Love: Understanding The Men In Your Life

Do you get him?

Conventional wisdom tells us that men are basically uncomplicated.  We’re the complicated ones who are supposedly moody and emotional and whose feelings are easily hurt.   This is certainly the conception of the male-female dynamic adopted in popular culture.  How many sitcoms have you seen where a well-meaning but essentially simple husband struggles to understand and appease his laughably-turbulent wife?

No matter who the “he” is in your life, there’s a lot more going on in his head (and heart) than you probably give him credit for.

Last week while in Atlanta, I got to meet with Shaunti Feldhahn (actually, I ruthlessly bummed a ride to the airport from the incredibly kind Shaunti, but that’s another story!).  Shaunti researches and writes about the ways that men and women relate, both personally and in the work place.   In her book, For Women Only, Shaunti reveals the results of an extensive study into the inner workings of men’s minds when it comes to their interpersonal relationships.  It is SERIOUSLY eye-opening and definitely worth a read.

One of the things I found especially surprising in Shaunti’s findings was just how insecure men can really be.  We tend to take typical male bravado as a sign of a big ego, but in reality, he might be feigning confidence in order to hide painful feelings of inadequacy.  That’s part of why, according to Shaunti’s findings, men crave respect so much (and in fact tend to value feeling respected over feeling loved).  It’s also why men react so negatively when they feel—rightly or wrongly—criticized.

Consider the following scenario (loosely based on a real conversation my friend Richelle had with her husband):

Husband/boyfriend/friend/Dad/brother: “Hey, will you hand me that tape measure?”

Woman: “Sure. Wait, what are you DOING?”

Man: “I’m hanging these pictures.”

Woman (perplexed): “But there are pencil marks all over the wall.”

Man (getting tense): “YOU asked me to hang them, I’m hanging them!”

Woman:  “Yeah, but why are you writing all over the wall? And what are you doing with all that string?”

Man (now mad): “Do you want them hung up or not?”

Woman:  “Yes!  I do, I just don’t get what you’re doing.”

Man: “You want to do it yourself?”

… You can see where this conversation is headed.   The woman here is genuinely confused as to why her formerly-clean wall is full of pencil marks.  She’s not trying to interfere, she just wants to understand what is going on.  The man is 4 steps in to his 10-step plan for hanging perfectly-straight, perfectly spaced pictures.  He’s trying to do a good thing, and suddenly he feels attacked.

But why?

Shaunti says it’s because the woman’s questioning—and in fact her whole approach—signals to the man that she doesn’t trust him and doesn’t think he’s up to the job.  Confused?  A lot of us are!  And really there’s too much for me to cover in one blog post.  For more in-depth reading on this topic, I highly encourage you to read Shaunti’s book.  Additionally, Dr. Emerson Eggerichs also has a great related book, and his daughter, Joy, has been featured here on the 4word blog before.  AND, if you’ll excuse a bit of shameless self-promotion, I also address some of these issues in my own book, Work, Love, Pray (Available soon!  Praise God!)

In the mean time, if you find yourself in a situation with a man in your life whose reaction to something you’ve said or done seems to be out of proportion, ask yourself if you might have unwittingly signaled disrespect.  This doesn’t mean that you can’t ever question or offer advice, but understanding men better and making some small changes in your approach can make a world of difference!