As Halloween gets closer and we’re thinking about scary stuff, I want to let you in on your husband’s secret fears.
I’m not talking about zombies, vampires or other horror movie creatures. Or even everyday creepy-crawlies like spiders.
Here’s the twist: Some of the things that frighten your husband the most might be things you are actually doing.
Of course, you’re not trying to be scary. And you probably don’t see your husband expressing these fears. Guys get conditioned to appear strong and hide any sign of fear or vulnerability. But that doesn’t mean they’re not playing out in other ways in your marriage — for example, if your husband starts to seem withdrawn or distant.
Let’s talk a little more about some of men’s most common fears in relationships and how you can help dispel them.
1. He’s afraid he can’t make you happy.
Men feel great when they can make their wives happy; it’s often how they measure their success as a husband. If your guy is making an effort to please you, but you tend to complain, criticize, or act lukewarm, don’t be surprised if his motivation eventually fizzles. If he sees you constantly down in the dumps and doesn’t know how he can change that, he may end up thinking he’s simply the wrong man for you, and then back off.
How to calm this fear: Assume that your husband cares about your happiness. When he does something to lift you up, let him know it! If he’s making an effort and simply missing the mark, be kind and clue him in on what would work better. There are some romantic but misguided, notions floating around in our culture that if he’s “the one,” he’ll “just know” how to make you happy. He may be fabulous, but I doubt he can read your mind! So, go ahead and tell him what you’d like to do for Valentine’s Day, what helps when you’re upset, even what feels good in bed. He’ll be grateful. And amid the daily stresses of life, don’t forget to flash him a smile now and then.
2. He’s scared that he’s useless. We women have so many more options available to us in our lives. Some of us are the primary breadwinners of the family. Others are choosing to be single parents. Marriage and involvement with men are becoming real choices. It’s not unusual to hear even married women openly say that they “don’t need” a man. As you can imagine, that attitude can do a number on a guy’s self-esteem. Men are still being judged by their ability to take care of the women in their lives. So, it sounds corny, but your husband really wants to be your hero sometime, to have you look you look at him with love and admiration because he brings some significant value to your life.
How to calm this fear: There is no need to suppress your competence or independence as a woman. However, please do remember to create room for your husband to feel effective too. Ask for his help, not because you’re a damsel in distress, but because no one should have to take care of everything by themselves! Let him know that he is of value in the relationship by noticing and appreciating what he provides, whether it’s financial support, practical help, or a shoulder to lean on: “Thanks for cooking dinner today. It really took some pressure off me.” Remember that a healthy relationship has room for both of you to need and depend on each other.
3. He’s terrified of being humiliated. Vulnerability is not something most men allow themselves to experience frequently. A central code of manhood is that a real man must appear strong at all times. You may want your husband to lower his defenses with you, but this may be really scary for him. After all, there is a real risk that if he opens up, you could hurt him.
How to calm this fear: Be extremely disciplined when your husband is exposing his softer side, recognizing that you have tremendous power to hurt him. Men are a lot more sensitive to criticism, disappointment, and rejection than you might imagine. Never insinuate that he is weak, especially when he is emotionally exposed. Otherwise, he may close the door to emotional intimacy permanently. Be respectful, kind, and affirming when your husband takes the risk to let you see parts of himself he seldom shares with anyone else. And then, watch the love and trust grow!
4. He’s worried that he’s not important to you. After being married for a while, you may start to take your husband for granted. Because you assume he’s not going anywhere, he may fall lower down on your priority list and he may truly get less attention. Men worry that they’ll fall off the radar for you after you have kids. And the thing is, they’re often right. I see this happen frequently in relationships. When you understand that for a man, their spouse is often one of very few people with whom he is emotionally close, it’s easier to understand why he may be upset with having less of your time and attention.
How to calm this fear: Make time for each other. In the early days of your relationship, it was easy to feel close. That love and passion don’t have to die now that you’re an established couple with a more demanding schedule. You just have to deliberately commit to making your relationship a clear priority. Remember that strengthening your bond is the best thing you can do for your family. So rather than just saying, “Of course you’re important to me,” go ahead and show it by scheduling some time just for the two of you regularly.
5. He fears being smothered. The opposite extreme — when you don’t have a life outside of your relationship — is pretty scary to men too. No one wants to be the center of another person’s world. It’s exhausting and way too intense!
How to calm this fear: Give your guy a little more space by focusing on yourself and the other important things in your life more often. It sounds counterintuitive, but when you both take time to cultivate yourselves, it will draw you closer together.
Remember, it’s never sustainable for either of you to be driven by fear in your relationship. Want to learn more about your husband’s perspective and what’s behind his actions? Check out my book Strong Women, Strong Love. When you subscribe to the mailing list, you’ll get incredibly useful insights into the male mind with the free report: “10 Easy Ways to Get Him to Listen.”
Are you doing some spring cleaning at home? While you’re in that mindset, why not also clear out some bad relationship habits? When you toss what’s not working, your relationship will feel more pleasant and full of possibility.
Consider ridding your relationship of the following damaging habits, and try out some new ways of relating:
1. Micromanaging. When your husband loads the dishwasher, do you redo it because he loaded it “the wrong way? ” If he said he would plan the activities for your upcoming trip, do you constantly check to see whether he’s actually done so, or offer suggestions on how he could do it better? Although you may not realize it, micromanaging sends the message that you don’t trust your husband or believe he is competent. He feels insulted, which is why he seems touchy or flies off the handle when you make “helpful” comments.
Try this new habit: If your husband is handling a job, stay out of it. The dishes will probably turn out just fine, even if he doesn’t load the washer your way. And, your husband will definitely feel better about taking on other jobs in the future if he is not constantly being “supervised” on-the-job.
