I Wish He Had Come with Instructions: The Woman's Guide to a Man's Brain - Mike Bechtle (2016)
Part III. How He Acts
Chapter 8. Unconditional Like
This chapter begins with a disclaimer.
After I finished writing it, my wife read through it. She said, “If I didn’t know you, I’d feel like you were telling me that I had to do all the changing in my relationship with my man. Your female readers are going to think, ‘How come I have to change? What about him? It sounds like it’s all my responsibility and he’s off the hook!’”
That’s not my intention at all. It’s not women’s fault, and men absolutely have things they need to work on in any relationship.
But this book isn’t a marriage or relationship manual about how to change another person. It’s an understanding manual. We’re exploring what happens in a man’s mind and how it impacts the choices he makes every day. My goal is to walk with you and show you the sights. Once you see that perspective clearly, you’ll be able to make unique, customized decisions about how to handle the man in your life.
So keep that in mind as you read. If something feels unfair or one-sided, remember, I’m not letting the man off the hook. I’m just trying to help you understand him accurately.
There are a lot of stereotypes about men:
· They won’t listen to women.
· They’re not emotional.
· They’re threatened by independent women.
· All they think about is sex.
· They’ll cheat if they’re given the chance.
· They’re afraid of commitment.
· They’d rather hang out with their guy friends.
Where do those stereotypes come from? Are they true?
When women get together, they might talk about the men in their lives. They might be frustrated by something their man has done, and they’re trying to figure out his motives. If they believe those stereotypes they’ll say things like:
“Well, he’s a man—so what do you expect?”
“He’s just not capable of doing that; it’s just the way men are.”
“Men—can’t live with them, can’t live without them.”
How should a woman respond to these perspectives? She should challenge those stereotypes to see if they’re true for her man by exploring other perspectives with him. Women and men both want real relationships, not ones where they have to “perform” in a certain way. Real relationships happen when a woman engages with her man to explore who he really is, how he’s unique, and how he really thinks.
Let’s explore how that works.
Breaking Down the Walls
Guys don’t like to be stereotyped by women, but most of them have heard it their entire lives. Sure, there are some guys who use those stereotypes as an excuse: “I’m a guy—it’s just how I am.” But deep inside, they know those things aren’t true; they just don’t know what to say to counter them. So they don’t say anything.
It starts on the playground, where most guys are taught to hide their emotions.
Kai is only eight years old but knows how it feels if someone calls him a sissy. If he shows any emotion, his friends (or even his dad) will pounce on him and tell him to “act like a man.” He’s trying to figure out what manhood looks like by watching other boys and how they react to things. So he suppresses his natural sensitivity so he’ll be perceived as “a man.”
We end up with boys who won’t show their vulnerability and grow into men who won’t show their vulnerability. That’s unfortunate, because vulnerability is exactly what connects with women. It’s in there, tucked away but not expressed. When women don’t see any emotions, they generalize that men just aren’t that emotional.
It’s time to test those stereotypes to see if they’re true. How? By having a safe conversation with your man about them.
In this setting, “safe” means exploring some of the stereotypes with him but not reacting in ways that reinforce them. If a woman overreacts or becomes critical when a man starts to test the waters of vulnerability, he’ll step back on shore and be hesitant to try again.
He might become suspicious when you begin exploring. But deep inside, he wants you to know the truth about him. When a man has the chance to express his needs accurately with his woman, it frees him to do something he’s rarely done in the past. If you’re the safe person he does that with, it builds trust and bonds him to you in your relationship.
So, you’ve heard the stereotypes. What do men really want you to know?
The Top Fourteen Needs of Men
Through research and conversations with men over the years, I’ve found certain themes repeated consistently. They all have to do with breaking those stereotypes and letting women see what’s really going on inside. Here are the things I heard the most often that men want women to know—from their perspective.
1. We want you to communicate directly.
We really want to know what you’re thinking. Sometimes we get impatient because you take a long time to describe a situation. Sure, we’d like you to get to the point faster. But that doesn’t mean we don’t care. The process just gets in the way.
