Missing Her Radar Signals
Sensitivity to Her Needs and Your Listening Skills
Men think vertically. Men want women to get on with their lives, so that they can go back to watching 'Combat' reruns." Tim Allen
Something about tears always seems to get a man's attention.
She doesn't want me to give her a quick, five-minute solution with ten easy steps to put this problem behind her. She needs me to listen to her, to know I care, to feel her hurt, and to sense her pain. Being a bottom-line, let's-fix-the-problem kind of a guy, just sitting and listening is a big stretch.
There is still no substitute for quiet, prolonged exposure of one soul to another.
A couple of summers ago we were tooling down the freeways of "Big Sky" Wyoming, enjoying a blissful family vacation get-away. The four children were happily playing in the back as Donna sat next to me in the copilot's chair of our family motor home. The only thing wrong with the picture that day was that my radar antenna was shut down.
Family vacations are always a great time for the Finzels. Donna especially looks forward to the hours that we will have alone sitting in the pilot and copilot seats of our traveling home-away-from-home. For her, it is a time to really debrief on a deeper level about everything that has been going on in both of our lives since the last time we went camping.
Unfortunately, for most of the men I know, they just seem to want to sit quietly and vegetate when they are driving down the freeway. In fact, I'm amazed at how many other couples have the same experience we do. The woman just can't understand why the man doesn't want to talk when they're finally alone. The man, on the other hand, finds his relaxation by just driving down the road endlessly, hour after hour,
with only an occasional grunt of "yes" or "no."
I, Hans, personally find that one of the most relaxing things I can do is to just drive and be alone with my thoughts. Of course, I admit that I am not an avid conversationalist like some of my male friends. I'm sure there are some husbands who love to chatter as they tool down the freeways, but more often than not there is a communications challenge. You would think that when a husband and wife are finally together with uninterrupted hours before them, the words would just begin to flow. But that's really not the case. One of the great challenges is to break the log jams, clear the sludge out of the pipes, and get the words flowing between husband and wife.
On this particular day, as we were enjoying the breathtaking beauty of the "Big Sky" country of Wyoming, stretching out endlessly toward the horizon, Donna was becoming more and more exasperated by my lack of communication. I think if she would have had access to a large 2x4, she probably would have pelted me on the head with it to get my attention. Finally, she broke into tears, which . . . yes, you guessed it . . . is much more effective than a 2x4! Women's tears do that to men.
What is it about tears that always seems to get a man's attention? As soon as I saw the tears begin to flow, I said to myself, "Oh! This is actually serious stuff to her." I can't even believe how hardhearted and insensitive I am sometimes to tune out her needs. Donna began to pour out her heart to me about how difficult the last months had been as I was gone so much in my travels, and she was left home alone to fend for
herself with all the responsibilities of the home and the four children.
"I've reached the limit, the edge . . . I mean it," she sobbed. "Something's got to give. I don't know what's over that edge, but I know it's not good! I just can't go on with our life this way." What followed was a long, long conversation about the cumulative effect on her of bearing the weight of our home life as I travel. We dug into her needs and my role in helping to take care of them. We discussed options and mostly I just listened to her talk. A man's response is always to try to fix the problem, but I bit my lip, kept my mouth shut, and tried to listen intently as she poured out her heart to me.
One thing I learned in the process was that it is exactly the process of pouring out her heart that is extremely important to a woman. She doesn't want me to give her a quick, five-minute solution with ten easy steps to put this problem behind us. She needs me to listen to her, to know I care, to feel her hurt, and to sense her pain. Being a bottom-line, let's-fix-the-problem kind of guy, just sitting and listening is a big stretch for me.
That talk where she finally got through to me was a beginning of a healing moment and a healing time for us. In the subsequent months I began to take concrete steps to change my schedule and my approach to traveling since I realized the unusual pressure it placed on her. I consider Donna a superwoman, but no one can be all things to all men. Our hearts go out to the many single parents out there, who literally do have to be everything to the children they raise while they are trying to bring home a paycheck and make ends meet.
