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 15. Strategies for Happy Endings
Can a storybook relationship have a happy ending?
I think I was in seventh grade when I first read a story that didn’t. Until then, stories I read always had happy endings. There might be risk and conflict, but everything worked out in the end.
My teacher assigned “To Build a Fire,” a 1908 story written by Jack London. We read it in class. It’s the story of a man in the Yukon who gets caught in sub-zero conditions and begins to freeze to death. He tries to build a fire, but can’t hold the matches because his hands are frozen.
Finally, he gets the fire started (and I can see the happy ending in sight). But the snow on a branch overhead drops onto the fire and puts it out. The man tries everything he can, but things only get worse and worse. Eventually, he lies down and falls asleep—permanently. His dog picks up the “scent of death” and heads back to camp.
I remember sitting at my school desk, trying to comprehend what had just happened. It took days for me to shake off the impact. For the first time, I realized that life didn’t guarantee happy endings.
When we’re kids, we expect happy endings. As adults, we still want them, though we’ve learned that happy endings are pretty unpredictable. We know that there are no guarantees, but that doesn’t stop us from hoping and trying for them.
Investing in a Storybook Ending
Most relationships start with a storybook ending in mind. Couples think, It’s too bad for everyone else. Nobody has ever had what we have together. They really believe they have something special (and they do), and that it will lead to a happy ending.
Over time, those relationships get tough. They’re made up of real people with real issues, and that causes friction. Some couples split apart when that friction occurs because they’ve given up on the ending. It’s too hard and hopeless. They quit working on the relationship, until it finally shrivels and fades away.
Other couples grow in those tough times. They see those challenges as stepping-stones to make them stronger, and they face them together. It takes a huge effort, but they desperately want the storybook ending. They’ve decided that the ending is worth risking everything for, even though it’s not a guarantee.
They realize that the more energy they put into that relationship, the greater the payoff potential at the other end.
It’s kind of like investing. We observe people like Warren Buffet, who is one of the most respected investors on the planet. People see that he’s a multibillionaire (happy ending), so they buy the same stocks he buys and wonder why they can’t even afford a vanilla latte with their returns. What they overlook is how long he’s been investing, making small, intentional choices over a lifetime.
People want to make a killing in the stock market. They start with high hopes but get nervous when the market fluctuates. Their dream becomes a nightmare. Warren Buffet takes advantage of tough markets, using commonsense strategies no matter what the economy does. He sticks with basic, proven principles of investing and wealth management.
We can do that with our relationships too. We don’t know what’s ahead in our journey. But we can apply investing principles to those relationships to get the highest possible return on our investment.
If we want a storybook ending, we need to be intentional about making it happen. Knowing that it’s not guaranteed, we can commit to the work it takes over time to aim for the results we desire. Those consistent patterns lead to predictable results, both in investing and in relationships.
Investments of the Heart
Here are a few principles about financial investing that apply when you’re investing in a relationship with a man.
Invest in what you know.
In the financial world, too many people make investment decisions based on a “hot tip” they heard in the media and then wonder why they don’t make a boatload of cash right away. The genuine experts suggest that we should never invest in anything we don’t fully understand.
If you’re going to give your heart to a man, it shouldn’t be a casual commitment. He’s worth studying for a lifetime. The more you know about him, the more you’ll feel comfortable investing. If you become an expert in that particular man, you’ll have the best chance possible for a successful relationship with him.
Don’t get spooked when the market dives.
When a stock goes up, people get excited and buy it. When a stock goes down, they panic and get rid of it. Healthy investing does the opposite, buying when the market is low and building that investment until the market is high to maximize their return.
Life has its ups and downs, and men aren’t immune to those changes. When life gets tough and a man gets down, some women jump out of a relationship because it’s not going the way they expected. That’s often the best time to make an even greater investment, starting a growth process for when the “market” goes up. It takes commitment and courage on your part, but it’s the only way to get the highest level of return.
In a marriage relationship, this means keeping the promises you made on your wedding day when you committed to each other “for better or for worse.” Tough times don’t feel good, but they’re the seedbed for growth.
Use the compounding effect.
Little investments made consistently for a long time take advantage of compounding interest. At first, it seems like you’re only earning pennies on the dollar. But by reinvesting those pennies, the principal grows—and you make interest on that larger balance. Do it for a long enough time and the account grows exponentially.
You can’t pour a bunch of attention into a man once in a while and expect big results. You also can’t make regular emotional withdrawals, because it reverses the compounding effect. The best way to grow your investment in a man is to make constant, consistent, tiny everyday deposits that multiply over time. It protects the principal so it can keep growing.
