Monday I wrote a piece on Respect, and Friday’s post will be along the same theme, which got me thinking about a very simple but vital concept to understanding Men, which is the way we experience romantic love.
When anyone falls in love at first they find themselves in an intense all-consuming emotional experience, which is usually called by psychologists “passionate love.” Passionate love is wild, beautiful, and sensual. It stands on its own without need of support, and has very few conditions. During the “honeymoon period” of passionate love, you are often blind to the behaviour of your beloved in a lot of ways. Passionate love, simply doesn’t last, however. Between six months and a two years into most relationships it dies down and is replaced by the more mature compassionate love.
Compassionate love is less intense; it never has the same high as passionate love. Compassionate love is what lasting relationships like marriages are built on. If it is nurtured, it grows and intensifies over time. If it is neglected, it can cause a relationship to wither. The way your partner treats you, along with your own expectations, determine how well that love survives.
There are fairly significant differences between the way most healthy men and most healthy women experience compassionate love. We need different things from ourselves and our partners in order to sustain and grow our loving feelings.
For Men there is a Tripod of three things that are needed for Compassionate Love to thrive: Emotional Nurturing, Respect, and Sex.
These are the Acts of Love that make us feel warm and cared for. They are often very specific to each person. NLP teaches us that most people have a few very specific acts that fill us with a feeling of being loved. These acts help us feel like we belong, are wanted, and needed.
For me, getting my back scratched, long drawn-out kisses, and compliments about how clever I am suddenly fill me with warmth and a feeling of wholeness. For my wife it is making the bed for her, writing her love letters, and telling long rambling stories that does it.
Women often use the code-word “Romantic” for the acts that fill them with a sense of emotional Nurturing. When a woman asks a man to be “more romantic” she is asking him to do the little gestures that make her feel filled with the same sense of being cared for.
Emotional Nurturing also includes listening to one’s partner’s feelings and giving them validation for them: letting them know that they have been heard, and that their feelings matter.
While the need for emotional nurturing like this is universal to both Men and Women, its importance isn’t. For Women this sort of Nurturing is very important, without it, compassionate love will wither very quickly. For Men, it is not at all the most important element of compassionate love; our culture teaches Men that we have to work long hours as a provider, away from their wife and family in order to be a good Husband and Father. We are taught to sacrifice the feelings of love our family can give us so that we can show them that we love them in more material ways.
Men often feel a yearning to get more emotional nurturing, but our culture has created a lot of barriers in the way of asking for it. In fact our body agenda itself works against it: when a man is presented with a new child in the family his every instinct tells home that he needs to become a better provider: to bring in more food and comforts.
We are reaching a point for the first time in our culture where men are being given the opportunity to choose to be emotional nurturers (and emotionally nurtured) rather than providers, but cultural taboos have put up very strong barriers. Many men express a desire to take Paternity Leave, for example, but few actually do so. Men who do take time off to nurture their family or act as Stay-at-Home-Dads are often shamed for being “Tom Sawyer Husbands” and depicted as a drag on the family. Interestingly, Stay-at-Home-Dads and House Husbands are more prone to heart disease and digestive illness.
This strange relationship we have with emotional nurturing also means that we often mistakenly put it low on our list of priorities. We forget how important it is to our wives and girlfriends and allow it to be put by the wayside. We often forget that those emotionally nurturing gestures are so important to us until we need them the most, we both forget to ask for them and forget to give them.
We also can give the impression that we don’t care about these gestures. But love for men is a tripod, and if emotional nurturing disappears entirely from our lives, the tripod collapses, and our compassionate love disappears with it.
The best advice for a man or woman about this part of the tripod is this: find the magic buttons for your lover. Rediscover the four or five things that you do that really make them loved. Odds are that you did them when you were in passionate love, because you do everything you can to make that person feel loved during the passionate love stage; but in the compassionate love stage we don’t try to do everything all the time. Our habit is to do the things that make us feel loved and assume that the other person feels the same way. If you find out the things you did at first that made the person really feel loved and repeat them, it will work wonders for your relationship.
The second leg of the tripod is respect. Men need to feel as though their efforts as a lover, provider, protector, and caregiver are wanted, needed, and appreciated. The default for Men in our culture is to feel unwanted and unappreciated. Our families, our romantic relationships, and our work are the only places where we have an opportunity to feel as though we matter to someone.
The roles of provider and protector from the old models of masculinity, and the sacrifices they demand say a lot about how our culture constructs masculinity. We are willing to sacrifice a large portion of the Emotional Nurturing our relationships can provide – however much we want it – so long as we still are respected. A Man is willing to put in 60-hour workweeks and barely see or connect with his girlfriend or spouse because he has been taught that doing so is showing his love in the best possible way. He will miss out on having the emotional yearning he feels met, in exchange for knowing that his efforts are needed and wanted – that they are met with gratitude.
