While it happened long, long ago in Twitter years, once upon a time there was a Gillette advertisement that tried to characterize toxic masculinity and encourage PC manhood. While it generated a lot of incendiary cultural dialogue, from a marketing perspective, I think it’s safe to say the ad backfired.
Many men were offended that it seemed to insinuate that males in general were sexist and violent. They felt it equated young boys roughhousing with sexual assault. They felt the ad shamed males for being male by portraying masculinity as inherently negative. R. Scott Clark did a brilliant analysis of why the ad was controversial on his site, The Heidelblog, and as his views encapsulate my own, I’ll cut to the chase.
What I want to address is the fallout from the advertisement. It became apparent that a large number of men in America feel undervalued, misunderstood, and unappreciated both by their culture and their families. They don’t feel loved, and many vented that frustration upon the razor blade commercial.
In hopes of unraveling some of why so many men feel undervalued, I asked my male Twitter followers, “What makes you feel loved?” Around 50 guys responded, and based on their feedback (and my own observations) I’ve compiled this list of ways to make a guy feel loved:
1. Know His Love Language
One of the first things I learned in early marriage is that I can express adoration for my husband all I want, but if I’m not expressing it in ways he understands, we have a fundamental communication problem. As a child I always felt loved by my mother when she made big dinners or gave me gifts. I was very surprised then to discover that Jason wasn’t sentimental about birthday cards or presents, and actually seemed disappointed when I transformed the kitchen into a disaster area.
At some point someone gave us a book by Gary Chapman called The Five Love Languages. In it, Chapman notes that we tend to express love in the ways we want to receive love. This is both helpful and problematic. On the one hand, we may be expressing love in a way that doesn’t communicate love to our spouse. On the other, by observing our spouse and noting how they express love to us, we can often perceive what makes them feel loved.
Chapman narrows love languages down to five basic pillars:
- Quality Time
- Words of Affirmation
- Acts of Service
- Physical Touch
While most people probably enjoy a combination of several of these, one in particular will speak clearest to your guy. My husband appreciates Acts of Service. Nothing speaks to his heart like an empty kitchen sink or a sparkling bathroom counter. He loves being able to come home, relax with me and the kids, and not have to worry about chores. And Jason is the type of person who will work into the night cleaning and straightening so I can enjoy a neat house the next day. Unfortunately, I’m not that great at housekeeping, and with three young children there’s always mess happening. Nevertheless, I make valiant attempts so at least he knows I tried. As they say, “It’s the thought that counts.”
2. Know His Stressors
Stress stresses relationships, so if you can relieve his stress, even in small ways, things usually become easier. You’ve probably already guessed what my husband’s stressors are:
Baking him banana bread muffins in our early marriage went over well until he saw the calamity I’d left in the kitchen. And I didn’t understand this at all. I grew up in a home of artsy packrats. Jason is a minimalistic mechanical engineer who appreciates symmetry and order. During our 12 years of marriage, I’ve learned that if I don’t have time to clear off the counters, if I at least arrange the clutter in a symmetrical row it doesn’t bother him as much. I’m also guilty of occasionally spraying Windex in the air so it smells like I cleaned something!
Anyways, one easy way to show someone you love them is to lower their stress levels insofar as it’s practical and feasible. My house is rarely pristine and our bedroom is a laundry war-zone, but it means a lot to my husband if I make an effort to reduce his workload and his stress levels.
3. Respect Him
In the famous Aretha Franklin song, the diva demands, “R-E-S-P-E-C-T, find out what it means to me.” In my conversations with men, I’ve noticed that – while everyone wants respect – they’ve all got a slightly different idea of what it means and how it should best be manifested. The simple dictionary explanation would be, “To esteem him and treat him with a sense of worth and value. To appreciate his better qualities, acknowledge his abilities and virtues, and make him feel accepted and deferred to as someone whose feelings, ideas, and opinions are worth consideration and acknowledgement.”
While some husbands couldn’t care less what color their wife paints the living room, others might be personally offended if they aren’t consulted. So, how you show your spouse respect – like love – is going to depend largely on his personality, wants, and needs.
We want to express respect to others in ways they understand. If our expressions fly over their head, we’ve got a communication problem and our efforts aren’t building our relationship or benefitting either of us. I know for some of my friends, respect means putting down the cell phone when he wants to talk, or blocking that flirtatious guy on Facebook. It’s usually common-courtesy-type things which we’d want for ourselves too.
