A Woman’s Fantastic Five
About the Guest
It's not always the big things that make a marriage. Little things mean a lot. Shaunti Feldhahn, after researching hundreds of relationships, reveals the five things that women say their husbands do that make them the happiest. She also shares how the happiest couples resolve conflict.
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It’s not always the big things that make a marriage. Little things mean a lot. Shaunti Feldhahn, reveals the five things that women say their husbands do that make them the happiest.
A Woman’s Fantastic Five
Bob: Do you measure your spouse’s performance in marriage? Author Shaunti Feldhahn says maybe you should.
Shaunti: We talk about, “Don’t keep score.” It turns out—the happy couples do—they just do it differently. They keep track of what the other person is giving. When they’ve—for example, a husband recognizes, you know: “Oh my gosh! My wife has been at home with these sick kids all week! What can I do to give back?” Then she receives that and says: “Oh, man. That was so sweet of him! What can I do for him?” It’s this constant positive cycle that truly changes the tone of the marriage.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Tuesday, July 8th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. Couples who are doing well in marriage keep track of the good things their spouses are doing. There are some other things they do. We’ll talk about those today. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. So, I’m just curious—if your wife went out to do research on the secrets of highly happy marriages, would you wonder if there was something personal going on she was trying to—[Laughter]
Dennis: I was hoping she’d find out something I did right. [Laughter]
Tell us, Shaunti Feldhahn, how your husband Jeff felt about that. [Laughter]
Bob: She is blushing!
Dennis: She’s laughing. There must be a good story around this. [Laughter]
Shaunti: No! Dennis, I’m remembering about eight years ago. I was in your studio, talking about studying men and what men need. You said, “Do you do this at home?” I said, “I think so.” You called Jeff, live, in the studio and said, “Does she do this?” [Laughter]
Bob: We like accountability here!
Shaunti: I’m remembering! I have a twitch! [Laughter]
Dennis: There’s nothing like an eye witness to confirm something.
Shaunti: I have a twitch about that. That’s what you’re seeing.
Dennis: Well, Shaunti’s just written a book called The Surprising Secrets of Highly Happy Marriages. One of the things you talk about in your book is that you talk about a “fantastic five” for him. We talked about these a bit earlier. Just give our listeners a high fly-by on those and then talk about the “fantastic five” for her.
Bob: Wait—fantastic five what? What is it that you’re outlining here?
Shaunti: Well, basically, I was studying what it is that makes the happiest marriages happy. What do they do differently? One of the things that I found was that I noticed all of the wives tended to do these same five things every day.
We talk about love languages; right? You know—this individual thing that matters to your spouse. Well, I was noticing that these people were doing the same five things. The same thing with the husbands—they tended to do these same five things for their wives. I’m thinking, “Okay!”
It makes sense because they are the things that speak to the other gender.
What we’ve already talked about was “What was it that touched his heart?” We don’t have time, probably, to go into all five of them; but one of the big ones is hearing his wife say, “Thank you.” She’s like, “Really?!” But, you know, “Thank you for taking out the trash, Honey,” or, “Thank you for changing the light bulbs. It’s been driving me nuts that that light bulb was out. I noticed you did that. Thank you.”
Those little day-to-day notices are saying, “You measure up, as a husband.” It’s saying, “I care about you.” You may, as a wife, not think it’s a big deal; but, trust me, this is a huge deal for men—not necessarily for you, as a woman always, but for men.
Bob: You say for a wife to say, “You did a good job at this,”—that affirms him—to say that in front of somebody else.
Shaunti: In front of somebody else!
Bob: To brag on your husband to somebody else. These are the patterns that good marriages have cultivated; right?
Shaunti: Good marriages have cultivated and, sometimes, without even knowing they were a big deal.
Shaunti: Like the women who tended to do it had no idea that that was one of the reasons her husband was so happy and, in turn, was a loving husband.
So what it is it that the loving husbands were doing? What were some of the little things? Interestingly, one of the things that was very common was that these men would frequently take their wife’s hand—you know, when they were walking across the parking lot—just reach out and take her hand. Or they’re sitting together at church—and he reaches around and puts his arm around her at church.
It’s funny. I do this sometimes in churches—you know, I do a pastoral interview format, where I’m talking about this. I share this from the stage. I see all of the men—their eyes go wide and they reach—[Laughter]
Bob: They reach over!
Shaunti: —around and put their arm around their wife. [Laughter]
Dennis: Too late! It’s too late, at that point.
Shaunti: It’s actually not! That’s the fun part!
Dennis: It’s not worth a full point, though, Shaunti. [Laughter] It may be worth ¾ of a point or a ½, but you don’t get a full point when someone tells you to do it in front of your wife.