We can’t read your mind, so the only way we’ll know what you want is if you tell us. Don’t try to manipulate us into doing something out of guilt; just tell us straight up what you want. Tell us the truth, as simply as you can. Don’t assume we don’t care. Assume we do, and give us a chance to explore that with you.
2. We love your emotions when you express them well.
We don’t want you to suppress your emotions or hide them from us. How you handle your emotions is huge for us. We love your emotions and want to see them—when they’re not out of control. Anger, sadness, and strong emotions are part of who you are, and we want to be with you when you’re feeling them. It’s just that we don’t know what to do when you explode.
That doesn’t mean you can’t have strong emotions and express them. It means we respond better if you’ve learned how to express your emotions appropriately in a way that doesn’t attack us. Men respect women who have a healthy use of their emotional power.
3. We want you to be independent.
Someone said, “Two half-people don’t make one whole relationship.” We need to become a healthy, whole person, and we need you to as well. We want you to need us but not be dependent on us.
Contrary to what a lot of people think, most men don’t want to be in a relationship with a weak person so that they can feel stronger. There are some controlling men who feel that way, but we’re talking about healthy men. That perspective isn’t healthy. Secure women inspire us. Don’t give up your interests to be with us, but when you are with us, give us 100 percent.
It’s impressive to us when you have your own life outside of us. It tells us that you’ve chosen us to be partners in this process of life, and we’re both bringing our own health and wholeness into the relationship.
Simply stated, we need you to like yourself. When you do, it’s easy and natural for us to give you our respect.
4. Treat us with kindness.
A lot of women are afraid to tell their man their honest feelings because they’re afraid of how he will respond. It’s well-deserved in a lot of cases because men can be pretty insensitive. When they haven’t had a lot of practice using emotions, they default to one that’s acceptable for a man, like anger (which often comes across as sarcasm or withdrawal).
No matter how we respond, we’re still human. Humans tend to respond to others in the way they’re approached. If someone approaches us with kindness, it’s easier to respond in the same way. When they approach us with sarcasm, it’s natural to use sarcasm in response. That’s why King Solomon said, “A gentle answer turns away wrath.”
Men and women in a relationship care about each other. That’s why they got together in the first place. If they care that much and see enough value in each other that they’re together, wouldn’t it make sense to treat each other with kindness and respect?
The more value something has, the more we treat it with care. We handle an expensive crystal goblet differently than we do a plastic sippy cup. No matter what men say, it builds trust when you make kindness your default setting.
5. We respond to praise.
Some women feel like it’s wrong to praise their husband because it might reinforce bad behavior. When a woman is frustrated, she might not see the good as much as she sees the bad. In her frustration, her conversation centers around things her man is doing wrong instead of focusing on what he’s doing right.
Praise (when it’s genuine) is the fuel that helps us move forward. If we only hear criticism, it makes us critical. But when men hear praise, it builds our confidence. Most important, the praise we get from you means more than all the praise we get elsewhere combined.
It doesn’t have to be big. Just let us know when you catch us doing something right. It will make us want to do it even more.
It’s especially powerful when you’re honestly frustrated with us (and we know it) but still praise us for something positive we did in the middle of it. “I’m really irritated with you right now over this whole situation,” you say. “But when we were talking about my sister’s meddling in our lives, you listened to me. You didn’t try to fix it or figure it out; you just listened. I felt like you heard me. That was good. I really appreciate that. Ok, now about our situation …” That kind of response is powerful because it’s unexpected, and you wouldn’t have said it in that setting if it wasn’t genuine.
Our brains are wired for honest praise. Don’t overlook that.
6. We don’t want to cheat on you.
That’s a big one, because a lot of women feel like a man will cheat if he has the opportunity. Because of how we’re wired, other women catch our eye even if we’re satisfied. If we’ve chosen to be in a relationship with you, it’s because we want you to be the one who satisfies us. We’re probably more vulnerable when things are rocky in our relationship, but if the relationship is healthy, we won’t stray. We know we’ll grow by working through it.
