. I’m yelling on the inside but it’s not because the woman is actually complaining. It’s because I’m screaming “Can’t you see that she actually wants something else more!!” Most often this is something that he doesn’t know how to provide and she doesn’t know to ask for. It’s not saying that the thing she was originally asking for is bad. It’s just saying that something else is better. What is that thing? It’s intimacy. And whether you’re male or female being intimate is more important than just being safe or right. To believe this you have to be willing to take a risk. You have to be willing to initially offend. You also have to know that you could be wrong and you could be rejected. I think the classic example of this is when a woman is hurting, walks away saying that she wants to be alone. Sometimes this is actually true. But sometimes she is really saying I want you to pursue me, to talk to me, to listen, to let me cry on your shoulder. At first it may seem confusing because she asked to be alone. And in one shallow sense she may want that. But she really wants something more. She wants to be loved and chased in the midst of her brokenness. How do I know this? Because I do the exact same thing. I say I don’t want to be hugged. And it’s true. I want to isolate and destroy myself. But there is something I want more. And it’s to have someone care about me so much that they completely ignore my request and love me in spite of myself.
Learn what your wife wants.
I see this often. We are with another couple trying to decide where to eat or what to order. He looks at her and says “What do you want?” As a result of some mix of social pressure, confusion, or apathy she says “I don’t know”. He may ask again more emphatically “Common baby, we’ll go wherever you want!”Then some awkward 4 way dialogue ensues that tries to replicate some gentle democratic process. He feels like he’s doing his duty as a husband because he’s being gentle and un-opinionated. She looks like a deer in the headlights and ironically doesn’t feel cared for but doesn’t even know why or what to complain about. Everyone is frustrated. There are other dynamics out there but I’m just painting the picture of one I see often. What I have come to believe in this situation is that if you have been married to your wife for more than 10 years you should know what restaurant/time/food/whatever that she likes as well or better than she does. And you should know much more than that. You should be able to sense which people and situations will make her tense, drain her energy, or fill her up. Many of these situations are accentuated when you add small sleeping children into the mix. This has often been a hot topic for us. My wife, who spends a lot of time with the children at home has a very protective value for a baby that is sleeping. A noise or activity that disrupt a sleeping baby is one of the worst crimes imaginable. Which can make life very challenging for a very active family of 7 that lives in close quarters. But we now have an understanding. It used to be that she protected the babies sleep and I protected the activities. It was pretty adversarial. I was resentful because I felt like she was jeopardizing our goals as a family and she didn’t feel that I understood her. And I didn’t. But there is another way. And that is I started to try and understand our small children, their needs and what my wife really wanted. I realized that it wasn’t really the nap that she really cared about. It was peace, time for herself to rest and accomplish things she thought were valuable without the baby, and feeling like her and her baby were taken care of. Once I started understanding this, it actually gave me the ability to help her using my resources in ways that she actually wasn’t able to herself. Now, when we’re trying to plan out our day or get something done around the house and the baby’s sleep is a topic we don’t have to be adversaries. Kami knows that I’m taking her and the baby into account and that I’m looking out for her. But she also knows that sometimes I have a bigger vantage point about the goals for our family for a specific time period and sometimes this will cost the baby some nap time. But because she’s come to trust that I understand her needs she’s actually much happier than she was protecting herself.
Be willing to risk.
In regards to gambling they say that “Money won is twice as sweet as money earned”. It’s the same dollar but how you get it means everything. We can carry this same wisdom over to relationships. Between lovers anything chosen for you as a gift is twice as sweet as getting it for yourself. We need to understand, it’s not the actual food or restaurant that matters. It’s the reason or way that it’s given. It’s the intimacy that’s fostered. The risk that’s taken. That’s why everyone has that story of the guy that made that first anniversary meal that was so terrible and pathetic but no one cares because it was the most beautiful gesture ever. We could say: Well, women like nice meals so this was a failure. But we see from this example that there’s something that women actually want MORE than a nice meal. They want a man that tries to understand their heart and is willing to go out on a limb to win it. At this point it should be noted that many husbands don’t know what their wives want. There are 2 main reasons for this: Ignorance and fear. These are very real and deep issues that need to be dealt with. For most men it is safer to just default to a wife’s preference and lean on their “expertise” in an area but this is NOT a good long term solution for the relationship. It may result in the least amount of conflict for the short term but it is not the best way to look out for her heart. It could be that you were not taught how, that it is not natural, that it goes against your personality, that you’ve been burned, or that both of you agree that you are not good at it. These things should not stop you from being on a trajectory where you strive to understand your wife. I heard a man say, “You don’t need to understand women…you just need to understand ONE woman.” This let’s your wife know that she is unique and that she is worth investing into. Eventually your daughters will need to know the same. Stop for a second and think about the type of man that you would want pursuing your daughter. Do you want a guy that just agrees to her every whim? Or a man that is willing to make it one of his life’s missions to understand and than love her more than she loves herself, and sometime risk being wrong to do that? I know what type of husband I want for my daughters.
We all want more.
