A Man’s Fantastic Five
About the Guest
When Shaunti Feldhahn set out to uncover the secrets to a happy marriage, she had no idea what she would find. But what she did discover might surprise you. One of the biggest reasons attributing to a husband or wife's happiness, she says, is when they believe their spouse cares about them, and the good news is, most do. Find out the five things wives do that sends men to their happy place.
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
Shaunti Feldhahn uncovers the secrets to a happy marriage. Find out the five things wives do that sends men to their happy place.
A Man’s Fantastic Five
Bob: In the best marriages, husbands and wives tell one another the truth; but they speak the truth in love. Here’s Shaunti Feldhahn.
Shaunti: In our culture, I think one of the things we’ve over-prioritized is this idea of: “You have to tell it like it is. You have to be able to be brutally honest”; right? We miss the fact that means sometimes—we take that as: “Oh, I can say anything. It doesn’t matter how I say it. It doesn’t matter how they feel.” I think that’s what we’ve lost—is that value of just being kind to one another that will fix and cover over a multitude of problems.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Monday, July 7th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. We’re going to talk today with Shaunti Feldhahn about some of the secrets of highly happy marriages. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us on the Monday edition. I spent a lot of time on the phone last night with a husband who has been married less than five years. Back, right before he got married, I remember talking to him. He could not wait to get married.
Now, five years in, he’s in a very unhappy marriage. You know, you’ve talked to people like this—who find themselves surprised. They got married—they had great expectations for what their marriage was going to be—and they learned, over time, that marriage is more challenging than they realized it was going to be.
Dennis: Yes. The proverbial seven-year itch—where people kind of start looking around, out of their disappointment with their spouse—I think has been reduced to three-and-a-half years. This guy’s on a fast-track for his.
Bob: Fast-track; right.
Dennis: We have a friend here on FamilyLife Today who has done a great deal of research that I think is going to encourage each of our listeners. Shaunti Feldhahn joins us again. Shaunti—welcome back.
Shaunti: It is always good to be with you guys.
Dennis: It’s great to be with you too. She’s been married to Jeff since 1994. They have two children. They live in hot Atlanta. She is the featured speaker, as many of our listeners know, on the Life Ready Woman video series which FamilyLife has—an eight-session video series that really is designed to help women capture God’s blueprints for them as wives, women, and moms. Her latest book is called The Surprising Secrets of Highly Happy Marriages.
Bob: And we should mention that you are going to be joining us in Chicago on
August 2nd, and in Portland on August 23rd, and in Washington, DC, on October 4th for our I Still Do™ events to help couples understand how you can have a highly happy marriage; right?
Shaunti: I am so looking forward to that. So glad you guys are doing those!
Dennis: I am too. You know, I just feel like—Shaunti, you might comment because you’re speaking, all around the country, as well. I think there’s a desire, within our nation right now, for someone to step forward and say: “You know what? Our God created marriage, and we’re not ashamed. We just want to stand up and celebrate it—and not poke anybody in the eye with a stick or with a lack of gracious words—but instead just stand up—pro-marriage, pro-family, and pro-God.” Don’t you think it’s time?
Shaunti: And I think it’s also time for us to be able to celebrate it and say, “You know, it doesn’t always work this way,”—as your friend, last night, said—“but God ultimately intended marriage to be wonderful—a blessing to us—something we should be able to celebrate rather than kind of say, ‘Oh, well, it’s always about enduring for the next 50 years.’” It’s like: “Well, sometimes; but, most of the time I think—if it’s a measure of a reflection of Christ in this church and that relationship—it should be wonderful.”
Shaunti: That’s what we should be aiming for anyway.
Dennis: And it’s really not rocket science. You did a bunch of research. In fact, this book took how many years of research?
Shaunti: This particular one took three—almost four. Yes.
Dennis: Four years. You sought to research what turns a relationship between two imperfect people into one where they’re satisfied—they’re content with each other—not perfect but they’re happy.
Dennis: Explain the process you went through.