A good man has a keen desire for fidelity. He values it and will work hard to stay faithful to his woman. At the same time, it’s important that you don’t cheat on him, either. We want the trust that comes from mutual commitment to each other. We really do—that’s why we entered into a committed relationship with you. If we’re dating, we set ourselves apart from others to give our attention to our relationship. If we’re married, we want it to be a lifelong commitment.
That doesn’t mean men never stray. It happens more often than we’d like to admit. But know that it’s not our intent. A good man doesn’t want to cheat and will take every precaution to keep it from happening. When that commitment is mutual, it builds the kind of trust that can weather the storms of a relationship.
7. We want you to be playful.
Nobody gets into a relationship because they want to be bored. Most men have grown up with a bias for activity. They like doing things more than talking. They were brought up on play, so it’s part of who they are. So when a woman is playful, she’s found the secret door to his heart.
Men are more attracted by the experiences a woman creates with them than the things she says. To capture the imagination of a man, a woman who “does” has more leverage than a woman who “says.” Men want to have fun, and they would like to do it with you. If they enter a relationship with a woman and she’s not playful, it’s not fun anymore. When that relationship becomes tedious, it won’t be the source of energy for him that it normally would be.
Playfulness doesn’t just mean doing events together. It’s an overall attitude of fun and enjoyment that permeates the whole relationship. When you’re enjoying the relationship, it gives a man what he needs to enjoy it himself.
Women tend to be more responsible and organized. They plan their weeks and their days and set a path for each day. When they’re working on one thing, they’re mentally transitioning to the three things they’ll be doing when that one is done.
A man tends to be much more spontaneous (maybe impulsive is a better word). When he feels like going out for dinner, it takes a woman off guard: “But I already thawed out the leftover meatloaf. Let’s go some other time.” It doesn’t have to happen every time, but it means a lot to a man if occasionally you say, “Well, I was planning on having leftovers, and I just thawed them out. But it would be a nice break to go out. Let’s do it, and we can have the leftovers tomorrow night.”
For a man, that’s fun. When he knows a woman has made plans, it means a lot to him that she will let them go to be spontaneous with him. It tells him that he’s more important to her than the meatloaf. That keeps him energized in the relationship.
8. We need passion.
It’s true that men have a strong need for sexual fulfillment in an appropriate relationship. It’s more than a desire; it’s a need. Passion is something different. Passion, to a man, says that you have a strong emotional sense of attraction to him. He wants to be desired. In fact, several studies found that men have more fear of being in a relationship where there’s no passion or attraction than they have fear of commitment.
We might know that you love us. But we need you to like us too. Sure, there will be challenging times where we’re both irritated. But relationships start because of attraction and continue because of attraction. That’s what passion looks like to a man, and it’s the fuel that keeps him focused on you. It can’t be faked, because men can spot that easily. You can be creative as to how it’s expressed, but we feel that passion for you—and we need to believe that you feel the same way about us.
9. We think and feel deeply.
It’s generally accepted that men don’t have feelings. That’s what we might call an “urban legend.” Men know what they think and feel, but they might be slower than women to express it. It’s in there, though, and it’s real. Women need to recognize it and handle it carefully. Those emotions are fragile because of past experiences.
Growing up, boys are told (sometimes by parents, always by peers) that they’re not supposed to cry. They don’t get a lot of unconditional acceptance for their feelings as they mature, so they’ve trained themselves to not show emotion.
In a safe relationship with a woman, they’ll probably let their guard down. In a sense, they’re sticking their toes in the ocean to see how cold it is. If a man tells a woman he’s afraid, he’s watching and waiting to see how she responds. If it’s safe, he’ll feel ok with being vulnerable in the future with her. If it’s not safe, he’ll keep turning inward.
