Cracking the Code of Female Behavior
About the Guest
Having a hard time figuring out the woman in your life? Then join us as author Shaunti Feldhahn coaches men on female behavior and unlocks the mysteries of the fairer sex.
Shaunti FeldhahnShaunti received her graduate degree from Harvard University and was an analyst on Wall Street before unexpectedly becoming a social researcher, best-selling author and popular speaker. Today, she applies her analytical skills to investigating eye-opening, life-changing truths about relationships, both at home and in the workplace. Her groundbreaking research-based books, such as For Women Only, have sold more than 3 million copies in 25 languages and are widely read in homes, counseling centers...more
Having a hard time figuring out the woman in your life?
Cracking the Code of Female Behavior
Bob: If you’re a husband, you’ve probably heard at one point or another in your life that sometimes your wife doesn’t want you to fix things, she just wants you to listen. If that hasn’t made any sense to you, listen to author and researcher, Shaunti Feldhahn:
Shaunti: The analogy that I often use is “You know how you twist a rubber band, you keep twisting it and twisting it, and it gets all kinked up and it becomes really tight?” That’s what a woman is feeling all those dangling emotions—she’s all tight, she’s all tense. And what she needs to do is to talk it out and to have you listen to the feelings and say, “I’m so sorry;” and that’s the equivalent of unwinding that rubber band. And you’ll actually see her relax.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Wednesday, April 24th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. We’re going to explore today some of the ways in which women think differently than guys.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. Somewhere on my bookshelf I have a book that I’ve kept for years; and the cover of the book is like, “What’s really going on in the mind of a man”—or something like that. Anyway, you open it up, and all of the pages are blank. It’s just an empty book—
Dennis: That’s not fair.
Bob: —with that cover on it. But I thought it was kind of a—or maybe it’s what men understand about women. Maybe that’s what the book is. “What every man understands about a woman”—and you open it up, and it’s a blank book.
Bob: You think that’s a cheap shot?
Dennis: I think it is, but I think when I started out in our marriage over 40 years ago—
Bob: Pretty accurate?
Dennis: I did not—I really did not know what I did not know.
Dennis: I mean I was a rookie. I was a rookie in marriage. I was about to gain experience rapidly.
Dennis: I mean no doubt about it.
Bob: You were a rookie and a low draft choice at that, right? (Laughter)
Dennis: Number one draft choice for one woman.
Bob: For Barbara, that’s all that matters.
Dennis: Well, we want to talk to men about filling in the gaps about what you understand about your wife in a marriage relationship. And we have with us a woman who has totally educated her husband in knowing how to do this, Jeff. Shaunti Feldhahn joins us again on FamilyLife Today. You’re laughing, Shaunti. You haven’t achieved the objective?
Shaunti: No, he understands me great. I was just going to say, “It’s not because of me.” It’s because he’s become the student to figure this stuff out.
Dennis: And that really is the key. You have to become a student of your bride to really know how to best love her. She has written a book—actually, revised her best-selling book, For Men Only. And you’re taking another pass at this because men need all the help they can get in better understanding their wives, right?
Bob: And because you’ve found out some new things since you—
Bob: —wrote the book back in 2006?
Shaunti: Yes, it is truly fascinating to see how much we’ve continued to learn; and it’s not just how much men don’t know—alright?—but literally, there are some things that most of us as women don’t even know how to explain to our men, that I had no idea until I started doing some of this research that other women thought the same way I did.
Dennis: Well, review real quickly what your major findings were the first time—
Dennis: —when you helped men understand their wives.
Shaunti: Sure. The first one is this whole idea that there is no switch in a woman’s brain that gets flipped to the “Oh, I feel permanently loved now. Thank you,” position and that she needs to know and feel this sense of reassurance that he would choose me all over again.
The second thing that—to me, I’d love to cover as well here because we have updated the reason for it is that men are basically like a computer with one window open at a time; and you work on one thing, one thought, one feeling at a time and move onto the next. For us as women, we might have 10 windows open on the desktop of our minds and thinking about all these different things and can’t close out the ones that are bothering us.
Listening—guys think listening—you know they’ve heard, “Don’t fix it. Don’t fix it”—
Bob: Just listen?
