I Wish He Had Come with Instructions: The Woman's Guide to a Man's Brain - Mike Bechtle (2016)
Part V. How He Grows
Chapter 13. Turning Two into a Team
I once heard a man say, “Yes, I definitely wear the pants in the family. My wife picked them out, but I definitely wear them.”
It’s humorous, but it’s a good example of how two very different people can work together to get better results. In general, men tend to be better at certain things and women tend to be better at others. When they work together and bring their strengths into the equation, the outcome is better than either of them can produce alone.
Men and women need to be viewed as equal in terms of value, uniqueness, and contribution. That doesn’t mean they’re exactly the same in every way. If they were, there would be no conflict in relationships but also no potential for growth.
Society and the media have given us pretty shabby portrayals of men and women. When communication doesn’t work well between them, most of the public sentiment is that it’s the man’s fault. He’s the one who needs to become more sensitive and listen more and communicate better and express his feelings.
The message a man hears repeatedly is, “You’re not good at loving your woman, and you need to change.”
As I talked to a number of men when I began writing this book, I consistently heard frustration around that. One man said, “I get that women are more sensitive than us and communicate better. But who said that the woman’s view was the right one?”
Another pointed out the things that men tend to do better than most women, such as having more physical strength and driving toward solutions. He said, “How come nobody is telling women they need to step it up and become stronger, talk less, and get to solutions quicker?”
That’s an interesting point. Assuming that men and women need to change is like telling a dog and a cat they need to become more like each other if they’re going to get along. Nobody questions the craziness of that, since dogs naturally do dog stuff and cats naturally do cat stuff. No one expects a cat to grab a leash and excitedly bug his owner to go for a walk.
The key is in knowing the differences, accepting and respecting them, and working with that reality.
Relationships where differences are mostly criticized end up needing repair.
Relationships where differences are tolerated end up needing maintenance.
Relationships where differences are consistently celebrated thrive and grow.
Men and women have certain general characteristics that are different from each other’s. Each individual also has specific unique characteristics they bring into the relationship. When you put two people together, you get a much greater mix of characteristics than either person possesses separately. Blending those characteristics creates an unlimited set of outcomes.
It’s kind of like cooking in your kitchen. If you only have a few ingredients in your cupboard, it’s possible to cook—but your options are limited. If you double the number of ingredients you have on hand, you have a huge potential in the number of dishes you can prepare. You won’t use every ingredient every time you cook, but having them available expands the possibilities.
Saying a woman’s characteristics are better than a man’s is like saying that sugar is better than salt. Sugar brings a certain sweetness to a recipe, and most people love the taste. But if we leave out the salt, the sweetness becomes bland and tasteless. Salt is essential for most recipes to bring out the richness of every other flavor.
Of course, we can overdo it. Too much salt ruins the entire meal. Beginning cooks don’t have the experience to know how much to use, so they follow proven recipes that tell them exactly how much of each ingredient to use for the best results. Over time, the cook becomes more experienced and feels the freedom to come up with their own variations. Trial and error often produces results that aren’t the best, but they keep trying until they perfect their recipes.
Chefs still have to start with the right ingredients. They have to have sugar. They have to have salt. And they have to know the right amounts to use in a particular recipe.
That’s exactly what happens in relationships. It’s the differences between men and women that produce the greatest results when used with care in the right combinations. Early in a relationship, men and women are attracted by those differences. If a couple only focuses on wanting the other person to change, they won’t be able to create anything new. They’ll both stick with the same old recipes they’ve always known. If they work together to explore and appreciate those differences, a whole world of possibilities opens up for them.
We need to be careful of accepting the media’s and society’s condemnation of men’s inability to love their women properly. If we do, we rob a relationship of the most foundational ingredients that make it thrive—differences.
For Mother’s Day this year, our grandkids made an arrangement of succulents in a pot for my wife. It was the perfect gift, because they each picked one succulent to contribute and told her why they picked it.
Eleven-year-old Averie picked a green one with a unique pattern. She thought it was special because it would grow fast, producing tiny white blossoms as it grew. She knew Grandma loved flowers.
