Relationships Q&A: Inside a Husband's Head
Actions Speak Louder Than Words
Q: For a man, getting married is a monumental transition in his life, both mentally and behaviorally. What's different about how a bachelor acts compared to a husband?
There's no question that getting married changes a man. In most cases, a new husband acts more responsibly than he did as a bachelor; he cares more about his work, his relationships, and the impact he's having on others. In rare cases, he freaks out. He may rebel in all kinds of small and large ways. My survey showed, however, that most men, while careful about making the decision to commit, are very happy in the first years of their marriage.
Q: What are the key differences between how a man expresses affection versus a woman?
I see two main differences. First, while women tend to express affection through words, men prefer action. Husbands told me that they expressed love to their wives by doing such things as picking up her dry-cleaning, getting her car cleaned and gassed up, building a deck for the back yard, working long hours at a job they don't love, and initiating sex. Many men find it hard to actually say the words "I love you," but they show it.
Secondly, while women seem to like face-to-face intimacy, men would rather be side-by-side. Hiking, watching a football game, sitting together in the front seat on a road-trip -- these are intimate moments for a man with his wife. Men are not so much into sharing feelings as sharing space.
Q: Men are generally pigeonholed as sexually motivated beings. What connection is there between sex and a man's perception of the quality of a relationship?
It's true that in four out of five marriages, the husband wants more sex. Some of this is biology. Testosterone is linked to sex drive, and men have more of it than women do. But in my survey for VoiceMale, sex came in fifth on the men's list of most-important issues in the marriage -- just above how to deal with the in-laws. So while sex is important to husbands, it's also clear that when it comes to sex, most are willing to wait it out, work it out, and if absolutely necessary, do without.
Q: You claim that men are just as willing as women are to talk frankly about their relationships, just not the same way women do. In what ways do their communication styles differ, and why is there a discrepancy?
If you want to get men to talk about a relationship, don't start the conversation with "How do you feel" or "What are your emotions?" Instead, ask him, "What do you think?" or "How did you react?" or "What did you do?" Men will get to their feelings, but on their own terms, in their own language. The reality is that most men are not fluent in the language of feelings.
Also, men are often concerned about being judged negatively. So sometimes it's effective to say: "If you want to talk about x,y,z, I'd be glad to listen. And I don't even need to say anything in response." And then stick to that promise!
Q: "What were you thinking?!" is a common exchange between spouses. What are some of the most common misunderstandings wives have about their husbands' thought processes?
The biggest complaint among the men I interviewed was that their wives wanted to talk things to death. Men contend that sometimes it's best to just agree to disagree, accept the differences. I think women believe men are avoiding the problem, or are just afraid to talk. But men say they'd rather accept that there will be issues that can't be resolved, and then focus on what's good about the relationship.