Shaunti: —“just listen,” they’ve heard that. Jeff, you know he’s just an average guy.
Shaunti: He’s not a psychologist.
Shaunti: He always said, “I don’t know what that means.” He thought it meant, “I’ll let Shaunti talk until she’s done and out of words, and I won’t interrupt. Then, when she’s done, I’ll fix it.”
Dennis: I love what you said here: “Listening is the solution.”
Shaunti: Yes, and it’s a specific type, though, and that’s what I’d love to cover. It’s actually listening to her feelings--not so much about the problem itself, which is what guys tend to focus on--but the feelings about the problem. That’s what’s jangling her all up.
So, those are just some examples of some of the—we talk about the sex subject; we talk about all these other things too.
Bob: You’re really—when you talk about the listening piece, you’re really talking about the need that a woman has for a man to feel along with her.
Bob: When she’s feeling something—“Don’t just listen to how I feel, but feel it with me at some level,” right?
Shaunti: It’s “Feel it with me,” and basically, this sense of “Even if you don’t feel it with me, acknowledge that this is hard. This is how you’re feeling? Oh, I’m so sorry. Were you embarrassed when that happened? Tell me, how did you feel? Did you just want to fall into the ground and die? What was that like?”
We tell the guys, “Guys, you don’t have to stop being Mr. Fix-It. God’s made you Mr. Fix-It. That’s fine. Just do it in step one and step two, and step two is where you get to put on the Mr. Fix-It hat and go after the solution to the actual problem.”
Step one, listen to her feelings. Get all that out. Help her talk it out loud, and she’ll be all relieved. Then, she’ll feel heard and will be much more willing to sit down with you, side-by-side, and work on step two.
Bob: I’m believing you, but it’s by faith that I’m believing you on this one.
Shaunti: It’s by faith. (Laughter)
Dennis: Well, you say in your book that you want to help men break the code of female behavior. And here’s where you throw us a curve—women have this way of taking A+B+C=D today, okay? And it may be in an argument; and so, what Barbara needed me to do in that situation was just go listen, listen, listen, listen—“Okay, sweetheart, I really do understand what you’re feeling. It’s been hard, hasn’t it?” “Yes.” So, the rubber band is all released.
So, tomorrow comes around, and I do the same thing—
Bob: You tried to run the same play. (Laughter)
Dennis: Same play.
Bob: Worked yesterday.
Dennis: Okay? Okay, Shaunti. And so, I don’t fix it; and she goes, “Why aren’t you trying to fix it?” I go, “Wait a second. You changed the equation on me.” It happens in conflict. It happens in sex.
Bob: Can you provide some marital counseling for Dennis here on this issue, please? (Laughter)
Shaunti: Well, he’s like articulating the heart cry of every guy, “Help me out here,” because we women can look really confusing that way.
Dennis: Well, you’re the one who wrote about it in your book. You said you wanted to help us men crack the code of female behavior.
Shaunti: I think we actually said, “Crack the code of baffling, female behavior.”
Dennis: Oh, we did. (Laughter) That’s right. I’ve got that here in my notes. Exactly.
Shaunti: And see, okay, here’s the big picture—can we pull back just a little bit—big picture. What’s behind that question that you asked, if you don’t mind me kind of nailing this a little bit, is the assumption underneath that a lot of men have that women are just kind of random. And truly, this is what would help, I think, a lot of guys to realize, “If you are getting a different response, there is absolutely a reason.”
And it’s almost in a guy as if you had a computer and you were pressing the keys and you get the key “A”—and you press an “A”, you know you get an “A”. And you do it again, you press an “A”—and if you press it again and you get nothing or you get a “4”, you’re like—you don’t assume that’s just random, and you can’t do anything to fix it. You’re like, “Okay, there is something wrong with the keyboard,” and you reboot the computer. And you assume, “I can do something about this. I can figure this out.”
Whereas with women, you get the “A”, “A”, “A”, “4”; and you think, “Oh, she’s just being random. There’s no rhyme or reason.” So, you assume you can’t do anything about it—just leave her alone. You never do that with a computer, just leave it alone until it magically re-fixes itself.
