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Wifey Wednesday: Why He Won't Meet Your Needs

It's Wednesday, the day when we talk marriage! I introduce a topic, and then you follow up either by commenting or by writing your own post and then linking up!

Angry pouty pretty bride
Photo by Chris Willis

Today I want to address a common meme in marriage literature: if you want to get your needs met, then meet your spouse's first. Figure out what his primary needs are, and meet them, and then you'll get your needs met!

Of course, as Terry noted earlier this week in her blog Breathing Grace, that's not really love. If you love just because you want to get something, you're ignoring 1 Corinthians 13 exhortation "love is not self-seeking". She explains:

In other words, our expressions of love should never be filtered through the lens of “What have you done for me lately?” or “I have needs, too.” My needs do matter, and it is perfectly acceptable for me to express my needs to those closest to me, but my responsibility to love selflessly remains constant whether I receive what I think I need or not.

Even so, though, there is truth to the addage that the more we care for others' needs, the more our own are met. The key here is motivation: if you care for someone's needs in order to get something in return it's manipulation, and they will sense it and it will backfire. If you care for someone's needs because you love them, then that love by itself will change the dynamics of your relationship, and you will be more likely to get your needs met.

But here's the central issue, girls, and I'm about to be very hard on our sex today: I think this works far better for us than it does for our husbands, because quite frankly too many of us don't consider their needs at all.

Let me give you an example. About a year or so ago my husband and I were just overwhelmed with busy-ness. I was speaking a lot, and he was working a lot, and we weren't connecting. Two nights in a row we didn't make love because I was preoccupied. Then I was away speaking. When I came home it was the middle of the night and we didn't, either. The next night I was still tired, but neither of us slept well because both of us were feeling that something was wrong in our relationship. The next night we did.

And then he bought me flowers.

Sex flowers.

I got mad. I interpreted it like this: "He wants me to make love more, so he'll reward me when we make love, and punish me when we don't. He'll be distant when we don't make love deliberately so that I will start putting out." And I got really frustrated.

And then it hit me: maybe the reason Keith bought me flowers was simply because he felt closer to me and lovey towards me. I thought what was going through his brain was this:

"I need to manipulate my wife into doing what I want."

What was really going through his head was this:

"I love my wife. I think I'll buy her flowers."

You see, my friends, men are really quite simple. They need two things: respect and sex. Just two things. Respect can be more easily defined as both affirmation and appreciation. When we affirm what they do and show them appreciation, they feel ten feet tall. When we make love to them, we affirm their manhood and they feel loved. And when they feel loved, they tend to feel less antsy, more compassionate, and more eager to keep pleasing us because they feel like the relationship is something they do well.

Men tend to want to put in effort in areas they feel they are good at. That's why if a man feels he's lousy at marriage he'll start working more, or playing on the computer more. He retreats to areas of competence. Make your man feel incompetent and irrelevant, and he'll retreat. It's as simple as that.

Now, of course, some men are louts, and it doesn't matter how much we try to please them, they're going to retreat and be insensitive. Absolutely. But I think the number of honest to goodness natural louts is far fewer than the number of men who currently ACT like louts. I think many men act like louts because that is how they have been treated.

Too many of us have virtually no respect for what a husband really needs, but we have unlimited respect for our own needs. And we're not only hurting our husbands--we're hurting ourselves.

Let me talk about another couple that's been married for 35 years now. I watch them every now and then, and while I know they're not splitting up, I don't see a lot of tenderness. She snipes at him and criticizes him every chance she gets, and he bristles and walks out of the room. Every now and then he retaliates, but not often. She isn't showing him that she appreciates him; she's showing him that she doesn't think he's good enough. He's always wrong. And it's no wonder that he doesn't act tenderly towards her!

If you take that same couple at year one of their marriage instead of year thirty-five, though, and his wife started thanking him for his contribution, and asking about his day, and making love to him with relative frequency, and respecting his opinion, I bet at thirty-five years they'd be a lot more affectionate and a lot more tender.

Men really aren't complicated. Do those two things: appreciate him and make love frequently, and you'll likely find that he starts being nicer to the kids. He helps with the dishes. He phones if he's going to be late. He feels competent and appreciated, and he wants to keep excelling in the family sphere because it's something he does well. Make him feel like he's not doing it well, and he will start to wither.

Why can't we just give to our men this way? Because we don't work that way. Remember the book "Sex Begins in the Kitchen" by Kevin Leman? I know it was written by a man, because only a man would think the sexual relationship was that straightforward. He's thinking the way men do, and then reversing the equation. When a man gets his primary needs met, he tends to reach out and start meeting a woman's needs. So Leman assumes that women act the same way: when we get our need for affection met, and when he starts helping around the house and caring about us, we'll start to make love more.

It's not true.

I've known many men who are saints at home and their wives aren't helping at all, because we tend to question men's motivations. We think either that they're trying to manipulate us, or we come up with other things they're doing wrong. Or, perhaps even more likely, we think to ourselves: "I'm glad he cares about me, because I work really hard. I need to take a break now so he can carry more of the load", and we don't think of returning the favour much at all.

