Interview: Shaunti Feldhahn, Part 1
If you’ve ever wondered what’s going on inside your father’s/boyfriend’s/husband’s/son’s head, you are not alone. Last week, we talked to Shaunti Feldhahn about her book For Women Only: What You Need to Know about the Inner Lives of Men. Her book has sold millions of copies and is available in twenty languages. We’re not surprised, because her research will change the way you relate to the men in your life.
4word: What inspired you to write For Women Only? Why do you think it’s so important that women have a better understanding of what’s happening in their husbands’, brothers’, etc. heads?
Shaunti: In the beginning, I really just stumbled over the idea. I was writing a novel, and one of my main characters was a good, decent husband and a successful businessman. I soon realized I could write his actions, but I had no idea how to put thoughts into his head.
So I turned to my male friends. I would read them a scene and then ask, “What would you be thinking in this situation?” I usually found myself shocked by their responses. I did more interviews and found out what I was hearing was surprising but very foundational to men’s inner lives. Even though I’d been married eight years and worked on male-dominated Wall Street, I hadn’t heard any of this before.
Then my analyst gears kicked in, and I decided to do a big research study. I’d realized that all of these inner thoughts and feelings I was hearing about would absolutely transform our relationships with the men in our lives. These were things that men wished their wives and girlfriends knew but couldn’t figure out a way to explain. Once we women understand them, it changes our lives.
4word: So the cultural stereotype that women are the complex, emotional ones while men are simple creatures who “don’t go for all that feelings junk” isn’t true? Why do you think it persists?
Shaunti: You’re right that there is that stereotype. What it leads to, in women’s minds, is the assumption that we are the ones with good interpersonal skills, so if there’s a problem, it’s the man’s fault. We assume that he just needs to learn to relate better. But what I realized after my research is that the way God has wired men to relate is totally legitimate, just completely different. There is much more depth in their feelings, fears and insecurities than we ever realized.
For example, if we see a man who looks really confident, we may think he needs to be taken down a peg or two. The reality is that, inside, there is a lot of self-doubt, vulnerability and insecurity. He may look confident, but inside he’s feeling: “I want to tackle challenges, do great things, etc. but I’m not really sure what I’m doing, and I sure hope nobody finds that out.” Women have plenty of insecurities, but this doesn’t tend to be one of them.
What this means is that a man doubts that he measures up and is always looking for signals from people around him, particularly from the important woman in his life, that he does. So when she thinks he needs to be taken down a peg and starts throwing little zings at him, it’s counter-effective. He thinks she’s implying that he doesn’t know what he’s doing, when what he really needs is signals that she admires, trusts and respects him.
That was something surprising to me: that respect is the most powerful influence in a man’s life. In my surveys, three out of four men said that, if they had to choose, they would give up feeling loved if they could feel respected. For women, feeling loved is the most important thing in the relationship, but that’s not the case for men. It’s nice, but it’s not as critical as feeling respected. I believe it’s critical for women to understand the absolute power of respect and affirmation.
So what do you think, ladies? Does the truth that men care so deeply about respect surprise you, too? Like Diane says in Work, Love, Pray Chapter 13, “When You’re Both Wearing the Pants,” this issue of respect can often cause friction in two-career marriages, particularly if the wife earns more than the husband. Have you experienced that tension in your own marriage? If so, we’d love to hear your story in the comments. In the meantime, stay tuned. Later this afternoon, we’ll be posting the last half of our “love” discussion with Shaunti.