And guys, if you will stick with it and look for the reason, you’ll see there is one. You’ll feel a lot more confident next time.
Dennis: Alright, here’s where Peter instructs me and helps me out a bunch. He says in 1 Peter 3:7 “Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.”
What I’ve learned with Barbara is in the pursuit of an understanding way—of living with her like that, okay?—is I’ve learned that there’s always a context for every response; and if I’m missing it, I’ve not truly figured out what the context of the day, of a phone call that occurred—maybe something she heard from one of our kids that discouraged her—and so, as a husband, you know we’re not married to a computer; we’re married to a person who really needs to be loved in the midst of doing life.
And I’ve just learned that if I’m getting a different response, there’s a different context that demands a different approach by me.
Bob: Well, and I think it’d be good for you to help us guys—just coach us. Okay, so, women have this complex and baffling behavior. We get that. Now, you offer some suggestions in the book on how to respond to that. What are you suggesting for us?
Shaunti: Well, one of the most important things for a guy, honestly—and I think for any guy who wants the five-step plan. It doesn’t necessarily work exactly like that, but pretty close.
One of the first things that you can do is actually say, “Okay, if she’s upset, let me just assume it’s not out of nowhere.” Assume instead there’s a reason. It’s from somewhere. That alone will help you out, right? Because then, you’re going to be like, “Move to step two.” “What’s the reason? What could be going on?”
If I assume that there is a reason for this, I’m going to keep looking. If I don’t see it, I’m going to keep looking. And that may mean asking her; and here’s the next thing that would probably be helpful is assume if she’s upset, for example, at least assume it could be something you did. You may not know what you did. It may not be something you did, but at least assume as a starting point. Dig in to it. “Did I hurt your feelings? Was there something that I disappointed you?”
And this is where I love to stop here for a minute and talk about what confuses guys in this because sometimes you’ll ask, “Did I do something?” and you’ll hear, “No, no, no. I’m fine.” And guys—this sort of playing games thing drives guys nuts.
Bob: We think you’re telling the truth when you say that. (Laughter)
Shaunti: Yes, right.
Bob: Imagine that we would believe that that’s the truth.
Dennis: There’s a way to say the word, “Fine”—
Bob: It doesn’t mean fine.
Dennis: It doesn’t mean fine.
Bob: That’s right.
Dennis: When it’s real short and crisp—
Dennis: —it doesn’t mean—
Dennis: —“I’m fine.”
Bob: You have some friends who were out on a date who uncovered this kind of principle you’re talking about where the guy needed to stop and go, “Maybe I did something here,” right?
Shaunti: Yes. Well, we’ve all been in a situation like this. This was actually a couple we were interviewing, and they were describing how he’s thinking, “Oh, great! We’re going out on this great date”—and she’d been working really hard on some stuff in his brother’s business and they hadn’t seen each other—“and okay, let’s have a nice date night.” They went to a movie, and they were going to go to dinner.
And he said, “On the way to dinner, can we just stop by my brother’s?” And she said, “Oh, okay.” “So, it’s just this 20 minute drive in this direction. It’s not”—“oh, okay.” And you know they talked to him for a little bit, and he told them all about this stuff that’s been going on in the business.
And they went to the restaurant—they were driving to the restaurant. And he’s like, “Okay, hey, honey, I know we need to be home by ten for the babysitter. Take the babysitter home. Where do you want to go to dinner? This evening is for you.” She said, “Oh, really?”
Okay, this is the first clue that he had that there was a problem.
Dennis: When the word, “really,” is really short—
Shaunti: Yes. So, he’s like, “Yes, it is.” And she was very quiet. She’d shut down. “Are you okay?” “Yes, I’m fine.” And he’s, of course, thinking, “What’s going on?” Then, he starts to get angry because he’s kind of feeling like, “This is totally unfair. Why is she ruining our nice evening?”
So, for the guy, he assumed, “This is just completely unreal. This is just stupid. This is unrealistic.”
Shaunti: Yes, this is—
Bob: It’s hormones.
Shaunti: “Why she just got upset about the fact that we stopped at my brother’s place.” Anytime a guy starts to think to himself, “This is out of nowhere,” stop and think to yourself, “Okay, Shaunti promised it’s not out of nowhere. There is a reason.”