ON LISTENING AND OTHER RARE EXOTIC HABITS
All of us task-oriented, obsessive-compulsive males must learn to slow down and let people into our lives. It may be popular in the 1990s to be a fast-tracker with a full daytimer, but we will impact people spiritually and permanently only by that one-on-one contact that can't be substituted. In this age of telecommunications and teleconnecting, there is still no substitute for quiet, prolonged exposure of one soul to another. With all the marvels of the Internet and a reach-out-and-touch-someone technology, husband and wife are more in need of quiet and prolonged communication than ever before. The more the craziness, the more communication protects the marriage.
I, Hans, am a full-blooded German. Therefore, I tend to be task-oriented by nature. Since I find myself in roles of leadership, I often think about how my Germanness affects my leadership relationships. Is it an unfair generalization to say that Germans are all task-oriented? Well, think about any Germans whom who know. Do they tend to be perfectionists, workaholics who rarely relax, and generally rigid in relationships? Probably. Sure, there are exceptions, but not among the many Germans I've known!
My beautiful, relationally oriented wife is always calling out to me, "Hans, stop! Can't you just sit down for an hour and do nothing? Could we just talk?" That is extremely hard for me to do . . . to do "nothing." I guess deep down in my task-oriented nature, I see talking as not really accomplishing all that much. I tend to be an impatient conversationalist, that is, unless I am in a deep discussion that is driving me toward the accomplishment of another task, or unless I am in a situation where I cannot get to my work and have some down time. Even when we go camping, I tend to spend my time tinkering with the equipment instead of just vegetating which I think someone told me was the actual goal of this exercise. I have made good progress in recent years
in learning to slow down, and most of that is due to Donna's positive influence on me.
When I talk to other men about this common ailment of obsessive behavior, they all seem to have the same problem that is, their wives don't feel like they take enough time to listen. Tim Allen of "Home Improvement" fame summarizes it well:
Men don't listen, particularly to women. This shouldn't be a big surprise. A woman will talk and talk about some problem until a man cuts her off and says, "Here's what I'd do." Men are always giving advice out of their own experience. Men think vertically. Some guy is always bigger, badder, better. His car is nicer, his job more lucrative, his women prettier. Men live to vanquish those challenges. They don't mind helping a woman overcome her problems, if only she'll listen. Men want women to get on with their lives, so that they can go back to watching "Combat" reruns (Don't Stand Too Close to a Naked Man, Tim Allen, p. 210).
Well, I, Donna, am here to share the news with all you men out there who care to listen up. The news flash is this: Women don't want to hear your advice! They don't want solutions to their crises. They just want an arm around their shoulders and a soft-spoken, "I understand" (if you do!) or "I hear you, and I care about how you're feeling" (if you don't!).
They want to:
SEE you care by your interest
FEEL your closeness and love
KNOW you have truly heard them
Just to make sure it is getting through to you, I'm going to say it one more time:
Women don't want to hear your advice!
In chapter 2 we briefly mentioned 1 Peter 3, where Peter spoke of the responsibilities of husbands and wives. So many times the subject of submission is the focus of teaching from this passage. As I, Donna, studied this passage for teaching last year, I was amazed to learn new meaning in these verses. Verse 7 reads, Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers. The words normally translated "weaker partner" can also be translated literally, "feminine one." Our uniqueness as women is clear in this passage. Peter knew that, and he wrote clearly here God's command that husbands:
Be considerate living with your wife
Treat her with respect
Understand her unique feminine needs
Remember she is your coheir of salvation
If husbands fail to do those things, Peter said that their prayers will be hindered. That's powerful! Here we see again the foundation of all we want to convey in this book. If husbands will truly love their wives in this way, we believe their marriages and home life will be revolutionized.
At the top of the list of "feminine ways" is the woman's basic need for affection. In response to our very nonscientific survey of married couples, this need came through both as the number one need of women and as the one most husbands fail to meet in their wives. Let's repeat that here since we're talking about communication skills and a husband's need to listen to the needs of his wife:
At the top of the list of "feminine ways" is the woman's basic need for AFFECTION.
