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For Women Only: Two Secrets about Men that Can Transform your Relationship

By on January 14, 2010 – 3:02 pm  18 Comments

Kirsten Cronlund, MAPP 2008, is committed to helping others navigate the rough waters of divorce with resiliency, drawing upon personal experience and the science of positive psychology. She is now serving as the director of Bryn Athyn Church School. Full bio.

Kirsten's articles are here.



My dear friend, even though I do not write for Cosmo magazine, my advice truly could reignite passion and connection in your relationship. In my five years of post-divorce dating, I have gathered valuable information about men from men. They have described what led to their own divorces, as well as what they most value in a woman.Couple

This anecdotal evidence, combined with positive psychology research findings, leads me to the following conclusions:

Secret #1: The goal of men is to reduce complexity in their lives.
Secret #2: What men want most from women is to feel truly appreciated.

It’s all about simplicity and appreciation.

Why Do We Make Things So Complicated? (See Secret #1)

Simplicity

Simplicity

Do men share our conviction that all relationships must be honored with birthday gifts? Do they really care if the curtains perfectly match the bedcovers? And do they dissect conversations after hanging out with friends, unraveling the hidden meanings in their friends’ statements?

There are exceptions to every rule, but most men would emphatically answer No! to all of the above. In fact, nearly every single man I have dated in the last 5 years has told me — almost verbatim — “I am just a simple guy, with simple needs.”

What are men trying to tell us when they say this? I wondered about this for a long time, until I recently had secret #1 plainly spelled out for me by a good male friend. Suddenly, it all made sense. Of course! When men slip into problem-solving mode with us, they are doing what they are hardwired to do: apply their ability to cut through the morass to arrive at the simplest possible solution.

We resist this, mistaking their efforts to help as oversimplification of very real concerns. We suspect that they’re hiding their real selves from us. We try every possible way to get them to reveal what they must really be thinking. We get offended when they don’t empathize with the intricate webs of complicating factors that we outline to them. I think Jerry Seinfeld summed it this way: “Women always want to know what men are thinking. You want to know what we’re thinking? Do you? Here’s what we’re thinking:…. Nuthin.”

The Power is in the Attitude (See Secret #2)

Guy and his dog Many women are consumed with “getting things done.” We excel at coordinating schedules, making sure details are attended to, and succeeding simultaneously in business and domestic environments. I have frequently heard two women talking and sharing this sentiment: “It’s a good thing I’m paying attention to the details, because my husband would have no idea how to accomplish everything I attend to in a day.” While this may seem true, I want to offer an alternative (albeit controversial) viewpoint: How important are all those details and – more importantly – what is sacrificed to make sure it all happens, just so?

Think back to the early days, when you and your significant other were first dating. Would you have prioritized your every responsibility above time spent with him? Did you devoted time and energy on how you were going to dress the next time you saw him? Did you spend time talking (ad nauseum) to your friends about the wonderful qualities in your new beau?

In the first stages of courtship, your appreciation and acceptance of a man for who he is is what attracts a man, and with good reason. Put yourself in his position. Would you rather hang out with someone who openly thinks you are wonderful or someone who focuses on what you’re doing wrong? My guess is your husband would feel he’d died and gone to heaven if you were to bring that fresh, frisky, appreciative attitude to your long-term relationship.

From Languishing to Flourishing

I recently heard a man say that the worst thing possible is to have two mothers: one living with your father, and one in your own house. The nagging and hassling behavior women often feel reduced to is deadly to connection. Relationship researcher John Gottman describes this as “negative start-up by the wife,” and has found it to be severely detrimental to marital happiness.

Conflict in relationships is unavoidable. I’m not advocating that you keep quiet about things that need to be said, but consider how you are saying them. Curb the whining and the nagging. Also, don’t let yourself be consumed with the things you want him to improve upon.

Instead of giving in to irritation when he forgets to stop at the store, or doesn’t clean the bathroom as thoroughly as you would, why not take a deep breath and consider all the efforts he does make? Picture him through new eyes, ones that see all of his amazing qualities. Men want to be appreciated and accepted. They want to know that their efforts are noticed. They may be attracted to achievement in the professional arena, but in the wee small hours of the night they want to have a soft place to fall, where they know they will be accepted.smiling woman

This may require that we women set aside our complex view of the world. We have to let our guard down and set aside our agendas, a challenge when attention to detail signals love to us. But the cost of maintaining unreasonably high expectations is disconnection that erodes the integrity of the relationship.

Gottman’s has also found that couples who maintain a 5:1 ratio of positive to negative interactions fare far better than those whose ratios tilt more in favor of negativity. I urge women to take this statistic seriously, since much of what I hear from men is a longing for more upbeat interactions with their partners. Humor and joy are critical to flourishing relationships, and you can choose to cultivate these positive emotions and experiences.

