Most couples plan for their perfect wedding but often overlook planning for a successful marriage. It is not uncommon for a bride and groom to spend more on their wedding day than purposefully investing in their marriage over its lifetime. Parrott and Parrott (2015) found that less than 20% of all American couples had any type of formal marriage preparation, and research showed that about half of newlyweds reported serious marital problems and had doubts whether their marriages would last. Husbands and wives enter marriage with a set of personal needs and expectations in how they will be fulfilled by their spouse. In many cases, these needs and expectations are unspoken, result from life experiences and family dynamics, and are biologically driven. Some couples are not in tune with their needs; whereas, others are apprehensive in asking for fear of rejection. A few husbands and wives have the unrealistic expectation that if their spouse really loved them, they would know what their needs were and act upon them. Since it is unlikely that most spouses read minds, I would suggest that it is never too late to schedule a quiet date, where a couple can ask powerful questions about needs and expectations.
If you are considering that date, it might be helpful to understand some typical gender differences in marital needs. These insights may help you better understand your spouse and why sometimes s/he acts in ways that confuse or frustrate you. With awareness, empathy, and sharing, I pray you can get more of your needs met in marriage. Love is the willingness to hear and try to meet your partner’s needs. As my husband says to me, “Let me know what you need. If it’s not illegal or immoral, I’m on it!”
What does a wife need?
Many men confusingly ask, “What do women really want?” Research conducted by Markman and Kraft (1989) found that a wife’s most basic needs in marriage are to be cherished, be understood, and be respected. In my coaching experience, I often hear women say they need to feel safe in their marriages. I would suggest that their concept of “safety” is weaved into their needs of being understood and respected.
A woman typically feels cherished, when she knows a husband puts her first among family, friends, and interests. She believes when push comes to shove her husband will choose her. The research also shows that when a wife believes she is cherished, she encourages her husband to pursue the things he enjoys (Parrott & Parrott, 2015). Men who cherish their wives not only show their wives but tell them they love them, especially when “words of affirmation” is a primary love language.
A woman feels understood when her feelings are validated and accepted (Parrott & Parrott, 2015). Men are biologically predisposed to speak less words and focus on solving problems. Husbands validate their wives by just listening to them share their feelings and struggles without solving their problems.
Wives need to feel as if they are equal partners in their marriages. Husbands can respect their wives by supporting their dreams and goals. When women do not feel respected by their husbands, they tend to feel insecure, unworthy, and may suffer depression.
Without awareness of female-driven needs, husbands will try to love their wives in the ways that they feel loved. The same is true of wives’ approach in loving their husbands. Wives also need to understand their husbands’ basic needs, so they can love their husbands in ways that uplift their marriages.
What does a husband need?
God has a sense of humor. What was He thinking when he designed Adam and Eve, man and women, or he and she. Obviously, humans with enough similarities to be attracted to each other and enough differences to keep the relationship interesting. Men are not only physically and mentally different in their hard-wiring than women, their basic marriage needs are as well. The research by Parrott and Parrott (2015) suggest that wives should focus their efforts on satisfying their husbands’ needs to be admired, to have autonomy, and of enjoyment in shared activity with their spouses.
Men need words of encouragement from their wives in how they are meeting their needs. Contrary to women who will try harder to get admiration, men tend to lose motivation to try and choose to focus on something else that brings them that positive reinforcement. A wife should never resort to false praise but verbalizing specific behaviors to her husband that would please her and intentionally recognizing her pleasure when he acts will help to bridge the gap.
Wives tend to use words to draw closer, but sometimes husbands need autonomy to regroup before they can engage in marital conversation. I learned this the hard way in my first marriage, when I would immediately start to vent the details of my work day to my husband upon walking into our home. My husband, who had an equally stressful day, needed to go to his “man cave” for half an hour, before he could have conversation.
A common compliant I hear men express during marital coaching is their deep desire to have their wives join them or share in a hobby together. Men typically comment, “I wish my wife would (1) join me fishing, (2) travel with me on business, or (3) come to one of my softball games….” Men connect with their wives by doing things together, even if it is just sitting on the coach together watching a movie. Men bond to their wives through recreation; whereas, women feel intimacy by talking, sharing vulnerable moments, and cuddling.
Neither set of gender needs is right or wrong. Instead, understanding the differences will hopefully make you realize that your spouse is not intentionally ignoring your needs. They are just focused on loving you in the way they feel loved. You may already be aware of these differences. If not, hopefully you have more insight. Awareness is measured on a continuum, and wherever you are on that line, consider setting up a date to explore these gender differences. Review the sets of basic needs and share your answers to the following questions:
- For each of the gender needs discussed, how much does this basic need hold true for you?
- For each need, on a scale of 1-10 (10=highest), how well is your spouse satisfying that need? Provide examples that support your score?
- Give examples of how your spouse could strengthen that need for you?
- Pick at least one of your spouse’s needs that you will commit to focus on and describe how you will do it.
Markman, H. & Kraft, S. (1989). Men and women in marriage: Dealing with gender differences in marital therapy. The Behavior Therapist, 12, p. 51-56.
Parrott, L. & Parrott, L. (2015). Saving your marriage before it starts. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
About the Author: Sandra Dillon is a professional coach and mentor with an extensive background in leadership and ministry which provides her with the experience and relational skills to move individuals and couples to higher levels of personal awareness and goal achievement. She coaches in a variety of areas including life purpose and plans, marriage/premarital, and finances.