When a couple books a marriage counseling appointment with me, I’ve learned two things are usually always true about them:
First, they’re having marriage problems. This is an easy bet, since most couples don’t choose counseling unless they’re having trouble working things out.
Second, I assume the wife is the one who suggested counseling, and I’m right about 95 percent of the time. Most men would rather spend an hour staring directly into the sun than talking about marriage problems with a therapist.
This becomes clear in the first meeting. While the women are quick to discuss their problems, the men keep looking at their watch. It’s obvious they don’t want to be there, and that they’ve only turned to counseling because nothing else worked.
While women are usually the first to initiate counseling, they don’t always like what I have to say. In a recent session, a husband began sharing his unmet needs. Quiet for most of our time together, he suddenly opened up about how he felt deprived and ignored by his wife.
He mentioned his need for trust and approval, and how unappreciated he felt. He talked about the intimacy he wanted and the cold shoulder she frequently gave him. He revealed his desire to do fun things with his wife and his frustration that she showed no interest in his hobbies or recreational pursuits.
I was excited to see him finally open up. He was sharing his innermost feelings with his wife. We’d made an emotional breakthrough!
The wife was not quite as thrilled. Stone-faced, her only response was to downplay his feelings. At one point, the man turned to her and said, in frustration, “But these are my needs.”
She sighed. “It just stresses me out when you talk about your needs.”
Immediately the core of their dysfunction became clear. “You understand, don’t you, that it’s your job to meet his needs?” I asked her. “If he could meet his own needs, then why would he have married you?”
The look on her face told me she’d never thought of that before. I see this kind of response often among struggling couples. A woman downplays her husband’s needs because his are so different from her own. But understanding and meeting each other’s needs is a critical step toward a healthy relationship.
Line up a hundred men and ask them each to tell you what they most need and desire from their wives, and you’ll be met with two surprising dynamics: One, every one of them will be able to answer that question, usually without thinking. Two, their answers will be very similar.
The needs husbands mention to me in counseling fall along a predictable pattern. They need to feel honored and respected by their wives. The need sexual intimacy. They need friendship—a wife who enjoys doing fun things together. And they need domestic support.
Men are different in many ways, but when it comes to their basic needs and desires, they are very much alike.
Respect, sex, friendship and domestic support: These are a man’s four greatest needs. We’ll look more closely at these in the weeks to come.