Freud may have asked in perplexity “What do women want?”. We don’t claim to be able to tell you what all women think but we can tell you what many Jewish wives want based upon our tradition, research and our years of counseling couples.
The Talmud tells us that a woman prefers less money and being with her husband to more money and being without him. But what does a woman expect from her husband?
Pay Attention! Wives want attention from their husbands. When you come home from work, regardless of whether she works inside or outside the house, she wants, she craves, your attention. Some men seem to have trouble understanding this. They seem to think that attention means grunting from the other side of a newspaper covering their faces, or saying “u-huh” while checking emails or texts on a smart phone or watching television together (where he falls asleep, snoring loudly).
Attention means giving your wife your real focus. It means looking at her and even looking in her eyes. (You do remember what her eyes look like, don’t you?) The Talmud (Baba Basra 99a) explains that when the Jews fulfilled G-d’s will the two cherubs on top of the Ark in the Temple faced each other like two lovers gazing into each other’s eyes. We have found that if couples look in each other’s eyes, this by itself can help a relationship. Your wife wants to feel important (you do too, even if you don’t admit it). It is up to you, husbands, to show with your presence, real presence, that your wife is important.
We understand that this is a problem for some men. After all, looking deeply into the eyes of your male friend could get you labelled as strange. It has even been suggested that historically men faced their enemies and sat or worked next to their friends. Thus, husbands, you have a historical excuse for not looking at their best friends, their wives. But that excuse will not keep your wife happy. Indeed, if you accept the historical hypothesis, it also argues that women need men to face them because women were used to facing their babies and define facing people as part of intimacy. On this issue (as with most others) it is better to do it her way.
Men, remember dating, when you could not get enough of her, when you craved every minute and everything felt great? What changed? One thing that changed was you. When you were dating, you made every effort to pay attention. Now, you don’t make an effort. You don’t value her every word, thought and emotion as you once did. And if you don’t, don’t wonder about why she has cooled to you.
The Talmud tells us that 9/10 of the words were given to women. A rabbi complained to his daughter that she seemed to be using more than her 90%. She explained that the Talmud said women got 90% of the words. It did not reveal who got the other 10% That 10%, she suggested, was split between men and women. Thus, women got 95% of the words. It may seem as if women got more than even 95% but regardless of the number of words, if you want a great marriage, you need to listen.
The Talmud commands a husband that if his wife is short he should bend down and listen to her. Baba Metzia 59a. That is, do what it takes so she feels heard. Let her speak. She wants to talk (and maybe even talk, and talk and talk). Husbands, let her talk and you listen. Don’t solve her problems. Don’t interrupt. And most of all, don’t criticize.
Rabbi Reisman offers a case where a wife does not backup her work on the computer and it is all lost due to a computer crash. The husband could respond by reminding his wife he told her to back up. But the right response is, according to Rav Reisman is “Oy, you lost your work.” A little empathy goes a long way.
Some men seem to think they can avoid listening by leaving the scene or ignoring their wives. Believe us, every man who has been married for any length of time learns that this is a losing tactic. If you ignore your wife or leave the area, you eventually will find that you will have to listen to your wife for at least twice as long. First, she will want to discuss why you left. Then, she will want to discuss the topics that she wanted to discuss originally. And you will be lucky if the conversation is half as pleasant as the original one would have been.
Just listen and empathize. This idea has been beaten into the ground since Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus but some men still don’t get it. Women talk. They give, what seem to men, endless and irrelevant details while the man just wants to get to the point. But for the woman, the sharing is the point.
A refusal of the man to listen can create dramatic problems in a marriage. Sarah told us that her husband Mark never let Sarah talk without interrupting her. The word “never” seemed so extreme that we didn’t believe it. We had the couple practice five minutes a day of Sarah talking and Mark just listening. Mark couldn’t do it. He interrupted Sarah even when they were doing this exercise. No wonder Sarah felt so disrespected.
Remember, G-d gave you two ears and one mount so you would listen twice as much as you speak.
Women demand reliability. For women, it is a scary world. Guys, ask yourselves, where was the last time I felt physically threatened? Probably not recently. Yet, women perceive life as full of threats. That dark parking lot, empty street or walk in a deserted park can seem scary. And women get pregnant. No matter how tough they are, pregnancy tends to make women dependent.
Research shows that women have a greater sensitivity than men to threatening situations. Moreover, in similar, stressful situations women feel fearful while men feel angry and women will feel even more fearful when the situation arises again in the future.
We were shocked when we asked audiences at our sessions how many women and how many men felt physically threatened during the last month. Virtually every woman raised her hand and virtually no men. So women are physically insecure and need to know that their man is there for them.
Women understood well before the research that the reliability of a husband was important in child rearing. Studies now show that fathers are a critical factor in the health and success of children. When fathers are not involved with their children, there is a five times greater likelihood that kids will live in poverty, a three times greater likelihood that they’ll fail in school and a two times greater likelihood they will have emotional and behavioral problems, use drugs, get involved in crime or commit suicide.
Women, even modern women, expect that they and their children will be protected and cared for. Today, wives want a husband to give her the feeling he is trustworthy. Studies show that trustworthiness looks like: “You are who you say you are and you do what you say you are going to do. It’s about reliability, accountability and showing up…” Yet, we see otherwise good men fail this mission repeatedly.
Every day, Nachman would text Chava with the time he was coming home from his office. And every day, without fail, Nachman was late. And we are not talking ten minutes late. Nachman could be hours late as the dinner got cold and Chava’s temper got hot. Nachman (and so many other Nachmans like him) simply act as if they cannot be on time. Husbands leave their children waiting to be picked up on street corners in the heat and cold for half hours. We are shocked when the husbands don’t understand why the wife thought this irresponsibility is a “big deal.”
Husbands, if you want a happy wife, be there for her and the kids when you say you will and show up investing your whole self.
Next week-more on what women want. And men, don’t worry. You will get your chance.
 Fisher, H, How to Build Intimacy in Your Relationship, October 2009, available at oprah.com/relationships/building-intimacy-gender-differences-in-intimacy.
 We understand that this is not scientific evidence and perhaps men feel a sense of peer pressure not to raise their hands. However, our experiences are interesting as they confirm the scientific research done by others. See, Gottman, page 29
 National Fatherhood Initiative, Statistics on the Father Absence Crisis in America, www.fatherhood.org/media/consequences-of-father- absence-statistics
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