So, for him, if he would have pursued that and said, “No, I can tell it’s not fine. Did I do something?” what he would have heard from her was that she had been looking forward for weeks to telling him that exact story that his brother had just told him about this big development in the business that she’d a lot to do with; and they hadn’t had a lot of time together, and she was looking forward to connecting over dinner instead of this little hurried, rushed thing because we’ve got to get home to the babysitter. And he wasn’t aware of that.
So, here’s what we tell the guys in this situation because everybody has been in this kind of situation, is that if he would have pursued it a bit further, he would have started to hear some of these things and what he would have realized is these signals that seem out of nowhere are actually a signal of an invisible need that she’s asking him to meet.
Now, guys often say, “Well, why didn’t she just say, ‘I’m angry?’” Now, okay, so let me ask the guys to put themselves in their shoes—and you guys tell me if you agree with this—but often, what guys tell me is if he were to say, “What’s wrong?” and she would have answered it straightforwardly, “I’m mad that you drove 20 minutes across town and I was looking forward to telling you that story,” he probably would have gotten defensive and angry like, “She’s disrespecting me. She’s being critical. This is”—and he would have started this sense of “Urggh.”
So, she on purpose didn’t say anything because she needed to know that he really wanted to know. So, in his mind, she’s holding back and playing games. In her mind, she’s been trained not to be straightforward with him, because when she is, he gets mad.
Bob: So a guy needs to think, “Maybe I did something here and I need to be open to that and I need to investigate and say, ‘No, I really do want to know. Have I done something here?’”
Shaunti: Yes, and continue to press a little bit on it.
Bob: But it may be that it has nothing to do with him, right?
Shaunti: Correct. It also could be just, again, context. You were—that’s a perfect way of putting it. I never would have thought to put it that way, but there could be something else going on. But still, this signal that you’re getting—this is a signal of a need she’d love to have you meet.
Dennis: Right, or some circumstances—
Dennis: —that occurred during the day that she didn’t have any control over. I mean we had six kids in ten years. I’d come home and Barbara had needs and she had circumstances. I mean both contributed to the context of where she was living, and she needed a husband to come in and in a sense rescue her—
Dennis: —for a few moments—
Dennis: —from the tribe. I mean they had her all wrapped up in ropes, and she needed an adult conversation.
Shaunti: And if you would have thought, “This reaction is totally out of nowhere,” what would have happened is that you would have—not that you would have ever done this, Dennis—
Dennis: Oh, I’m sure—
Shaunti: I’m sure you never would have done this.
Dennis: —I’m sure I did.
Shaunti: But if you ever thought, “This reaction of hers is totally unreasonable. It’s completely out of nowhere,” that sort of gives you permission to kind of back off and say, “Oh, I can’t do anything with it;” as opposed to, “Okay, no, they promised there is a reason for this, and I can look. Find it.”
Dennis: You had one thing—you had one additional element you added that I could only ask of a friend like you. You said another reason can be—
Bob: Yes, come on, let’s just say it. Hormones.
Shaunti: Hormones. Yes, there is that like—that is an area that—it’s still a reason.
Dennis: Oh, yes, it’s a reason.
Shaunti: It’s still a reason. It’s not, again, out of nowhere; but to realize there are some women who this is an issue for them. Work out something ahead of time like one of our good friends. He actually says, “Am I talking to my sweet wife, Lori, or to Helga right now?”
And they’ve worked this out ahead of time where she—they’ve said this because this makes her laugh.
Bob: See, here’s how we did it. We had the same code. I would periodically say to Mary Ann, “Is your back sore?” because often times when she was experiencing a little hormonal rush, she would get a little lower back pain. So, she’d be—
Shaunti: This was your code.
Bob: —in the middle of something, and I would just say, “Sweetheart, is your back sore?” And it was—now, if it wasn’t, I was in real trouble. (Laughter)
Dennis: I was getting ready—did that ever boomerang on you?
Bob: Times, but there were also times when it just kind of melted—
Bob: —exactly right there. She said—in her own mind, it was like, “Okay, I realize what’s going on with me. You realize what’s going on with me,” and we were okay at that point.
