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When 'What About My Needs?' Leads to a Broken Marriage

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A wife wrote to me: "When I began reading Love & Respect, I could not get past the ‘What about my needs?’ question and never even made it to the chapter where this is addressed."

Years later, her husband leaves.

She says, "I pulled out our copy of L&R. I finished it today, the day he moved out.  It’s not for me to question God’s plan, but I am perplexed by why now, when it seems too late, I have read, understood, embraced, and realized how profoundly I have damaged this man I love and our union."

This wife's attitude represents that of many wives. Such women are not mean-spirited and may not even be selfish. In fact, most women see themselves as givers. Always nurturing, they awaken with the thought of responding to the other's needs. By comparison, they conclude their husbands are less aware of and responsive to their needs daily. Entrenched with this mindset, it is tough for them to hear an appeal to meet their husband's needs. One, they believe they are already meeting his needs. Two, they believe he is not meeting their needs. Thus, the swift response, "What about my needs?"

What, though, if she innocently overlooks his needs, which to her are not valid? For instance, to have a deep friendship with another person, men need to do activities shoulder-to-shoulder. In those settings, they will surface their thoughts. However, to most wives, they have better things to do than sit in a golf cart with him, watch him play basketball, do woodwork, or fix a pipe. They don't realize the level of energy this brings to the male's spirit, which frees him up to talk. Most ladies think that they must sit face to face and talk and talk, primarily about her feelings, and especially those feelings he hurt, and should now say, "I am sorry for hurting your feelings." But this isn't how guys make friendships. This wears guys out if this is the only time they hang out together. Yes, men will do face-to-face interactions, but only if there is a sense of camaraderie from the shoulder-to-shoulder activities.

What if her husband was actually trying to meet many of her needs, not only for protection and provision but also for guarding the marriage's emotionality by urging her not to get so upset by so many little things that, at the end of the day, will soon enough be forgotten? Sadly, his counsel or solution offends her. His comments are beyond her imagination and reinforce to her that he is uncaring about what matters to her. But is he? 

Though women are indeed more nurturing than men, we must step back and ask two questions. One, are there needs in the husband that a wife fails to see or dismisses as ill-founded? Two, is a husband trying to meet the "true" need of his wife, but because this "true" need is not a "felt" need of hers, is this wife failing to see his aims and if she does see them, dismisses his approach as ill-founded?

Here's how one wife made an adjustment.

The key with your material was that you gave me insight into his heart that no one had ever explained in such detail. Now I could see that he was not trying to hurt me but not knowing how to deal with his own pain, he was withdrawing to keep himself from further pain and confrontation. I never thought I was pointing the finger or sounding accusing, but looking back, he took most of what I ever said in that way. . . I have a husband that many women could only dream of in terms of understanding, help at home, etc. But I did feel hurt from his withdrawals and I think that was a part of my lack of motivation for trying to continually be nice to him. . . . I would cry myself to sleep wondering what went wrong. I got married, determined to have a good marriage and not be like so many others, but no one had ever explained to me what “respect” was supposed to look like and how it affected husbands. I feel angry that there was nothing like this ten years ago when I got married, but I am grateful that it’s not too late and things can get better.

Now I could see that he was not trying to hurt me but not knowing how to deal with his own pain, he was withdrawing to keep himself from further pain and confrontation. I never thought I was pointing the finger or sounding accusing, but looking back, he took most of what I ever said in that way

Another wife wrote, "I have also learned not to react to my husband's irritations. Sometimes it takes us a little longer than before the sun goes down to discuss issues, but I've found that it is okay to wait until he can distance himself from the emotion before tackling the discussion. That wait time is essential for us."

The following are some specific feelings many husbands deal with that their wives unfortunately tend to dismiss. You will notice that they fall under the categories of C.H.A.I.R.S., the acronym I use to explain six ways in which a man desires to feel respected.

Conquest: He can struggle with the feeling he is a loser, not a winner, failing not succeeding, or behind not ahead.

Hierarchy: He can struggle with feeling he is below others, is lower in status, deserves a position but didn’t get it, or is being put down. If he doesn’t feel his wife “looks up” to him, but actually looks down on him, he feels less than a man to her!

Authority: He can struggle with the feeling that his desire to be responsible is viewed by her as an attempt to exercise rights over her and to advance his own interests. At the same time, she can expect him to be primarily responsible for her, even dying, but rob him of primary authority to carry out his duties ("You can't do that, we're equal), which violates Leadership 101.

Insight: He can struggle with the feeling he is imperceptive, unenlightened, lacking good judgment, lacking logical analysis, failing to solve problems.

Relationship: He can struggle with the feeling that he is second-fiddle to the children, only her idea of a quality relationship matters, which means talking, and doing activities shoulder-to-shoulder without talking is seen as meaningless.

Sexuality: He can struggle with the feeling he is oversexed. He is vulnerable to his wife’s sexual put-downs and being sexually ignored by her.

In each of these areas, since these feelings do not matter to her, she tells him, albeit with good intentions, that those feelings of his aren't really something he should let bother him. Then she communicates to him, in one way or another, “Instead, we need to talk about my needs.”

And indeed, her needs are extremely important. However, couldn’t the husband, who doesn’t share the same exact needs of his wife, make the same claim—that since these feelings do not matter to him, then she shouldn’t let them bother her either? If he were to apply her logic, then yes he could. But of course we all agree that he’d be in the wrong to do so.

So isn’t she in the wrong too? 

Sadly, the wife who wrote to me above didn’t realize that until it was too late. Her husband had already moved out by the time she realized the importance of his needs as well. But you do not have to share the same fate. 

What about his needs?

Emerson Eggerichs, Ph.D.
Author, Speaker, Pastor

Questions to Consider

  1. How can a goodwilled, loving wife who awakens each day with the thought of meeting her husband’s needs, completely miss what her husband’s true needs are?
  2. Emerson wrote, “What if her husband was actually trying to meet many of her needs,” but “his counsel or solution offends her”? How might a husband feel when his wife rejects his insight and help? How might he respond next time she has an apparent need?
  3. Did any of the husbands’ struggles under C.H.A.I.R.S. that wives oftentimes dismiss resonate with you? What can you do better so as to not dismiss or neglect this need your husband has that you do not?
  4. The Rewarded Cycle says, “His love regardless of her respect, and her respect regardless of his love.” How does this apply in this area of worrying about who is going to take care of the other’s needs? Why should your focus be on your spouse’s needs, not yours? Who, ultimately, will take care of your needs?