We women are far too focused on what is "right" and what is "fair". We're asking ourselves, how much did he care for the kids today? How much housework did he do? Did he let me talk? Did he care? And if the answer is no in any of these areas, we tend to hold it as our right to pull back from him until he improves.

We don't tend to feel all lovey dovey towards him when he does something right. We don't feel ten feet tall when he does the dishes or takes care of the kids. We simply think, "that's what he should have been doing anyway".

So the adage, "meet your spouse's needs, and they'll meet yours" has much more of a chance of working for women than it does for men. If you put yourself out and really show him appreciation and make love, he will, more than likely, become a different person over time. On the other hand, if he does the same thing, there is no guarantee that you will change, because we don't work the same way. What he needs is sex, and so many of us are so focused on being exhausted and not having time that we don't think that maybe, just maybe, we should consider his needs for a second. In our way of thinking, our husbands often impede on our ability to enjoy our life, what with all their demands, and frankly, they're far too much like animals, anyway.

And then women wonder why, fifteen years into marriage, their husband seems so distant and so insensitive.

Is it women's fault if men don't care about our feelings? If they don't help with the kids? No, it's not, because men are morally obligated to do these things anyway, whether or not we return the favour. But here's the thing: just because you can't be morally blamed for it does not mean that you could not have taken steps to make your marriage better.

Women, we have it so easy. We honestly have an easier deal with marriage than men do because men are so relatively simple (and I don't mean this in a derogatory way; we're just made differently). Give them appreciation and make love, and they will feel tenderly towards us. We, on the other hand, are far more complex, and we're not easy to figure out. Men actually have it harder.

I know this isn't popular to say. I know a lot of you are mad at me right now, and thinking what an idiot your husband is, and how I'm blaming you for not having sex with an idiot. I don't walk in your shoes, and it could be that your husband really is that horrible. But then, if you don't mind me asking, why did you marry him?

When you were dating, he probably was nice to you, and that was probably because he did feel ten feet tall. You appreciated him. You affirmed him. You "made out" with him and seemed so hot for him! Then you got married and he didn't feel like he had to woo you, but you also stopped with your affection, too. The difference is that you justify your behaviour; he often doesn't notice his. And as the months and years pass, your relationship takes on a different dynamic. Maybe the problem is not your husband, but the dynamic of your relationship.

You saw something nice in your husband once. I believe those attractive qualities can come out again. So, please, ladies, even if you don't believe what I'm saying, can I ask you to suspend your disbelief and try an experiment?

Commit for six weeks (it has to be a long enough period of time) to do the following things:

1. Thank your husband once a day for something (try to make it something different each time)
2. Compliment your husband to your mother, your children, your friends, whatever, within earshot of your husband, every chance you get.
3. Do not nag.
4. Do not give the silent treatment.
5. Make love with relative frequency (say at least 2-3 times a week).

At the end of six weeks, see if you feel differently towards your husband, and if he is acting differently towards you. I bet you will! Just the act of being nice to him will make you start thinking more nicely about him.

And as you make love more frequently, you will feel closer to him and you'll feel more goodwill, too.

I know you may not believe me, but so many marriages would be saved if we women would just learn how to love our men.

Will you try?

Now, what advice do you have for us today? Have you ever had to confront your fantasies and throw them aside? How did you do it? Or do you have something else to tell us? Write your own Wifey Wednesday post that links back to here, and then leave the link of THAT POST in the Mcklinky below. Thanks!

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At 9:11 PM , Blogger Thou Art Jules said…

This is so NOT what I wanted to read tonight Sheila! As I sit here disgruntled over my day. I think you have a spy cam here at my house and know exactly what I needed to hear even if I didn't want to.
I will sleep on it, hows that? lol


At 9:24 PM , Blogger Jules said…

As women we are so protective, so precious of our own needs. Even those of us not treated as little princesses when growing up think we should now be treated as queens in our own homes. We know - or most of us do - what our husbands need but we tend to dismiss it because their needs are only 'physical' but ours are 'emotional' and therefore - in our eyes - far more valid. Oh shame on us! There have been times in my marriage when I've needed to hear what you had to say - times now even that I need to be reminded. It's so easy to think that when he shows me love I'll respond but that's not love - that's manipulation as you so rightly pointed out. Thank you for this post and for having the courage to write it. Blessings, Jules.


At 6:57 AM , Blogger Terry @ Breathing Grace said…

Thanks for the link, Sheila, first of all.

Secondly, I loved the post. It actually fits a very nicely with what I posted today even though I'd written it before reading your post (hope that's okay!).

The thing I left out of my post, and that you articulated so beautifully, is that the more I put myself out for my husband (pun unintended, sort of :), the more my needs are met. Not because I manipulated him, but because I have sincerely prayed to God to help me love him in the ways he needs to be love.

And God has answered my prayers. I'm so very far from perfect, but I moving along on the journey.