Shaunti: The key is to work that out ahead of time. (Laughter)
Dennis: So, one last question that I know a guy who’s listening to us right now is thinking—he’s going, “Okay, look, I’m a bottom line guy. Why don’t you ladies just come out, put it on the table, lay out there the reason for why it’s taking place; or is this some kind of mystery game or some kind of complex maze you want me to walk through?”
Shaunti: I’ll be honest. There is another reason there, which is that for a woman, especially one who has a doubt about whether her husband really does love her—that “Would he choose me all over again” thing—which he might think he’s a great husband. He may be a great husband; but remember, this is an insecurity that most women have.
Eighty percent of the women on the survey underneath the surface—“Would he choose me all over again?” And there is one way to find out without a doubt that he would choose me all over again and that he loves me; and that’s when I’m being unlovable or difficult that he pursues me. Now, that’s very unrealistic to expect most men to pursue Helga—to stick it out.
Dennis: I want to know where Bob went when Mary Ann said she had a back ache.
Shaunti: But we tell the men—I mean we say, “Look, when she is being critical and angry, often, it’s she’s upset. You think, ‘Okay, she’s upset. She needs space.’” Most of the time, women don’t need space; they need a hug.
We actually had a guy yell out from an audience in one of our marriage conferences, “You mean hug the porcupine?” You know? And the answer is “Yes.” And the women say that most of the time, actually, if you’ll do that, you’ll see what you think is a porcupine—you see the quills melt; and you’ll be very incented to continue doing that.
Dennis: And I want to just wrap our broadcast today by encouraging husbands who have not memorized one verse in the Bible—
Dennis: —just one verse—
Bob: 1 Peter.
Dennis: 1 Peter, Chapter 3—
Dennis: —verse 7.
Bob: —seven, yes.
Bob: “…live with your wives…”
Dennis: “…in an understanding way.” And I’m going to tell you something. If a man and a husband will memorize that passage, there is the third person of the Trinity who is at work in our lives to help you figure out how to do that. Again, you didn’t marry a robot; you married a person. And that has all kinds of complexities in both directions.
But if you are going to love your wife and if you’re going to live with her in an understanding way, you need God’s help. And He will guide you. He will show you how to demonstrate that kind of love and help.
Then, after you’ve got the verse memorized, you can call the 800 number or go online and order Shaunti’s book because I think it’ll give you some fresh ways in how you can communicate love to your wife.
Bob: And I’m just curious, Shaunti. Do you have any idea the book, For Men Only—do you think it has been read by more women or men?
Shaunti: Oh, definitely, men.
Bob: You think?
Shaunti: Yes. Absolutely.
Bob: Because I can imagine women going, “Wait. I want to read what this says about me too and highlight some things.”
Shaunti: Well, actually, what we found there’s actually now thousands of churches that require the books as premarital counseling before a couple gets married; and one of the ideas they’ve come up with—which I love—is actually switch books first. You read the one about you. So, I would read For Men Only about me as a woman; and my husband would read the one about him as a man, and you highlight—
Bob: And you highlight the part—
Shaunti: —and you make notes like, “Wow, this is totally me. This not so much, but this is a big deal.” Then, when you switch them, you’re reading a personalized copy.
Bob: That doesn’t have to be premarital counseling; you can do that—
Shaunti: It can be anytime.
Bob: —at any point in your marriage. We’ve got copies of both books in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. Go online to order a copy of the book, For Women Only, For Men Only. These are the revised, updated versions of the book. If you’ve never read them, you’ll find them helpful. If you have read them, you may want to read the additional information that Shaunti’s included in these new revisions.
Again, go to FamilyLifeToday.com. You can order from us online, or you can order by phone. Call 1-800-FL-TODAY, 1-800-358-6329; that’s 1-800- “F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then, the word, “TODAY”.
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Again, thanks for tuning in. Thanks for listening. Spread the word about FamilyLife Today, and thanks for whatever financial support you can provide as well.
And we hope you can be back with us again tomorrow. We’ve got a couple of moms who are going to be joining us—moms who have given birth to special needs kids. We’ll hear them share their stories and hear about God’s goodness in the midst of challenging times. I hope you can tune in for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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