In his book, Learning to Live with the One You Love, Jim Smith reveals that women have a desperate need for closeness to be connected in their relationship with their husbands. Men, to the contrary, fear closeness, and actually feel safer with distance. Obviously, this creates barriers to affection (closeness) in husbands. Ironically, one of men's greatest needs in the area of sexual satisfaction won't usually be responded to by his wife if she doesn't first feel close to him!
LISTENING CAREFULLY TO HER INTIMATE NEEDS
We hesitated to write this book because of the flood of books already on the market in the area of Christian marriage. Who needs another book on marriage anyway? However, we were finally convinced to write the book by taking this unique approach of looking at, most specifically, how the husband can do a better job of living his role and fulfilling his responsibilities. Men, if you're reading this, at the top of your list of responsibilities is "Learn to tune in to her radar signals."
As we briefly mentioned in chapter 2, of all the books we have read on marriage, without a doubt our number one favorite is His Needs, Her Needs: Building an Affair Proof Marriage by Dr. William F. Harley, Jr. Nothing has helped us more in our own marriage. William Harley's underlying philosophy of a good marriage is simple and profound.
"Become aware of each other's needs and learn to meet them."
It seems simple enough, but very, very hard to do on a consistent basis. You have to want to make your marriage work to get started
down this road. We have appreciated Dr. Harley's work so much because he has helped us in our marriage identify what are the basic needs that each of us have and how different the needs of a man and a woman are. Even though we have some underlying similarities, we also have some dramatic differences in what we need to be happy in marriage. Dr. Harley goes on to state,
When a man and woman marry, they share high expectations. They commit themselves to meeting certain intense and intimate needs in each other on an exclusive basis. Each agrees to "forsake all others," giving each other the exclusive right to meet these intimate needs. That does not imply that all needs are to be met by a spouse, but there are a few basic needs that most of us strictly reserve for the marriage bond. Most people expect their spouses to meet these special needs, since they have agreed not to allow anyone else to meet them (His Needs, Her Needs, William F. Harley, Jr., pp. 9-10)
Some of you may think that Dr. Harley's list is simplistic, but in our survey of many married couples, we find an amazing similarity. Here again are the two sets of five categories that have consistently surfaced as the basic needs of a man and a woman in marriage:
The man's five most basic needs in marriage are:
1. Sexual fulfillment
2. Recreational companionship
3. Attractive spouse
4. Domestic support
The Woman's five most basic needs in marriage are:
3. Honesty and openness
4. Financial support
5. Family commitment
What happens when these needs are not met? Well, many things happen, ranging from mild dissatisfaction at one end of the spectrum all the way to affairs and possibly divorce at the other end. One thing is for sure, a marriage where the needs are not being met will be an unhappy one. Somehow the spouses will look elsewhere to get those needs met and / or remain in great misery, loneliness, and isolation with unfulfilled needs. Dr. Harley goes on to give us this sober warning:
In marriages that fail to meet those needs, I have seen, strikingly and alarmingly, how consistently married people choose the same pattern to satisfy their unmet needs: the extramarital affair. People wander into affairs with astonishing regularity, in spite of whatever strong, moral or religious convictions they may hold. Why? Once a spouse lacks fulfillment in any of the five needs, it creates a thirst that must be quenched. If changes do not take place within the marriage to care for that need, the individual will face the powerful temptation to fill it outside of marriage.
In order to make our marriages affair proof, we cannot hide our heads in the sand. The spouse who believes his or her partner is "different," and despite unmet needs, would never take part in any affair, may receive a devastating shock some day. Instead, we need to understand the warning signs that an affair could happen, how such liaisons may begin, and how to strengthen the weak areas of a marriage in the face of such a relationship (His Needs, Her Needs, William F. Harley, Jr., pp. 9-11).
