Like most wives, I love my husband very much. Through the years I frequently said “I love you” to my husband, Jeff, and did loving things. But I had no idea that while he thought that was nice, it didn’t have nearly the impact for him that respect did — knowing that I appreciated him or chose to trust him.
In fact, Jeff needed respect so much he would give up love to get it. But I didn’t realize how much he needed to see that I trusted him as a good father, or how great it felt to hear me say appreciative things like “Thank you for working so hard to support the family.” I rarely showed him that sort of overt appreciation. Even though I certainly felt it inside, I didn’t think to say it. In other words, I was, without realizing it, working hard in the wrong areas and wasn’t making Jeff feel truly cared for like I thought I was. I was clueless.
And worse, I often made him feel uncared for. Not realizing that a man’s most painful feeling is insecurity, I would question his decisions all the time or tease him in front of others. I had no idea he would “rather chew broken glass” than endure some of my “harmless” jokes in front of those he wanted to respect him. I thought he was oversensitive until I realized I was thinking that way simply because those jokes wouldn’t bother me.
What I had to learn was that my husband was very, very different from me. And I also had to recognize that not only did his emotional needs and insecurities exist, but they were just as legitimate as my own. Like many women, I simply didn’t know that the vast majority of men were just like him
I had to recognize that not only did his emotional needs and insecurities exist, but they were just as legitimate as my own.
And Jeff, like many other men, had things he simply didn’t know about me, needs and insecurities he didn’t realize were legitimate and common to most women. Once we began learning these things, everything in our marriage changes. We had many nights where one of us would sleep in the guest bedroom because we couldn’t bear to sleep next to the person who should care about us the most but didn’t seem to care about us at all. We had whole vacations spoiled by being carefully polite on the outside in front of others while seething with anger or hurt on the inside.
Like so many other marriages, ours was hurting due to something as tragically stupid as a lack of the right information. And as with so many others, all that changed for us once we learned these few things we didn’t know before. It didn’t happen overnight, of course. On my side, for example, it took me years to unlearn the damaging habit of telling Jeff exactly how I wanted him to do things: how to drive, where to park, how to dress our kids, what he should have said in the business meeting — all the things that tell any man “You’re an idiot” without his wife ever realizing it. It took me years to get into the habit of not just feeling but saying thank you, to recognize the self-doubt he had inside, or to see that physical intimacy was primarily an emotional need for him.
And Jeff had his own unlearning and relearning to do, such as recognizing that to me, his 70-hour workweeks to support the family weren’t nearly as important as ensuring the two of us were close, or pulling himself out of a funk when he was in a bad mood, or reassuring me that “We’re okay” if we were in conflict.
But notice, none of those things were big-ticket, systemic issues. No one required a PhD to solve. We did seek counsel at times, and we did need help in understanding how to apply what we were learning, but ultimately, with some new knowledge and appreciation about what the other person most needed and was most hurt by, we could help ourselves. We didn’t have that helpless feeling anymore. Marriage didn’t have to be so hard.
We have seen that pattern repeated literally thousands of times in our research. The idea that it will take years of work, pain, complicated effort, and three-times-a-week counseling to fix something is enough to discourage far too many couples before they start. In most cases, the sun can shine through the storm clouds much more quickly.
In my experience, most couples don’t mind the idea of working hard at marriage. What discourages them is the idea that marriage itself is inherently hard and complicated, or that working hard won’t pay off. Because that implies that a truly delightful marriage simply isn’t realistic for the average couple.
So with that in mind, here are five good-new facts to what a difference it would make in our culture if everyone knew the truth of them:
- Often, the actions needed to make a great marriage, or to turn around a struggling one, are simple.
- Most marriage problems are not caused by the big-ticket issues like addictions but from a buildup of misunderstandings, conflict, and hurt feelings. Often, both spouses just didn’t know some elementary needs and fears shared not only their mates by by most of their spouse’s gender.
- More than 99 percent of married people care deeply about their spouse.
- In 82 percent of struggling couples, one partner is simply unaware that their spouse is less than happy, which is a lot easier to address than both people being entrenched in hurt.
Couples typically don’t mind working hard at marriage. What discouraged them is the thought that marriage itself is inherently hard or complicated, or that working hard won’t make a difference. This is why it is so encouraging when they see a few simple changes can make a big difference.
Reprinted from The Good News About Marriage by Shaunti Feldhahn Copyright © 2014 by Shaunti Feldhahn. Published by Multnomah Books, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.