Like men, women certainly want admiration and respect, but our deepest desire is to be loved. As the Chazon Ish, a prominent rabbi of the last century, wrote, "A woman's nature is to find favor in her husband's eyes." A woman's nature may also be to run big corporations -- I'm not suggesting anything limiting or demeaning -- only that love and accolades from our partner is what nourishes and sustains us and our marriages.
We may want our husbands to appreciate the clever way we negotiated that last deal or the creative way we redecorated the living room, but love trumps all. We'll forgive many minor transgressions if we have that sense of being treasured, of being cared for. And conversely, nothing is more devastating than the suspicion that we have forfeited our husband's good will.
Is there any limit to the amount of reassurance a woman needs? The wise husband knows that the answer is no.
Men may think "Didn't I tell her yesterday that I loved her?" "Didn't I take her out for our anniversary?" "Is there any limit to the amount of reassurance a woman needs?"
The wise husband knows that the answer is no. And the smallest oversight can lead to vulnerability and insecurity. A friend of mine in a wonderful marriage shared this silly but illuminating story with me. Her husband always behaves in a very chivalrous manner and walks around and opens the car door for her. Does she need him to? Certainly not. Does she even always like it when he does? Not really.
But the other night when he didn't…she reminded herself that he was tired. He pointed out that the door was already unlocked. She focused on the fact that they were desperately escaping a house full of over-excited and unusually demanding children. Yet she was still hurt and felt threatened. She still had to talk it over with her husband and be reminded that it wasn't a commentary on her marriage or her husband's feelings for her. And as trivial as that story may sound, I know she's not alone. I know she's more typical than not.
That's why Rabbi Aaron Feldman writes in his book, The River, The Kettle and The Bird, "It is unconscionable to give her even the slightest grounds for this suspicion."
Moving beyond this negative injunction, men need to constantly express and demonstrate their love.
Through gratitude. "Thank you for dinner." "Thank you for watching the kids." "Thank you for paying the bills." "Thank you for being there for me." "Thank you for brightening up my day."
Through praise. "That was a delicious dessert." "I like how you decorated the living room." "Our children are a real credit to you." "You handled that situation at work very diplomatically."
Through care and consideration. No matter how accomplished we are, no matter how many tasks we can accomplish on our own, we like to have someone taking care of us, looking out for us, (dare I say) protecting us. I don't need my husband to kill bugs for me (although I do prefer he handle the occasional rodent who mistakes our home for his!) but I do like him to assuage my fears and anxieties (call me wimp or call me honest) and I know I'm not alone. When Yaakov fears war with his brother Esau, he places his wives and children in a safer position near the back of the group. His wives are the mothers of the whole Jewish people. They've shaped who we are today. They had characters that we admire and attempt to emulate. And they took the protected position in the back.
Through really listening. There is nothing more frustrating than talking to your husband and feeling like he is a million miles away. Whether at the office or at the breakfast table, men have to make the effort to refocus when their wives are speaking. If it was an important business contact, you'd refocus pretty quickly; your wife is your most important contact of all. I used to repeat myself over and over until I finally got a response. I've learned to say it once and then ask immediately for feedback, "Did you hear that idea or should I say it again?" Women want to be seen (and complimented on how they look) and desperately need to be heard.
Through clear words and eye contact: "I love you."
And through physical affection.
An aspect of feeling loved is feeling desired. It's Marriage 101 that if your wife asks you if she looks fat, the answer is ALWAYS no. Even if she's expecting triplets! There is NO mitzvah of honesty in this situation. But more than that, while "You don't look fat" is certainly better than "You could use to lose a few pounds," "You always look beautiful to me" is best of all. "No matter what you weigh, I'll always find you attractive" is also good. And don't stop there. "I like the way that dress looks on you." "Those are great colors." "That's a good style for you." Even an appreciative smile goes a long way.
Because a woman's desire is to be loved, criticism can be overwhelming. It's hard for women to be objective and see a piece of "helpful advice" as one small part of a generally loving picture.
For most wives, one piece of criticism from their husbands makes them feel like the rug has been pulled out from under them.
For most wives, one piece of criticism from their husbands makes them feel like the rug has been pulled out from under them, like their foundation is shaken. If a small lack of attention makes a woman feel that her marriage is at risk, how much more so a harsh, critical word?
Some husbands think it's their job to help their wives grow through constant, constructive criticism. Wrong. Not only will your wife not grow, she will be destroyed and your marriage will be too.
Once in a while (my husband hasn't found one yet!) there is a situation that needs to be addressed. It must be handled with love, gentleness and caring, and more love, gentleness and caring in order for a woman to hear the issue and be able to respond appropriately.
What do women really want? King Arthur of Camelot sums up the Torah position nicely. After he expresses his frustration that all his learning at the feet of the greatest magician, Merlin, hasn't taught him anything about marriage, the king sings, "The way to handle a woman is to love her, simply love her, merely love her, love her, love her."