Men Need Romance Too: How Men Feel Loved
“What does love feel like for a man?” As a couples therapist, I am often asked this question by people hoping to strengthen their connection with their most important guy. I was recently interviewed for a feature in Fatherly.com about how “Men Need Romance in Their Lives Just As Much As Women.” I was happy to do it, because I’m so glad that men’s issues — particularly when it comes to healthy relationships — are getting more attention in the media. As I discussed with some of my male colleagues on a recent episode of the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast, “How to Understand Men,” and another episode with researcher Andrew Reiner on the secret desire for emotional intimacy in men, too often, the emotional reality of men goes either unseen, or is disregarded. This can create a barrier to men becoming fully self-actualized, or to having the kinds of high quality relationships that they deserve.
In my experience, one of the main issues when it comes to men in relationships is that their feelings or emotional needs aren’t often acknowledged or addressed. One mistake I often see women make is assuming that men should feel connected and romanced in the same way that they do.
It’s a common misperception that men don’t crave feelings of closeness, connection, and emotional intimacy just as much as women do. As a marriage counselor and couples therapist, I can’t tell you how many poignant conversations I’ve had with lonely men who want nothing more than to feel connected to and loved by the most important woman in their life. When they get the love and affection they crave, they’re like plants being watered.
Men and Women Experience Love Differently
There are differences in the way that men and women feel connected and cared for, often having to do with their “Love Languages.” While there are no hard and fast rules that are true for all men, oftentimes men experience love through physical affection, quality time together, and words of affirmation, whereas women are more likely to experience feelings of love through acts of service, words of affirmation, as well as gifts. Another difference is that men often have a higher need for novelty and excitement than women do.
Men Need Love and Affection
In plain language: Men often feel most loved by the women in their lives when their partners hug them, kiss them, smile at them, and explicitly offer gratitude, praise, and words of affection. Men also feel loved and connected through sexuality, often to a greater degree than women do. Whereas women often need to feel emotionally connected as a prelude to sexuality, men often need to feel sexually connected before they can connect emotionally. Additionally, some men feel stronger feelings of attachment and connection when there is novelty and adventure in a relationship.
Respect + Freedom = Love, Too
In my experience many men also long to feel respected, and supported in the things that are most important to them. For some men, having partners who support them in pursuing their hobbies or interests outside of the relationship is a very meaningful way of feeling loved. It may sound paradoxical, to love someone by setting them free, but many men feel an enormous amount of satisfaction in relationships where they are not just accepted, but prized, for who and what they are.
One mistake I often see women make is assuming that men should feel connected and romanced in the same way that they do: through conversation, time together, gift giving, etc. (Leading women to feel frustrated or rejected when they try to show love in the way they think their partner “should” experience it, and it’s not received well). This can lead to conflict, or even worse, men withdrawing in their attempts to show love by protecting the relationship from conflict.
Men and Women Manage Stress Differently
One mistake I often see my marriage counseling couples make is that they expect each other to deal with stress in similar ways — and often judge each other ruthlessly when they don’t. For example, when men experience stress or challenging life situations they are more likely than women to internalize stress. They sometimes withdraw, distract themselves, or get busy doing other things rather than talking about how they’re feeling. (Or even feeling what they’re feeling, honestly). Women are more likely to externalize stress, meaning that they feel all the feels, and they talk about it. They want to reach out for connection in difficult times.
You can see where this is headed: When both partners are stressed out, if one of them copes by withdrawing and the other copes by talking…. both of them will feel like they’re not getting what they need from the other. Women feel shut down, invalidated or rejected by their partners in the moments when they need them the most. At the same time, men often feel harassed to talk about things they don’t want to (or even know how to) talk about, and then criticized when they don’t “do it right.”
I discussed this dynamic recently with a male marriage counselor to get his perspective on how to improve couples communication during times of stress. Here were his tips for couples communication during stressful times.
The Platinum Rule of Relationships
Never forget that while the golden rule we’re taught is, “Treat others as we’d like to be treated,” when it comes to having a great relationship the platinum rule takes precedence, which is “Treat others the way that THEY want to be treated.” (Learn more about the “platinum rule” from Dr. Helen Fisher, in the podcast episode we recorded together, “Understand Your Relationship, Finally.“) Often, more than anything, your man wants to know that you like him, you respect him, and that you find him sexually attractive. When in doubt, start there.
Never Assume What “Love” Means to Others
However, all men are different. Some men feel the deepest connection through sexuality. For others, the height of emotional connection is through conversation, time together, or acts of service. All romance starts and ends with paying attention to the other person’s feelings, and showing them that you love them in ways that are tailor made to be meaningful to them. Aren’t sure how your man feels most loved? Ask him!
But never forget that men crave romance and connection just as much as women do, even if they experience it differently. Take the time to figure out what’s most meaningful to your most important person.
If this sounds like a lot of work, consider that a wonderful side benefit of romancing your man is that when you do, you’re much more likely to have romantic energy coming back to you, too. It’s effortless to love when we feel loved, isn’t it?
Be the change you wish to see in your relationship!