Don’t be fooled. Behind every burly beard, chiseled set of abs, and the seemingly inability to cry is a sensitive soul.
Culture expects men to be unemotional — just as much as they expect us to be Amazonian women who love to parade around in underwear. We reinforce the cultural belief that men are unemotional by calling our husbands insensitive, unemotional, and detached.
The truth is that men are very sensitive. It might seem like they don’t care or don’t have emotions, but most men are crying on the inside. They just haven’t ever learned to express it.
When it comes to being validated in your marriage, your husband seeks it just as much as you do. But when we nag or criticize, it tears him down. Sometimes, we do this to get our way.
Unfortunately, most of us have no idea we’re even doing it. We unintentionally kill our husbands by giving his fragile ego a million tiny paper cuts. These wounds become so big that the tiniest hint of criticism sets him off. He is constantly attacking you in an effort to protect himself.
Today, I’m going to challenge the way you think about your words. I’m going to challenge your idea that men are insensitive.
In The Beginning…
When you and your husband first started dating — and in the honeymoon phase of your marriage — you made him feel good about himself. He made you feel good about yourself.
When Alex and I started dating, I experienced so much excitement. He made me feel like the most beautiful women in the world. He made me feel like the most successful women in the world. He made boring things fun. He made me feel adventurous.
He made me feel really good. I had never felt like this before. I craved the way he made me feel — so much that I acted in a way that was in line with how he saw me. He thought I was beautiful so I tried to become even more beautiful by wearing sundresses, working out, and braiding my hair — he has a thing for braided hair.
These same emotions and responses that we feel, happen in men too. He tries to become a better man because he craves the feelings of respect, approval, and validation. When we call him a gentleman and better than all our old boyfriends, he steps up and tries to make sure he is better.
But after a few years of marriage, men seem to become insensitive. And it only gets worse once kids enter the picture. It feels like he doesn’t love us anymore. He doesn’t do the sweet things that he use to do.
Your Words Cut Him Down
Once you got married, you finally realized, or no longer accepted, all of the stupid stuff your husband does. So, you commented on it. You told him how he loaded the dishwasher wrong. How he folded the towels wrong. How he change the diaper wrong or is burping the baby wrong.
That didn’t make him feel good. Over time, these small comments confuse a man. These comments cut into his ego.
The woman who made him feel like a better man, now makes him feel like he can’t do anything right. Nothing — they feel — is ever good enough, perfect enough, or right enough.
They feel that nothing they do pleases the ONE person on earth they actually want to please the most.
That last statement might surprise you, but it’s true. Your husband wants to please you, but he feels like he can’t. When you criticize or nag, you cut your husband down. Instead of drawing near to you, he runs. He doesn’t want to feel pain or a hurt ego. He becomes detached.
As humans, we try to avoid pain at all costs. We are likely to avoid pain even if the reward is high. For example, a lot of people refuse to invest in the stock market — despite the reward — because they are afraid to lose money.
Your husband won’t draw near to you if he fears that he will be met with hostility or pain.
You might be thinking, I hardly ever criticize him. This might be true in your world, but not how he perceives it.
Men Are Extremely Sensitive
The hardest thing for me to learn — and the reason I want all wives to know this — was that my husband is extremely sensitive and vulnerable to what he hears as criticism. Often, our comments or questions aren’t intended to be critical or nagging, but our husbands hear it that way.
My husband is pretty bad at loading the dishwasher. I mean bad. I know that he never learned to load a dishwasher. All of his chores growing up involved manual labor like yard work.
So, as a seemingly rational person, I thought he might want to know how to load the dishwasher better, faster, and more efficient. This would make sure all of the dishes were washed in the optimal number of loads.
But he almost always took this at criticism. He would respond back, if you want the dishwasher loaded right, then do it yourself. Now, I wasn’t trying to criticize in the least bit.
Men are set off by the smallest perception of criticism and nagging. I was trying to be helpful and offer advice, but he heard, “You’re are doing it way wrong, dummy.”
Men have a hard time discerning the difference between us being helpful versus being critical. And when we are critical, they feel devalued as a partner.
