For more than 40 years, I’ve been helping men better understand women so they can have more sex and love and fewer fights and tensions. It’s said that we teach what we want to learn and I’ll admit I’m still learning about the wonderful creatures we call women and how to have passionate, peaceful, and joyful relationships with them.
Like many men with absent fathers, I grew up knowing more about women than I did about men. I remember playing in the kitchen while my mother and some of the neighbor ladies talked about their concerns about the men in their lives. They all expressed some degree of disappointment. Some were disappointed that there wasn’t enough closeness in the relationship. Others complained that the men weren’t as successful as they had hoped.
My father was one of the men who wasn’t emotionally close and also had trouble keeping a job. He was a playwright and actor. He and my mother moved to California from New York where he hoped to break into the newly emerging television industry. But jobs were hard to come by and he became more irritable, agitated, and angry. He would also become more withdrawn and depressed.
I’m sure some of the reasons that I became a therapist, specializing in helping men and the women who love them, was to better understand what women want and how men could be better husbands. I also wanted to know what men wanted and how women could become better partners. Here are some of the things I’ve learned over the years about what women want.
A woman wants a man she can trust.
This is the most important thing a woman looks for in a man. It’s not just about, “Can I trust him to be faithful?” But can I trust him to “be honest about who he is, show up on time do what he says he will do.” In their book, The Man’s Guide to Women: Scientifically Proven Secrets from the Love Lab About What Women Really Want, relationship experts John Gottman, Ph.D. and Julie Schwartz Gottman, Ph.D. say it’s not great looks, six-pack abs, and a big bank account. “The number one thing women look for is simply this: trustworthiness.”
A woman wants a man who is safe to be with.
In my article, “The One Thing Men Want More Than Sex,” I say that men want a safe harbor, a woman who trusts him enough to let him inside her, to touch deeply with body, mind, and spirit. But to do that, a woman needs to feel she is safe with her man. The core of safety is trustworthiness, knowing the man is there for her, who she can count on to do what he says he will do.
Most of our wounds come from those we love. Women need to know that her man will protect her, not only from others, but from his own anger. My relationship with my wife, Carlin, improved greatly when I realized that my loud voice and beady-eyed looks when I would get upset were increasing her fear.
A woman wants a man who understands her inherent fears.
I consider myself a pretty mild-mannered guy who occasionally, like most guys, gets upset and blows up. I never hit my wife and never would, but even when I learned to control my anger, I realized that my Carlin was still fearful. In one of the talks I gave to a large audience of men and women I asked the men, “How many of you have ever feared for your life or your physical well-being?” A few of the men raised their hands.
When I asked the same question of the women, nearly all of them raised their hands. Their fears weren’t just in the distant past, but were with them in the present. I never worry about walking by myself after dark in our small town of Willits. My wife always worries. I never worry about being assaulted or raped, she always has some level of anxiety. Understanding a woman’s inherent fears, and not discounting them, is vitally important for men.
A woman wants a man who is attuned to her needs.
The Gottman’s offer this word A-T-T-U-N-E to help men pay attention to these important behaviors:
- Attend—Give her your undivided attention when she wants to talk. Yes, that means attending just to her, not split with the T.V. or some other activities. When she engages with you, she wants your full attention.
- Turn Toward—Physically turn towards her. Women equate intimacy with face-to-face communication with eye-to-eye contact.
- Understand—Tune in to how she’s feeling. Resist the temptation to try and “fix” the problem. We love to fix things and make the problem go away. Resist that manly temptation. Ask questions. Seek to understand how she feels and what she needs.
- Non-defensive listening—This skill is vital when a woman is upset about others, and even more so when she’s upset with you. When Carlin gets upset with something I’ve done or not done, I almost immediately get defensive and try to justify myself. Non-defensive listening may be the most important and difficult skill we can learn.
- Empathize—Feelings are not right or wrong, even though we often discount feelings in our partner that don’t make sense to us. If she’s angry, tune into the anger. If she’s hurt or afraid, tune into whatever she is feeling. Empathizing with her feelings doesn’t mean you agree with what she may feel is causing the feelings.
A woman wants a man who can handle emotional engagement.
The Gottman’s observed 8-year-old boys and 8-year-old boys at play. The boys enjoyed a game called “mobbed” where one boy had the ball and 30 other boys chased him until he had to give it up. There was a lot of rough-and-tumble play and a lot of laughter. One time a kid named Brian began to cry and Gabe, the self-appointed leader of the mob shouted, “Hey everyone stop!” He asked Brian, “What’s the problem?” Through his tears, Brian said he never got a chance to carry the ball. Gabe, immediately solved the problem. “O.K., let’s go, but this time Brian gets the ball.” And off they ran and the game continued.
A group of girls were tossing the ball from one to another when one girl began to cry. “What’s wrong?” asked Lisa. “You hurt my feelings,” Kathy tells her. This is the beginning of a complex dialogue about friendship and feelings, and what best friends are expected to do. All the girls joined in and talked about how they had first met and who was close to who and even who they hoped to marry.
For the boys, the game is the point of playing and emotions are a distraction to be dealt with quickly so the game can resume. For the girls, the game is merely the context for relationships. Talking and sharing emotions is the main event for them.
Most men will never enjoy emotional sharing as much as most women do, but a man can expand his emotional muscles and engage more fully with the women that are important in his life.
We have a lot to learn from each other. Let me know your own experiences.