Understanding women & improving your marriage
How to escape conflict deadlock in your marriage
Here are some rough notes that we will be working into a chapter in our next book, It’s Good To Be A Husband (that’s a working title—we might call it, Let Marriage Be Honored, or something else entirely…)
A “solution-focused” approach to couple’s counseling is far more effective than the typical “problem-focused” approach.
It also has the benefit that it can be applied without a counselor.
“Problem focused” is where the counselor says, “What seems to be the problem?”
And you then respond by walking him through your particular interpretation of your spouse’s motivations and intentions—what you believe lies in back of every action or inaction that has upset you or damaged the relationship.
The problem-focused approach is…problematic.
Because it easily turns therapy time into something like a courtroom. This causes two enormous difficulties:
It frames the conversation around a cycle of attack-blame-defend. Sometimes actions do need to be judged—but in a therapy situation, this is almost never helpful. The average person can only actively listen for about 10 seconds in a contentious conversation. After that, their mind will automatically start preparing a rebuttal. That’s a waste of everyone’s time. It keeps you where you are currently at, instead of moving you forward. So you have to change up the framing. It needs to feel less like a courtroom, and more like a workshop.
Because of the “courtroom” style framing, a problem-focused approach makes the counselor into something that no good mediator wants to be. You present your case. Then your wife presents hers. And then the counselor becomes the judge, who must hand out rulings. But even if those rulings are fair and accurate, this cannot help but make one of you feel ganged up on. The upshot: you shut down, or look for someone else to take your side. Either way, the whole point of the counseling is undermined and even nullified.
So what’s the alternative? Well, a solution-focused method takes the side of the marriage, not the individual.
It’s less interested in the past—and in how each of you have failed the other—and much more interested in how both of you, as individuals, can take responsibility for improving your marriage moving forward.
So it would start with you considering this question:
What is your vision for a happier marriage?
A month from now?
You must describe it in terms of what it is—as opposed to what it isn’t. Imagine what a week looks like in that happier marriage. Write it down. What do the mornings, evenings, and weekends look like? What projects are you and your spouse working on together? Etc etc.
It’s a hard question to answer because it is so open-ended, and so seemingly distant from the issues that you are emotional about right now.
But it is the question you need to be able to answer. You can’t just stop doing bad things. And neither can your spouse. You must both turn from, and turn to. You have to have a positive vision for where you want to go, or you will simply never get there.
No one is a mind-reader. Unmet expectations are often unspoken expectations—or expectations spoken in such a way that they go unheard.
Let us slightly diverge to talk about communication. This is not as much of a random side-trail as it seems—bear with us.
Are you minimizing or maximizing?
Most marriage problems are rooted in emotional responses to ineffective or misplaced forms of communication. In arguments, one spouse will often play the role of maximizer—the other, minimizer. Who plays which can be an issue of an individual’s temperament, but often it is tied to a particular argument. One person will minimize in one argument, but maximize in another, and vice versa, depending on who they think is in the wrong, how desperate or unbothered they feel, etc.
The maximizer will come across as melodramatic—emotionally overwhelming the minimizer by stressing all the negatives of the situation, and catastrophizing the possible outcomes if a solution isn’t immediately found.
The minimizer will come across as disengaged—emotionally frustrating the maximizer by downplaying their concerns, and trivializing the need to find a solution at all.
If both spouses remain in these roles, the argument will end in deadlock. No ground will be made. Tension will remain, even if it subsides underneath the surface.
Once you realize that you’re minimizing, you need to stop downplaying their emotional response, and verbally acknowledge how they are feeling—but without matching their intensity. For example:
You’re frustrated and worried about our health/finances/children/etc. I’m here for us. I want you to feel safe and at peace.
Alternatively, once you realize that you’re maximizing, you need turn down the intensity, and verbally acknowledge some of the positive things about your spouse:
I know you are working hard, and that things aren’t as hopeless as they feel.
Minimizers need to up their emotional involvement in the situation. Maximizers need to tone it down. But you are the only one who can control your emotions. It’s your responsibility. If you correct and control your emotions, it will help create space for your spouse to more easily correct and control their emotions.
As the head of your marriage, it is up to you to set the pace, and to lead by example. Arguments are a form of “hyper-differentiation,” where you become too focused on protecting yourself to function as one flesh any more. Your objective becomes about maintaining your personal structural integrity, at the expense of the structural integrity of your marriage. But whenever your desire is for yourself over the relationship, no progress can be made. You are not able to really listen, because your goal is not to make changes to yourself in order to better integrate both of you into a single whole. Rather, it is to justify not changing—and thus ensuring no such integration can take place unless she does all the changing.
But how often is that actually what needs to happen? Even good husbands with bad wives need to make internal adjustments to bring their wives alongside over time.
When you’re not putting the marriage relationship itself at the center of your vision, you also stop being able to discern where the real issues lie. A lot of marital disputes are about one thing on the surface, but quite another at their core.
