I Wish He Had Come with Instructions: The Woman's Guide to a Man's Brain - Mike Bechtle (2016)
Part I. The Care and Feeding of a Man
Chapter 2. What He Wants You to Know
Your son comes to you and says, “I’m hungry.” What do you say?
If you’re like most parents, you might respond in one of these ways:
“You’re not hungry. You just ate an hour ago.”
“We’re not stopping for anything. You’ll have to wait until we get home.”
“Wait until lunchtime.”
“You don’t need ice cream. You just saw that commercial and it made you want some.”
“Here are some carrot sticks. You need something healthy.”
It’s part of our job as parents to make sure our children get what they need. We’ve learned from experience that “I’m hungry” can mean a lot of different things. So we get into the habit of saying no when they ask. It’s our way of handling nonstop requests.
That’s why it’s rare for a parent to respond to “I’m hungry” with, “Why, sure. What would you like?” We might decide to say that, but only when we’ve determined that the unspoken request is legitimate.
Now, your man comes to you and says, “I’m hungry,” or “I want you to go to the game with me,” or “I’m feeling romantic,” or “I just want to stay home today.” What do you say? Or even before that, what do you think?
He probably grew up like most kids, asking for a ton of things and having his mom say no to most of them. But now he’s a man and values his independence. He finds value in being able to make his own choices and has spent most of his life working toward that. It’s part of how he’s wired.
If you usually find yourself questioning the validity of his requests, you might be doing so out of great motives. You’re interested in his well-being and want him to make the right choices. But guess what happens in his brain when you second-guess his requests?
That’s right—you just became his mom. And in most adult relationships, that’s not a healthy place to go.
That doesn’t mean you should automatically do whatever he suggests. After all, he’s still a little boy inside who wants everything he sees. But choosing how you address the issue will determine how he responds. If you challenge the logic of his requests without exploring what he’s really thinking, he’ll feel like he’s back in his childhood again. If you want him to respond well, you’ll need to start by looking through his lenses.
How do you do that? By responding instead of reacting—asking him to tell you what he’s thinking instead of assuming you understand. Instead of saying, “Are you crazy? We’ve got too much to do around here today to go to the game!” try a different approach: “Which game? What time does it start? You know, that really sounds like a fun time with you. I do have some ideas about what I wanted to get done today, and I was really hoping to make that happen. Can we talk about it, so we can find a way to make it work for both of us?”
The first approach makes a man feel like he’s come up against an obstacle, someone telling him he can’t do what he wants. The second shows respect for him and allows him to go into problem-solving mode with you, which is what he’s good at. It positions you as a team against a problem instead of against each other.
What Other Things Are Men Thinking?
I heard that last scenario from a man who was expressing his frustration with his wife’s reactions anytime he wanted to do something. “It feels controlling,” he said, “and that’s not what a good relationship should look like. Why can’t she just talk to me about things instead of pushing her position against mine? I don’t need to always get my way, but when she always reacts to my ideas, it feels like I have to fight her on everything.”
Over the past year of working on this topic, I’ve been talking to a lot of men about the subject. One question I’ve asked often is this: “What do you wish you could tell women that you don’t think they know?” Often, they start with a sigh before responding, as if to say, Wow—that would be great if they knew what we were really thinking.
It seems like men all have things they want their women to understand, and maybe have tried to tell them. For a variety of reasons, it hasn’t gotten through. In most cases, they feel like their women just aren’t open to hearing a man’s side of things (or she is dismissive when he shares). Some of men’s answers to my question relate specifically to marriage, while some relate more to dating. All can be applied to some degree to men in general.
Again, keep in mind that we’re talking about quality men who want to do life right and make their relationships healthy but might not know how to go about it. There are men who haven’t matured enough to value relationships with women, or have deeper psychological or behavioral issues that need to be dealt with. That’s a different issue.
Gentlemen, You May Proceed
I’ve kept track of the answers my question has gotten and found that there are six broad areas men want to address.
1. How men view their partnerships with women.
Men want a partner, not another mom.
Partners work together toward a common goal. They’re not focused on who is right and who is wrong but rather on how they can work together to make something happen. They don’t expect the other person to like the same things they like, and they accept them as a whole person rather than trying to change them.