Eight-year-old Elena chose one with a dark green body and a bright orange and red section at the top. She thought it looked tropical, and she knew that Grandma loved the beach.
Five-year-old Marco picked a bushy, fuzzy green one because he thought it looked like a tarantula.
It’s the perfect gift because it exactly expresses their personalities. The girls were into the uniqueness and color, thinking of what Grandma would appreciate. The boy picked one that reminded him of a bug.
So which one is best? Without hesitation, it’s the complete arrangement that brings her the most joy. The individuality isn’t lost, but the combination is a constant reminder of how those little personalities bring so much richness into our lives when they’re together.
It’s called synergy. Synergy is different things coming together and forming something totally new without losing individuality.
When I think of synergy, two metaphors come to mind: a fruit salad and an orchestra. In a fruit salad, you combine strawberries, peaches, bananas, or other fruits. When they’re mixed together, there’s a brand-new taste that exists from that combination, yet you can still taste the individual fruits at the same time. In an orchestra, different instruments combine to create a sound that can fill a concert hall, but you still hear the individual instruments.
Once when our kids were little, we took them to a John Williams concert at the Hollywood Bowl. The music was themes they might recognize, including movie and cartoon favorites. They were probably a little too young because they began to lose interest after a while.
A friend handed them a pair of binoculars so they could see the orchestra members close-up. They came up with a game where they tried to see each individual type of instrument playing at the same time they heard it. So when the unique sound of a bassoon or oboe or French horn played, they scanned the orchestra to see who was playing it. By the end of the evening they managed to connect all of the instrument sounds to their players. The combined sound of the orchestra was amazing, but the individual sounds were still there.
That’s synergy. It’s the differences in a relationship that produce an outcome greater than either person brings by themselves, but they don’t lose their uniqueness. When a couple fights over their differences, they lose the potential for producing something great. When they value and celebrate those differences, the results are unlimited.
What If He’s the Problem?
When Diane and I were first married, I paid the bills and handled the budget. We weren’t making much, and money was always tight. She would come to me and ask something like, “Do we have enough money to buy a new throw rug to put in front of the couch?”
Here’s where things got interesting. I deeply wanted her to be happy. I also wanted her to see me as a good husband and successful provider. If I said, “No, we don’t have the money,” she might be disappointed. It would reflect on my effectiveness as well. So I would say, “Sure. Go ahead,” whether we had the money or not.
I didn’t realize the damage this was causing. With my limited tools and experience at this relationship thing, I wouldn’t talk to her about where we were with our finances. My mind automatically went into a solution mode: I can’t say no to the rug. I just need to figure out how to bring more money in. It was up to me to fix the problem, not talk with her about it. That would be like asking for help—which is something men don’t like to do.
At the same time, it was hard for Diane to ask about our finances because I would become defensive every time she did. To her, it felt like I was shutting her out and being secretive about our money. Deep inside, I felt like I was doing a bad job. My self-esteem was shaky because I couldn’t solve the problem. It felt like it was my fault we didn’t have enough money, so I couldn’t let her know what was really happening.
She wanted to trust me, but she was smart enough to sense that things weren’t right. Neither of us knew what to do. I thought she was nagging, and she thought I was irresponsible. We weren’t facing the problem together; we were seeing each other as the problem. That created an unspoken wedge between us because we were living on assumptions.
In an immature way, I was hiding those things from her because I cared about her happiness so much and desperately loved her. I wanted the best for her and didn’t know how to make it happen. So I avoided the topic. I thought that if we could avoid talking about it, at least nobody would be upset.
You could probably call it pride, but it was more than that. It was a typical male response coming from great motives. Neither of us were talking about the problem or looking together for a solution. We were posturing to see who was right and who was wrong.
A Win-Win Solution
It wasn’t until we hit a crisis point that we began to deal with our communication patterns. The financial issue had become the elephant in the room, and we were frustrated with each other because of our differences.
When the outcomes became too obvious to ignore, it forced us to have a tough conversation. It was uncomfortable, because we didn’t want to accuse each other (or admit that we were at fault). But once we started talking about how we could work on the problem together, we became a team.