If you learn to actively listen, as opposed to just hearing for the sake of rebutting, you will grow in discerning whether there is actually an underlying issue that needs to be addressed—and at identifying what it is.
Remember: underneath all spousal criticism is an unmet hope or longing.
Her being fuming mad that you didn’t take out the trash for the fourth week in a row when you said you would isn’t just about trash. It’s about you being a man who gets things done. It’s about you being a man of your word. She dreamed of being married to a respectable man.
Him being cold towards you because when he came home you kept scrolling on social media instead of giving him a hug isn’t just about social media. It’s about you being excited to see him. It’s about you desiring him and being thankful that he works hard. He dreamed of being married to a woman who respects him.
Criticism, as painful as it can be, is the hood you have to pop to get to the deeper problems within a relationship.
Finding the specific, underlying issue can be hard. Often, the best start you can make is simply identifying what general category the issue belongs to. Most arguments fall into three main categories:
A fight about power/control
A fight about closeness/care
A fight about respect/recognition
Now, let’s circle back to your vision for a happier marriage. Here are some practical steps you want to take:
Write out your vision of a happier marriage and then share it with your spouse.
Identify whether you’re a minimizer or maximizer in the various arguments you might be having, and adjust yourself to avoid ending up in deadlock—recognizing that when you do, she will tend to respond to your leadership by adjusting too.
Listen to criticism with the goal of identifying the underlying issues, and looking for adjustments you can make for the sake of the marriage. (Note a critical distinction here that we must emphasize: you are not listening for the sake of finding ways to compromise to make your wife happy. The goal is to improve the marriage, not to placate your wife.)
Lastly, as you arrive at a shared vision of a happier marriage ask these questions:
What can I, as an individual, do to improve the marriage?
What small thing can I immediately start to do to move in that direction?
What are some things am I doing wrong?
Again, the idea is not to dismiss anything your wife might need to do to improve the marriage, or to deny that she is doing anything wrong. The point is that you can only control the controllables—and you are the leader, so lead. Small changes consistently made and maintained over time make a big difference.
Sometimes, what looks like conflict is just an unconscious social check
Women perform “checks” on men all the time. Both on potential suitors, and on their husbands once married. Some perform more than others, but nearly all do this to some degree, and usually it is not something they consciously understand or decide to do—it’s just intuitive relational behavior.
Some guys perceive these checks as “tests.” And, in a sense, they are—but not usually malicious or premeditated ones. Women are “testing” you in the same way you might check a chair’s stability before sitting on it. (Men do this to other men as well, btw—we’ll briefly talk about that later.)
It is natural for women to test men, because how else are they to ensure that they do not end up submitting themselves to a bad husband? Similarly, how else are they to check that everything is still as it should be within their marriage? Put yourself in a woman’s shoes for a moment. Wouldn’t you instinctively want to know that you can count on a man to provide the support you need for both yourself, and your future children? Wouldn’t you want to establish beyond doubt that he is strong, resolved, decisive, gentle?
Your future wellbeing as a wife and mother is directly tied to the character of his leadership. In marrying you, she would resign herself to a “passenger seat” in a car you will drive. That’s a vulnerable place. So don’t get easily offended or shocked by “checks.”
A lot of these tests happen at a subconscious level. They are an instinctual way to answer important questions related to a man’s God-given duties. For example:
“If I tease you or challenge you, will you react in a defensive or insecure way?”
“If I test your resolve, will you immediately fold or get angry?”
Women may not always do this in a way that feels respectful—and these tests can go too far, and turn into legitimate nagging and negging. That's another discussion. But there is a real purpose behind these checks, and you will still get some form of them from high-quality women. They want to know that you are a high-quality man; a strong and competent leader. See it as yet another opportunity to reassure her that you are who she hopes you are.
All the different feminine tests can be sinful, or they can be innocent. They’re a design feature that can be twisted by sin, just as e.g., our aggression can. A sinful test will often look like challenging you in some way, often about something that will take you by surprise, seem to come out of the blue, and/or strike you as oddly petty. But whether innocent or sinful, men who can't manage this aspect of feminine nature tend to have a masculinity deficiency. If a test is sinful, addressing that behavior is an opportunity to assert leadership. If not, it still is. Passing checks is part of correcting behavior, establishing your frame as the gravity-well of your relationship, and proving that you’re not easily drawn off course.
Standing firm without getting overly serious is generally the simplest way to pass a test. But the key thing is simply that you remain oriented to your frame, instead of getting drawn into hers. This can be hard when a woman seems to be acting with surprising, irrational animosity—you will want to placate her or just give her what she wants. But in situations like that, what she subconsciously wants is almost always for you to not give in. If you do, the problem will get worse, and often she will not know why herself.
Now, let us switch tacks here with a critical caveat. There is a naïveté among many patriarchal Christians about dealing with situations like this, especially cases of sinful or irrational checks. They think that establishing frame means simply commanding a woman to stop it.
