A lot of contradictory science has resulted in a lot of contradictory books and articles about men. You could spend a lot of time researching the subject. I believe what you are about to read will take you a long way in understanding men.
But first, a warning. We have to talk here in generalizations about men, and you aren’t married to men. You are married to one particular man, and not everything I write will apply to him. Every man has a lifetime of different experiences that has made him what he is today – a unique individual.
You have to decide: for anything you read, does he fit that description? It may be spot-on, close to, similar to, or absolutely nothing like him. I can only talk here about the general traits and tendencies of average American men, though they vary greatly in every conceivable way.
You will also read generalizations about yourself. And as you know, there are all kinds of women out there, too.
So our task here is not so overwhelming. You don’t need to figure out all men, just your man.
Childhood has a great impact on how we are as adults. This is a key point in understanding men (as well as women). We have all learned patterns of behavior that make us acceptable males and females. This goes beyond just sex roles.
It begins at birth with the names we are given and the clothes we are put into. Parents describe their babies differently, according to sex. For example, newborns are more likely to be described by their parents as delicate if they are girls and firmer if they are boys, even when having the same length, weight, heart rate, reflex, etc.
And parents treat their babies differently, too. Fathers rate baby girls as cuddlier, and mothers rate their baby sons as cuddlier. While still in the hospital, mothers breastfeed their newborn sons more, but talk more to their daughters.In a study of motor development, mothers rated their baby sons as more able to crawl down steeper slopes. But girls were able to crawl down equally steep slopes. In fact, the baby girls were more willing than boys to try even steeper slopes.
Status is characterized by independence, difference, hierarchy, competition, impersonal information, power, one-upmanship.
Connection is characterized by intimacy, community, solidarity, closeness, personal information, consultation, consensus, rapport, friendship, sameness, interdependence.
Both sexes want both status and connection, and individually we want them in varying degrees. But we go about getting them in different ways. Look at how children play.
Girls tend to play in small groups or in pairs with a “best friend.” Everyone gets a turn at play, which usually does not involve winners and losers. They often just sit and talk, and are more concerned with being liked and connected. Status is achieved very subtly and is not the primary focus of their play.
Boys’ play is very different. It tends to be more organized, with leaders and rules, winners and losers. They jockey for status by giving and resisting orders, and telling stories or jokes. They engage in one-upmanship with boasting. Connection is achieved through acceptance of the friendship hierarchy that forms.
Having been raised with the different motivations of connection and status, the sexes can interpret the same event or situation differently. Recognizing these contrasting worlds of connection and of status doesn’t make them vanish. On the contrary, recognizing them helps us understand where others are “coming from.”
As we grow into adults, one sex’s gendered ways become ever more mysterious to the opposite sex. Going into marriage we feel happy at the merging of our lives without realizing that it is a collision of two different worlds. Most couples, lacking this realization, judge each other by their own gendered standards. This explains why so many marriages are troubled and the divorce rate so high.
So, understanding men, and your husband in particular, is your best tool for bringing your worlds closer together and fixing your marriage. Let’s get into some particulars.
But “men don’t ask for help” is a very broad and general statement, and we know that it is not always true. Men who don’t generally seek help actually will when, among other things, a situation can be interpreted in such a way that it is okay to do so. That is to say, they seek help when it would be what other males would do.
While you may think that it is silly of men to behave that way, remember that women behave in similar ways. For example, many women think it is unfeminine to talk about their accomplishments. They look upon it as boasting, seeking status, engaging in one-upmanship. These are “male” traits. But there are situations where recounting one’s successes is okay, because other women would do the same, such as in a job interview or in encouraging teen girls to set goals.
For both sexes it comes down to this: we regulate our behavior based on what we have learned and believe is appropriate for our genders. And we don’t understand why the opposite sex behaves in certain ways simply because we haven’t really learned what it means to be the gender we aren’t.