Shaunti: Well, all of my research is based on just interviewing tons of people to try to find out a particular thing.
In this case, I was trying to find out: “What is the secret sauce?” Basically: “What is it that these really happy couples have in common? What are they all doing differently than the rest of us might do from time to time?”
It was fun because, as I was interviewing these folks, I was seeing patterns—and going: “Okay. I’ve heard this like 30 times—and then 300 times. I’m not necessarily hearing this from other folks.”
Then I eventually tested those things on some very big nationally-representative surveys. That’s really what I identified—12 different things that these very, very happy couples are doing differently—that they don’t necessarily even realize that they’re doing differently, but it makes a big difference.
Bob: And we should say, along the way, while you were surveying couples whose marriages are thriving, you also learned that marriage, in general, is doing better than most people think it is.
Shaunti: Much better. We have this idea in our culture that marriage is in trouble; right?
That’s one reason why people live together. That’s one reason why people, I think, sometimes give up too quickly—like: “Well, you know, half of all marriages end in divorce. I have a lot of company if I can’t make it either.”
I was so astounded as I started studying this. This really goes back years—it’s not just at the same time as this other project. I’ve really been investigating it and realize that so much of that conventional wisdom, that discourages us about marriage, isn’t true. There is no such thing as a 50 percent divorce rate.
Right now, as we’re sitting here talking, 72 percent of people are still married to their first spouse. That’s huge! It encourages people—even to know, by the way, the
28 percent who aren’t—that’s not even the divorce rate. That includes people who were married for 50 years and their spouse died.
Shaunti: So, no one knows what the actual divorce rate is—that’s one of the reasons the myths get started; right?—but we can kind of guess-timate that it’s—for first-time marriages, it’s probably closer to 20-25 percent.
Shaunti: Now, okay? That’s nothing to dance a jig about—it’s still too high. But it’s a whole lot better than 50. So, to be able to say: “You know what? God designed this institution. Most marriages are strong and happy for a lifetime.” That gives people this hope that: “If all these other people can get through these problems and make it, I can too!”
Dennis: And I think a lot of couples are giving up too soon. I think they hear this negative news and they think, “I’ll just cave in and be like the other 50 percent.”
Dennis: I think our listeners ought to know where the 50 percent divorce rate came from—basically, there’s a couple million marriages a year and a million divorces. So, someone concluded—along the way—that that results in a 50 percent divorce rate. Well, they forget that there’s tens of millions of people who have already gotten married—who are among the million who got the divorce.
One of the things you point out in your book that I found fascinating—you and Jeff were speaking at a marriage conference. You actually piloted something there—where in one-half of the room you put the husbands and the other half of the room you put the wives. You asked both a key question.
Shaunti: Yes. This is a very, very important thing for everybody to know. We basically were asking—“Do you…”—and I should explain, by the way, they weren’t in the same room. They were actually in two different rooms. They had no way of knowing what their spouse was answering. We wanted it to be both anonymous and we wanted it to be independent so that they could be very candid / very honest.
We basically said, essentially: “Do you care about your mate? Do you still have this affection for them? Do you want the best for them?” And truly, in that particular room, it was 95 percent said: “I absolutely want my spouse’s best. I care for them deeply.”
Well, we found, on the national survey, it was actually 99-something percent—but the difference is—not everybody believed it. That was a huge difference in whether they were happy in their marriage or not because it is so easy, when you’re hurt, to believe, “My spouse doesn’t care.” The truth is—almost everybody cares! Almost everybody deeply cares, even in the most troubled relationships.
Dennis: Yes, wasn’t it like 50 percent didn’t believe that their spouse cared?
Shaunti: Very close to that. Yes, it was 47 percent or something. It was basically—if they had a happy marriage—they allowed themselves to believe it. That was one of the reasons they had a happy marriage. They said: “I might be hurt, but I know my spouse cares about me. I know they want the best for me. So I’m going to believe that they didn’t mean it when they said it that way. They didn’t intend to hurt me.” The people who have the less-than-happy relationships—they allowed themselves to believe the opposite:
“My spouse doesn’t care. He knew how that make me feel, and he said it anyway.”