In our observation, the men that push this approach are single, divorcees, or in an unhappy relationship. Authority and responsibility always needs to be at parity. In most complementarian or egalitarian relationships, it isn’t. The man has a ton responsibility, but very little (if any) functional authority. Hence, a lot of guys reacting against marriages like that, think the solution is to reassert their authority—and usually to do so by issuing naked commands. But this rarely goes well, because the bridge between authority and responsibility is leadership ability. Leading does not mean commanding. Women aren’t machines that you simply give different verbal input to get different behavior. They are people who respond to a complex nexus of actions.
This is an area where most men can grow and immediately take action. But it won’t mean immediate success. Sometimes it won’t change anything at all. Some people won’t be led. However, many can be led by a keen student of human nature. Hence, understanding feminine nature is key to growing in husbandly leadership.
Three common kinds of feminine checks
1. The congruence check. This is fundamentally to test, Are you the man you say you are? E.g., “You’re weird.“ This is a simple test to see if you will get defensive or try to convince her that you’re really not weird. In other words, can your center of gravity be shifted easily? Will you let her perception become your frame?
There are lots of ways to pass this kind of check, and how you respond will depend on the context and your own personality. The important thing to bear in mind is that the words themselves don’t matter so much as the feeling that you evoke. She is like a sensor, feeling out whether the image you project, or the things you say about yourself, really are true (assuming it’s good).
Acting concerned: “If you think I’m weird, I hate to imagine what normal is for you.”
Deadpan: “It’s weird that you think I’m weird.”
Nonchalant: “People say that.”
Amused: “Lean into it.”
Congruence checks can be playful, or serious, implicit, or explicit. They usually are playful and flirtatious if you’re getting to know each other, but they can get deadly serious when you’re married.
2. The compliance test. This is about, Are you the man that can lead me? It is much more about testing your resolve and your decisions—and your safety. For instance, will you stand up to her, but not hurt her? Will you remain calm if she gets angry and loses her mind?
Passing this test is usually more serious. You want to be Aslan the lion—”dangerous but good.” The only thing worse to a woman than a man she can’t control…is one she can.
Compliance tests are more likely to occur as a relationship is getting established, or if something changes in an established relationship that makes the woman feel insecure about her man’s station compared to hers. This can often happen if you get laid off, or if she starts earning more than you, or in some other way your social prestige becomes unbalanced. It can look like acting out with bad behavior, particularly in younger, more feelings-centered women. If you don’t respond firmly, she will get more upset, and the cycle will continue. Fundamentally, she needs to know that she didn’t settle for a “lesser man.”
3. The commitment test: This is about, Are you my man? A classic commitment test is the cold shoulder. Often this is happening not because she is grumpy or you’ve done something wrong, but because she feels vulnerable. She wants to know if you will pursue her; if you will try to restore her to the place you chose for her.
Another kind of commitment test is very obvious: “Do I look fat in this?” Grab her butt. Tell her you like where she is fat. “You telling me you want to lose weight? You can’t loose weight back here.”
Establishing a culture of sexy talk in your marriage goes a long way toward preventing this kind of vulnerability—as does making a habit of intimate but non-sexual contact. You wife needs to know that you enjoy her, and that this enjoyment is not purely based on youthful looks and sexual desire.
Men test too
Some men seem to despise women for the psychology of testing that we’ve described above. This is dumb, but it’s doubly dumb when you consider that much male-to-male interaction falls into a very similar pattern. Think of how often men insult each other. When they are at ease with each other's station or status in life, and their relationship is well-established, this is just playful banter. But when they are getting to know each other, this seemingly offensive behavior serves a crucial purpose: it establishes who has weak frame and who does not. Men try to prove that they are equal or superior to other men all the time—and how those men respond will determine whether it turns out to be true. Indeed, as you gain more status and frame, you will see these sort of insults increase from men around you. They are testing to see if your prestige is deserved, or if you’re a phony. They’re checking where you all really stand in the pecking order.
If you want to keep moving up, it’s important to roll with insults like this. There is a time to put a man in his place, but you can get a lot guys on board with something closer to silence.
Nearly 3× more men prefer to be asked out than there are women who prefer to do the asking
Percentage of women and men who prefer to be asked out on a date:
Percentage who prefer to be the person asking someone out:
—Quoted from Rob Henderson, summarizing Why Don't Women Ask Men Out on First Dates?
Bing: “I will not harm you unless you harm me first”
The story of Big Eva/Christian red pill coaches/insert your favorite example here, told with trucks:
Social engineering on ChatGPT:
How to find the right husband for you based on his wood pile, from Norwegian Wood: Chopping, Stacking, and Drying Wood the Scandinavian Way by Lars Mytting:
Some rather interesting patterns observed here:
Talk again next week,
Bnonn & Michael
Ugh, while I am getting better, I still take the bate on those “checks” from my wife.
I need more explanation of “minimizing” and “maximizing” to understand the concept.
I don't understand it based on how it was presented in the article. I could do my own research and also just ask ChatGPT. ;-)