Editor's Note: The following is a report on the practical applications of Paula Rinehart's book, What's He Really Thinking?: How to Be a Relational Genius with the Man in Your Life, (Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2009).
The men in your life – fathers, sons, brothers, husbands, boyfriends, employees, friends – aren't just women with big feet and beards. They're completely different from women, and understanding them can often be a challenge. But once you get to know the male psyche, you can start enjoying mutually fulfilling relationships with them.
Here's how you can better understand the men in your life:
Recognize your influence with men. As a woman, you have significant power to inspire men to become the best people they can be. Much of what they realize about themselves comes only as they work at relationships with women. If you focus on encouraging the men in your life, it'll be like holding up a mirror to them so they can see who they are and who they can become. If you recognize men's potential, your encouragement can motivate men to claim their potential for themselves.
Understand what men do. Pray for the perspective you need to see and appreciate what each man uniquely does in the world and in your life. Get to know men's missions and how they try to live out those missions every day in their work – both paid work through their jobs, and volunteer work through their relationships and service.
Show them respect for working hard to overcome the challenges they face in their work. Keep in mind that men often communicate that they care about you by taking action on tasks (such as mowing the lawn) than by using lots of words (such as writing an eloquent love note). Thank them for the ways they try to communicate love to you – even when they do so in ways that aren't as meaningful to you as they are to them. Let men know that you notice and appreciate their efforts.
Understand why men hurt. Men most often feel hurt when they don't think that others are respecting them. They've been wired with a deep sense of needing to affirm their adequacy. So let men know that you believe they have what it takes to face the world and do well. Be aware that men's confidence is tied to their sexuality; so if you're married, your positive responsiveness to your husband will powerfully increase his confidence level. Get to know the life stories of the men in your life to come to realize how their prior experiences (such as distant relationships with their fathers) may have contributed to the hurt they feel now.
Talk and pray with the men you're close to about their fears. Respect their particular challenges. Be patient with them without excusing bad behavior. When men are irritable or withdrawn, don't take it personally because it may not be about you. Support the men in your life, and discuss your own struggles and loses with them so they can better connect to you. Ask God to use your relationships with the hurting men in your life to help them along the healing process.
Understand how men change. It's often through their relationships with women that men connect their heads with their hearts so they can best make positive changes in their lives. When you're concerned about a particular issue, speak up about it – without getting upset – and discuss it rationally, holding your ground about what's important to you. Say "no" to a man in your life when: you believe that your relationship with him will suffer because you're putting up with something that's harmful to you both, or when you sense that your "no" could open a door in his growth that probably won't open if you just continue to go along.
Aim to motivate him to wrestle with an issue that could eventually bring some deep changes in his life. Help him discover that he truly has what it takes to overcome the challenges he faces and change for the better.
Live with the right expectations of men. Keep in mind that your expectations of any man must be grounded in the way God made him. Each man has his own particular mix of strengths and weaknesses. Ask God to help you accept each man in your life as he actually is rather than as you'd like him to be. Get rid of unrealistic expectations of the men in your life. Remember that all men are fallible human beings, and that only God can reliably meet all of your needs.
But just as you shouldn't expect too much from men, you shouldn't expect too little, either. Don't hesitate to ask men for the strength and perspective and support that they should give. Be aware of what you need but also open to what God brings into your life through men. Let yourself expect the best of what God has put in men, but be prepared to deal with disappointments along the way by turning to God, who will never fail you. Place all of your hopes ultimately in God.
Give men respect. Pray for the ability to see and appreciate what each man in your life has to offer in unique and valuable ways. When men know that they have a vote of confidence from a woman, that knowledge motivates them to do their very best at whatever tasks they're pursuing. Keep in mind that a man feels respect from a woman when she:
solicits his opinion or perspective as though he might have something truly unique to offer; expresses her confidence in him by asking him to do the hard thing that is also the right thing; has sex with her husband; refuses to attack his character, even when he has failed her or others; realizes her vulnerabilities and values his protection; can name her own mistakes and her need of him; allows him to occasionally offer a solution to a problem she considers vexing, thereby exploring some possibilities she might not have otherwise; and believes he can come back from failure or defeat. Let yourself need a man, even when he's failed you in the past. Let your husband or boyfriend know that what he brings to your life – his perspective, presence, and support – can't be replaced by anyone else. Don't try to rescue him from the pain in his life; let him experience it because God may want to use it to help him grow. Even when you don't agree with him on certain issues, keep verbalizing your respect for him as a person as he tries to grow. Invite him to look up in search of the God who made him as he reaches inside for what God has put in him.
Manage conflict with men wisely. View conflict as an extended dialogue through which you all can make gradual progress understanding each other better and solving problems while strengthening your relationships in the process. Pray for the strength to forgive the men who hurt or offend you, just as God has chosen to forgive you. Remember that forgiveness is an ongoing process, not just a one-time event. Every day, ask God to help you keep your heart open to following His command to forgive others.
When you argue, don't say harsh words or use stonewalling tactics. If you're not making progress in your discussion, call a time-out, pray and get some sleep, then revisit the issue within the next two to three days. Aim to talk about an important issue a bit longer and deeper each time you discuss it, without either one of you freaking out.
Remember that anger is always a secondary emotion; it's caused by another emotion that lies behind it. Figure out what's behind your anger and the anger expressed by the men in your life. Avoid contempt (which often shows up through critical remarks, smirks, and eye-rolling), because it will prevent any progress in your discussions and seriously damage your relationships.
Get through to men. Create emotional safety in your relationship with men that allows you to talk about challenging or hot-button topics effectively. Give each other plenty of kind words and affection. Remember that you always have more to learn about any man, no matter how long you've been in a relationship with him. Be humble and willing to explore new angles to issues and new potential solutions to problems.
Instead of trying to read a man's mind, ask him to explain what he means. Validate a man's thoughts and feelings even when you don't agree with him; so he'll feel respected enough to continue to explore new possibilities in his relationship with you. When having a difficult conversation, structure it like this: First, share something you value or appreciate about the man, or express empathy with him. Second, make a specific request or deliver some news. Third, try to return to something more positive to wrap up your conversation.
Build intimacy with a man. Rather than focusing on what should be or could be in your relationship with a man, focus on what actually is right now and aim to enjoy it as fully as possible. Savor the simple moments you share, like a laugh over something amusing or a delicious meal together. Accept and figure out how to accommodate the differences between you and your man, so that you can complement each other well. Just as Jesus has accepted and welcomed you despite your flaws, aim to do the same with your man. When you do, God's glory can shine through your relationship.
Rather than expecting your man to somehow make you happy – which he can't do – realize that you can be as happy as you choose to be. Pray for the right attitudes and the ability to make the right choices that will lead to your own happiness. Keep in mind that the relationship between you and your man isn't just about your comfort or ease; God is using it to accomplish greater purposes. Ask God to help you see the big picture of what He's doing with your relationship so you can fully treasure the moments you have together.
Adapted from What's He Really Thinking?: How to Be a Relational Genius with the Man in Your Life, copyright 2009 by Paula Rinehart. Published by Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, Tn., www.thomasnelson.com.
Paula Rinehart has touched women's lives through writing, speaking, and ministry for more than 20 years. Her private counseling practice includes clients who are men and couples with a focus on personal growth and intimacy with Christ. Paula and her husband Stacy have two grown children.
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