Researchers Michael Addis and James Mahalik suggest that five basic social-psychological processes are at work in men in certain help-seeking situations:
Understanding men in the context of their getting help for marital problems means knowing that men have more to overcome initially than women do. Women have learned from very young ages that it is okay for them to talk about problems and get advice from others. Men haven’t.
For women, conversation is more about personal information that creates interaction, connection, and involvement. It has a feeling akin to private speaking, even when in a public speaking situation.
At work, at a party, at bowling or a ball game talk is more impersonal, so men will talk more. But in the privacy of the home, talk is more personal and so men naturally talk less.
Wives tend to get frustrated trying to get their husbands to talk. Even idly asking, “Whatcha thinkin’ ‘bout?” gets little response. That is because lots of men simply judge their passing thoughts as not having the importance or significance to justify talking about them, as not worth verbalizing. Men don’t have the same motivations as women do for talking.
When a husband isn’t speaking, it is likely because he has no information that he thinks he needs to tell his wife. But without conversation, she feels a lack of connection, a loss of intimacy, or a loss of his interest in her. Her remedy is to talk.
Without recognizing the differing meanings of conversation, and without recognizing each other’s needs, the relationship begins a downward spiral, creating distance between husband and wife.
What you may not realize that talking about a problem, emotional or otherwise, seems to him like an invitation to offer advice. When anyone mentions a problem to a man, it is his natural inclination to think that person is looking for a solution. And in offering a solution, he honestly believes he is being supportive.
Remember that he is filtering everything you say through the lens of his upbringing, experiences and conversational style. Which is what you do, too.
Here is another, and more specific, example. A couple is going out to dinner, and the man tells his wife, “Be ready by 7:30.” The way he talks, he always seems to be telling her what to do, and she resents it. She feels this is another one of his attempts to control her.
Many women will agree. He isn’t asking, and he isn’t looking for agreement on when they should leave, which is true. But, is he trying to run her life? Through lifelong conditioning of speaking and listening in a certain manner to gain connection, many women do not feel that the way he talks sounds like he is trying to connect with her. It does sound like control.
(Some men do try to control women, and I don’t minimize that fact. Domination has roots in communication. But it also has roots elsewhere, and so will be dealt with separately. This example is not attempting to deal with that subject.)
Many men, however, see the man’s intent differently. In his mind, the man is only giving his wife information that will make the evening run smoother. He is not intending to exert control over his wife, but does not see a need for a long-winded explanation: “The dinner reservation is for 8 o’clock, the restaurant is only 10 miles away, but we have to pass through a congested area, and the restaurant does not have valet parking. If we leave by 7:30, we will get there in time.” He thinks he is being efficient in his talk, giving out only what she needs to know.
But the man is trying to make a connection with his wife, through the act of going to dinner with her and making sure the event goes smoothly. His wife simply does not understand his style of speaking, and he does not understand the impact of his style on her. He consistently talks this way because he has learned to do so from a young age.
Is it fair to make either one out to be the bad guy?
For the most part, any normal style of talking is neither good nor bad, right nor wrong. A style is just a style. Understanding men gets easier, life gets better, and your marriage gets happier when you recognize that each of you has learned a different speaking and listening style, one that is different from the other.
Talk is full of unspoken messages. This is true for both men and women. Tone of voice, inflection, gestures, the arrangement of words, implications, the occasion and the setting of the conversation, who is talking to whom, what is uppermost in your mind (win, compromise, authority, soothing the other, etc.) – these are just some of the elements found in unspoken messages. Different experts focus on various aspects and use different names, such as metamessages and hidden messages. I lump them together and refer to them as unspoken messages because they are all so closely related.
It is easy for you and for your husband to miss unspoken messages that each of you intentionally send. Why? Because you and your husband talk differently. Each of you thinks yours is the right way to get your message across. That’s only natural. At the same time, you each have an expectation that the other, wanting to get the same message across, would say it the same way.
