An Interview With Relationship Expert Shaunti Feldhahn

I read and liked Shaunti and Jeff Feldhahn’s For Men Only: A Straightforward Guide to the Inner Lives of Women; so when I saw that they were releasing that book, along with For Women Only: What You Need to Know about the Inner Lives of Men as part of a new set, For Couples Only: Eyeopening Insights about How the Opposite Sex Thinks, I decided to hit them up for an interview.

Late last week, I got together for a phone interview with Shaunti Feldhahn and what follows is a slightly edited transcript of our conversation. Enjoy!

What do you think is the biggest misperception that many men have about women and dating?

That they’re random.

They’re random?

That the women are random.

Okay, tell me more about that.

Over the last seven or eight years, I think that between my husband and myself and the surveys that we’ve done, we’ve probably interviewed and surveyed over 3,000 women and 3,000 men. What we found with a lot of men is that honestly there is a sort of subconscious perception that some percentage of a woman is never going to be able to be fully understood.

That there is just something in women that is just a little random and the way that one man put it is, he said, “You know, when I’m talking to my wife,” he said, “I think that, someday I’ll pull this lever and I’ll get one reaction — and so the next day I’ll pull that same lever and I get a totally different reaction.” He said, “You women are random.”

And you think that’s wrong? (Laughs)

(Laughs) Believe it or not, we can prove to you that it’s wrong. What we’ve actually shown is that in almost all cases, there are legitimate reasons that a women does or says what she does and if her feelings have changed, there is a reason for that, too. In fact, one of the most encouraging truths for guys to be aware of is that if they will learn some of these key things that they just don’t realize are going on inside women, these key principles, then when something happens that’s confusing they can first stop and say, “I know there must be a reason for that,” instead of putting it in the “it just must be random bucket.”…

Now let me reverse that. Same question: what do you think the biggest misperception that many women have about men and dating is?

I think honestly there is a dangerous assumption that a lot of women have — and we would never usually say it out loud, but it’s in there. It’s this idea that we women think we’re really the ones who are good at relationships. We women kind of think we’re really the ones with the interpersonal skills. We honestly think when we see something that we don’t understand or something that makes us upset,”He just has to learn to relate better.” What I’ve learned is that the way that men are wired to relate is totally legitimate. It’s just totally different. We don’t have to make them relate the way we do.

Well that’s good news.

That assumption can be very damaging because if women subconsciously are thinking, “He needs to learn to relate the way I do,” we’re trying to make him into a girl and men just aren’t wired that way. So both of us, both men and women, can learn some of these really key things and realize the way the other person is wired is legitimate, it can be understood, and I don’t have to be confused all the time.

Now, here’s one a little bit out of left field. What’s the biggest thing that men tend to misunderstand about themselves?

Honestly, one of the biggest things for men relates to one of the things that I said in the For Women Only book. It’s a surprise to women to hear this about men and it’s actually a surprise to many men as well. A man’s most important need, his primary emotional need in a romantic relationship, is very different than a woman’s. We as women, we want to feel loved and cherished and that’s kind of what we think of the whole point of having the relationship. It’s a big surprise to find out that according to my survey, men would actually give up feeling loved if they could just feel respected — if they had to. That is one of the big things that is misunderstood by both sides because what happens is that we’ve developed this cultural idea that respect has to be earned. So, love is supposed to be unconditional, but respect has to be earned. Guys think that, too, and so there is this huge emotional need in a man that we’re basically saying is illegitimate. There is this need that he has to feel respected, regardless of whether he is doing the right thing all the time. So, it’s a powerful thing for both a woman and a man when they learn some of the signals and the signs that a guy is feeling disrespected.

Like for example, one of the biggest signals for a woman to sort of recognize and see it when it happens is anger. A guy who’s feeling like she just does not respect me or she doesn’t trust me or he’s feeling belittled or whatever — he is likely to get angry or he’s likely to shut down, kind of withdraw. That’s a big signal like a flashing red light for a woman to look deeper; there’s something important going on here.

For most men that’s a huge “A-Ha” moment for them, too. That’s, “Oh my gosh, that is why I got angry.” I could never put my finger on it before, but that’s exactly what it is.

Let’s reverse the question. What do women tend to misunderstand about themselves and dating? The biggest thing?

One of the biggest things for women is that underneath the surface in a woman, there is something that we’re sort of told is not legitimate as well in our culture. There’s this underneath the surface question of vulnerability inside of women that’s basically wondering, “Would he choose me all over again?” It’s really an insecurity under there. We’re told that we’re supposed to be strong, confident women. We’re not supposed to care about those kinds of things in our relationship. We’re supposed to be independent, just fine without you, thank you very much.