We have real fears. Don’t try to talk us out of them. Just listen to us—not to agree with us or fix us, but to understand us and stand by us. Reassure us that you’re walking through the fear with us so we’re not facing it alone. When a man gets understanding from a woman, it’s a rare gift.
10. We need your respect and admiration.
Respect is one of a man’s greatest needs. When a woman shows a man that she believes in him and his ideas, it makes him feel important. Sure, we come up with some crazy ideas. But instead of focusing on why the ideas won’t work, explore them with us. Encourage the way we think and our energy around doing something big, even if you’re concerned about what’s involved.
If you respect us for the way we think, we’ll feel your support. If we feel supported, we’ll feel secure enough to give up the crazy ideas over time. We just need to know that you’re on our side.
Notice when we’re doing things well and tell us. We need “unconditional like,” knowing that you respect us just for who we are. When you point those things out, it reinforces that feeling of respect.
11. We need your companionship.
We like you. If we’re in a relationship with you, we want to be with you. Sometimes it means we want to have conversations, but it also means just being together watching a hockey game on television. Yes, we need independence, and we want time to hang out with the guys. But we also need time to just be with you. Sitting quietly together without talking recharges us, and we need it as much as conversation.
We didn’t get into a relationship with you so we could be by ourselves. We want to know who you are in a simple, safe environment.
12. We need encouragement.
We can get “down” sometimes, but we don’t always say anything about it. You can tell, though, because you’re perceptive enough to notice that we’re quieter than usual—we’re not responding, we’re not playing with the kids, or we don’t want to go anywhere.
When you give us encouragement during those times, we feel like we can conquer any situation—and we’ll do anything for you if you make that happen. When we get stuck in the weeds while we’re trying to move forward, let us know you have our back. Your support makes it safer to try things, because you’ve given us a soft place to land if we mess up.
13. We need you to flirt with us.
We’re suckers for flirting. When our confidence is low, playful flirting fills our emotional tank. A mischievous smile or a gentle, casual touch is the quickest way to bring that confidence back. It makes us feel alive, because you care enough to do it. Other women have a flirty style and approach, and it’s attractive. But it’s not nearly as attractive if we’re already getting it from you.
14. We need appreciation.
We men play a lot of different roles, so it means a lot when you tell us we’re doing a good job in those roles. We don’t get a lot of recognition for what we do, which is why it means so much when we get it from you. When you notice that we’ve done something for you like clearing the table or filling your car with gas, just say thanks. Nobody likes to be taken for granted, and gratitude makes us want to do it again.
One of the most meaningful ways you can show appreciation is to do it behind our back. Brag on us to others when we’re not around. It’ll get back to us, and we’ll experience the power of a secondhand compliment.
How to Speak Male (Part 1)
To connect effectively with your man, realize that he speaks a different language. If you speak to him the way you would talk to another woman, he might not be able to hear it. It’s important to choose phrasing that makes sense to him.
If you want him to help, don’t say, “I get so tired of cleaning up the kitchen.” You’re hoping he’ll get the hint and help you out. He won’t, because he thinks you’re simply stating a fact. Ask directly. “Could you please help me by emptying the dishwasher tonight? I’d really appreciate it.”
Share your emotions accurately instead of lacing them with sarcasm. Instead of saying, “You never listen to me. What’s wrong with you?” try, “I really feel frustrated when I don’t get a response from you when we’re talking.”
Instead of saying, “You’re always out with your friends and leaving me home alone,” try, “I’m glad you get a chance to hang out with your friends. I’ll be going out with my friends tomorrow night. Why don’t you have the guys over to watch the game together?”
He’s used to hearing you say, “I love you.” It’s expected, and appreciated. Try saying, “You know, I really like you today.” That’s unexpected and catches his attention at a deeper level.
When you’re busy and he knows it, take a break to just be with him. Say, “I have so much going on right now that I’m feeling overwhelmed. I just need a few minutes to be with my best friend, ok?” That’s hard to resist.