So you planned the perfect date, you arranged childcare, you picked out the restaurant…and it failed. She was having a bad day, didn’t like the restaurant, didn’t feel comfortable leaving the kids, or there was just a bunch of baggage. This is when most men say, “SEE! I tried loving her. And she doesn’t really want that, I learned my lesson, I’m going to play it safe and just ask her what she wants from now on.” This means that things like this will not get planned again and the woman will be frustrated at the man, often times not knowing why, and the man looks at the woman and says: This is YOUR fault. You don’t really want me to plan stuff. But this is all because we men are only looking at the first layer of what any of us really want. We may or may not want an entree, a gift, or a particular restaurant at a particular time but we ALL want someone who is striving to understand, love and pursue us. Any person who is saying they don’t want it is just making the barrier higher and showing how bad they really do want it. I think of this story. Let’s say I call a friend and ask him to come out to eat with us tonight. He might say that he’s tired and wants to stay in. And legitimately so. But let’s say I go one step further and take a risk. I plead with him to come. I let him know that we haven’t hung out in a while and I really want to connect with him and let him know that his presence there will compositionally change the evening for me and everyone there for the better. He might actually then say “you know what, I’ll forego the night at home, let’s go.” So the question is, what did he want? He wanted to stay home and rest. But he wanted something more. He wanted to be loved and desired. But it took a risk by the friend doing the inviting because he may have been rejected again. And in the course of me putting my neck out there, he actually changed what it was that he wanted. What he wanted became softer. Our relationship became better. In the case of marriage we are being told that we are to be drawing our love from an eternal and overflowing source. That way we can continue to take this risk and pour without reciprocation. As this happens I believe that we can actually begin to raise the bar and change what our spouses expect and even want. Instead of just being an order taker we can become an intimate provider that discovers and executes on desires that no one else on the planet is qualified for. That’s the very thing that makes it beautiful. But for this to happen, we must think bigger. The goal is not just a great night or meal, or some plans without conflict. If that were the case, we may as well take the friend at his word and say “Have a great night at home”. We may think we want that. But deep down we long for something more. Friends fight for each other even when we’re not fighting for ourselves. And any good fight requires risk, intimacy, sacrifice and trust.
I’m sure there are all sorts of toes being stepped on and misunderstandings that come from a male(me) trying to post a spiritual understanding of what women want and what men should do about it. I’m sure there’s all sorts of baggage and stories of people who have done very cruel and selfish things under the guise of headship, leadership, authority etc. But, that shouldn’t give us an excuse to settle. But I want to state this very clearly. This is not a license for men to just try and get what they want. In fact, I think it is the exact opposite. This has been one of the most difficult, unnatural, submissive and rewarding practices that I have taken on as a man and it is much more difficult than being a commandeering bully. And while it is not super acceptable to draw out ways a man ought to heroically love a woman we must point out that under the guise of “equality” the opposite is no better. Selfishness under any guise is still selfishness. That pertains to the domineering man and to the weak submissive man who is not willing to put the effort or planning into constantly fighting for the heart of his woman. When done right this is not a code that is enforced upon a woman. I believe it is more of a goal that is strived towards. And that goal is not achieved via power. At least not the authoritative kind. It is achieved by winning someone’s heart. Which is one of the most difficult, patient, and awesome duties given to man. So, if you ask a woman: “Do you want a man telling you what to do?” the answer is probably no. But, ask a woman “Would you like a man that is constantly trying to understand you and look out for you better than you can even think to do for yourself?” This question rubs so deeply upon the strings of our heart that it often results in blushing or embarrassed, mocking, un-comfortable laughter. That’s how deep it runs. And if we think back to our early dating or engagement days when we were enraptured by something we couldn’t identify, there is a good chance we had a much higher value for this. Although we may not have been able to put our finger on exactly what it was. Let’s put our finger on it. It deserves more than a phase of our life.
Men join me in this goal. Share tips and tricks, obstacles, victories, and lessons learned along the way. Our wives and daughters are worth fighting for. I know we don’t wear shining armor to work but that doesn’t mean our wives do not want a hero in their corner telling them the truth about their beauty and value on a daily basis. And please let’s not make excuses. I know that all of our wives can be difficult at times. Don’t confuse her rebellion of you as rebellion of intimacy. I have found 2 very common reasons that often times overlap. The first is that you actually don’t understand her and you are actually loving yourself. So you don’t deserve her trust. This may be your fault, be a result of her past, but is probably a combination. You must earn your way out of this. The second is that she has never been truly understood or loved and does not know what it is like. How would she? Of course, she’s skeptical. Women are taken advantage of this their whole lives. The way to combat this is not by distancing yourself. The way to combat it is to wade into battle. The only way to warm a cold heart is by loving it. A dear friend of mine has a tattoo on her arm that say “And they were lovely, because they were loved.” Make your wife lovely by loving her. One of the most damaging thing you can do to a women is let her know that she’s not worth fighting for.
Be gracious as I and the men in your lives screw up. I encourange you though, that it is more important for you to have a man in your life with this goal than to get your specific way on a specific night at the cost of his ego or swearing off this role entirely. Trust him and encourage him and let him know when and how he is your hero, even when he doesn’t deserve it. Especially when he doesn’t deserve it. He should love you not just for the princess you are but for the princess you can become. You should love him not just for the hero he is. But for the hero he can become. And relax. Sometimes it’s hard to look out for someones needs when they spend 110% of their energy doing it for themselves…..and yes this includes the children. It’s really hard and most of us men weren’t taught how to do this. I can’t emphasize enough how much grace we need. But I think it’s worth it.