For instance, if you say, “Let’s go for a walk,” your unspoken message may be, “I want to be with you, hold your hand, talk about stuff, and feel intimate friendship with you while we take a stroll.” If he says, “Let’s go for a walk,” you hear that same unspoken message. However, if he says it another way, “I’m going for a walk,” he may have that same unspoken message in mind, and assume you will want to come along. But you hear a completely different message, one that doesn’t include the invitation and the desire for connection. Hurt feelings ensue.As easy as it is to miss intended unspoken messages, it is just as easy to perceive something that wasn’t there to begin with.  For example, you look at your husband and ask, “What’s wrong?” because his brow is furrowed. Since he was only thinking about what to have for lunch, your expression of concern makes him feel under scrutiny.
Women are more likely to perceive hidden meanings because they have been attuned to reading meanings their entire lives. Men aren’t as good at it because, as boys learning to converse, they didn’t see other boys and men really focusing on the unspoken, and so didn’t hone that skill as much as females did.
And since men tend to focus on messages and women on unspoken messages, men and women can easily take any comment in different ways.
And when you prioritize your lists of needs, the lists won’t match up, either. What is most important to him will generally be least important to you. And what is most important to you will generally be least important to him.
Your husband is neither right nor wrong, good nor bad for having different needs, nor for giving them different priorities. And neither are you. They are what they are. The big mistake is where you think his needs are the same as yours, and then trying to satisfy those needs for him. Your efforts will be unappreciated because you are addressing the wrong needs.
From his day-to-day clinical work, Harley saw that men most value the needs for sexual fulfillment, recreational companionship, physical attractiveness, domestic support, and admiration. Women most value the needs for affection, conversation, honesty and openness, financial support, and family commitment. Again, anyone of either sex can have any of these needs, and value any one of them greater than others. Additionally, these needs can change from time to time.
Many people believe they can figure out their spouse’s most important needs intuitively. What’s worse is that many believe their spouse should be able to figure theirs out intuitively. But your spouse isn’t a mind reader, and neither are you. The book contains a questionnaire to help you identify and prioritize your emotional needs so you can communicate them to one another.
While I do not consider His Needs, Her Needs to be authoritative (it is based solely on Harley’s clinical work and not any research that could be duplicated and verified), still, it is a good read. I could relate to much of what he writes, and think it could help you in understanding men, and even yourself.
Yes, men like having sex more often than women. Testosterone has a lot to do with that. In understanding men, though, you need to understand what sex means to them: For most husbands it is more than just a physical need. Sex fulfills important emotional needs, too.
It has been said that women talk about their emotions and men act out their emotions. For example, when a woman is angry or frustrated, she expresses it in words. When a man is angry or frustrated, he goes off to hit a punching bag, pull weeds, or get drunk or stoned. When you desire intimacy and connection with your husband, you often turn to conversation. When he desires intimacy and connection with you, however, he turns to actions instead of words. For him sex is the most intimate action he can do with you. Your willingness and desire to participate tells him how important he is to you.According to Shaunti Feldhahn in For Women Only: What You Need to Know about the Inner Lives of Men, 74% of men surveyed would feel empty if their wife regularly offered sex reluctantly or simply to accommodate the man’s sexual needs. 66% say that it is very important to feel sexually wanted and desired by their wife, with another 31% saying it is somewhat important. “[S]ex makes him feel loved – in fact, he can’t feel completely loved without it.” 
Taking the position that your husband must be the one to break the downward spiral could be a losing stance. Affection and sex act synergistically, and either one of you can make the first move to turn things around. And when the direction of the spiral is firmly moving upward, you really won’t care who went first.
How the ‘vicious cycle’ gets broken is the important thing. Just offering sex without actually desiring him does not meet his need for intimacy and connection. His showing affection to you will likewise be meaningless if his goal is simply to get more sex. Or if that is how you interpret it when it isn’t actually his goal.
Find out what sex means to him. Ask. And let him know what sex means to you.
