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Chapter Reading

Table of contents

Let me ask a few questions to the husbands up front: Is your good willed wife reacting to you in ways that feel disrespectful? Could she be feeling unloved because of your refusal to be close to her face to face on a regular basis? Has this triggered what I call the Crazy Cycle—without love, she reacts without respect; without respect, he reacts without love? Things get crazy as they spin out of control. If so, I can offer some remedies.


He can understand several things about her and several things about himself.



He did not have the same felt need to hug, hold hands, be affectionate, and look at each other face to face, so he did not act on this much at all. He now knows that she had a felt need that he did not always have but that God made her this way. God designed her different from him and he now knows that’s okay. She is not wrong, just different. Because he did not have that felt need did not mean she did not. He accepted that she had a need for hugs, holding hands, affection, and face-to-face connection. Though he knew realistically he would not be as close to her as she wished, he knew he could be closer than he had been.


He felt awkward with such closeness at one level as though she expected him to be more girly to make her happy. Women always hug each other so it must mean she wants him to be like a woman. But he refused to be womanly, going around giving hugs to anyone who moved. He was not into the touchy-feely stuff, and mocked her expectations. He now knows that she needed his masculine presence and strength, not some effeminate personification and sentimentality. He stopped his embellished overstatements about her wanting him to be like her girlfriends. Instead, he looked realistically at her heart-felt expectation, which was the same as it had been in courtship when he too wanted to be affectionately close with her. Truth be told, she wanted to experience what she had with him in courtship. Her expectations had not increased but were going unfulfilled compared to the early years of their relationship. Once he realized what she expected, he made an adjustment.


He enjoys being close sexually, which bonds them emotionally in his opinion, but he found himself deeply bothered that his desire for sex also ignited her suspicions about his unconditional love. In feeling she resisted his desire for sexual closeness, he resisted her desire for emotional closeness. He now knows that she was not rejecting his desire and need for sex, since she too enjoys and needs sexual intimacy. One woman wrote, “I need sex for the closeness and reassurance as well as the physical release.” But every woman I have met needs reassurance that he loves her beyond sex. One of the most commonly expressed statements from wives is, “I feel you need me for only one thing.” She is not trying to put her husband down but seeks verbal affirmation that he loves her for her. She did not surface her suspicions to prove herself right but to be reassured that she was wrong. She had no intent to label him as a sexual animal but hoped for him to relieve her fears. “Tell me that you want me for me, and want to be close to me apart from sex.”


He finds himself bothered by her comparisons with husbands she feels meet their wives’ need for closeness. Feeling put down by her comparison, he pulls back from closeness. He feels like he must perform according to some kind of chick-flick, romantic standard to meet with her approval. Feeling disinterested in performing, he makes little effort to be close with her, and submits to his cynicism that “it will never be good enough anyway.” He now knows she did not surface these comparisons to put him down but to help him understand her longing to be close with him. She only cites these other men as examples to serve him so that she can benefit from his presence and strength. She wants him, not these other men.


He felt that she criticized and complained about his failure to hug and hold, to be affectionate without sex, and to be together chatting face to face, because she did not respect him. He felt she used his inadequacies related to closeness in order to judge him. It was his conviction that she did not like him, and this issue of closeness afforded her the opportunity to put him down. He now knows she did not seek to show him disrespect but longed for him to know of her need for his closeness that made her feel loved. It wasn’t about undermining his need for respect but about her desire to feel loved.



Understand that a man’s need for independence can lead to too much distance and detachment. Because a man leaves father and mother (Genesis 2:24) his tendency is toward independence. On the other hand, a wife leans toward involvement. Thus each husband needs to ask himself: Am I choosing activities that keep me too independent and far away from her? Does she feel uninvolved in the matters of my heart? Does she feel I am too far away, too disengaged, too disconnected? For example, do I continue to take on more responsibilities in the church, on the job, or in the community even though my wife is overwhelmed at home with our children, causing her to feel we are drifting apart? Another question for husbands: Do you sometimes change your plans that affect your wife without bothering to inform her? If you as the husband answered yes to any of these questions, your independence may be working against that sense of closeness to her. I recommend calling her more, sharing a bit more, and letting her know that you are thinking of her. These kinds of gestures reassure her.


Husbands, understand you have leadership skills but you can overlook the simple gesture of creating win-win between you. As the wife needs face-to-face time in order to connect with her husband, he needs shoulder-to-shoulder time doing activities with her without talking. I am not arguing here that this is all about meeting the wife’s needs and ignoring the husband’s. In fact, many wives complain to me that I favor the male and his needs above those of women. Truthfully, I seek to be fair and balanced.

Men, as a leader in the home, propose ways to meet both your and your wife’s needs. We refer to this as reciprocity. You rub her back, she rubs your back. When a husband chooses to be close and talk face to face with his wife, his wife is motivated to be in shoulder-to-shoulder relationship with him without talking. As a husband humbly frames his need for his wife’s companionship while doing activities, he can say, “I am excited about both of us meeting the other’s need. I spend time with you face to face and you spend time with me shoulder to shoulder. Win-win!” You do not keep score but you do seek balance.

As the one called to be the head of the household as Christ is the head of the church, know that God has given you the skill to spiritually lead like this, and most women respond to humble, reasonable leadership. The key is mutual motivation. This is the Energizing Cycle: His love motivates her respect and her respect motivates his love.

You can remind her that two mature and good willed people recognize that needs differ. However, they also recognize the power of reciprocity, and when they do, good things happen. This will bring about closeness between the two of you.