4. Affirm & Appreciate Him
A lot of the men I heard from, even the ones who described themselves as “happily married,” felt they weren’t appreciated. They expressed that they work really hard, come home and help with chores, but nobody seems to notice or care. Whether that perception is accurate or not is almost a moot point. After all, if someone is appreciated, but doesn’t know it or perceive it, they won’t feel appreciated. And this issue links up with our first point of “Know his Love Language.” Most guys, even if their primary love language is Acts of Service or Physical Touch, need to be verbally assured that their hard work, accomplishments, struggles, and endeavors have been seen, understood, and appreciated.
5. Be Patient
I’ve learned that a lot of men feel stupid or inadequate because they can’t read their wife’s mind, fix all her problems, or accomplish all the tasks around the house. Several husbands noted that they feel ashamed that their wife needs to get a job in order to provide health insurance or cover the mortgage. Others were embarrassed that they weren’t very handy around the house and didn’t build patios or repair dishwashers.
Part of appreciating our husband’s better qualities is being patient with his real or imagined shortcomings. Being understanding when he truly doesn’t know why we’re irritated, or can’t find the ketchup in the fridge that’s right in front of his face, can go a long way toward building his confidence.
And of course, if his job doesn’t cover the bills or his kids can’t attend the pricey private school, Words of Affirmation and Appreciation can remind him that his value as a husband and father is not defined by a paycheck.
6. Give Him Space
As an extrovert, this one was hard for me to understand, and even offended me a bit at first. However, particularly if your guy is introverted, he needs the occasional space. Jason likes to close himself into his studio, play guitar for an hour, and just sort of mentally inhale. I think a lot of guys are like that. Quite a number told me they enjoyed escaping to their garages to tinker with a dumpy old car, saw wood, or brew beer. Speaking of beer, one boyfriend noted that it means a lot to him if his girlfriend brings him a drink while he’s working on his motorcycle. I’m guessing his love language is Acts of Service.
Everybody needs “me time.” Making sure your guy gets his can help him know you care about his emotional health and want him to relax and be happy. This is also a good way to let him vent excess stress from work so it doesn’t clutter and complicate your relationship.
7. Prioritize Him
All the above sort of feed into this one. Making sure he feels thought of, considered, and taken into account will go a long way toward making him feel loved. Several fathers noted that their kids had so many activities planned in the evenings, they rarely got to spend time as a family. Other husbands felt like their wives didn’t enjoy being around them; that they were default company when their wife’s friends weren’t available to chat or hang out. Sometimes our careers, social lives, and kid’s activities get so busy and hectic, we need to schedule time for our spouse and our marriage. Making him a priority – making your relationship a priority – is incredibly important.
8. Give Him TLC
Everyone loves TLC (tender love and care) so this one is a no-brainer. Male or female, we all appreciate it when someone gives us a reassuring hug, makes us dinner, puts our shoes away, gives us a backrub, or checks off that chore we’ve been meaning to do.
When discussing small gestures and minor behaviors, I like to use the analogy of an avalanche. A million little pebbles or a billion tiny snowflakes may make up an avalanche that destroys, buries, and sends thundering crashes for miles. Just so, our little words and minor actions can combine to either destroy someone’s self-confidence or build the foundation of their happiness and trust. We cannot underestimate the magnitude of little words and small actions. These things, in large quantity, have the power to either ruin or fortify a relationship and a person.
9. Ask Him?
Most guys hesitate to volunteer their feelings. Maybe they want to appear strong and impervious to sensitivity. Maybe they’re not sure how to put words to their emotions, so they hold them in hoping whatever is bothering them blows over. Whatever the case, asking him how he feels about different people, ideas, and events is one way to show him you’re interested in him – that his thoughts matter to you.
Sometimes I’ll ask my husband, “What’s wrong?” and he says, “Nothing,” even though I can tell he’s stressed or tired. However, even if he’s not up for explaining what he’s going through, at least he knows I’ve noticed and I’m there for him. Usually I later find out it was something minor, like he forgot to pick up a propane tank for his grill on the way home from work. Nevertheless, questions open up conversations, conversations contribute to communication, and communication builds relationships.
10. Let Him in on Girl Talk
As often as it seems like men tune us out, I was recently surprised to learn my husband secretly likes it when I chatter his ear off. He likes being in-the-loop regarding my friendships, latest Twitter kerfuffles, and what’s going on in my writing career. He likes being my go-to person to confide in.
Sometimes, I find that the things I consider mundane or “girl talk” are exactly the sort of personal things that make a relationship more intimate when shared. He wants to be my BFF, even if he’d never in a million years phrase it that way. He considers my innermost thoughts, no matter how trivial or emotional, to be a privilege, and he wants that privilege. He wants my trust and confidence.
We could probably write a whole book of ideas on how to make our men feel loved. However, for the purpose of this blog, I’ll leave you with these 10 thoughts. I hope you find them helpful as you build your relationship and encourage that special guy in your life.