Men are just as committed to that process as a woman is, maybe even more. They carry it out differently, but the commitment is there. He’s vested in you more than he’s able to say and wants your relationship to thrive. But in his mind, it has to be a team effort. Here’s what various men had to say:
“If you want to work on the relationship, I’ll be on board as long as you don’t dictate the terms. We need to do it together.”
“We’re loyal to you and defend you in front of others. We don’t talk negatively to our family about you, and we don’t want our family members doing it either. We stick up for you. Make sure you’re willing to defend us in the same way.”
“Don’t sign us up for an event without asking. Talk to us first and let us decide. If we don’t have a choice, we’ll be upset the whole time. If we have a choice, we might do it just to please you.”
“Home needs to be a safe place where both of us can go at the end of a hard day. It needs to be the place we want to come to the most, because it’s where we’re with someone who believes in us and loves us no matter what.”
2. How men see their outside relationships.
Men want you to understand their need to connect with other men, and they don’t want you to be jealous of other women. Almost all of the men I talked to said the former was a genuine need, and the latter was completely unfounded.
“There’s something about hanging out with other guys that feeds our manhood. It doesn’t mean we don’t want to be with you. But if we spend time with them, it restores that part of us that allows us to bring our best to you.”
“When we’re with the guys, we don’t mind you calling or texting if you need us. But don’t do it because you’re suspicious or you feel like you have to keep track of us. We’ll be ok, and we’ll be back.”
“When someone flirts with us and it bothers you, talk to us about it. That flirting might feel good to us, but we’re with you. If you just get jealous and we haven’t done anything to betray you, it feels like you don’t trust us.”
“Know that we’re committed to you and we don’t want to cheat on you. We should say it more often, but we think you’re beautiful, smart, and clever. What other women have doesn’t even begin to match what we have with you.”
“When you’re jealous, we don’t feel respected or trusted. Just because you know someone else who cheated doesn’t mean we’re going to. That lack of trust eats away at our connection.”
3. What men really think and feel about women.
Women have more of an impact on men than they realize. Even if it seems like men are distracted by a million different things, almost everything they do is to get their woman’s attention.
“We want you to be impressed with us. We need you to enjoy having us around. Our “ok-ness” depends on how you feel about us. Give us the benefit of the doubt when we don’t do it right. We’re trying, and we’re doing it for you.”
“We have deep emotions, but we’ve been brought up not to show them. They’re in there. They’re often about you, and little things remind us of you when we’re not with you.”
“When you smile at us, it makes our whole day. Seriously. And if we can’t make you smile, the day is heavier.”
“We really want to make you happy. You probably need to tell us what that looks like, but we really want it to happen.”
“We’re not always thinking about sex. It’s important to us, but it’s nothing like they make it sound on TV. We tend to focus on one thing at a time. Sex is one of those things, and we need it often to function. But it’s not the only thing.”
“Don’t look for hidden meaning when we say things. We’re not that complicated. If we tell you we like the way you look today, it doesn’t imply that we don’t like the way you look on other days. Take it at face value as a compliment, and say thanks.”
“We express our love through our actions more than words. Pay attention to those little things we do, because they’re on purpose. Most of the little things we do are to make your life a little easier. That’s our way of loving you.”
4. What men think about women’s looks.
This question turned out to be pretty straightforward. Women often obsess about their looks, but men think they look great anytime.
“You’re a lot prettier than you think. We really believe that.”
“Accept it when we tell you you’re beautiful. Stop responding by putting yourself down. We’re just stating what we believe to be true, and you’re saying we’re wrong. That’s frustrating.”
“We don’t like a lot of makeup. We like it when you make yourself up when we go out, but we seriously love the way you look at home with no makeup at all. We fell in love with the real you, not the decorated you.”
“Your attitude has more to do with how attractive you are than anything else. A confident, playful woman is hard for a man to resist.”
“You worry about sags and scars and cellulite. When you’re naked, we’re not focused on that. We have other things that distract us. We’re just enjoying you.”
“Take care of yourself. We want you to relax at home, but it’s important to us that you take effort to look nice for us sometimes. That doesn’t mean fancy clothes and makeup, because you need to be comfortable. When you dress nice to go out but always look shabby at home, we still love you—but we feel like we’re getting the leftovers.”