Some of you who are reading these words have a marriage that has already gone down this road of extramarital affairs. It has destroyed your faith; it has wounded you; and it has created great barriers between the two of you. Please consider the help that Dr. Harley can
offer, and believe that healing and restoration is possible. We have several dear friends married couples who have gone down this road of affairs to the edge of the cliff of divorce and come back to survive and rebuild a trusting, fulfilling marriage. It can be done if there is a commitment on both of your parts to learn your love languages and how to meet each other's needs.
HOW CLOSE DO YOU WANT TO BE?
A Harvard University research project brought out some startling differences as observed in young boys and girls at play. The girls' games were always shorter than the boys' games. They also noticed that the little boys preferred games with lots of rules. The boys appeared to have about as much fun discussing infractions of the rules as they did actually playing the game. In the little girls' games, if there was a quarrel, the girls were more likely to end the game rather than risk a fracture in the relationship. The girls apparently felt that relationships were more important than rules.
There is some humor in this when you look at it objectively, but in reality there is often much pain, feelings of rejection, and growing distance in a marriage in which the couple fails to understand and meet the needs of their spouse.
Early in our marriage I couldn't understand myself well enough to explain why I did not feel close to Hans when all seemed to be well between us. Sometimes for no apparent reason, when Hans would be ready and interested, I just could not consider our having sexual intimacy. Usually we'd go for a walk or just talk it out, and then feelings of
distance would surface in me. As I shared and Hans listened, issues sometimes large, but usually small (yet undealt with), often would surface. As I "off-loaded" those issues and listened to Hans' feedback, his caring and listening were key to restoring in me a sense of intimacy. As a woman, I needed him to know my thoughts and feelings, and I needed to know his. I needed for him to just want to be with me and listen, hold hands, hug, and be close. A woman needs to talk it out and "let go" in order to be finished with a given topic before she can move on emotionally.
Dr. Jim Smith reveals his insights on this reality:
When women talk something out in detail, somewhere along the line they let go of it. But unless they do this, they keep holding on. Any man who doesn't grasp that is doomed to keep on hitting the same communication wall over and over again. I can tell you that it took me only twenty years to learn this about my wife. Since then I've observed it in most women. There's something that happens in women that doesn't go on in men.
The husband says, "Let's drop it. Let it alone. We've already hacked that thing to pieces." But the wife doesn't see it that way. And if hubby doesn't let her discuss it and clear the air, it will come up again!
That reminds me of the man who said, "When my wife and I get into an argument, she gets historical!"
CAN CHILDREN GET IN THE WAY?
As our children started to arrive it became more and more difficult to steal the time to maintain our closeness. We tell every young couple that is expecting their first child the same warning: Adjusting to having a child is many times more difficult than adjusting to marriage. The couple without a child can live a pretty self-centered life, but that first baby will knock the selfishness right out of you both. At least we hope that the father
is there to do his share. As my father told me upon the arrival of our first child, "Making children is easy, son. It's raising them that is the hard part."
Although we made time alone a priority, even after the kids came, both Hans and I would say for certain that the years when we had babies and young toddlers were the toughest on our marriage. Our commitment to our marriage was the same. But our closeness was not.
Here is a time of danger in a marriage. A woman's natural need for affection and closeness can in some measure be met in her children. A woman can easily use the precious gift of babies nursing, rocking, and holding them to try to meet that need for affection. It is normal to love and nurture your baby, but God intends for our marriage to be the place where this need for affection as women is met. It is not healthy for parents to seek to have those needs met through their children. Unhealthy attachments and abnormal expectations of children will result.
In view of these challenges, a few special tips for wives and husbands would be good to take note of here:
Special Tip for Women: If you are allowing the intimacy you have with your children to take first place in your emotions, time, and energy, you must take steps to change that. If you are early on in child-rearing, I would challenge you to step back and ask yourself if you are guilty of this. If so, take action. Seek wise counsel from a godly older woman, counselor, or pastor. Then make changes to put your husband first in your heart again. You may need to plan a getaway yourself (without children) and surprise your husband (see suggestions in chapter 10, and don't necessarily leave all the romance to your husband).
