[Editor’s Note: This is the second in a two-part series about things worth knowing in a relationship. You can read ‘7 Things Every Woman Needs to Know About Relationships’ here.]
When my wife, Ruthie, and I were dating, I knew she was getting antsy about engagement. I was deeply in love with her, couldn’t imagine my life without her really and wanted to indicate, or hint at, my plans for the future.
So one beautiful fall day on a drive through the North Carolina mountains, I attempted to compliment her and let her know I was in it for the long haul—to put her mind at ease in a way. But what I actually did was the opposite.
“You have such sturdy legs. I really hope our kids have sturdy legs like you.”
The look on her face told me everything I needed to know. My bride is not speechless very often, but her face was contorted somewhere between a laugh and a cry—and nothing was coming out of her mouth.
“STURDY?!?!” She finally exclaimed.
Then added, “What a terrible way to describe a woman! I am NOT sturdy.”
I tried to dig myself out of the hole by making excuses—saying I’d chosen the wrong word, insisting sturdy makes me think of a supermodel not woman’s softball coach, and telling her how beautiful her legs are—but really there wasn’t much I could do to recover from that comment.
My understanding of women has grown exponentially over the last several years, and thankfully I’ve lived to write about what I’ve learned about relationships. Maybe this list will save you from some relational pitfalls.
Here are 7 things every man should know about relationships:
1. Winning an argument may harm your relationship.
In the middle of a “he said” “she said” disagreement, it’s easy to focus on being right. But in most cases, being right doesn’t really, truly matter. It only boosts your pride. I don’t think you should roll over and admit defeat at the outset of every argument, but, in my experience, having the last word in an argument is rarely worth the relational turmoil it can take to get there.
2. What you do for her is never more important than who you are to her.
Many men believe bringing home a large paycheck or climbing the corporate ladder means they are a good boyfriend or husband. But what I’ve discovered is what we do for the woman in our life—take her to dinner, fix her car, drop the kids off—is never more important than how we treat her. Are you compassionate? Kind? Do you listen to her? Do you treat her as an equal? Do you serve her without keeping score? Focus on your character and then worry about your paycheck.
3. A date isn’t a marriage proposal.
For those of you scared of commitment, the purpose of dating is to get to know a woman, to see how you click relationally and determine if this is the sort of life-long relationship you want. We need to find the middle ground between treating dating like a sport and praying for months before we ask a girl to dinner. Try not to over think it. Dating is a practice round, not the national championship. You will make mistakes, but try not to take yourself too seriously.
4. Digital communication should always be leading to face-to-face communication, not taking away from it.
I know rejection and vulnerability doesn’t feel as scary when you’re hiding behind a screen. It’s easy to use technology as a crutch, rather than a mechanism to fuel more face time. As a general rule, a text is not an appropriate way to a) tell her you love her for the first time. b) break up up with her or c) have an argument .
5. Words can be everything.
Obviously, I learned this one the hard way. Men can be careless with what they say, or surprised when women take an off-the-cuff comment to heart. Examples: “I have nothing to wear” is not her asking you to step into her closet point out options. “Do I look fat?” only has one answer. And nothing about her is EVER sturdy.
6. Listening, not fixing, is often the best remedy to her problem.
As you probably know, men tend to be too quick to try to fix problems their significant others are telling them about. Instead of trying to cut the conversation short by jumping directly to a solution, it’s helpful to ask our significant other what type of response she is looking for. Does she want us to fix, to get angry or to just listen? If you aren’t sure, just ask. It can dramatically improve your communication.
7. You are worthy of respect. But don’t demand it.
Something inherent in all men is the desire for respect. If you are dating a women who does not respect you, it is probably time to get out before you become a doormat. But as men, we should never demand respect, because that is the fastest way to show that you are not worthy of it.
Rather, if you want to be a leader, start by being a servant. Make the coffee. Don’t keep score. Relationships are all about give and take, and it’s never going to be fair. There will be seasons that are more focused on her and then the reverse will be true for you. Whether dating or married, men need to understand that Jesus is the man to follow here. He did not huff and puff and demand that people follow him. Rather, He earned it through serving.
Relationships are complex, but if we can remember that the journey with the woman you love is the best part of the whole gig, that being vulnerable is not a sign of weakness but of courage and that the little things you do go a long way, you are in for a beautiful life together.