Shaunti: You don’t get a full brownie point. Well, here’s the fun part about that—I usually say to the women in the congregation because the men—
—you know, we kind of joke and I say, “I see all of the men putting their arm around…”—everybody kind of laughs. But then I say: “Men don’t necessarily realize it matters. It makes you feel special. It says, ‘You’re mine.’ It says something very powerful.” I can see the men, you know—their eyebrows kind of go up—and I say to the women, “Does it?” The women will go, “Yes!” They’ll start nodding and sometimes clapping. The men will look shocked because they have no idea that this little—talk about the fantastic five—little things—it’s a little thing.
What I tell couples—and, I think, from the research—it’s not the words—it’s not the actions, really, that matters. It’s what it says—and it says, “I care about you.” If you say that regularly, during the day in these ways, she will feel cared for. That protects your marriage from her thinking in other ways: “He’s working 80 hours a week. H doesn’t care about me.”
Bob: Your research showed that one of the things that these couples are doing that is affirming one another in marriage is just paying attention to small things.
Bob: I mean, this is a little bit of arms around, and hand on the small of the back, or saying, “You look beautiful.”
Shaunti: Or “Thank you,” to the men.
Bob: Right. These may seem like small things, but small things matter in a marriage.
Shaunti: Well, one of the biggest encouragements to me, frankly—when I started looking at these, I didn’t know what I was going to find. As I was studying these happily married couples, I didn’t know if some of the stuff I was going to find was big rocket science type stuff, and it wasn’t. It turns out—and every counselor agrees with me on this—in most cases, what really torpedoes a relationship—in most cases, not all—isn’t the big-ticket stuff. It’s not necessarily that you’re married to an alcoholic or that somebody was sexually-abused, as a child, and they have years of therapy to get through that. Yes, that happens sometimes—absolutely, it does—but that’s not the majority of problems.
You usually have a husband and wife who really care about each other—they’re trying really hard. They just don’t know, necessarily—they’re trying in the wrong areas. She’s not saying, “Thank you,”—she’s criticizing him. She has no idea that that’s painful. Suddenly, her eyes are opened to one, or two, or three little, small changes. You start saying, “Thank you, Honey, for taking out the trash,” instead of, “Well, I see that it took you an extra half-hour to take out the trash.” You make that little change—that’s not rocket science—but it will change everything in your marriage!
Bob: You tell about one woman, whom you talked to, and her husband was really working overtime to try to figure out how they could do a getaway to Hawaii. Their marriage was headed in the wrong direction; right?
Shaunti: Yes, I mean, she literally—this is interesting about what we were just talking about. She was crying on my living room floor because their marriage was falling apart. She was sobbing and saying: “You know, he worked for a year to get the extra money to take us on this amazing vacation to Hawaii. All I wanted was for him to put his arm around me in church.”
He was trying so hard and had no idea he was withholding this affection and this caring and creating this safe place for his wife. That’s just one example—these little things we’re talking about.
Dennis: And if a guy is listening right now and missed all five of the fantastic five for her, they can go online to FamilyLifeToday.com and get the fantastic five for your wife or wives can pick up the fantastic five for their husbands.
One of the things you found in your research had to do with how husbands and wives resolved conflict. I’m just wondering—do you and Jeff ever retire in the evening at odds with each other? Has that ever occurred?
Shaunti: Never! Never, ever! [Laughter] And I’m sure nobody listening has every experienced that. [Laughter]
Bob: I was listening to some guy recently and he said, “You know, we take this command not to let the sun go down on your anger—we take that seriously. We’ve been up for 12 days now!” [Laughter]
Dennis: Yes, and the anger increases after that.
Bob: After the third day; right!
Dennis: Exactly. You did find, though, that couples who are happy—couples who are satisfied and content—have learned the art of resolving conflict.
Shaunti: And it’s different than a lot of the marriage advice that’s given. It’s interesting—there is a tweak. I’m kind of a freak for research; right? I wanted to find out what these happy couples were doing—actually doing as opposed to what they were saying to do. So, when they would advise me and they would say, “You know, it’s really important to not go to bed mad.” I would say: “Absolutely! And do you ever go to bed mad?” Well, it’s a really important principle. [Laughter]
As I started talking—what they had learned, in practice, was that sometimes—this is the way they put it: “When you’ve got two upset, emotional, exhausted people, who are trying to duke something out at 1:00 in the morning, you’re going to say things you didn’t mean. You’re going to hurt each other’s feelings. You’re going to agree to things you wish you hadn’t agreed to.” In practice, they had learned that sometimes you say: “You know what? Let’s sleep on it. We’re okay. We will work this out. The relationship is solid. Let’s talk about this in the morning.”
Half the time—they told me—when you get up in the morning, they’re like: “What was that about? You know, it sometimes can resolve on its own; but if it doesn’t, then you deal with it.” I was a little concerned when I started hearing that that was the pattern because, so often, you hear advice that’s contra-biblical—and it doesn’t matter if it’s what they do if it’s against the Bible; right?