Bob: So, you know, we have folks who are listening who are in that 50 percent—who say: “I don’t think my spouse cares,—
Bob: —“and I have some pretty good evidence to support my theory. I know he says he cares, but the evidence—his actions speak louder than his words. What am I supposed to do?—just pretend like he really does care?”
Dennis: Well, first of all, that person needs to take their fingers off the scale. They have their fingers on the scale that is pronouncing them guilty as charged. They need to get their heads up—don’t they, Shaunti?—and take a step back, take a deep breath, and go: “What’s the context of this person’s life? What’s going on in his or her life right now that maybe is contributing to this drought of kindness in the relationship?”
Shaunti: And also, not just, “What’s contributing to this drought of kindness?” but, “What are you choosing to focus on?”
I mean, even in the happy couples, there are issues.
Shaunti: We all have issues; right? I love what one person said: “Even the best, most wonderful Christian husband and wife can be jerky sometimes.” But the difference is: “What are you focusing on?”
Shaunti: I was noticing that sometimes there would be a real issue—big issues like he’s addicted to pornography or something—big, deep, hurtful issues. And yet, as I talked to them, I’m like: “You still have a great marriage. Tell me how this is happening.”
She says: “You know what? Yes, he’s working on this—we’re working on this. It’s hurtful, but you know what? I noticed he took the kids out when he was so tired from work, and he took them out and played ball in the yard. He is a great dad. I appreciate that about him, and I have to recognize it. It balances, you know. Yes, he’s working on this, but he does all these other things.” They’re focusing on—it’s Philippians 4. It’s focusing on what is good, and lovely, and excellent, and worthy of praise and not what’s driving you crazy!
Dennis: And believing the best about them in the process. I love a T-shirt that you wrote down in your book. The T-shirt said, “Be kind for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle.”
Dennis: I really like that.
Shaunti: Me too.
Dennis: Who doesn’t need another human being to be kind to them?—especially in the marriage relationship. Ephesians, Chapter 4, verse 32 just has a good word here. It’s just very simple: “Be kind to one another.” What if spouses got up in the morning and thought, first thing: “How could I be kind to my wife this morning? How could I be kind to my husband throughout the day?” and then executed on it—not perfectly. I didn’t say execute him, I said execute on being kind.
Shaunti: I was wondering about that for just a second! [Laughter]
Dennis: But there’s a need for that focus to take place.
Shaunti: This was one of—to me—there were several of the 12 things that we identified that really hit a personal chord with me. This is one of my pet peeves—is, when I’m out in public, and I hear a husband or a wife—and I regret to say, sometimes—quite often, it’s the wife—speaking very critically about their spouse: “I can’t believe you forgot to do this! You said three times you’d pick it up. What were you thinking?”
It hurts my heart. I think to myself: “Would you ever speak in that tone to your best girlfriend / your best friend? Would you ever use those words in that scathing tone? Why would you ever use that with your husband?” Or, if it’s the opposite, “Why would you ever speak that way to your wife?”
I think we take intimacy for license. We basically say, “We’re so close we can kind of take each other for granted and not worry about speaking kindly.” But we don’t get an out on that biblical injunction just because you kind of think, “Well, it’s okay because it’s safe.”
It’s not safe! It’s creating a very unhealthy, unsafe environment—where it leads to some of the other problems that I found that these happy couples don’t do. It leads to them feeling like they have to protect themselves and that they have to kind of have a little bit of an emotional—“Okay, I have to hold myself back a little bit because this might all fall apart.”
That holding yourself back—and not being all-in, and fully risking everything, and saying, “I’ll risk a broken heart,”—that holding yourself back creates the problems you’re trying to protect yourself from.
Shaunti: It builds a wall.
Dennis: So we don’t want people to misunderstand what we’re saying here. We’re not talking about building walls in a relationship.
