Adam and I have only been married for two and a half years, but we have been together since 2003. I haven’t ever thought about my computer-programming husband as a “man’s man,” so it took me a long time to recognize the needs and vulnerabilities he has that just don’t seem to make sense for someone of my sex. Finally beginning to understand the way his very male brain works has made a world of difference in our relationship.
I’m not saying that my needs are less important than his. Relationships are partnerships. Adam has learned to see where he and I are different and to value those differences. It is in honoring and accommodating those differences that we can really show each other how much we care.
These are the ten most important needs and desires men have that I’m learning to value. Be sure to let me know what I’ve missed in the comments.
- Never undermine him in public. Making little jokes at your husband’s expense can be one of the great joys of a relationship. It shows that you know each others’ deepest flaws and little, annoying habits. But those kinds of jokes have to stay within the privacy of the home. Men crave to be respected. When you make fun of him or undermine him in front of other people, you imply that the person who loves him best doesn’t think he deserves respect. The same goes double in front of your kids, if you have any.
- Give him space to be himself. Many women joke about the “man cave.” But think about all the space in your house that your husband doesn’t have any real ownership over. I chose the décor for the bedroom and living room. I dominate the kitchen. When I’m stressed out, I lock myself in the bathroom for a nice, long soak. Kids’ space is kids’ space. What’s left for Adam? Men need to feel like there is a place they can go that belongs completely to them—even if it’s just a corner in the basement.
- Give him time to be himself. For those of us who spend most of our days at home, 5:30 can be that magic time when your best friend arrives to liven things up and give you a little help you need while making dinner. But he has probably been on duty, working or commuting, for at least nine hours. It’s not that he isn’t interested in you or how your day went, but he may have a difficult time making the transition from the world of work to the world of home. Make a habit of giving him at least thirty minutes to himself each day to decompress and pursue his hobbies. And try to support his desire to enjoy activities outside of the home. As long as he spends most evenings with his family, a night out with friends will usually send him home feeling happy and blessed by the person or people who are waiting for him there.
- Show him that you find him attractive. Just like women, men need to know that they are attractive. Whistle at the outfit he puts on in the morning. Compliment his hair cut. Initiate a little physical flirtation. Let him know how much you want him. These things really do matter to men, too.
- Take pride in your own personal appearance. A man ought to love his wife no matter how she looks. And he probably does. But taking the time to put on make-up and wear a flattering outfit lets him feel proud to have such a beautiful woman in his life. This is a case where the thought really does count. Even if you feel self-conscious about baby weight you’re still struggling to take off or a terrible haircut, your husband appreciates the effort. In fact, he appreciates it so much that he’s probably willing to get up a few minutes early in the morning to play with the baby while you put on make-up or forgo a special luxury one month so you can spend the extra money on a nice outfit.
- Let him treat you like a lady. It’s the twenty-first century. No man should expect you to greet him in the evening in high heels and pearls with his slippers and a cigar. But that doesn’t mean you can’t let him show you that he values your femininity as much as you value his masculinity. Learn to recognize the little things he does for you to show you that you’re special. For example, Adam washes the dishes every night. It felt strange at first until he explained that it was his way of recognizing all the time and effort I put into feeding our family well. Remember that a man might have many guy friends. He treasures you as something special and different.
- Ask for his help and advice. Most husbands take their roles as helpmates seriously. Asking for his help and advice shows him that you trust him and value his ability to solve problems. When you want your husband’s help, make sure he knows that you’re looking for his input—most men won’t want to put their two cents in where they aren’t sure it’s wanted. Before you describe your problem, be sure to tell him in advance what kind of input you want. Do you need help brainstorming? Compiling a list of possibilities? Choosing one option out of many? Letting him know what you’re looking for can prevent hurt feelings when he bulldozes your exciting idea in his enthusiasm to help. Finally, make sure you really listen to his answer. You don’t have to take all of your husband’s advice, but consider it at least as seriously as you would advice from a respected co-worker or friend.
- Support his desire to do something meaningful. Most husbands also take their roles as breadwinners seriously. As a result, many men get stuck in dead-end jobs so they can support their families. For some men, there isn’t a better option. We should do everything we can to honor their sacrifice and show them our gratitude. But for those men with a clear vision of a job doing something meaningful, being able to support that dream is one of the joys of being married. It may mean frugal living. It may mean taking a risk. But helping him achieve his worthy professional goals, even risky-seeming ones, is one of the very best ways to show him just how much you trust him.
- Don’t be afraid to ask him to be a better man—if you can do it without nagging. No man is perfect. While we can’t change all of our partner’s annoying habits, we have the duty to help him overcome his greatest weaknesses. A good man doesn’t want you to let his vices slide, any more than you would like him to ignore yours. Don’t nag. And for heaven’s sake don’t be passive aggressive. Just express to him how important it is to you that he overcome his bad lifestyle choice—be it alcoholism, an addiction to pornography, or even a refusal to leave a job he loathes. Love him and support him in whatever way he needs help. Show him that you only ask more of him because you know it is worth it.
- Don’t reduce his masculinity to a stereotype. Finally, honoring your husband’s masculinity doesn’t mean serving steak every night and subscribing to every channel of ESPN. Don’t assume that it’s manly to only like stereotypically manly things. There is nothing “girly” about many of the things you enjoy. Your husband would probably love to take you to an art gallery, a symphony, or a ballet performance—if you stop implying that the things you enjoy are for women only.
Learning to value your husband’s masculinity is a life-long task, but it is one of the very best ways to say, “I love you.” It’s also an important step toward acknowledging the ways you and your husband and different so you can learn to love yourself just the way you are—as a woman.