Q: I have often wondered why women seem to need romantic involvement so much more than men. Why do you think emotional coolness is a greater problem for wives than for their husbands?
A: An unknown portion of this romantic need in women is probably related to genetic influences implemented by the hypothalamus region in the brain. Beyond this, the characteristic features probably result from differences in early experiences of girls and boys. The entire orientation for little girls in our society is toward romantic excitement. It begins during the preschool years with childhood fantasies, such as Cinderella dazzling the crowd (and particularly the Prince) with her irresistible charm, or Sleeping Beauty, being tenderly kissed back to consciousness by the handsome young man of her dreams. While little boys are identifying with football superstars and gun-toting cowboys, their sisters are playing "Barbie Dolls" and other role-oriented games that focus on dating and heterosexual relationships. Later, the typical high school girl will spend much more time daydreaming about marriage than will her masculine counterpart. He will think about sex, to be sure, but she will be glassy-eyed over love. She will buy and read the romantic pulp magazines ... not he! Thus, males and females come to marriage with a lifelong difference in outlook and expectation.
Why, then, are men so uninformed of this common aspect of feminine nature? They haven't been told. For centuries, women have been admonished to meet their husbands' sexual needs–or else. Every female alive knows that the masculine appetite for sex demands gratification, one way or the other. But a woman's need for emotional fulfillment is just as pressing and urgent as the physiological requirement for sexual release in the male. Both can be stymied, but at an enormous cost! And as such, it is as unfortunate for a man to ignore his wife's need for romantic love as it is for her to foreclose on his sexual appetite.
For the benefit of my masculine readers, let me restate my message more directly: Your wife is probably more vulnerable to your warmth and kindness than you have realized heretofore. Nothing builds her esteem more effectively than for you to let her (and others) know that you respect and value her as a person. And nothing destroys her self-confidence more quickly than your ridicule or rejection. If you doubt this fact, I urge you to conduct a simple experiment. At the breakfast table tomorrow morning, spontaneously tell your children how fortunate they are to have the mother whom God has given them. Without speaking directly to her, tell them how hard she works to keep them clean and well fed, and then mention how much you appreciate and love her.
Just drop these words casually into the middle of your conversation while she is scrambling the eggs. Her reaction will give you valuable insight into her emotional state. If she goes into shock and burns the eggs, then it has definitely been too long since you gave her an unsolicited compliment. If she flashes a mischievous smile and suggests that you miss the 8:05 train this once, you'll then know how to cure the headaches she's been having at bedtime each evening. But if she fails to notice your comments, you must recognize that she is in critical condition and can only be resuscitated by taking her on a weekend trip to a nearby resort, at which time you will have flowers, candy and a love letter waiting in the selected motel.
How long has it been since you consciously attempted to convey respect to your wife?
Dr. James Dobson is founder and president of Focus on the Family.