Shaunti: No, no.
Dennis: We are talking about protecting your spouse—
Shaunti: —by being safe.
Shaunti: —by being kind.
Bob: And the issue of security—especially, I think, for wives to know that “I am safe in a relationship,”—that’s at the core of what frees her up to be the wife that her husband wants her to be.
Shaunti: Yes. This is obviously—we talked about this when Jeff and I were in here, talking about For Men Only, you know—helping men understand the things that really matter to their wives or a girlfriend. It is so critical for guys to understand that that security for her is not, primarily, financial.
That may be a piece of the puzzle; but for her, it is knowing: “We are close.” She cannot feel close to you / she cannot feel like you are there for her always if, to some degree, she feels like you’re not safe—that you’re going to say something that’s hurtful, and you’re going to say it in this brutal tone, and think, “Well, she knows I love her.” Well, remember, women need reassurance of that. She doesn’t necessarily know that you love her. She needs to know that every single day.
Bob: Let’s talk about what guys need, at this point. We’ve all heard the statement: “Familiarity breeds contempt.”
Shaunti: Oh, boy.
Bob: A man does not need contempt. In fact, that cuts to the very core of who he is as a man. If you look at the end of Ephesians 5, Paul instructs wives to respect their husbands. When a woman allows cynicism or contempt to dribble out through her attitude and her words, she’s destroying her man and her marriage.
Shaunti: And there are so many women, who are listening to you right now, and they don’t realize they’re already doing that. They just don’t know that.
Dennis: I really agree with you. I think a lot of women don’t realize their voice, or their attitude, or their face carries with it this poison.
Shaunti: Yes. For us—in our / in my defense, as a wife, having done this—and done this many times, now to my shame, without having realized it—I did not feel contempt for my husband. I didn’t feel disdain. I didn’t feel disrespect. I had no idea I was conveying all of those things.
Now, as I’ve been, over the last number of years—obviously, been here talking about For Women Only too, you know, the book to help women understand men—that they would give up—it’s such a big deal to feel respected that three out of four men on the survey said they’d give up feeling that their wives loved them, even, if that’s what it took to know that she respected them.
Bob: Rather be respected than loved; yes.
Shaunti: Here’s really the way it translates into an action that I think every women listening to this can get: “What is it that builds up his heart as opposed to tearing it down?” Okay, contempt tears it down. The—“I asked you three times to get the dry cleaning.” You’re saying: “You’re inadequate. You’ve failed.” For a guy, what you’re saying—it’s his most painful feeling.
So, what is it on the flip side? What creates a good marriage? What is it that you can do differently other than just not doing that; right?
One of the things that I’ve been looking at for years—I don’t know if I’ve ever told you this—I’ve been looking, for years, to try to find: “What is a man’s emotional equivalent of ‘I love you’?” Because, for women, when he says, “I love you,” it says like ten different things. It says not just, “I have affection for you”; but it says, “You’re mine.” It says, “I would choose you all over again, and you’re loveable,”—all these things that really touch a woman’s heart.
Well, if feeling loved isn’t his primary need, what is the thing that you can say to a man that has that same emotionally impact? I learned really quickly it doesn’t really work—when you kind of follow your husband around the house and kind of, “Oh, honey, I respect you so much.” Poor Jeff—he’s like, “Okay, that just doesn’t have the same ring to it.”
Shaunti: So, I’ve been looking for the last four / five years: “What is it that has the same ring?” And believe it or not, I found it. It’s: “Thank you,”—“Thank you, Honey. I noticed what you did. Thank you for mowing the lawn even though it was so hot outside.”
It was this—men have this internal feeling like: “I want to be a great husband, but I don’t know that I am.” There’s a lot of vulnerability and self-doubt. So, when you say, “Thank you,” as a woman—“Thank you for taking out the trash,” “Thank you for playing with the kids outside,” “Thank you for always being such a good husband,”—every woman listening to me is like “Well, that’s just a little thing.” No. For a guy—what we found, statistically—that is the emotional equivalent because it says: “I noticed what you did, and it was good. I appreciate it.” You do that—day to day—you will create a radically different tone in your marriage.