As women, we are told from birth that we can have it all, we deserve to have it all, and that we should settle for nothing less. This is an absurd approach to life but many of us buy into it and put pressure on our husbands to help us have it all and be happy.

Meanwhile, his needs sit on the back burner. And we wonder why he may have checked out emotionally.

Again, great post!


At 7:28 AM , Blogger Llama Momma said…

This post rings true in so many ways, Sheila. When we meet our spouses needs consistently, our needs get met as well.

I would say that our needs evolve, depending on what season of life we're in, though. At least in my own marriage they have. For both of us.

Early in marriage, I would say sex was at the top of the list for my husband.

And when the twins were little, sleep was a biggie for both of us. (Who was getting up, when.)

And through a long, stressful season of unemployment, it was respect and companionship. Making sure I planned a night away from home, without the kids, where we could do something fun together.

And right now, as he's getting in the groove of a new job with a ton of stress: Being available to listen...really listen...without judgement or helpful "suggestions" that I love to make. Just to be there. And I think sex is probably back up near the top again, too.

Maybe some--even most--men are all about sex and respect. But some are a bit more complicated.

It's important to know your spouse, and be willing to be the one to meet those needs...whatever they are. It's okay to ask, too. To say, "I want to meet your needs, but I'm not sure what they are." Sometimes the answer is surprising!

Sheila, thanks for writing these hard posts...the ones that challenge us to get out of our comfort zone!!

There was


At 10:33 AM , Blogger Catherine R. said…

I appreciate you tackling the S subject, Sheila. My hubby and I have a couple issues going on that prevents things from being the way they could be in the bedroom. One of them, which is frustrating for both of us is that we have a 2 year old and a 5 month old. Sometimes it feels like they are awake 24 hours a day and we couldn't "do" anything if we wanted to. The 5 mo is too young to stick in a room by herself and the 2 yo can't really be alone either. It's rough.


At 10:38 AM , Blogger Sheila said…

Thanks for the comment! And Jules--sorry for being so convicting :).

Terry, thanks for your great post today, too! And Llama Mama, you're right, people's needs do evolve. I definitely was oversimplifying. I think a lot of it boils down to respect, though: respecting their opinion, respecting their needs and desires, and not pooh-poohing them or saying "mine come first". If we do respect our husbands, and make it our goal to study them (as you have), then we'll figure things out! (like you did!)

Catherine, that's hard with your kids. Really hard. I remember those days. I think that would be a great post for another day, because I know you're not alone in this. I think I'll write on it!


At 1:03 PM , Blogger Melissa, Multi-Tasking Mama said…

Going to accept your challenge and here is my Wifey Wednesday post {linky wouldn't work for me}


At 1:35 PM , Blogger Sheila said…

Melissa--I'll put it in the linky for you!


At 3:48 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said…

Ah Sheila.... awesome post. Near brought me to tears just for the truth in it and the gut-level wishing that more wives would just GET this....

Thanks for writing what I so often wish I could say.


At 4:33 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said…

Hmmm, really really good food for thought!


At 3:05 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said…

Fantastic post. You made a lot of good points.

One commenter mentioned having small children and how that interferes with lovemaking. I remember those days well. However now that my children are teens I have to say it's even harder to enjoy lovemaking. I'll be blunt...teens can hear and understand what they hear. ;-) lol We try to be quiet but it takes away from the lovemaking always having to worry about every creak the bed makes or sounds of pleasure we might make. It is also hard to wait until after they are asleep. Usually by then we are exhausted too. I would be interested to hear how you handle this Sheila as I know your girls are teens too.


At 10:12 PM , Blogger The Happy Domestic said…

@ Anonymous 3:05 - My husband and I have teens, preschoolers, and an infant, so we have to work around all those different kind of obstacles to love. The preschoolers at least go to bed at a reasonable hour, the baby can lay awake in her crib if necessary, and the teenagers are fully aware that Mom & Dad need alone time for things that make them go "ick". If I say we're going up to bed for private time, they know not to venture near for their own good, and to turn on music or a movie if need be! LOL It can be done! Some people might feel weird about their kids knowing what they're doing, but I think of it this way: all our kids will grow up knowing Mom & Dad love each other... a lot. ;)


At 11:03 AM , Anonymous Joyce said…

All so good! Thank you all!


At 1:00 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said…

I would love to read something on men who don't seem to want sex. My husband never initiates it and now that I am so far along In my pregnancy we have been less than once a month. I can hardly move meanwhile have energy to start anythinh i cant finish if he doesnt feel like doing it. And when we do it never lasts more than a few minutes. I don't think he knows what foreplay is. He seems to be the one with the "headache" and "do we have to?" attitude. So when we do have sex it ends up being all about him. Do other women have this problem?

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Name: Sheila

Home: Belleville, Ontario, Canada

About Me: I'm a Christian author of a bunch of books, and a frequent speaker to women's groups and marriage conferences. Best of all, I love homeschooling my daughters, Rebecca and Katie. And I love to knit. Preferably simultaneously.

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