Remember back to the time when you knew that how you looked at a guy determined whether or not he returned your glance, and shoot that magic look your husband’s way. It’s subtle, but it matters. If you bring to your long-term relationship the engagement and flexibility, as well as the appreciation and playfulness that you brought to your dating relationships, the rewards will be well worth the investment. Your partner will notice, and I’m guessing you’ll have some fun, too.
 


 
References

Gottman, J.M. (1994). Why Marriages Succeed or Fail: And How You Can Make Yours Last. New York: Fireside.

Gottman, J.M., Coan, J., Carrere, S., & Swanson, C. (1998). Predicting marital happiness and stability from newlywed interactions. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 60, 5-22.

Gottman, J.M. & Krokoff, L.J. (1989). Marital interaction and satisfaction: a longitudinal view. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 57, 47-52.

Images:

Man and dog from tom.arthur’s photostream
For Daren – Simplicity courtesy of 1Happysnapper(photography)
Smiling woman nathalielaure’s photostream
Couple from pedrosimoes7’s photostream

18 Comments »

  • Dan Bowling says:

    Kirsten, these two postings are so good, so well-written, and so wise. Relationships are incredibly complex, but incredibly simple at the same time. I really think men and women in relationships want to get along all the time, but our cues and ability to read them are an inscrutable mystery and we wind up mad/sad for no good reason. I think God has a adolescent’s sense of humor, wiring us so differently that he knew he could sit back, like a boy loosing a skunk in a birthday party, and enjoy the chaos. Your writing helps sort it out.

  • Kirsten Cronlund says:

    Thanks so much, Dan, for your affirmative comments. I’m glad my brief thoughts in these articles felt clarifying to you. It does seem like we men and women are so similar in so many ways, and yet just different enough to create lots of misunderstandings.

  • Melissa says:

    Interesting article, and yes – very well written. And I do think that you brought up so great points and more than once I found myself thinking: yeah, I shouldn’t do that anymore… or that would be an easy thing to do that would make him happy. My only question is why is it that we women have to make all these changes. I thought for sure you would offer advice to both men and women on how to improve the relationship, but instead you made it seem like the probelms in a relationship are because the woman nags too much and doesn’t laugh at all the guys jokes. I really dont want this to come off wrong, but i do think this article sounds like it could have been written in the 50’s and found in the Good Housekeeping magazine on how to be a better wife to your husband. Of course your title does say specifically that you are writing to give advice to the women, so maybe I am reading a bit too much into this one.

  • Jim Witherington says:

    Great articles, Kirsten! Thanks for putting it out there for folks to read. I’m eternally grateful that I now have a wife that understands exactly what you have so honestly written. We both learned from our previous marriages what is at the core of a good relationship, and yes, I help with the tasks she undertakes and do my very best to emphasize how important she is in my life! (I read both articles!)

  • Kirsten Cronlund says:

    Thanks for the feedback, Melissa and Jim.

    Melissa, I wondered if women would have the reaction you have had to the article, which is why I wrote the other article for men about women. Of course relationships must be two-way streets, where each party takes responsibility for their contributions to the partnership. Most of my motivation for writing these articles, though, came from listening to both men and women speak about their current and past relationships. In my experience, I hear women doing a lot of blaming of men and making belittling statements, and I hear men who have thrown in the towel because they feel like, why bother? Having gone through the breakup of a long marriage, and discovering after the fact how my attitude led to the downfall of my relationship, I feel like I want women to see the potential ramifications of their actions. I know how lonely and frustrating it is to be in a relationship when it’s going through the rough spots, and those feelings are real. I’m not trying to sugar-coat that experience or to suggest that women should just stand by their man. On the other hand, what’s the point of perpetuating negative patterns? The only actions any of us have control over are our own, and it could be possible to make a relationship better by changing our own patterns of interaction. Does this make sense?

    Jim, you are a living example of what I’m talking about, where you and your wife see the possibilities for a terrific relationship when you each try to do what’s best for the other person. Thanks for your testimonial. 🙂

  • Kirsten Cronlund says:

    I’m curious about men’s reactions to this article. Obviously, I’m a woman, so… did I hit the mark?