How to Speak Male (Part 2)
“The definition of insanity,” the adage goes, “is to keep doing the same thing over and over and expect different results.”
If your current way of communicating isn’t working with your man, it’s probably time to evaluate how you’re doing it. If you have an accurate idea of what’s going on in his head, you can take some different approaches to connecting.
Let’s give him the benefit of the doubt and say that he really cares about you and wants to please you. He doesn’t know how to do that because he’s tried and gotten a negative response. He feels like a failure and chooses inappropriate backup behaviors to protect himself.
Here are some communication strategies that will make it safe for him to respond differently.
Focus on solutions. If you focus on the way you’re communicating, a man often feels threatened. Your brain puts things together faster than his, and he’s going to withdraw. Instead, turn your attention to solving the problem together.
After you’ve agreed on exactly what the problem is, say, “So I’d be interested to hear your take on this. What would you do?” When he tells you, don’t react. Just listen and say, “Interesting. I hadn’t looked at it that way. Let me think about that for a couple of minutes.” That gives you time to consider his thoughts and choose the best way to respond next.
If you disagree, don’t tell him he’s wrong. Just say, “You know, I’ve got another idea to add. Let’s see if we can pull our ideas together to come up with something that will work.” That lets you converse in a way that allows him to be a winner.
Don’t bring up situations from the past. One of the biggest complaints I hear from men is how good a woman’s memory is, and how she brings up things from the past to reinforce her position about the present. It’s usually true, because a woman’s greater production of dopamine increases her language and memory skills. Keep the present issue in the present and keep the past in the past. If the past needs to be addressed, that can happen later—not during the present conflict.
Keep it short. Men don’t have as much stamina for a long, involved conversation. Even if the conversation is healthy, men tend to have a limit to how long they can stay engaged. If you see him start to talk less, glaze over, or lose interest, wrap it up and agree on when you can talk again. It’s better for a man to have several short conversations than a single one that seems eternal.
Summarize. Your mind is probably looking at a situation from a number of different angles, and it makes sense to you how those different ideas all come together. A man tends to see one thing at a time and can get confused or overwhelmed when a conversation goes in too many directions. When you’ve been talking about your perspective for a while, see if you can summarize what you’re thinking in a single sentence. Ask him if it makes sense. Then ask him to do the same: “So, what do you see as the bottom line?”
Remember who you’re talking to. He’s not the enemy. He’s your best friend. It’s a relationship that’s worth keeping in perspective.
Let him know what you need. Men can’t read minds, so it’s important to let him know exactly what you need in a situation. If you just want him to be a sounding board, give him a time frame and let him know you don’t need a solution. “Could you give me ten minutes to bounce around some stuff going on in my head? I don’t need you to fix it, but it will help me feel supported if I know you hear me.”
If you need him to look you in the eye about something you’re feeling, tell him, “I’ve got something important I need your thoughts about. For this one, could you give me some eye contact, and then you can go back to the paper in about ten minutes?” If you want a solution, say, “I need some advice. Let me give you the options I’m thinking of, and then you can give me some direction.”
Don’t let him bring you down. If he’s in a reactive or grumpy mood, don’t go there with him. He might want you to wallow with him, but you’ll both recover more easily if you stay in charge of your own moods.
Fitting the Situation
These are the things that break the stereotypes. They’re the things that men overwhelmingly say is true, and they really want their women to know the truth. It isn’t a rigid set of rules to follow; it’s just a view into the hidden recesses of how a man thinks.
These will apply differently in different situations, but they will still apply. A dating relationship has different dynamics than a marriage. In dating, it helps a woman know how a man thinks as she’s exploring the potential of a relationship. In marriage, it explains actions that show up over time that she might not have seen at the beginning. For a mom of a teenage son, it helps her to understand what he’s thinking when he’s going through the silent years.
Men appreciate when women look beyond the stereotypes. It means they’re being treated like a real, whole person instead of a caricature.