If you are further along in your child-rearing years, and this has been your pattern, you have a greater challenge! Your whole family is used to this, and certainly your husband feels like second place (or worse)
in your life and time. He has probably withdrawn emotionally from you as well, and the strength of your marriage may well be crumbling whether it's evident or not. Although patterns like these are difficult to change, change they must if your marriage is to endure and be all God intends it to be. Ask your husband some straight questions:
(1) How do you feel our relationship has changed since we had children?
(2) Do you feel that I put you first in our home?
(3) Tell me three things I could do to "put you first" in my life?
Special Tips for Men: If you see this as a portrait of your marriage and home, you need to confess where you have failed to get involved in understanding your wife. Recognize her needs for affection, and set aside time for her! Remember how you need to study her as "the feminine one" from 1 Peter 3. This marital closeness is important to the Lord, because our oneness reflects to the world, our kids, and even to the angels in some mysterious way, the wonder of Christ's union with His bride, the church! As you learn to actually cherish those feminine ways that make her unique (rather than resisting them), you will benefit in your own outlook as God created her in ways to complement the way He has created you as a man (Gen. 2:18-25). See chapter 10 for more ideas on ways to build closeness in your marriage.
BEING A RESPONDER
I, Donna, see in myself, and the women I have known, a common trait of "responder." In many areas of our lives, women are initiators, including marriage. Anyone who knows me well, knows that I am no doormat who waits around to jump and respond to Hans' initiative. So what am I saying? In the area of a woman's needs, and her walking through the days and months of her life, I believe this area is often
overlooked, whether purposefully (out of fear of being "politically incorrect") or out of oversight.
Here is what I am saying. I respond to Hans. When he is on target with God's commands set forth in Scripture (1 Peter 3 and Eph. 5) and is seeking to daily care about me in my world as a woman and wife, I will respond, that is, I will naturally be more what he needs and wants me to be as a companion, friend, and lover. It is true! When I know he is there for me:
Supporting me: Backing me up in my authority with the kids.
Respecting what I do: In the home taking care of the food, clothes, kids, cars, and so on it can be a small gesture.
Giving me warm affection: Physical touch, occasional cards, flowers, and so on.
Relieving my responsibility: Getting a sitter to get away for an overnight or more, and sometimes taking the initiative to care for the kids totally so that I am free to have true "time off."
Listening to me: Asking questions and digging to find out where I'm at.
Sharing with me: Allowing me to be close to him by his communication of his world to me.
Then, I truly believe, most men would be shocked at the change in their wives! Their wives will respond to them in ways they would never have anticipated or even hoped for. Men, do you really want your wife to be there for you in your greatest needs, including sexual intimacy? Then I challenge you to do it! Try out this list on a consistent basis. Your wife will be a happier woman. She will be less crabby and irritable with you and the kids; and you will hear less complaining from her
about her work. Although the weight of her responsibilities may not lessen on a regular basis by the changes you make, she will be better able to cope, and will enjoy her varying roles much more.
TOP TEN TIP
On Effective Communication Skills
From a newly arrived "empty nester" couple in Iowa:
"We value effective communication highly in our marriage. The empty nest is a good revealer of the communication skills we have good or bad.
"We have found our marriage a lot like a bank: the investments over time in communication have paid off. If we put 1 Corinthians 13 type of love, forgiveness, companionship, commitment, and spiritual respect on deposit frequently, there will be something from which to draw in later years."
HERO HUSBANDS WE KNOW
Johnny Miller is the president of Columbia International University in Columbia, South Carolina, and a good personal friend. He and his lovely wife, Jeannie, have one of those special marriages that has stood the test of time and come out strong on the other side of the child-rearing years. He qualifies with flying colors for our hero husband award.
Early in their marriage, with young children in their home, Johnny saw how easily marital intimacy can slip away. He says,
How true is the television commercial for oil filters, which says, "Pay me now, or pay me later." It's cheaper and easier to maintain an engine than to rebuild it. That's also true of marriage. Intimacy is both the process and product of maintaining a marriage, and it's cheaper than trying to rebuild. Quality time with Jeannie became a premium for me as a young pastor when I discovered I was beginning to get more intellectual and emotional stimulation from both the women and men of the church than from my own wife.
