My niece, newly married this summer, recently lent me a little book called For Women Only by Shaunti Feldhahn. The subtitle is “What you need to know about the inner lives of men.” It’s no big eye opener–I read similar stuff when I was a newlywed, and have had many conversations with my man about how his mind and emotions work. Some of this information was a real surprise at the time (the short time it takes for a man to have sexual thoughts about a new female acquaintance, for example), and it took me a while to process and respond to it. Very useful, though. Explained some way back past conundrums, and, I guess normalized some of my husband’s strengths and weaknesses, those which derive from his male identity, or at least how it has developed in the culture he grew up in. The way others treat him can make things easier or harder for him, and people who care should want to do the loving thing. He excels in certain roles (broadly defined) and has difficulty with others.
The first section is about showing respect for my man’s judgment and abilities, in the way I communicate, in public, and in what I assume about him.
I don’t believe in coddling people. It’s in my nature to challenge, as I hope I’m willing to be challenged. In dealing with the outside world, we have to adjust, find our ground of being, and be our true selves, and deal with all the difficulties and crap rather than changing everything and everyone to suit ourselves. So is it realistic, or even an ideal, to try to create a “my home is my castle” type of reality for one’s husband? Sure, I need to be a better wife, and I want to be more patient, understanding, a better communicator, meet my husband’s marriage needs and so on. But do I really have to regard my husband as so insecure that I have to show respect even if I don’t feel it, in everything, so he’ll feel competent? Sounds like “Father Knows Best” all over again. What about that “hard love, gimme that hard love…tell me when you think I’m doin’ wrong, and when I’m sinkin’ down, give me a strong arm”? (Brooks Williams, 1991).
The truth is, I do need to take this chapter at face value, because I’m the type of person who already has a strong grasp of how to challenge and confront, and a desire for recognition of my own knowledge or abilities, in competition sometimes with the respect I can give my husband. I also saw growing up how the lack of a wife’s demonstration of respect for her husband can weigh down a marriage relationship. So how about if I step up and give what I want to receive, make an effort to recognize and affirm the knowledge and many abilities of my man?
Years ago I heard the story of my husband’s grandfather, who had remarried years after his first wife’s death. He had played the harmonica for many years, and the first wife acted like that was no big deal, and was not heard to compliment Grandpa Milt often. The new wife, in contrast, would stop to listen, smile, admire, and exclaim to others what a wonderful player he was. And she was that way in other things he did, too. My mother-in-law said it changed him–it was like he grew ten years younger, he so felt his wife’s respect and admiration. I’d never seen anything like that, and I decided I wanted to be like her if I possibly could, to my chosen partner.
My husband and I just celebrated our nineteenth anniversary. It’s time I was reminded of my old goal, to be more of a cheerleader for him. It only takes a bit of consideration for me to think of all kinds of things I admire and respect about my man–same then as now–his intelligence, ability to express himself, great problem-solving abilities, practical skills of all kinds, hard work providing for the family, and self confidence in combination with tenderness and humility. So for me it’s not hard, except when I’m focused on my own needs and wants. Meanwhile, I hope we can raise our sons not to be overly dependent on or demanding of signs of respect from others, but instead to be deserving.