If a man doesn’t feel respected for the hard work he puts in to provide and protect his loved ones, the tripod comes crashing down hard. The sacrifice of emotional nurturing suddenly seems like a bitter loss, and he can question whether he has been loved at all. If things are not going well at work, he can feel as if his life has lost meaning or value. Because he gives so fundamentally of himself, he can feel violated.
Respect not only has a different place in most Womens’ model of love, it often is measured and valued in a totally different way. The very meaning of “Respect” has been in flux for women over the last forty years, and takes on new meanings every decade or so. Quite often it has more to do with validating her emotions than it does appreciating and showing gratitude for her efforts. The effort to “provide” for a family also has totally different meanings, and because of that, the way a Man puts in effort to provide sometimes is valued less by her than it is by him. This shows up a great deal when couples discuss division of chores and childcare duties. It is especially problematic once children are in the picture and couples are keeping score according to totally different rulebooks.
The book The Bastard on the Couch edited by Daniel Jones exemplifies the ultimate problem. Men believe that the effort they out into their job, their fix-it work at home, long commutes, stress, and chores outside the home (like yardwork) ought to be counted based on the toll they take and the sacrifices they demand… but are hardly counted on the scoring system most women use. Women value volume of tasks over their difficulty or time intensity. Going to work and doing your job is one task, it gets one point. Doing everything it takes to care for a young child often counts as a dozen. Women are also taught to think of a career as a privilege or a quest for self-fulfilment, for a man it is a necessary sacrifice. Because of it, trying to appease a woman, especially one who is taking care of young children is an impossible task: it will never be enough.
For men looking to gain more respect from women in their lives it is hard to give solid advice. The best thing to remember is that you are looking at things through two different lenses that our culture helped create. If you feel disrespected it is probably because what she does to show you respect doesn’t feel like the kind of respect you want; you may not even recognize it as such. Clear communication really is the only way to make sure you are getting what you need.
For women hoping to enhance their loving relationship, there are two things you can do. First is to accept the kind of respect he is giving to you. Attempts to give you a day off, telling you how much he appreciates what you do, and “helping out” are respect as he understands the idea. If you have trouble doing this, you should also tell him how respected you feel when he just listens to you talking about your feelings without trying to fix them.
The second is to remember that in his mind, the long hours he works, the disgusting and dirty jobs he does around the home, and things like yard-work are all done out of his love for you because they mean a lot to him. Let him know that you appreciate what he does, and that you understand it is a lot. This will go a long way to nurturing his love for you.
Just like Respect, Sex means very different things for most Men than it does for most Women. The more I talk to couples and participate in forums where they discuss their issues the more I see this difference coming forward.
This is a very large entry on its own, and could take a long time to work through. Sex means different things to a man who is having a fling and a man in a committed relationship. When it comes right down to it, Sex in a committed relationship is a form of communication for men: it is a very complicated subset of the Art of Speaking in Silence that is so fundamental to their way of engaging the world. When they make love to a woman, they are presenting their innermost thoughts and feelings, their needs and fantasies, their personal secrets to that woman.
While a woman may be able to talk out their deepest darkest secrets in words, that does not work for most men. Verbal communication of their feelings simply isn’t real enough. Sex allows a real, tangible connection through which they can be heard and felt. And when a woman willing receives, she is telling him that she accepts him and everything about him openly and lovingly, even the rough, ragged, and insecure parts. When a woman initiates sex, she is telling the Man that she wants him unconditionally as a whole being. It would be like a man saying:
“Tell me everything, and hold nothing back. I want to hear about all of your feelings and secrets and dreams. I will listen to it all for you, and love it without judgement.”
Dr. Luara Schlessinger in her book The Proper Care & Feeding of Husbands rightly observes that sexlessness is to many men what Silence is to many women. If you are a woman imagine if a man you loved refused to speak or listen to you for several weeks, and you will probably get a fairly good idea of how important sex is to a Man’s sense of being loved.
Naturally, when sex stops, the rest of the tripod of compassionate love begins to fall apart. A man simply cannot feel respected by someone who won’t communicate with him, and the gestures of emotional nurturing he might receive, however tender are lost under a loop of feelings of desperation, frustration, and rejection.
What this means to Men is very straightforward. If you want your relationship to last, you have to make sure that a woman feels safe enough, loved enough, and comfortable enough to have sex with you. Communicate, nurture her emotionally by pushing those buttons, and do your best to let her know that you are committed to her. It also means that you have to work hard to stay the sort of man she wants to have sex with. That means learning a little Game, working out, and being firm.
It also means that if the sex is drying up, that it is not necessarily because she doesn’t love you. Remember, Sex is something different for her, and there is something going on that is keeping sex from happening. Find out what is bothering her through communication, and again apply a little Game.
For women this is even more straightforward. If you want to keep a man in love with you, you have to keep the sex coming. Do not hold his sex life hostage, or trade sex for his agreement to do something for you. If something he did is making you angry work it out fast before you are tempted. If you choose to work out your problem by withholding, he is within his rights to leave you and find someone else.