Wednesday, April 16, 2014

A Note on Men, Women, and Relationships

Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis, purportedly said that after his years of research, he still did not know what women want! Perhaps that is a question best left for women to answer. What I can do is say what men want and need, and it is something that only the woman they love can fully provide.

There are many misperceptions regarding male needs. For example, here is an old joke that illustrates a stereotypical misperception regarding male sexuality:
A heading reads: “How To Impress a Woman.”
Beneath that heading: “Compliment her, respect her, honor her, cuddle her, kiss her, caress her, love her, comfort her, protect her, hold her, wine and dine her, buy things for her, listen to her, care for her, stand by her, support her, go to the ends of the Earth for her.”
That long list is followed by: “How To Impress a Man.”
And beneath that: “Show up naked. Bring food.”

As with most stereotypes there is some truth to this, but it is not fair or accurate to men. So what do men most want? Answer: To be admired by the woman he loves. Men need admiration. A man needs to be admired by his wife (for the sake of clarity, let’s keep the discussion within the context of marriage). More precisely, a man needs to feel that his wife admires him, looks up to him, and trusts him. A man needs the rush of knowing that if his wife believes in him he can conquer the world. One proof is that the most devastating thing a woman can do to her man is to hold him in contempt. That is so devastating to a marriage that, over time, it is often more toxic than infidelity.

Contempt is the same as public humiliation. It is so despicable a behavior that it is hard to describe effectively. We’ve all seen it at the mall: the brow-beat husband and father scurrying two steps behind the wife, drooping shoulders, carrying the diaper bag or purse or whatever – only rushing to fetch the minivan! Or the wife who only has criticism for her husband at their friend’s dinner parties, or the woman at church who says, “I have three children. Two I gave birth to, and one I married.”

Of course, this means that in order to gain a woman's love, a man must be admirable. Boys know this instinctively. Young men often reveal how much harder they work at something when they know girls are watching them. If a woman “falls in love” with a man she does not admire, that love will not last. Conversely, a woman can always fall in love with a man she has come to admire first.

To be admirable, then, a man needs to exhibit three qualities:

Like the legs of a tripod, all three are needed. A man who has strength, but no integrity (honesty) is simply macho; a man of integrity, but no strength or ambition is weak; a man with ambition, but no integrity is a crook.

To be admirable, a man must exhibit strength in the world and at home as a husband and father. That means making tough decisions, leading with certitude, sometimes saying “no,” and always doing so with the utmost kindness.

Likewise, integrity has to be a borne from the kind of honesty that imbues character. It comes from seeing the folly in something you’ve done, and wishing you could change it, but you can’t – you have to press forward with courage and resolve, and the conviction that you will never do it again. Then you will gain character, because, in the words of Danny Devito in The Big Kahuna, “honesty will reach out from inside and tattoo itself across your face.”

Ambition must not be confused with material success. Having ambition does not mean that a man is wealthy, but that he is a goal oriented hard worker who wants to improve himself. Plenty of men who earn relatively little are still admired by their wives because they have a work ethic that is not lazy, and looks to the future.

So as it turns out, everybody wins. Women get what they want, men get what they want, children get what they need – good homes and role models, and society gets what it desperately needs – men of strength, integrity, and ambition!

With the stage set, let’s talk about love . . . There are different, but equally necessary ways to feel, appreciate, and communicate affection.

The first is physical. Do you find the person attractive? Do you desire to be with them physically? Do you get a tingle on the back of your neck and a knot in your stomach when you are around them? Do you feel the weight of having to take labored breaths when you are away from them?

The second is heart. Does the person stir your emotions? This is different from what is described above in terms of physical attraction. Do you adore the person? Do you admire their character? Are they kind to you as well as others? Will you spare no expense and take great risks to be with them and to please them?

The third is intellectual. Does your mind accept and appreciate the person? Can you rationally say that this is the person you are meant to be with because your share values and you can communicate with them in an open and honest way about anything? That doesn’t mean you agree or you have identical views—it just means you can communicate the differences in a spirit of respect and in a shared values context.

Based on all of the above principles, here are ten questions that you should be able to answer affirmatively before committing to a serious relationship:

1. Are we best friends or becoming so?
It’s easy to get excited about a new person, but over time, friendship is the greatest bond between a couple. If your partner does not become your best friend, you will seek someone who will be, or drift apart. It’s the difference between infatuation and love.

2. Do we enjoy each other?
Actually enjoying each other’s company may actually be the single most important characteristic of a happy relationship. Sometimes “quality time” equals quantity.

3. Is there chemistry between us?
“Chemistry” is easy to recognize (and feel), but impossible to define. Within the context of your moral convictions, there should be a vibrant physical component to the relationship. After all, dating is not an interview for a platonic best friend. You should yearn for the other person when not with them!

4. Do we each have at least one close friend of the same sex?
If someone does not have good friends of the same sex, something is very wrong. A man who is always at odds with other men, and a woman who has nothing but drama with other women has internal issues that need resolution. It’s hard to explain. Experience has taught me this.

5. How does my partner treat others?
Watch how someone treats waiters, employees, co-workers, family members, and anyone else they come into contact with. Genuine kindness is important, and it cannot be faked. How they treat others now is how they will treat you later.

6. What potential problems do we have?
This is where dating becomes serious. Whatever nagging questions you may have won’t just go away on their own. You have three choices: Make peace with the problem; try to solve it through honest communication; or don't commit to the person. It is imperative to be ruthlessly honest with yourself! Listen to your gut, and DON’T try to change the other person! You won’t succeed, and they will resent you for it.

7. How often do we argue?
It is normal for couples to have disagreements, but it is a bad sign if you are arguing frequently while dating. That should be the easiest time to get along. If you argue, do you quickly make up? Do you LISTEN to each other’s point of view? Do you sincerely apologize after a fight? Do you fight about the same things over and over again?

8. Do we share values?
Opposites may attract in the beginning, but people who are alike stay together in the long term. The more you share, especially religious values, the better your chances are of having a good relationship. This doesn’t mean you have to think alike or agree all the time, but even disagreements need to fall within the respectful context of a shared value system.

9. Is my partner happy or unhappy?
I cannot exaggerate how important this is! If you are a happy person, do not think for a moment that you can make an unhappy person happy. Rather, they will make you unhappy! The chronically moody cannot be “cured.” Happiness is a moral virtue, and it’s played out by how we relate to others, not by measuring how many problems we have at any given time.

10. What do people I respect think of my partner?
If objections come, let’s say, from a parent you respect for reasons that are not easily dismissed, and if others you respect are unenthusiastic as well, you should take their objections seriously—and vice versa. They’re not trying to control your life; they care for you. And you need them.