The Women’s Guide to How Men Think (2014) is a guide for women to understand male psychology within relationships, and to help readers, both male and female, to improve their intimate relationships.
- Always think “individual-first” instead of generalizing to “all men” or “all women”
- Good men care about relationships and want to make you happy
- But most men are different than most women, and those differences can create some rifts
- You can learn to get along better if you learn more about typical gender differences, traits, and possible issues (plus, about your partner’s specifics, of course)
Intro: Individuals Differ
The author knows that too many people read about “general tendencies” and (mis)apply them to the whole population.
That’s a mistake, because the individual always trumps his gender, group, nationality, or whatever background he might have.
The man you might be thinking of is a unique individual, not a statistical average.
Smith encourages the readers to always look at your specific partner first, and to listen to him more than you listen to anyone talking about general principles.
He is right.
Still, I also believe you can learn much from a book like this because chances are that your man will share at least a few commonalities with all the other men.
It’s A Book About Good Men
Smith says he writes about “good men”.
Who are good men?
Good men are dutiful men. They want to be effective in their lives, their careers, and their relationships.
“Good men need to be effective”, says Smith and, later on, he adds that he is talking about “good men with strong male natures”.
Good Men Want to Devote Themselves to a Woman
Smith says that men must have a purpose, or they lack a sense of direction in life.
And albeit most men are loath to admit it, I agree with him when he says that, for most men, dedication to a woman is the highest purpose for many men.
We men can find our purpose in many places—work, play, camaraderie with other men—but nothing scratches that itch quite like devoting ourselves to a good woman.
Sure, not everyone is the same.
And some men might want more freedom than women, while some other men see sex as a conquest (see: types and psychology of players).
Historically, men might have had more of a penchant for multiple partners but, quoting research from David Buss, Smith says that men desire lifelong partners as much as women do.
In short: few men are players, and most of them want to devote themselves to a woman.
Men Can Work Overtime As A Sign of Love, Albeit It Might Not Seem So
Men feel the pressure to provide and get resources.
By devoting ourselves to that which provides resources, we’re indirectly devoting ourselves to the ones we love because we’re advancing their survival too. Whether or not it’s perfectly logical, this seems to be inborn in men.
As Smith says, many women would prefer to have more time with their men rather than making some more money and never see them.
But men still feel the pressure to work hard.
That’s why some men will work longer hours even if spending more time at home will make everyone happier -men included-.
Men Also Feel An Obligation to The Team
Albeit men want to support their women, they also feel an obligation towards the team.
Men indeed have more of an innate “team mentality” and, contrary to women, they cooperate even more when their group is in competition with other groups (Van Vugt, De Cremer, and Janssen 2007).
This means that, if the company needs him, your man feels compelled to be there and help.
We desire that intimacy, but we also want to be a cog in a larger system.
Men Can Find It Difficult to Drop Their Emotional Guard
One of the biggest challenges for men is allowing themselves to be emotionally exposed, which includes talking openly about needs and desires.
He says socialization is partly responsible for it, as boys who show vulnerability are teased, ridiculed, or punished.
Those lessons aren’t necessarily bad, but they might come with some downsides.
For example, men tend to over-hide what they consider “weak” emotions such as sadness and swap with anger, humor, or withdrawal (also see: stonewalling).
Some of the issues deriving from the lack of men’s emotional awareness:
- Men can sense when they aren’t pleasing women, but don’t often know what to do about it
- The rule of stoicism prevents men from approaching women when they’re worried, hurt, or frustrated
- Men sometimes lack the training or willingness to put words to thoughts or emotions
- Men tend to put some emotions behind secondary expressions like anger, humor, or withdrawal
- Depressed men are more likely to hide depression with anger or alcohol, and the more they do it, the more fearful they are of negative emotions (Greene and Addis, 2012). That fear of emotions can trap men from finding more effective solutions
- Men can get lost when expectations shift in the relationship because they are not good or are afraid of communicating about the relationship (I remember my first relationship when I was so annoyed by my girlfriend’s want to always talk about the relationship, and me avoiding all the time)
Some Men Can Feel Inadequate Because They Think Women Want It All
We know that you women are watching us, and we want to impress you. Unfortunately, we think you’re only interested in the perfect man.
When it comes to money and resources, most men tend to overestimate how important money is for women. That can lead them to over-work or to feel inadequate.
And when it comes to muscles, it’s pretty much the same: even muscular men tend to think that women want more muscles.
On average, anything women can like, men tend to overestimate its importance.
It’s that same old wiring: we aren’t sure what you want from us, so we figure we can never have too much of a good thing.
Fix Relationships With His Male Nature In Mind
Most relationship counseling is woman-centered.
