Freud famously asked the question, “what do women want?”
According to Dr. John Gottman, what women want most from men is trustworthiness. Be authentic. Say what you mean, and mean what you say. If you say you’re going to do something, do it. Do it 100%. Not 50% or 80%. Unreliable men who are passive-aggressive infuriate women. On the other hand, if you have a different idea, speak up. Do you have a preference? What is it?
The essence of trustworthiness is attunement. Women require both emotional security and connection. Gottman uses an acronym for attunement:
Safety also means how you go about discussing differences. Women appreciate men who are secure and reliable, but not intimidating or threatening. If you bully or bluster, or dodge, deflect or defend, you will send the message that you are neither safe or reliable. It’s not reasonable to assume that you will agree on everything. Wouldn’t it be boring if your partner was exactly like you in every way?
The issue is not that women are overly emotional, although I’ve worked with many men who have framed their marital squabbles as differences in temperament. More accurately, men often are highly reactive to what they perceive as problematic emotions such as anger, jealousy, insecurity, or disappointment. Men will often go to great lengths to dismiss their partner’s negative emotions. They believe that talking about “negative emotions” will only intensify them. This gender difference in handling emotion is a frequent issue in couples counseling.
What Do Women Want?
The bottom line, says Gottman, is that women do not have the same categorical notion of “good” or “bad” emotion. Women tend more to embrace the full range of human emotion with a more open and accepting stance. All emotion have the potential for an intimate exchange. Emotion is the currency of connection as well as conflict, and a “negative” emotion can quickly transform into a profound and satisfying encounter. Women need to know who their men are. They not only need to feel safe, but they also need to feel understood. An emotion of any sort is a bid for attention. When a man shuts down and refuses to lean in and ask questions, he is demonstrating that he is unsafe and untrustworthy. Ironically he often deepens and prolongs the very conflict that he would prefer to avoid.
Daniel is a Marriage and Family Therapist. He currently sees couples at Couples Therapy Inc. using EFT, Gottman Method, and the Developmental Model.