There are no get-rich-quick schemes in relationships. It takes patience and persistence. Your investment will grow, and the dividends can be substantial over time.
Work with a professional.
Uncle Larry might have made a lot of money with his style of investing, but that doesn’t mean his is the path you should follow. Investment “experts” in the media give financial advice, but it doesn’t matter to them if it works for you or not. An experienced financial planner who cares about you and your success is a valued resource for growing wealth. They’re a strategic partner, not just an advice giver. They have the training and experience to see small issues that can be addressed before they become major ones.
I don’t try to install air conditioning, rebuild my car’s engine, or do surgery on myself. For important things like that, I hire an expert to do what they’re highly trained to do.
Relationships don’t grow well in isolation. We’re too close to the important issues and dynamics to figure it all out. That’s why we do life with other people, so we share the journey. And when it looks like the road ahead is impossible to pass, we call in an expert.
I grew up in Arizona. As teenagers, we tried to get as much sun as possible. We even used tanning oils to magnify the sun’s rays. Nobody thought it was a bad thing.
Years later, I now make Lexus payments for my dermatologist. I see him once or twice a year, and he freezes off my precancerous spots before they grow into something serious. I can’t even see or feel those spots, but his expertise, training, and experience allow him to find those things and remove them when they first appear. The treatment isn’t always comfortable, but he’s keeping me from getting skin cancer later.
I’m a huge believer in therapists and professional counselors for relationship issues. It’s common for men to feel like a failure if they need to get help. But that perspective implies we should be capable of solving all our own problems. Nice idea, but unrealistic.
Men struggle with this issue frequently because of their desire to be “in control.” They wait until the problem has gotten out of control before seeking help. They figure that if they ignore the issue it will take care of itself over time. But it only grows like an emotional cancer that can destroy a relationship if it’s not dealt with.
The solution? Talk with your man about the value of getting a relationship “tune-up” while things are going well, instead of waiting for major issues to come up. It’s less threatening for him if he doesn’t think he’s going to get put on the spot and feel attacked. Suggest that, in the same way you both get an annual “physical” exam, maybe you could also have an annual “relationship” exam with a skilled professional.
Schedule an appointment for a tune-up, and let the therapist explore and deal with those tiny spots before they become cancerous. It’s a chance to do preventative work before a small issue turns into a giant one.
Creating High Returns
We’ve been on a journey in this book to understand the way a man thinks and how it’s different from the way a woman thinks. Looking through the eyes of a man for understanding is the foundation for a world-class relationship. Once that foundation is in place, you can begin investing in that man for growth.
If you try a few of the things we’ve suggested in this book, you’re implementing your investment strategy. Those small, consistent actions have a great chance of growing into a highly satisfying relationship. There are no quick fixes or easy solutions, just commonsense caring over time.
If I were to handpick a few of the most important strategies we’ve talked about in this book for investing in your man, here are the simplest ones I’ve found that lead to the highest lifetime return.
Constantly look through his eyes to see his perspective.
Seeing another person’s perspective is never natural, so you have to choose to do it for the rest of your life. The more you accept the genuine differences your man has and adapt to their reality, the freer you’ll be to become his true partner. It also frees him to become the kind of man he was designed to be.
Waste time together.
Most men don’t get excited about spending time talking about their relationship and analyzing their feelings. They just want to enjoy their woman, and that usually happens when they spend time together just messing around. Meet your man’s need for companionship and activity without pushing the relationship issues too much, and he’ll probably be much more inclined to discuss them when it’s appropriate.
He’s simple, and he’s mostly interested in enjoying you. Let him do it, and make it a priority.
Make laughter a priority in your relationship.
When life gets complicated, it’s natural to hunker down and take everything seriously. Life is serious. But allowing “lightness” into the relationship makes it easier for him to be serious. Movies use comic relief to break the tension during stressful moments, and relationships need to do the same.
My wife and I were talking with some friends a couple of years ago about handling the tough stuff in our relationships. They asked how we handled some of those situations, and we described the way we interact. It’s usually a combination of serious discussion and playfulness.
The woman said, “Well, I think you guys are just happier than most people.” I thought about that for a long time. It’s probably true, but not because life is always cheery. I think we’ve been intentional about enjoying each other, whether circumstances are good or bad. It helps us work together as a team, knowing that facing the problem together makes us both stronger.
Your man connected with you initially because it seemed more enjoyable than being by himself. If the relationship loses that playfulness, it gets heavy and tedious. If you commit to playfulness, he can enjoy you no matter what life brings.
Show him respect whenever you can, in little and big ways.