My profession doesn’t help. Psychology is a word-based endeavor. We repair relationships mostly by talking about them, and we tend to impose that on men.
That doesn’t mean men can’t improve their communication skills: they can, and should.
But a better approach is to understand both sides, with both partners taking steps towards each other.
Men also often assume that relationship problems are their fault because they’re taught that the female way of relating is the correct way. But, again, understanding both sides is a better approach.
In extreme cases, psychological counseling can hide hostility toward men.
We Form Pair-Bonding Because It’s Good For Both… But We Pick Each Other Poorly
In spite of some areas of sexual conflict, the general rule is that relationships are good for both men and women.
But we pick each other poorly for a few reasons:
- The qualities women are drawn to during courtship aren’t necessarily the qualities they want in a long-term mate
- The qualities that are attractive during courtship can become irritating when the flip sides of those qualities reveal themselves
- The confidence trap: women want confident men, but men are only confident around women they don’t care about
As an example for number 2, the intelligent woman he admired can annoy him when she intellectualizes and wins arguments.
And the industriousness she admired during dating can hurt her when he chooses office over family life.
Strong & Vulnerable Men Are The Sweet Spot (But Are Rare)
There are few men who can embrace and talk about emotions while also being strong.
That can create some issues in relationships.
Many men worry that the woman in their lives will find them unattractive if they show vulnerability, whereas she may feel that vulnerability builds intimacy.
And here is what a female responder’s to Smith’s survey say about men who are either strong or sensitive:
“Men who are strong and ambitious are frequently arrogant and sexist. They certainly don’t want to deal with the emotional terrain of a relationship. Nice guys complain that they never get ahead, but they rarely ask for what they want. Sensitivity and guts seem to be mutually exclusive.”
How to Improve Your Relationship
Here are some common issues you can fix:
Ineffective Strategies Women Use
- Time-traveling: women are “pattern” oriented, that’s why they bring up old events. But to men, that feels like an unfair attempt to win the argument and make them feel bad
- Not forgiving him: some women are fearful that if they stop remind him of his mistake or the pain he’s caused, he will do it again. But if you don’t let go, you will harm your relationship. Endless retaliation for past mistakes also makes you look bad in the eyes of most men (I can attest to this)
- Punishing him for talking: don’t shame when he finally talks, but make him feel good for doing it
- Expecting him to read your mind: no, mind reading isn’t the proof you’re meant to be together. Nobody can read minds.
- Avoiding solutions: your man will propose some solutions when you just want to be heard. Don’t be angry. Sometimes, take one of those solutions
How to avoid relationship quicksand
Relationship quicksand for Smith are what “vicious circles” are for John Gottman.
Here are the steps to overcome them:
- Be someone your partner wants to be around: difficult times are precisely when it’s most important to be the person our partners fell in love with
- Don’t forget basic respect: when angry and while arguing we might say things that come back to hurt us, and that will harm our relationship for a long time. Also read: meanness in relationships
- Respond to primary emotional reactions
- Create a pattern escape hatch
- Accept peace offerings: any acts of caring during turbulent periods are great opportunities to seize on and rebuild goodwill
- Don’t assume he understands: some subtler signals you think are clear might not be clear to him. In doubt, be clear
- Rebuild intimacy
- Seek couples therapy: men can be intimidated by couples’ therapy. Makes it easy on them explaining that he’s not going to be framed as the bad guy
Concrete steps you can take
- Let him please you: don’t forget that men love to please women. They feel ineffective if they don’t. if they see no way of pleasing you, they give up
- Give brownie points: yes, men crave your appreciation
- Be specific when you express your needs: give him exact pointers on what he can do to help you and the relationship
- Weigh his actions as much as his words:
- Understand his silence: they are not a way to punish you, it’s the man’s way of stopping a fight
- Be intimate: Smith stops short of advising women to have more sex. He just says that it’s important for men to have sex, and that it’s also helpful to the relationship
- Acceptance: if you’re pushing him to change and he doesn’t change, try to tell him instead that you accept him as he is, that you will do your best to be a good wife, and that you hope you will do the same
- Go at the roots of the problem: watch out for relationship dances, for example, the “demand/withdrawal”. It’s all too easy to focus on the immediate pain and miss the root cause
Women Hold a Lot of Power Over Good Men
This is not something Smith says, but it’s something you can glean both from what he says, and what the men wrote in his survey.
How do women hold power?
Because good men want to provide and protect, and want to make the woman in their life happy. So women end up being an important point of reference for men’s need to be effective.
If the woman is not happy, or criticizes him, the man feels like he is failing in an important realm of life.
One of them wrote:
“When a woman is proud of you for doing something well, it’s a wonderful feeling. I don’t mind working twelve hours a day, but like a good dog, I appreciate a scratch and a ‘good boy’ at the end. … It sometimes annoys me how much I still want my wife’s approval, even though I’m successful at work and in other areas.
