"I’ve been married 30 years, and I can’t believe I never knew this before!"

I’ve lost count of how many times a woman has said something like this after I’ve given a talk.

When I interviewed more than 1,500 men for a book on the inner lives of husbands, I realised just how many misconceptions women have about men – and how often those perceptions affect our relationships. Do you want to see your man with new eyes? Consider just a few of these findings.

Love is not enough

"Love is all you need," the popular song says. We women often agree – but men don’t. In fact, in a nationwide survey, three out of four men said that they would exchange feeling that their wives loved them if they could instead feel that their wives respected and trusted them.

As foreign as this may seem to us, respect feels like love to men. Loving your man the way he needs requires that he feel your trust and admiration. Most of us do respect our men, but we may not realise that sometimes our words or actions convey exactly the opposite.

We wonder why he gets mad at simple things, such as teasing him about his hopelessness as an amateur plumber or suggesting that he ask for directions. He’s mad because what he just heard was "You’re stupid!" And if he thinks this is what you are saying throughout the day – even if you never meant to – it drastically affects how he feels about himself and about you.

Our call to respect our husbands

God has given us many signposts for preventing these problems, and many of us have totally missed them. Ephesians 5, for example, repeatedly urges husbands to love their wives and wives to respect their husbands. We women excel at expressing love, but that’s not what a man needs most.

Of course, you may not always feel like respecting him. But just as you want him to choose to love you even when you’re not loveable, your man needs you to choose to demonstrate respect unconditionally.

That choice does tremendous things inside him. Throughout my survey, men often told me they couldn’t become the strong, trustworthy, loving men they wanted to be without unconditional support and affirmation from their wives.

How do we do this? As a start, we can try to become more aware of our unintentional disrespect and choose respectful attitudes, words and actions instead. For example, he needs you to respect his judgment; questioning him makes him feel inept. And at all costs, avoid belittling words. Tell him, "I’m proud of you!"

Sex changes everything

Second only to your husband’s need for respect is his need for you to desire him sexually. It’s not exactly shocking to say men want sex more than women do. But wives often misunderstand what sex means to men. We tend to think of sex as a physical need for men. But as I researched, I found that sex also meets an incredibly powerful emotional need – his need to know that you desire him.

In a profound way, feeling wanted sexually gives a man confidence and a sense of well-being in every other area of his life. The opposite – no sex or mechanical sex because you "have to" – is as emotionally wounding to him as his sudden silence would be to you.

And believe it or not, getting enough sex isn’t the point. Nearly all the men surveyed – 97 per cent – said that even if their wives agreed to have sex every time husbands wanted, sex would still be empty if their wives didn’t seem to desire them.

When we say no to sex, we’re usually saying we don’t want sex at that moment. But he hears the much more painful message that we don’t want him. One man said, "When she says no, I feel rejected. ‘No’ is not no to sex; it’s no to me as I am." By contrast, making the first move once in a while sends a powerful and affirming message to your man.

Be intentional

To connect with our husbands, we have to accept and work with the remarkable, God-crafted differences between us. And if we do so, we have a tremendous opportunity to give our men confidence to become the men God has called them to be.

© 2007 Focus on the Family. All rights reserved. International copyright secured. Used by permission.

Shaunti Feldhahn

Shaunti Feldhahn is the author of "For Women Only: What You Need to Know About the Inner Lives of Men."

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