I’m not saying we should never criticize because sometimes our husbands need a little bit of motivation, but we should be aware of how our husband perceives what we are saying, checking their engines, and reaffirming their value as our partner.
How to Communicate Effectively
You could be the nicest wife, but if you suck at communicating it effectively, your marriage will become rocky. We have to be aware of what we say and how it is interpreted by our husbands.
There are three factors that affects how our husband perceives what we say: tone, volume, and frequency.
- Tone: This is how we say things. It indicates whether we are mad or happy. Whether we are expressing disapproval or gratitude. The tone of your voice is more important than what you say. You have to be very aware of how the tone of your voice is coming across.
- Volume: How loud or soft are you speaking? Different volumes combined with different tones will project a different message to your husband. Speaking loud and in a firm tone will make him feel like he is being criticized.
- Frequency: This is about how often you say it. If every time he does the laundry you talk about how he makes the clothes wrinkly, then he will feel like he can’t do it right. He will think that disapproval is extends to all areas of your relationship — even if this is unjustifiable.
We have to take note of how we are saying things. A lot of times we aren’t trying to nag or be critical. We have to make sure that he knows that.
Check His Engine
I took this idea from a parenting book. Though, I don’t really remember which one it was. The idea was that you should check your kid’s emotions and feelings every single day. You would ask them a silly question, “How’s your engine today?”
Their response would have been one of three colors — blue, green, or red. Blue meant your child was feeling low on energy. They were feeling a little down. Green meant they were feeling just right. Everything was good to go. Red meant your child has a lot of emotions running around. They are likely feeling angry and high on energy.
My husband and I have taken this to our marriage. It sounds sort of stupid, but it works. It gives us an opportunity to check in with each other and address our feelings before they become major problems.
A lot of times, when we are in the moment, we don’t realize we’ve been hurt. It isn’t until later that night while we are lying awake.
Have you ever had that moment when you suddenly felt unloved, imperfect, or terrible? It built up over time and suddenly you blew up on your husband?
Our husbands go through the same thing. We might make a statement that they don’t take as criticism until five hours later — sometimes even days. So, it’s important to regularly check your husbands engine.
Ask him how he is feeling. This is an easy way for him to express himself without trying to put a specific emotion on it. As I said earlier, a lot of men just haven’t learned to express themselves.
Checking his engine gives you the opportunity to correct any hurt feelings that might exist. Alex and I have done this on several occasions.
For example, last week he loaded the washer and the dryer. He did the laundry but didn’t fold the clothes so they became wrinkly. I made a statement that was intended as criticism, but more out of the fact that I found it humorous. So later I asked him where is engine was.
Turned out it was in the blue. He felt like I was being critical that he half did the laundry. I took this as an opportunity to correct the situation, express gratitude that he helped, and took the time to validate his worth and feelings. This brings me to my third point.
Let Him Know He’s Still Your Man
It seems obvious that you care for him. But just like you, he forgets too quickly. He needs to be reminded how much you care for him. You need to let him know he’s still your man — even when he messes up.
Never assume he knows or can read between the lines. You will not bridge the concept that you still love him even though he messed up. Don’t just say I love you. Say, “Honey, even though you did x, I still love you.” It’s what he needs.
Really, it’s what we all need — husbands and wives. It’s reassuring. It brings us all back in when we’ve felt pushed out.
I wish I learned this the on day one. Unfortunately it took a couple of years before I was able to understand this. Since then, our marriage has been solid. I understand where he is coming from and I watch how I say things.
He’s back to being the husband who craves my feelings. Who chases after me and pursues me. He is constantly trying to be a better man just like when we were dating.
I didn’t do anything amazing or manipulative. I just learned to communicate better. I learned to talk in a certain way so that he perceives what I am saying with the exact intent from which it was meant.
It’s about watching our tone, volume and frequency. Do you see how important this is? We can try to be the most loving and helpful wife in the world, but if we can’t communicate right, then it doesn’t matter. He will never know how we really feel about him.
I love sharing little bits of information like this.
What’s your biggest struggle in your marriage? I read every response.