Respect is a huge need for a man, and it will determine how successful he is in handling life. If he knows you respect him with all his imperfections, it will give him the strength to be the kind of man you want him to be. It’s easy to take that need for granted because it’s probably not as strong a need for you. Never forget that he needs respect the way a parched person needs water.
Recognize that you’re always looking at the same thing through different lenses. Make sure you clarify each other’s lenses before making assumptions.
For example, he’s heading to a convenience store and says, “Hey, do you want me to bring you anything?” You respond, “Sure—bring me an apple.” In your mind, you’re picturing a large, crisp, cold, crunchy red apple. Instead, he brings home a small, mushy yellow one because it’s all they had. He did what you asked, and in his mind he met your need. But you had a different expectation, and you’re disappointed.
Differing expectations is one of the biggest reasons men and women have trouble connecting. Take the time to clarify what your man is thinking (and clarify your own expectations), and you’ll save a lot of grief in the future.
Take care of yourself.
Get healthy and keep growing. Don’t let your view of yourself be based on how he performs (or doesn’t) as a man. He might be growing or responding, or he might be struggling. Don’t go down with him. Eat right, get enough sleep, and invest in yourself. You need to be a whole person if you’re planning to build a whole relationship.
The more important something is and the more value it has, the more attention it deserves. A man you’re in a relationship with will be the biggest potential investment you’ll ever make and has the potential for the biggest possible return. Study him, grow with him, and believe in him. Make intentional effort to help him become the best version of himself possible.
The Potential for Greatness
Investing is always an attempt to balance risk and reward. You can find security and safety in a savings account at the bank, but you’ll only make pennies in interest. Low risk, low reward. If you want high reward, you’ll have to invest in some things that have high potential, but no guarantees.
A man is like that. When you make an emotional investment in a man, you’re hoping for the best. You could play it safe and try to maintain the relationship the way it is, hoping things will turn out ok. That strategy might keep a relationship together, but it won’t thrive.
Or you could see your man as a blue-chip investment. He’s loaded with potential, and there’s the possibility of seeing your investment multiply astronomically. Sure, there’s risk—you never know how it will turn out. Maybe his “stock price” is low at the moment. The more you study him and become intentional about building into his life, the greater chance you have of achieving greatness in your relationship.
A lot of people settle for relationship mediocrity because it’s the result they get from taking the easy road. But if you accept the challenge and build your “portfolio” around your man, you’re setting up your relationship to reach heights you couldn’t imagine. As Buzz Lightyear said in the movie Toy Story, “To infinity … and beyond.”
Here are three specific things about your man to keep in mind:
1. His potential for greatness as a man is unlimited.
2. You have more of an impact on him reaching that greatness than anyone else in the world.
3. If he feels your support and respect, he’ll usually do anything for you and the relationship. In other words, he’ll invest back in the relationship to make it great.
This book is simply a template for how to approach the man in your life. There’s no secret formula for success in relationships. You can never predict what a man will do in response to your choices. But if you make those choices based on his interests, priorities, and needs, you’ve raised the odds for him to respond in a new, positive way.
So really, you’re not working on him; you’re working on you.
A lot of books say that a woman needs to change to become what her husband expects and wants. That misses the entire point of this book.
The key isn’t to become something you’re not, giving up part of yourself just to please him. It means becoming all that you can be, keeping your integrity, and fostering your true self.
At the same time, do so with an understanding of what happens in the mind of a man. When you see life from his perspective, you can make the best choices for both of you.
If you start with becoming your own healthiest self, it’s tough for him not to respond differently to you. After all, you’ve become a different person (in a sense). When you change, chances are he’ll see you in a new way and respond accordingly.
Take the Plunge
You picked up this book because you were having trouble understanding your man, right? You were hoping for insights and formulas and suggestions that would make your relationship stronger, but you weren’t sure what that might look like.
My goal has been to let you peek inside your man’s brain. I can’t make choices for you and I can’t fix relationships that are broken. No book can do that. All I can do is be a tour guide to point out the features you might not know are there and explain some of the pitfalls that seem treacherous. And hopefully, this book has given you a new perspective about your man.
It’s up to you where you go from here. Maybe your relationship needs some honest conversation about your differences. Maybe it needs some clarification of expectations. Maybe it needs an injection of humor, or compassion, or humility. Maybe it needs professional guidance. Maybe it needs time.
The place to start is with understanding. Without knowing how a man thinks, all of your attempts to improve your relationship will be short-lived. If you have that base of understanding, the potential for growth is limitless.
He didn’t come with instructions.
Maybe it’s time to invite him to write those instructions together.