One of our biggest realizations was that I was right-brained and creative while she was left-brained and organized. Anytime you put a creative mind in charge of finances, it’s a recipe for disaster. Yes, I was solution-driven, but would scramble immediately to any creative solution that might work. She was logical and methodical and wanted to find an outcome that would be a permanent solution to the issue. Her approach tended to be inflexible while mine was like a flock of birds that never landed.
We realized it would be best for her to handle the mechanics of the budget. It would get done, bills would be paid on time, and we would know how much money we had all the time. At the same time, we agreed to talk frequently about our finances to make sure we were on the same page. That allowed me to still feel effective because I was participating in a solution that worked.
It also made me feel like a winner as a husband because we were working together in a way that satisfied both of us. When money got tight, I didn’t have to feel like a failure anymore, and she didn’t have to deal with my immaturity. We just faced it together and talked about it.
That was years ago, and we’re doing pretty well. Those old patterns keep trying to creep in, and we have to remind each other that it’s us against the problems, not against each other.
We’re a team and we need to keep it that way. When we do, everything is better.
The Power of Kudos
I’ve heard women say, “Why do I have to pull out the pom-poms and cheer every time he does the slightest little thing? Can’t he just accept the fact that I appreciate his efforts?”
Simply stated, no. A man wants to make a difference and be effective and win, and the main place he wants that to happen is with you. He wants to be your hero, whether he says that or not. He’s not on an ego trip. He’s just a taller version of the little boy on the playground saying, “Look at me!”
Sometimes I’ll be working on a project in the garage and hit a situation I can’t figure out. I’m stumped and need to take some time to let the problem run around in my mind for a few hours. Eventually it comes together and I find a solution—and it feels awesome. I fought the problem and found a creative solution. I conquered it. I won.
Guess what my next action is? I go in the house and tell Diane what I did. Usually, I’ll bring her outside to show her, even though she might not know what she’s looking at. Why? I want the pom-poms. Nothing in the world feels better than her gushing over my ability to figure something out. Don’t ask me why, because I don’t know. It’s just the way my brain works. I realize it’s not natural for her and she’s doing it because she knows how much it means to me. But that makes it even better; she’s doing it intentionally, not naturally.
Women want their men to say, “I love you.” Men want to express their love but they’re not often good with words. It might seem simple enough to say but it’s not. Most men express their love with actions more than words. But when a man realizes the importance those words hold for his woman, he’ll find a way to say them—even if it’s uncomfortable.
In the same way, it’s not natural for a woman to bring out the pom-poms and celebrate a man’s accomplishments. But it means as much to a man as his tender words do to a woman. Recognition and appreciation are part of the fuel that keeps a man motivated, and the wise woman will provide it for him. It’s more than thanking him for what he does (though that’s important). It’s affirming his abilities in words that meet his needs: “That’s awesome. How did you figure that out?”
At the same time, express your gratefulness for those little things he does. Don’t let them slide by unnoticed. Respond with short, sincere comments such as, “That was nice—thanks,” or “Just so you know, I didn’t miss the fact that you put the toilet seat down last night, because I didn’t fall in. Thanks.” If he holds the door open for you, make him feel like a winner by saying, “Wow—that feels great. I don’t have many friends whose man opens the door for them.”
Or just respond in a female way to his male approach. If he happens to hand you the television remote, pause, look him in the eye, and say, “Thanks. I love you too.”
You might be thinking, Ok, I understand. But what about me? What if I’m doing all this stuff for him but he’s not doing any of it for me?
That’s a legitimate question, but it’s outside the scope of this book. As we said in the beginning, this is just a book for women about how to understand men. When women understand those differences, they can choose how to respond based on what they discover. Trying to change others is usually futile. But the one person we can always change is ourselves—our attitudes and actions.
It’s like dancing with another person. If we change what we do in our dance, the other person is placed in the position of deciding how they’re going to dance with us. We decide how we dance. They decide how to respond.
Learn to be grateful for your differences rather than fighting them. That’s the best place to start for building synergy and creating a world-class relationship.