Dennis: That’s exactly right. I just want to commend you for speaking the truth in love here. Every listener needs to grab an action point out of what we’ve talked about today. Is it, first of all, being kind to your spouse / being kind, as a single person, to the young lady or the young man you’re dating? Is it believing all things—not losing your expectancy of your spouse doing the right thing?
Don’t fall into the trap of expecting him or her to do the wrong thing. And then, finally, for the wives, maybe it’s respecting your husband and saying, “Thank you.” Just, “Thank you, Sweetheart. Thank you for leaving your underwear in the basket.” [Laughter] You know, something as—
Shaunti: No, seriously!
Dennis: —or, for the husbands, creating the safety that only love can create around your wife’s heart. That means: “You know what? I’m not going anywhere. I’m committed to you for a lifetime. I love you, and I’m not going to quit.”
Bob: Yes. You know, we’re going to have a chance to talk more about this here in a couple weeks. In fact, we’re less than four weeks away from the I Still Do one-day celebration of marriage that’s going to be taking place at the Allstate Arena in Chicago, Saturday, August 2nd.
Shaunti Feldhahn’s going to be with us. We’ll talk more about some of the surprising secrets of highly happy marriages. Shaunti’s going to be with us on August 23rd at the Moda Center in Portland; and on October 4th in Washington, DC, at the Verizon Center downtown.
I want to encourage our listeners: “If you live anywhere near any of these three cities, come join us for this one-day event to celebrate what we talked about today—the permanence in marriage / the good part of marriage because marriage is a good thing. Marriage is a blessing.”
That’s a part of what Shaunti talks about in her book, The Good News about Marriage: Debunking the Discouraging Myths about Marriage and Divorce, and then in her book, The Surprising Secrets of Highly Happy Marriages. We have both of these books in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. You can order copies of the book from us, online, if you’d like. Go to FamilyLifeToday.com and click the link at the top of the page that says, “GO DEEPER.”
You’ll find the information about I Still Do there, and you’ll find the information about Shaunti’s books. You can order those books from us, online; or you can call 1-800-FL-TODAY if you’d like—1-800-358-6329. Call to order or find out more; and order, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com.
I want to say a quick word of thanks, Dennis, to our listeners who make programs like this possible—who are helping us get the word out to hundreds of thousands of people every day, all around the world, about how you can have a strong, healthy marriage relationship; how you can build a strong, vibrant family relationship; how your marriage and family can be anchored in the Scriptures.
That’s our goal. We want to effectively develop godly families who change the world, one home at a time.
It’s why we do everything we do—from this program to these upcoming I Still Do one-day events for couples. It’s all about every home becoming a godly home. We couldn’t do it without the listeners who stand with us and help make all of this possible. Thank you for your financial support.
When you make a donation today, we’d like to say, “Thank you,” by sending you a message from Dennis and Barbara Rainey. This is actually a message, Dennis, where you share about some of the hard years in your marriage with Barbara and about how important it is for husbands and wives to say, “I still do,” to one another.
We’ll send you a copy of Dennis and Barbara Rainey’s message on permanence in marriage when you help support this ministry this month with a donation. You can donate, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com. Click the link in the upper right-hand corner that says, “I CARE,” to make an online donation. Or call 1-800-FL-TODAY and donate over the phone. Ask for the audio message called I Still Do.
Or you can write a check and mail it to FamilyLife Today at P O Box 7111, Little Rock, AR. Our zip code is 72223.
And be sure to join us back again tomorrow. Shaunti Feldhahn’s going to be with us. We’re going to continue talking about those couples who look at each other, after all these years, and still smile. What do they know that the rest of us don’t know? What makes for a highly happy marriage? We’ll talk more about it tomorrow. Hope you can be here.
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.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.
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