  • Morris Mannot says:

    Kirsten
    I appreciated your recent articles about male-femail relationships and have given it a lot of thought, both on a personal and scholarly level.
    On persoanl level I am recently divorced after 25+ years.
    On scholarly level, I am writing a book about what drives us in life, based upon positive psychology, psych theory and eternal truths from Genesis.
    So here are some thoughts/comment

    1 – I don’t understand the difference between men wanting to be appreciated and women wanting to matter ? In essence I think all of us, male or female want to feel/be significant. That sense of being significant in the eyes of another, is what binds us in the relationship.
    On a basic level it is appreciation for the little things we do for one another which shows we care (i.e. Gottman), which needs to be reciprocated with a sense of appreciation (see Lyuborski – on gratefulenss as key to healthy relationships)

    2. – I thinkk that some of the above distinction may emerge from a common division of labor (or a stereotype), in which men want appreciation for the time they put into work in the “world out there”, and woman want to know that “they matter”, because they function more in the world of family and relationships. Men need to acknowledge the importance of that.

    3. Women being complicated, men being…. men. Daniel Pink wrote an entertaining book about the “Whole New Brain”. Men needing to use both hemispheres, especially at work. But, men tend to function best in the linear, object oriented, analytical world in which they often want to get to “the bottom line”. They can be complicated at work, but not when it comes to emotions and relationships. That’s where woman can get complicated, and reflect endlessly, and men have no patience.
    In some ways men can be healthier than women about this. It reminds me of the tendency of women to be more depressed. Because women will endlessly go over and over the problem and the stress in conversations or in their mind. Men will just decide to “go out bowling”. And as we know from Positive Psych methods for dealing with stress and being resilient, the first thing to do is “re-focus”.

    4. I believe there are two aspects to the meaningful relationship. One is companionship and the other is respect and they are interwoven organically. It interests me to know what you think of how men and women both evaluate the importance of their accomplishments in the world of relationships and the career/business world of mastery, and then how they appreciate and respect each other as a result.

    Thanks for getting me to reflect and think about this…

    Morris N. Mann, Ph.D.

  • Kirsten Cronlund says:

    Thank you, Morris, for your thoughts. You clearly have given this topic quite a bit of attention, and your questions have given me much to think about. I’m not sure I have well-developed answers to all of your questions, but I can take a stab at responding to them. Maybe we can continue to have a dialogue in which we work through some of these concepts together.

    Your first point was about men wanting to be appreciated and women wanting to matter, and your question, I think, was, “Is there a real difference between the two?” I definitely see them in the same genre, but I think they’re different in subtle ways. A man’s desire to be appreciated perhaps comes from a sense of, “Do you see me making a mark in the world?” whereas a woman’s desire to know that she matters perhaps has more to do with, “Do I make a difference to you?” This, I think, relates very much to your second point. This is not to say that women don’t also want to make a difference in the world through their work and their meaningful contributions, but maybe what she longs for most from her partner is less about accolades for her accomplishments and more about how she has impacted her partner. I really can’t speak definitively to what might be going through a man’s head with regard to this, since I haven’t spoken with enough men on this particular topic, but I have a hypothesis. It seems that men really do want their partners to be happy. It doesn’t seem to matter so much to them necessarily how or why their women are happy, but just that it be so. So it seems to matter less to men that they have influenced their wives and thus helped them to be happier than just that their wives are happy – with themselves, with their relationship, with their husband.

    Your third point is about women’s greater tendency to ruminate and thus to experience depression, and the possible connection to the complexity of the workings of a woman’s mind. Yes, I think you’re right on the money! And I’ve often been secretly (or openly) in awe of my male friends who are able to shrug off issues that might keep me up at night. I laugh when I think to myself about how I get myself tied up in knots. The flip side, of course, is the tendency we women have to care about the complexities of human relationships, and the contributions we make as a result of this attention.

    It seems your fourth point is kind of a recap of your other ideas. Am I correct, or have I missed something there? Did I respond to your request?

    Finally, I’m curious about how you might feel that the points that are discussed in my articles may have impacted your 25+ year marriage. You don’t have to respond publicly to that question, but I am curious. I find myself wanting to say that I’m sorry your marriage ended, but I realize that that’s assuming too much. Hopefully, it has provided you with an opportunity for growth, even if it has been painful.

  • Thanh Lu says:

    Kirsten, I’m sorry, I find it humorous that “The goal of men is to reduce complexity in their lives.” Nonsense. No way! LOL!! This is so American! Too funny.

    If men really wanted to reduce complexity, they would build their own colony of bachelors on Mars and leave us hormonal women. The art of relationship requires men to be men and women to be women, and women are complicated creatures. Men love women, therefore they love complications, a certain level within their control, otherwise, they’re just living with a doormats, and life without passion is so pitifully futile, and flavorless.

    Women complicate things because it’s fun to be stereotype (in cute ways) and… make-up sex is the best. Complications bring fun, zest, excitement to a relationship. Men depend on women to be (playfully) complicated, otherwise there wouldn’t be anything for them to make fun of women for. And what’s a relationship when you can’t tease, flirt, joke, provoke, have inside jokes, and get real?

