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Have you ever wondered why, as a woman, you often find yourself desperately wanting a man's approval more than you think you should, sometimes even a man you may not totally respect? Perhaps this explains it: If historically women have been taught that our survival depends on men, then our "job" is to attract a man and to keep his interest so we don't lose him. How we look, how good we are in bed, how we express ourselves, how we take care of our home, how much we edit the expression of our feelings so he won't be uncomfortable—all of these habits, decisions, and behaviors have at their basis one thought: "Will this make him happy?" Our unconscious reasoning tells us that if we keep a man happy, he will stay with us; and if he stays with us, then we will be safe.

This is why women often constantly look to our men for cues to tell us how we are doing. "Is he pleased with me?" we ask ourselves. "Does he seem content in this relationship?" When we see signs that indicate the answer is "yes," we breathe a sigh of relief and allow ourselves to relax into a certain level of safety. However, if we think we perceive signs that a man is unhappy with us in some way, our sense of safety diminishes radically,

I know that for myself, and for most women I've worked with, this pattern of seeking approval in order to feel safe is not a conscious process. It's more a primal reaction that surfaces in a relationship with a man, one that often surprises us with its intensity. "Why do I care so much what he thinks ? " we ask ourselves. "Why do I get so insecure when just one little thing goes wrong?" The answer, I believe, is that a man's apparent disapproval of or displeasure with us can trigger a woman's unconscious survival mechanism, creating the feeling that she is somehow in danger and therefore is not safe.

Let's look at a typical scenario that illustrates this: Cathy and Juan have been living together for two years, and they recently became engaged. One Sunday afternoon, Cathy notices that Juan seems withdrawn and irritable with her, but when she asks him if anything is wrong, he responds, "No—nothing's wrong." Cathy tries to get Juan to talk about what's going on, telling him that he's acting like he's mad at her about something, and that it's worrying her. Juan becomes more and more silent. Finally, Cathy starts to cry and asks Juan if he is having second thoughts about the engagement. Juan becomes angry, saying, "I don't know what your problem is, but I can't deal with this," and goes into the next room to watch TV.

What is Cathy feeling? She is anxious, worried, and has a knot of dread in the pit of her stomach. "Something is wrong!" her instincts scream. Juan's apparent displeasure with her triggered her survival mechanism. It's as if she sniffs trouble, and warning bells go off in her psyche indicating "DANGER, DANGER!" All of this happens so automatically that she isn't even aware of it.

What's Juan feeling? He is annoyed, irritated, and confused. He can't understand why Cathy was so upset today, or why she got so dramatic and scared. Nothing was going on except that he had a headache and just wanted to spend some time alone watching TV.

So who's responsible for this couple's being upset? They both are. Cathy needs to become more aware of how her survival mechanism gets triggered when she doesn't feel safe, and learn to moderate her reactions. And Juan needs to become more aware of what he does that triggers Cathy's unease—in this case, not giving her any information about what was going on with him, thus allowing her to jump to her own scary conclusions. Both of them will benefit from understanding this information about a woman's need to feel safe.

I remember vividly one of the first times I gave a lecture about this particular topic to a group of men and women. The women sat nodding their heads, many with tears in their eyes as they acknowledged a deep wound they all shared; a hidden and hurt place inside that many had never fully understood before. And the men? They listened sincerely and respectfully, their brows furrowed, their eyes pensive, attempting to understand a way of being that was very foreign to them.

One man approached me after the seminar, holding tightly his wife's hand, and his comment summed up what I think most men were feeling: "I've never thought about women this way," he said. “Everything you explained makes so much sense, but it's like being told the woman you love has this invisible part of her you didn't know anything about. I thought I was a sensitive guy, but I had no idea...."

I could see that this man was a sensitive guy. But even the most sensitive men in the world do not feel the same need for safety as women do, because they are not the product of thousands of years of programming! As his voice trailed off, the man's wife put her arms around him and gave him a tender kiss on his cheek. Her kiss said everything. For the first time, her husband understood what was indeed an invisible part of her that even she hadn't been able to explain to him, let alone articulate to herself. What was the result? Just knowing he cared enough to understand created the very safety in her that we'd been talking about.

What Women Want Men to Know:

A woman needs to feel safe in order to be relaxed and confident in her intimate relationship.

This is a simple but powerful truth: When women feel safe, we are at our best. We are more relaxed and less tense, more confident and less insecure, more independent and less needy—in other words, more of all the good stuff men like about us, and less of all the stuff that drives men crazy. And here's something else that's important to remember: Women instinctively know that when we feel safe, we are more of who we want to be, as well as who men want us to be. Therefore we try, consciously or unconsciously, to get our man to do those things that will make us feel safe.

What Women Want Men to Know:

So many of the things women ask men for, or secretly wish men would do in a relationship, are really our way of asking for that which will make us feel safe.

Men, why do we want you to tell us you love us, or share how you're feeling, or express your appreciation for all we do, or make time for us, or any of the other things on the list your woman has of how she wishes you'd act? It's NOT to control you or have power over you or get our own way. It's because we know these things will make us feel safe. And when we feel safe, we will be a better partner for you, and happier with ourselves.


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