2. Uncontrolled expression of feelings. No doubt about it: Authenticity is vital to intimacy in your relationship. But constant, intense expression of feelings, without any filtering, can overwhelm your husband. For some of us, it feels good to get it all out with a tirade or a good cry over our daily frustrations. But if your husband is always on the other end of your venting, he may feel as if he is getting pummeled. You know you’re just blowing off steam, but he may assume the situation that has you upset is worse than it actually is.
Try this new habit: Have empathy for your husband, and consider how your venting affects him. If he’s not someone who is comfortable with intense emotion, let him know you’re just venting or tap friends and family for emotional support instead.
3. Communicating indirectly. Do you simmer in resentment when you’re upset with your husband? Perhaps, you show your displeasure by being sarcastic, giving him the silent treatment or slamming doors, hoping he’ll get the hint and ask you what’s wrong. In all likelihood, you’re seething, and he’s genuinely confused about what’s going on.
Try this new habit: Be direct. You may think it’s impossible for him NOT to know you’re upset and why, but that’s a dangerous assumption. Your husband really might not be deciphering your message clearly, so practice being transparent about what you need. Of course, always communicate in a way that shows compassion and respect, without resorting to blame.
4. Focusing on the task, not the person. It’s easy to get awfully single-minded when there’s something that needs to get done. Because you are so close to him, with your husband, it’s easy to forget common courtesy, and just start issuing directives: “Don’t forget to go by the drugstore! Check on the kids while I finish this!” To your husband, this behavior can feel dismissive, or like he’s your subordinate, not your partner. Even if men don’t react outwardly to this kind of behavior, they often feel resentful and may emotionally detach from you.
Try this new habit: Remember the basics of being kind: “Please,” “Thank you,” “Do you have time to …?” Manners and thoughtfulness shouldn’t disappear just because you’re married!
5. Having an endless “honey-do” list. Does this sound familiar? You tell your husband it would make you happy if he cleaned the garage. Then, after he gets done with the garage, you throw in, “Oh, and could you also do one more thing?” After that, you make your next request. If there’s no pause for gratitude and acknowledgement, your husband may start to feel that he will never be successful at making you happy because you are always focused on what is not right. Of course, your intention is to simply get everything on your list done, so it may surprise you when his enthusiasm starts to wane.
Try this new habit: Be intentional about pointing out the positive, and let your husband know how his accomplishments make you happy. Pause to notice what’s he’s done before putting your head down and moving onto the next thing.
If you know someone really well, it’s easy to take them for granted and to assume you know them like the back of your hand. Commit yourself to bringing the two of you closer by trying out some simple new habits, and watch your love bloom!
Men and women make assumptions about one another all the time. For example, you must have heard by now that men are:
Not as emotional as women.
Have a hard time staying faithful.
Unable to take care of themselves, let alone the children.
Stereotypes are a mental shortcut, a way for the brain to efficiently process information without having to attend to all the pesky details. Unfortunately, the mind’s tendency to generalize in the name of efficiency can have a detrimental effect on a relationship.
Let’s examine a few stereotypes about men and how these ideas can affect a relationship:
1. Men are not as emotional as women.
Research shows that young boys are actually more emotionally expressive than girls until about first grade. In the early years, boys tend to smile, laugh, and cry more often than girls. After that, there is significant social pressure for them to “toughen up,” and they become less likely to show distress or sadness. By the time they enter a romantic relationship, they have often been well-trained to keep their emotions under wraps.
Feeling emotion and expressing emotion are two different things. For example, if you look at the studies of how men respond to an intense argument with their spouse, you will find that when men appear shut down, they are in fact experiencing intense stress that they are attempting to manage by distancing. They are masters of the Poker Face.
Typically, In response to the frustration of a husband who has withdrawn, many women intensify their pursuit. If you consider the possibility that your partner may actually be overwhelmed by emotion, rather than devoid of it, you would probably choose a different response.
2. Men have a hard time staying faithful.
There is a prevalent idea, even among some researchers, that men are biologically predisposed to seeking multiple partners. This mindset reinforces the idea that men “can’t help themselves” and are incapable of being mature, monogamous, responsible partners. In reality, men often desire a committed, emotionally rewarding relationship as much as women.
For both men and women, the capacity to remain faithful in a relationship is strongly linked to having emotional needs met, much more than it is linked to any biological drive to cheat. Ironically, assuming that your partner is hardwired to cheat can set off fear-based behavior, such as jealousy and constant monitoring, that may ultimately lead to what you fear most.
3. Men are unable to take care of themselves, let alone the children.
Read that one again and notice the disrespect inherent in this idea. This stereotype essentially lumps men and children together and reinforces the notion that men are helpless, useless creatures who will always need mothering.
Because of the different ways males and females continue to be socialized, there can indeed be significant differences in how well they are able to engage in domestic and childcare duties. The majority of women have much more practice in how to take care of the home and children than the men they marry. Because women are frequently judged on their caretaking skills, they face social pressure to be proficient in this area.
That being said, there are plenty of men around these days who are not only willing, but actually open, to being full partners at home. However, if they lack skill in the domestic realm, it is important they be allowed the time and space to develop these abilities in a safe, supportive atmosphere tolerant of the normal mistakes that are part of learning.
It is extremely important to separate biological leanings from social realities. In the same way that women are not biologically engineered to love washing dishes and wiping runny noses, men do not have a gene that prevents them from becoming domestically proficient.
So, check your assumptions about your spouse. Be curious about the social pressures he has faced as a man, and learn the details of his life. After all, both of you deserve to have a partner who relates to the real you, not an inaccurate stereotype that barely scratches the surface.