That’s pure judge power right there (see: “soft power“).
And also see:
- Men respond to social and physical dominance in a similar fashion: That gives us the ability to establish dominance without violence, since losing an argument affects our perception of dominance the same as losing a fight (Watkins, Jones, 2012)
- Social status makes men more cooperative: the existence of recognized social status and hierarchies decreases conflicts and fights, and makes men more cooperative (ie.: status is a good thing)
- Men fish for compliments: for men, their women’s approval is so important that they sometimes fish for compliments. Women can either fail to realize this, or find it unnecessarily annoying
- Make sure he has a way to please you: if you want him to spend more time with the family but you often criticize him when he’s around, he feels he can’t win. Men who feel they can’t do anything to please their partners stop trying
- Women underestimate the power they have on their men: female happiness is very important to men. When she is upset, men are also upset
- Men think about sex more often than women, but not by a large margin: A person’s openness to sex more accurately predicts the frequency of their sexual thoughts than does their gender (Fisher, Moore, and Pittenger 2012)
- Men better in larger groups, women better in smaller groups: both genders are social, but in different ways. Women excel in small groups with intimate relationships, men larger groups with looser relationships. Men also prefer larger groups and are better at solving problems within larger groups, while women do better in pairs (Benenson and Heath 2006)
- Some men hide their feelings even during sex: the emotional can make the woman feel used, while instead, he is just being overly protective of himself and over-abiding the stoic rule of “never showing emotions”
- Men and women care equally about relationships, but in different ways: it’s not true that women care about relationships (Simon and Barrett 2010), but women are more concerned about whether it feels secure, while men zero in more on problems
- Men seek to impress women: that goes all around, even during intimacy and sex. Smith says that men’s brain is less about sex, and more about a big marketing device to win women’s affection and admiration
- High-value men treat their women better: they use less violent mate-guarding techniques and are more likely to provide value-adding benefits to keep her happy and in the relationship (Starratt and Shackelford 2012)
- Men are more interested in numbers: women are equally good with numbers, but they are just less interested (Ceci and Williams 2010)
- Men are quicker to forgive
- Men experience emotions as intensely as women, but actively work to suppress them: it’s a good skill to have for certain activities, but it makes men less educated about their own emotions
- One case of correlation / causation
Smith says that men who join gangs have more sexual partners because of status (that they apparently gain by joining the gang).
But this is a chicken or the egg kind of situation, and we don’t know if those men would have had more partners even if they had not joined gangs.
- Women complain that men who earned their love become risk-averse?
This one left me baffled.
Many women complain that once men have earned their love, they become risk averse.
Do women really complain about that?
I think some men grow complacent, stop trying hard, and become more “housey”, staying more at home.
But it comes somewhat as a surprise that women would complain about men becoming risk-averse.
Lots of good research to back the author’s claim
- Great author, high in knowledge, experience, and critical thinking
Shawn Smith is my type of author: intelligent, well-read, has plenty of experience, does not over-generalize, and adds research and evidence.
When you have those traits, you are bound to create great work, which Smith does.
- Practical and effective
Many relationships would improve if more women (and men) read books like this one.
On men seeking female affection:
Maybe you’ve seen one of those cartoon diagrams of a man’s brain in which most of the brain areas are labeled “sex.” Those cartoons might be more accurate if they depicted a man’s brain as one giant marketing firm designed to earn the affection and admiration of women.
On women’s changing preferences during their cycles (and on not overstating the differences):
I don’t want to overstate the matter. It’s not as if women prefer Rocky Balboa on Tuesday and Mr. Mom on Friday. The effects are subtle, which is why men and women probably don’t notice them on a day-to-day basis. Plus, it’s possible that some people are essentially unaffected by these ancient drives.
Women want both bad boy and altar boy, and many men are actually both:
Do women want the bad boy, or the altar boy?
It seems (…) both, but not necessarily at the same time.
(…) It seems that we men are wired to give you both. (…) Bad boy when we’re trying to win you over, and the altar boy after we win your love. Another way to put it: we show off our more masculine, Fonzie-like traits when we’re trying to earn your love, but we switch to reliable Richie Cunningham mode once we have a relationship (and possibly offspring) to protect.
On the importance that men keep their word:
Some of the happiest, most relaxed women are the ones who know from experience that their partner is a man who keeps his word, even on the little things.
On gender differences:
There really are no male or female traits; there are simply traits that one gender, on average, possesses in greater quantity or uses differently.
“The Women’s Guide to How Men Think” is a wonderful book.
It helps women to better understand men, get along with men, and develop better relationships with men.