5. How men communicate.
Communication is the key to an effective relationship. If we don’t see through each other’s filters, men and women can really get frustrated when their differences aren’t taken into consideration.
“We have no idea what you want. Don’t drop hints—we won’t get them. Just tell us what you want—we really want to know.”
“If we’re silent, we’re probably thinking. Or we might be upset, but we don’t want to blurt out anything that might hurt you. Or we might not be thinking at all.”
“Don’t bring up things from the past during an argument. Keep it in the past, and stay with the current situation.”
“If something we say comes out wrong, it doesn’t mean there’s something deep inside that came out under pressure. It just means we said it wrong.”
“It’s easier for us to feel close to you when we’re doing something together than when we’re just sitting and talking.”
“Your words impact us more than you’ll ever know. If you compliment us in the smallest way, it will carry us for days. Tell us we look nice, and we’ll wear that same shirt every time we can.”
“We can’t always read your facial expressions. The only way we know you’re hurt is if you tell us. If you want us to put away the dishes, don’t try to look tired so we’ll pick up on it. Ask us to put the dishes away. We’d love to do it because it helps you out. But we just won’t figure it out on our own.”
“We can’t be your girlfriend. You have girlfriends to be that for you. We can only provide what we have to give.”
“Give us time to think when we’re having a conversation. We need to process what you’ve said before we can respond.”
6. What men need.
Men consistently said that women don’t know what men need, because it’s different from what women need. So when women discover what those needs are, it’s important to recognize that they are genuine.
“We need to be admired in all areas of life. Tell us when you notice us doing things well.”
“We need to feel desired by you. If we don’t, it shakes our confidence. All it takes is a little playful flirting, and we melt.”
“We love it when you rest your head on our shoulder.”
“The biggest compliment you can give is that you feel safe with us. It satisfies our protective instinct.”
“We’re insecure. We need affirmation that we’re ok. Often.”
“If we sense that you’re in our court and you encourage us, we feel like we can do anything. Make us feel that way, and we’ll always have your back.”
“We need to feel useful to you. When you ask us to do things for you, it fulfills our sense of responsibility.”
“We want to be your hero. If you convince us that it’s true, we’ll do anything for you.”
Replace Assumptions with Communication
There’s one simple truth that summarizes this chapter: men think differently than women. The only way women will discover how men think is to talk to them about it.
Over the years, my wife and I have gotten better at communicating exactly what we need. It’s not natural and it’s not perfect, but we’re getting better.
When we moved into our current house eight years ago, we had a lot of remodeling to do. We painted, removed partitions, scraped ceilings, and replaced windows. We worked for months on those things … and then realized that we didn’t have the money to do everything we wanted.
Replacing the carpet was on the list, but we postponed it until most of the other work was done. We didn’t paint the baseboards in our guest room because we figured we’d do it at the same time we did the carpet. But things got tight, and we still haven’t replaced that carpet. It’s pretty bad, but we’re not going to spend money we don’t have.
A few weeks ago, I noticed that those baseboards had never been painted. It made the room look unfinished, but we’d gotten used to it. Neither of us even thought about it, though I’m sure our guests have wondered.
I had a couple of days off work last week, so I decided to paint those baseboards. It will still be a while before we replace the carpet, but at least the room will look finished. I cleaned them, taped around the carpet, and carefully applied two coats of paint. When I put the room back together it looked like a different room.
In the past, I would have waited for Diane to notice and then say something. Sometimes she’d go for days without noticing, and I’d start feeling hurt that she wasn’t appreciating my effort. But I’ve learned to take a more direct approach.
When she came home from work, I said, “Let me know when you have a few spare minutes to come in the guest room and ooh and aah over the baseboards I painted.”
She said, “Ok—give me three minutes.”
Three minutes later she grabbed my hand and walked into the guest room. She looked slowly around and playfully said, “Ooh!” A few seconds later she said, “Aah!” Then she followed it up with a genuine compliment: “This looks like a totally different room. It just lightens the whole thing up. You did a really nice job in here. Thanks!”
It was direct. It was fun. And it gave me a sense of respect from her that has lasted for several days. Why? Because I told her exactly what I needed.
And the best part? I got to be her “baseboard hero.”
I live for that. And your man does too.