I saw other women only when they were at their best. They listened appreciatively, discussed intelligently. My own wife was too busy with babies to sense my desires, and we were both too stressed out by the growth of the church to have time just for living.
An alarm was going off in my heart. So I arranged a two-day trip alone with Jeannie and confessed what was going on inside. I said that the reason for getting it out into the open was because of my total commitment to her alone. I knew it would hurt her, and it did. It hurt me, too.
We don't enjoy causing pain, but pain is sometimes the can opener to get the good stuff out.
After our tears and talking, we made some commitments to each other that have lasted twenty years. We committed to have at least one 2-hour session weekly when we would be totally alone, look each other in the eye and talk about everything on our hearts. We began to take annual retreats for spiritual and emotional refreshment, and for planning the best use of our time. We had frequent prayer times alone.
We learned to tell the children that they could not butt in when Mom and Dad were talking something they never did comprehend but which they learned to respect. They also learned to appreciate our dates and our joy in each other. I am sure that gave them a great deal of security as well.
Johnny and Jeannie have a beautiful relationship. Their closeness is obvious. How rare and powerful are his closing words on the intimacy they enjoy: "I still feel as excited about my sweetheart as I did more than 36 years ago when I first winked at her at a friend's wedding. There is no one on earth who knows me better, or to whom I feel closer, or with whom I would rather spend time. The work of developing intimacy with both her and with God have been worth it" (From: "Intimacy and Bucket Seats," Columbia International University Quarterly, Winter 1996, pp. 1-2).
RANDY FINALLY TURNED ON HIS RADAR
Randy could tell that jamie was at the end of her rope. Their two children had been sick on and off all winter, and the middle of the night interruptions were getting to her. Night after night of interrupted sleep can be a living nightmare even in the daytime when the exhaustion gets deeper and deeper.
Finally, one night it got through to Randy that Jamie was on the brink of collapsing. Isn't it amazing what it takes for husbands to finally see that their wives are on the edge maybe even over the edge and clinging on for dear life. Without her suggesting it, Randy told Jamie that evening as their little Kari was again very ill, that he would stay up with her all night. For a guy, this is a real act of love since they don't genetically come by the mothering instinct. What Jamie told us was this: "He really showed me what a great husband and father he is. He not only stayed up with her and held her all night, but he also mothered me so I could truly get a deep night's sleep."
One thing we would recommend is getting away from time to time as a couple to debrief on your relationship. Donna and I try to get away for at least one overnight without the children every spring and every fall. Sometimes we are able to manage more than just one night, but at a minimum we need a couple of serious debriefs each year.
What amazes us is how many couples never get away from the children to work on their relationship. We have friends who never use baby-sitters and have never once gone on an overnight alone since the children were born. And then they wonder why nothing is left when the children are grown and gone!
It is not shirking your responsibility before God to have some time away from them occasionally. It is, in fact, one of the best things you can do for your kids. When you are alone, here are a few questions that you might want to discuss to get the conversation flowing, with the goal in mind of husbands tuning in to the radar signals of their wives:
PERSONAL RETREAT QUESTIONS
1. On a scale of 1-10 with 1 being weak and 10 being strong, how would you rate our marital relationship? Why did you rate it the way you did?
2. What are some things you would love to do as a woman? What would you like to become that you are not right now? Be specific and let me know some of your hidden dreams.
3. On a scale of 1-10, how would you rate my sensitivity to your needs? Am I a good communicator? How can I improve? Why do you rate me the way you do?
4. What do I do in the home that is a help to you and pleases you? What do I neglect that bothers you the most?
5. If there is one thing you could change about me, what would it be?
6. What are some of the greatest hurts that you carry? What are some of your biggest fears? What about frustrations? Be open with me.
Chapter Eight || Table of Contents