This series has been designed to equip engaged and newlywed couples—and anyone else trying to create a great marriage! Over 18 years of research and 12 nationally-representative studies with more than 40,000 men and women, we’ve identified some of the most simple but essential factors that couples need to know. This is the fifth and final article in the series. Share it with those getting married!
I still remember staring in disbelief at the man across the table, as he answered what I thought was an innocuous question: “What would you be thinking if this was you, in this scene?” I was writing a novel, and one of my main characters was a man. I needed to capture what he would be thinking in a few quite personal scenes, but realized I had no idea what that would be! So on the spur of the moment, as Jeff and I were out to dinner with another couple, I described a scene in the book and asked what the other husband would be thinking in that situation.
He began sharing a few things and I was shocked. So was his wife. “What?!” “You’re kidding!”
I can also remember that man and Jeff looking at each other, confused. “What?” they asked, clearly surprised that we were surprised. “Of course that’s what we would be thinking.”
That one conversation led me to ask the same question to another male friend. Then another. Then I started asking the waiters who served the meals, or the taxi driver who picked me up at the airport. Over and over, I heard similar thoughts and feelings that lived deep inside the hearts of these men, that impacted them every day—and thus their wives or girlfriends every day—that the women in their lives had no idea even existed.
Those conversations started me on a path I could never have imagined. Very soon, I found myself being mentored and guided by Dr. Charles Cowan, the former chief of survey design at the U.S. Census Bureau, to conduct several nationally-representative surveys of men across the country, which informed the book For Women Only: What You Need to Know About the Inner Lives of Men so other women could hear these things and investigate whether they applied to their husbands or boyfriends. Then we conducted a nationally-representative survey of women, for For Men Only, to even things up and uncover what men needed to investigate about their wives or girlfriends.
Then the research expanded. Under Dr. Cowan’s guidance, Jeff and I began studying teens, men and women in the workplace, and married couples. Then we started to explore marriage issues like money, and sex, and other topics like mental health. As I write this, 18 years later, I’ve conducted 12 national studies with more than 40,000 individuals.
And in all that time, I have seen no single issue more crucial to creating thriving marriages and preventing avoidable problems, than understanding the common insecurities and needs that hide down deep in our hearts. Some of these apply to all of us equally across the board (we all need affirmation, for example). But some, statistically, tend to be different between men and women (such as what type of affirmation most touches the heart).
Everything else I’ve written about in this series is important for marriage: the key factors for thriving in communication, money, sex, as well as the power of generous assumptions. But without knowing the hidden things deep in the heart of your spouse, you’ll be building good habits of action without understanding the why. Without really understanding the inner life of this person you are married to.
In other words: You have to truly learn your spouse—and be willing to consider that what matters most to them (or most hurts their feelings) might potentially be quite different than what would matter to you.
Here are three crucial truths to help you get started.