    We need complications in life, we need flaws, we need surprises, even predictable surprises. When relationships end, we don’t remember the mundane, it’s those “complications” that bring us to tears and giggles to our bellies – passion in our lives.

    As Louis-Ferdinand Céline wrote in Journey to the End of the Night, “In the kitchens of love, after all, vice is like the pepper in a good sauce; it brings out the flavor, it’s indispensable.”

  • Kirsten Cronlund says:

    Interesting, Thanh…

    I see your point that men are attracted to women because they are… well, women. And since women are complicated, then there must be something about that complication that attracts men. But I can only report what I’ve heard from countless men, and my guess is that if they had the option for a woman who is soft, appreciative, smart, and sexy WITHOUT being complicated, they would opt for that in a heartbeat. Since that isn’t generally an option, they just do the best they can with what they can find.

    Does spiciness have to be complicated?

  • Bernadette Murray says:

    While I appreciate the straight forward focus of this article, I found the book “The Five Languages of Love” to be a less “men want Y” -“women want X” model. In brief, the book looks at 5 different ways folks feel loved: physical touch, quality time, acts of service, words of appreciation, and gifts.

    My husband and I both read the book, a wedding gift from my sister, and could compare our needs without judgment and then practice broadening our choices about what looks and feels like loving behavior.

    I do get that women including myself often slip into mother-mode but I think both women and men find unsolicited advice annoying. I also find that having an inner sense of valuing my own strengths and weaknesses or as I like to reframe them “my dominant-hand, other hand skills” makes me less focused upon “fixing” other people. Gottman in his book “The 7 Principles for Making Marriage Work” talks about how being critical of our partner often arises from being excessively critical of our own selves.

    Metta meditation that is practicing lovingkindness towards myself really helps me feel more compassion and love all around.

  • Kirsten Cronlund says:

    Hi Bernadette,

    Yes, I am also familiar with The Five Languages of Love, and I think your point is a good one: men and women are more similar than they are different. After all, we’re all human beings.

    And I think your strengths-focused approach is also a good reminder. When we focus on the strengths of ourselves and our partner, we tend to grow what is good, rather than feed what is getting in the way. And, yes, I also am hard pressed to think of a single person who enjoys being criticized. My point in this article is that what women often put out as caring gestures are misinterpreted by men as unsolicited advice. Do you think that suggesting he take an umbrella is unsolicited advice?

    And I am also a huge fan of metta meditation (also known as lovingkindness meditation). It has been shown scientifically to have huge benefits in many areas of life to the practitioner, including enhancing relationships. Good suggestion.

  • Lee says:

    “Remember back to the time when you knew that how you looked at a guy determined whether or not he returned your glance, and shoot that magic look your husband’s way. It’s subtle, but it matters. If you bring to your long-term relationship the engagement and flexibility, as well as the appreciation and playfulness…”

    Man, do you get it, Kirsten.

    Shooting your guy that playful glance achieves in an instant a ton of great stuff:

    – acceptance
    – connection
    – appreciation
    – safety
    – “Wanna come out and play?”

    This is so incredibly simple, yet it does so much. In the playful environment that you create, you can solve any problem together because you’re having too much fun being on the same team.

  • Kirsten Cronlund says:

    Yep, Lee. And fun is way underrated… 🙂

  • Thanh Lu says:

    Kirsten, Spiciness doesn’t have to be complicated, but a little complication does give a little spice. I think it’s just a game that couples play that make it sweet – it’s expected complications, so it’s yielding.

    It’s funny that as much as I advocate for complications and spiciness, I would rather settle for peace and quiet (quiet the opposite of my twenties)! 🙂 I think it comes with age and mistakes. As people get older, I think men and women just want the same thing – all the graces of god. My BFF and I call it “high-love” – the kind of love that inspires people when others are around that couple. The kind of love where other people are lifted and “in-love” because of the love generated between the couple. I imagine that kind of love to be wise, strong, capable, and constant. That kind of evolved love doesn’t have complications, but only through complications did they both grow.

    🙂

  • Kirsten Cronlund says:

    So, Thanh…

    I can’t help asking: why do you advocate for complications when you admit here that the kind of love that you think is ideal has few to no complications? I also agree that we all grow through strife and adversity, but that doesn’t translate to me recommending seeking those experiences out. I think the male/female dynamic is already complicated enough, without us having to fuel those complications. The way I figure it is that, even with my best efforts, I’m still going to hit roadblocks. I’ll try to see those roadblocks as opportunities for growth and closeness, but I’m not going to seek complication.

  • selim reza says:

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