On another note concerning a husband’s spiritual leadership, understand God’s call on you as the husband to cast a vision that the two of you are devoted to Christ and His mission beyond your marriage. When you seek Christ together, it brings you together. When you look to Christ beyond your relationship, it enriches your relationship. You experience a sense of teamwork and harmony and closeness. After seeking Christ in prayer one husband wrote me, “Susanna and I felt a spiritual closeness last evening that we have not enjoyed for a long time.”


Husbands, understand that you can defensively personalize (which is natural) when she criticizes you but in the process you do not decode what she is really trying to say to you.

For instance, when your wife pushes you to talk and comments, “All you ever want me for is sex!” what is in her heart? Do you look past her critical comments and decode her need? Why or why not? Always try to decode. For instance, does she withhold sex to be disrespectful or because she feels you withhold close ness because you do not really love her as that special person in your life? Or does she often say things like, “You always . . .” and “You never . . .”? Instead of telling her, which we all tend to do, “I don’t always, and don’t say ‘I never.’ That’s not true. You aren’t dealing with the facts,” give her the benefit of the doubt and try to hear the message coming from her heart. Doing so will help the two of you stay close and in harmony.

Remember that when she moves toward you to say something to you, almost always she is feeling something in her heart. Use your solution-orientation to figure out what that is. A husband awakened to his need to better decode what his wife meant by what she said. He wrote to her an apology about a specific instance wherein she was devastated by a carjacking. Apparently she encountered a violent motor theft and feared for her life.

He wrote, “I think one of my biggest failures here is you coming to me on the ‘anniversary’ of your carjacking and just wanting to talk about it. I should have listened. Instead, you got from me a dismissive statement, ‘It happened a long time ago, you should be over that.’ How wrong of me. I should have responded, ‘I hear you. That event was stressful and upsetting. What else are you feeling?’ I should then have affirmed you. ‘The good news is that you came out alright, you came out stronger, and you didn’t let it affect who you are today. Today you are a strong, trusting, loving individual. For that, I am thankful.’ I am so sorry for not recognizing why you wanted to talk face to face.” 

Approaching a wife this way ensures closeness with her. 


Given you are in a marital crisis, you need to make a major adjustment. Understand the power you have when you make a positive change designed to guarantee greater closeness.

Some guys work fifty hours a week and then go play when they are home, leaving their wives with emotional crumbs. Starving, at a certain point she can appear to devour her husband. One guy recognized his wife’s desperation. He wrote me, “C- Closeness: I have stopped all my hobbies so I can hang with her EVERY day . . . I am a hunter and fisherman.” Another husband salvaged his marriage by making a commitment to make some changes in the areas she deemed undermining their closeness.

Each man must exercise discernment. In the case of the hunter and fisherman, he knew this was not an unfair change to make in light of the history of neglecting his wife’s emotional needs in favor of his recreational activities. Some guys readily admit they are selfish, leaving their wife on the homefront doing all the work and giving her no time with himself. When in crisis, sacrifice something personal for your wife. This will bring you closer.

In concluding chapter 3, let me remind all husbands to value God’s design of their wife. She has a need for closeness that maybe her husband does not have, though there are exceptions. Some men crave the kind of closeness I have been addressing and some women have little interest (though that usually reveals some kind of crisis in their marriage, but I don’t address that here). In general, though, women yearn for an emotional connection with their husbands and it begins with her sense that her husband wants to be close to her. So, husband, when your wife says, “I need a hug,” just give her a meaningful hug. If you can die for this woman, you can give her a hug. Just because you don’t need this or you feel uncomfortable with this, that’s no good reason to deny her of a need that she has.

Remember, when women friends greet each other they hug; they do not shake hands. Or envision a group photo of women. They do not stand shoulder to shoulder with an inch or two between them as men do, but they squeeze close together, cheek to cheek for the camera. When your wife wants you to hold her affectionately in a nonsexual way, she is a typical woman just wanting to feel loved for who she is. Early in our marriage when Sarah said, “Can we talk?” I’d reply, “What did I do wrong?” But I have since learned that when your wife wants to talk face to face, she does so not because she wants to bring something up about you that she does not like but because she receives energy and strength from your male presence and interest in her burdens.

In chapter four, I share what a wife can do to bring about greater closeness.

Please take a moment and view the video titled “What Can a Husband Do?” in the next step.

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Discussion Questions

  1. Where have you noticed the Crazy Cycle in your marriage as it pertains to emotional closeness? Husbands, have you noticed your wife reacting to you in ways that feel disrespectful? Could she be feeling unloved because of your refusal to be close to her face to face on a regular basis? Wives, how could you better communicate to your husband your need for emotional closeness, rather than hopping on the Crazy Cycle with your disrespectful words?
  2. Husbands, when it comes to the basic understandings listed in the chapter (understanding her felt need, her expectation, her interpretation, her comparisons, and her motive), where do you feel you stand to gain the most? Why has this area been a weakness for you? Wives, which of these basic understandings brought some insight into your own life that you were not aware of?
  3. What would a marriage look like if the wife had the same need for independence as the husband? Do you think that would be a healthy marriage?
  4. Name a time when the power of reciprocity has brought good results for both the shoulder-to-shoulder needs in your marriage as well as the face-to-face needs.
  5. Why can it be so difficult to look past a wife’s critical comments and decode the need she is trying to communicate?
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Face to Face and Shoulder to Shoulder
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