Editor's Note: Do you need sound, Biblically-based advice on an issue in your marriage or family? Dr. David Hawkins, director of the Marriage Recovery Center, will address questions from Crosswalk readers in his weekly column. Submit your question to TheRelationshipDoctor@gmail.com.
Exactly one week ago I started a men's group at my counseling office. It seemed like overnight I had a group of men, all in similar circumstances, needing a place to talk and eager to participate.
If you know anything about men, eagerness to sit in a circle and share their emotions is not generally high on their list of evening activities. Most would rather be golfing, watching television, working and puttering around in the garage. Sitting with other men spilling their guts simply isn't their idea of fun.
Why were these men all of a sudden willing to pay money to do something they would rather never do? Their motivation, I can assure you, doesn't come from an inner longing to be a better person. They didn't come because they've been reading self-help books and wanted to talk about their convictions. I'll share my observations.
One man had been left by his wife of thirty years and was struggling to save his marriage. He was willing to do anything I suggested which might make her return to him. Another had been married for only four years—it was his second—and had been told three weeks earlier that his wife was leaving, but would give their marriage a chance if he would change. He's desperate to understand what is going on, but feels utterly confused. She shared how her husband's anger, blaming and immaturity were too much for her to tolerate any longer. A third man had been married for close to ten years to this second wife, and while she was not threatening to leave, she had been telling him how frustrated she was with his behavior.
The other four men joining the group were all in similar circumstances and were ready to participate in the group. Their wives are all in the background issuing threats that unless there is substantial change, they will be leaving. These other men, like the first three, want to save their marriage but are unsure about how to do it.
As you read this article, you may be in one of three camps: you are a man in a similar situation, a woman considering ending her marriage, or know of some couple facing this tragedy. There is an epidemic of women leaving men, all feeling similar feelings, thinking similar thoughts and engaging in similar actions.
While these are global observations, let's consider some obvious conditions that must change.
One, men must not wait until their marriage is in a crisis before taking action. Men feel desperate and powerless when facing a crisis because they've let problems mount for far too long. If we take a more active interest in our mate, listening for signs of trouble early on, we won't be faced unaware with challenging circumstances.
Two, men must be interesting, exciting partners in their marriage. There is no coasting in marriage. Men tend to seize the prize—their mate—and then become dull and boring. Women want to be pursued throughout the marriage. They want to feel like a princess, worthy of being dated, dazzled and dreamed about.
Three, men must offer their mate a soft place for her feelings to land. Women want relationship, and much of the relationship hinges on the world of feelings. Men must offer an understanding ear to their mate, learning to reflect, empathize and validate their mate's emotions.
Four, men must learn the language of feelings and relationship. Men can not sit back and learn about feelings and relating through osmosis—we've got to pick up the books, pay attention in the Marriage Seminars, and attend counseling to learn more about this world.
Five, men must be interested in their mate for more than simply physical affection. Women want men to understand that physical affection is a natural byproduct of intimacy—or "into me see." When men pursue women only physically, they feel cheapened and degraded.
Finally, men must provide emotional and spiritual leadership. Women aren't attracted to men who are simply tough. They want a man who can be tough and tender. They want a man who will provide emotional and spiritual covering and protection to her. Scriptures gives us an important mandate: "Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers." (1 Peter 3:7)
So men—are you willing to step up to the challenge? Let's discuss this issue. Tell me what else women want men to know, and what men want women to know.
Dr. David Hawkins is the director of the Marriage Recover Center where he counsels couples in distress. He is the author of over 30 books, including Dealing With the CrazyMakers in Your Life, 90 Days to a Fantastic Marriage, and Saying It So He'll Listen. Dr. Hawkins grew up in the beautiful Pacific Northwest and lives with his wife on the South Puget Sound where he enjoys sailing, biking, and skiing. He has active practices in two Washington cities.