If he combines affection with sex, let him know how important it is for you to also receive affection in nonsexual ways. Let him know how he can express his care for you. Be specific, such as give you a hug before he leaves for work and again when he comes home. Men appreciate straight talk, so give it to them.
But many women will say, “If I have to ask for a hug (or whatever you want), then it doesn’t mean anything.” That’s a valid point. Let’s talk about it.
As mentioned in the section Growing Up Male and Female, and what is essential to understanding men (and women), is that the sexes have learned to get what they want in different ways. That presents a challenge in marriage, because many people try to meet their spouse’s needs in the same way that they want their own needs met. Put another way, they demonstrate by example.
This has several drawbacks. The first is that sometimes people just don’t pick up on clues very well. The second is that your feminine-oriented example may not satisfy his masculine-oriented version of your need. The third goes back to what I said in a previous section: one spouse’s high-priority need is very likely not the same as the other’s. The example goes unnoticed because the need doesn’t have priority.
If the two of you talk about how
you like getting your needs met, and which needs are more important to
whom, then deliberately meeting those needs in those desired ways has
|||^||Lise Eliot, Ph.D., Pink Brain, Blue Brain: How Small Differences Grow Into Troublesome Gaps -- And What We Can Do About It, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing, 2009. P. 5.|
|||^||Turhan Canli, et al., “Sex Differences in the Neural Basis of Emotional Memories,” Retrieved Nov. 2, 2011 from pnas.org. 2002.|
|||^||Tatia M.C. Lee, et al., “Neural Activities Associated with Emotion Recognition Observed in Men and Women,” Molecular Psychiatry, Vol. 10, 2005.|
|||^||Antonio R. Damasio, M.D., Ph.D., The Feeling of What Happens: Body and Emotion in the Making of Consciousness, Harcourt Brace & Co., 1999. P. 41.|
|||^||Damasio. P. 58.|
|||^||Eliot. Pp. 66-67.|
|||^||Beverly Fagot, et al., “Theories of Gender Socialization,” Ch. 3 in Thomas Eckes, Hanns Trautner, The Developmental Social Psychology of Gender, Lawrence Erlbaum Assoc., Inc. 2000.|
|||^||Deborah Tannen, Ph.D., You Just Don't Understand: Women and Men in Conversation , HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. 2001.|
|||^||Michael Addis, James Mahalik, "Men, Masculinity, and the Contexts of Help Seeking," American Psychologist, Jan. 2003.|
|||^||Tannen. You Just Don’t Understand! P. 77.|
|||^||Deborah Tannen, Ph.D., That's Not What I Meant!: How Conversational Style Makes or Breaks Relationships >, William Morrow & Company, Inc. 1986.|
|||^||John M. Gottman, Ph.D., Why Marriages Succeed or Fail: And How You Can Make Yours Last , Simon & Shuster, Inc., 1994. P. 170-171. NOTE: While this book contains good information, it is better suited as a supplement to The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work. If you read only one, read The Seven Principles.|
|||^||Tannen. That’s Not What I Meant! Pp. 136-137.|
|||^||Tannen. That’s Not What I Meant! P. 134.|
|||^||John Gottman, Ph.D. & Robert Levenson, Ph.D., “The Social Psychophysiology of Marriage,” in Noller & Fitzpatrick (Eds.), Perspectives on Marital Interaction, Multilingual Matters LTD, 1988.|
|||^||Willard F. Harley, Jr., His Needs, Her Needs: Building an Affair-Proof Marriage , Revell Books, 2011.|
|||^||Shaunti Feldhahn, For Women Only: What You Need to Know about the Inner Lives of Men , Multnomah Books, 2004. Ch. 5.|
|||^||Harley. P. 44.|
For Women Only: What You Need to Know about the Inner Lives of Men
That's Not What I Meant!: How Conversational Style Makes or Breaks Relationships
The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work
His Needs, Her Needs: Building an Affair-Proof Marriage