Instead, what we actually found, is despite what we feel like we’re supposed to need — that 80% of women on the survey said that no matter how confident they were, no matter how good a relationship that they had, no matter how independent they were, that there was still this underlying insecurity — you know, does he love me? Will he still love me?

It may be completely latent. It may be underneath the surface, but when it’s triggered by something, it rears its ugly head and that’s a big deal for men to know. It’s also really important for women to know because it is almost a liberating thing when you’ve been told that this is not how you feel and you find out that 80% of other women feel the same way. It’s like, “Oh, okay — I guess that’s a legitimate need that we women have.”

It can be summarized as a statement that I’ve heard, I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve heard it, “You know, even though I feel like I’m supposed to be this strong independent woman, when my husband and I are at odds, it’s like nothing is right with the world until that’s resolved.” So, it’s important for women to feel empowered to say that and it’s even more important for men to be able to learn the signs of that so that they recognize women are not wired the way they are. Men get married and a switch flips and they never really question whether their wife loves them. It just doesn’t come up.

Right, because they got married. That tells you all you need to know. She wouldn’t have married you if she didn’t love you, right?

Yeah, exactly, exactly, the marriage papers are signed. It’s like that terrible old joke, “Why do I need to tell my wife I love her? I told her that if we married, if anything changes, I’ll let her know.” The reason for that sort of awful joke is that’s kind of how guys actually feel. Like, “Why is this in question?” They don’t realize that there is no switch in a woman’s brain that gets switched to the feeling permanently loved position. Women need to know every day that he would choose them all over again.

Now, what do you think is one of the biggest marriage or relationship-killing things that men do?

Probably withdraw. For men the feeling of being inadequate or incompetent at something, or clumsy, or not knowing how to address something, is an extremely painful feeling for a guy. Women don’t realize because that doesn’t really bother them all that much. It’s like just deal with it and move it on. But, men don’t know how to handle that feeling that they’re failing somebody. They don’t know what to do about it and there is a natural tendency to withdraw and to be passive, not step up to the plate.

I’m just going to go sit in my garage, do my workbench, and hope that by the time dinner comes around, she has forgotten about it. That’s probably one of the biggest issues that ends up causing problems because she needs to be reassured that you still love her. At the very time that she’s most needing to feel reassured, he is most feeling inadequate and so he withdraws.

Now let’s reverse that. What’s one of the biggest marriage-killing or relationship-killing things that women do?

Probably try to control, because we don’t understand. We women are helpers, man. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard a woman say, I was just trying to help, you know. We don’t recognize that there is something in us often that kind of switches suddenly, but in a man’s mind especially, it’s not perceived as trying to help, but trying to control — trying to have things done my way again…

We can be critical without realizing that we’re being critical. We can say things and do things that he takes as a total lack of appreciation or respect and never intend it. That’s the biggest point of this whole thing, by the way, that we found in both of the books and all of the research that we’ve done is that the vast majority of these relationship-killing things truly are unintentional. They’re truly misunderstandings. Just a lack of recognition of what the other person most needs. …We would never want to not be the person that they need. We do want to be the person that they need. We just don’t know what that is often.

Last question for you, there are a lot of men and women I’ve seen around the net who seem to have almost given up on the opposite sex. You get these bitter jokes and angry comments. The men think the women are gold diggers and not interested in them and rude. The women think the men are all sexist and they can’t stand them. What would you say to those people that have gotten so frustrated that they’re almost ready to give up on the opposite sex?

I do women’s conferences and my husband and I do marriage conferences all over the country and we see this a lot. What we say is, learn just one or two of these things. Don’t try to learn it all; just hear a couple of these things that you may not have known about what was privately going on in the other person’s heart and the other person’s mind and recognize that they did not have bad intentions toward you. Their motives toward you were not bad. They had good will toward you; they just didn’t understand.

If you don’t believe me, try it. Just try a couple of these things that we’re talking about — like, for example, stopping yourself from criticizing your husband, recognizing, “Okay, he knows he’s failed already and he doesn’t need me to point it out to him.” Instead, find something to affirm and say, “You know what, honey? I know you can do this; go for it.”

When the husband most wants to withdraw, he can give his wife a hug even though he feels like he’s going to be hugging a porcupine. If you try some of these things, you will see this incredible reaction from the other person and you’ll realize that they didn’t have these bad intentions towards you. They’re just different and that reaction that you get from them is going to be the best incentive to continue this sort of new path and to reevaluate your overall perceptions.

Outstanding, I really appreciate your time. Thank you!

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