So, I went back and took another look at what the Bible actually says about this. I was flabbergasted because that comment that we all quote from Ephesians—the Apostle Paul is actually quoting the Old Testament.
He’s saying, basically, in Ephesians 4 there—he’s saying: “In your anger, don’t sin. Don’t let the sun go down on your anger”; right? He’s quoting Psalm 4:4, which basically says: “In your anger, don’t sin. Think about it overnight and remain silent.”
Shaunti: He’s quoting a Scripture that is really contrary, in some ways, to what we think the advice is. So, clearly, “In your anger, don’t sin,” doesn’t mean: “Don’t go to bed mad.” There seems to be something about this principle of, you know: “Don’t hurt each other’s feelings. If you need to work it out before you go to bed to not sin in your anger, then do that; but if you’re going to sin in your anger, and you’re going to say hurtful things that you wish you hadn’t said, think about it overnight and remain silent. The key is: “How are you handling your anger?”
Bob: And make sure you’re not just ignoring the conflict or pretending like it’s not there. I mean, “Don’t let the sun go down on your anger,” I think, is a way of saying, “Don’t just pretend like nothing happened when there’s still hurt and pain there.”
Dennis: You know—the Bible talks about reconciliation. Forgiveness is the route to be reconciled with your spouse. You’re speaking at I Still Do™ with us later on in the summer. We’re going to be in Chicago the first of August; and later on in Portland the end of August; and then in Washington, DC, in October. These large arena events—Bob, you remember—years ago, when we would do these—we would conclude the event with an opportunity for couples to be reconciled to one another.
I was always amazed at how many people had come to that event with pretty big issues that needed to be resolved—where there was conflict going on—where one or both needed to turn to the other and say: “I’m sorry when I…Will you forgive me?”
And then be silent, and listen, and allow reconciliation to ultimately seep in so the relationship can be restored.
Shaunti: Also, one of the things I found in the research—one of the other 12 little secrets here—was just exactly that. And this is, to me, one of the most favorite for me because I realized that, without realizing it, Jeff and I were already doing this. Part of, I think, the secret to having a really truly happy marriage is to figure out what you’re already doing that’s good so you can do it on purpose as opposed to just not realizing it’s important.
This issue of reconciliation—to me—I call it reconnection because, when you’re in the middle of a—let’s just say it’s a time of hurt feelings—it’s not a big—it’s not been months of whatever—maybe it’s just been days—whatever it is. One of the things that these happy couples do—because they have hurt feelings too—is that, when they’ve been in that place, they automatically have this signal, at some point, that comes that says, “The issue may not be resolved yet, but we are okay.”
It can be the littlest, silliest, simple—it can be your own private language that only makes sense to the two of you. Like, for me and Jeff, the signal that says, “We’re okay,”—and I know this is going to sound crazy—but like, if Jeff has been grumpy, he’ll come downstairs; he’ll nudge me; and he’ll say, “You done being grumpy yet?” [Laughter] That’s his way of apologizing and saying, “Are we okay?”
Sometimes—I found with these couples—it was literally just, “Are we okay?” “Yes, we’re okay.” Sometimes, it was these little signals. One couple was talking about how they walked past each other—and they’d been at odds and they’ve been upset—and somebody would finally come over and hold out their pinky. [Laughter] If the other person touched the pinky, it meant, “I’m sorry,” or, “I accept your apology,” or, “Yes, we’re okay.” It was a signal that the issue’s still out there—maybe you don’t necessarily solve everything overnight, but that doesn’t necessarily matter—but the relationship is solid.
Shaunti: You need a signal of that. I love that!
Dennis: Yes. More than likely—at I Still Do—where you’re going to be—we’re going to spend some time doing some of those kinds of things which really do encourage couples to come together.
Bob: Explain to our listeners about the “canoe theory.” What’s the “canoe theory” that you found as you were working on this?
Shaunti: One of the other secrets that I loved—because it was very highly correlated with moving from unhappiness to happiness—was, believe it or not, keeping score. We talk about: “Don’t keep score. Don’t keep score.” Well, it turns out that happy couples do—they just do it differently. They keep score—they keep track of what the other person is giving. When they’ve—for example, a husband recognizes, you know: “Oh my gosh! My wife has been at home with these sick kids all week! They’ve been grumpy, and they’ve been at the doctor’s office, and she’s exhausted.” He automatically says: “Oh, my word! She’s been giving so much. What can I do to give back?”
A husband might say: “Okay,”—you know, Saturday—she’s been with these sick kids all week so—“You know, Honey, let me have them all weekend. Let me have the stuffy noses and the grumpy kids. You get out with your girlfriends.” He’s not feeling this sense of: “Oh, I’m such a wonderful husband! I’m letting her have this time away.” No! He was keeping score of the fact that she was so under it that it comes out of this sense that: “I owe her. I want to give back.”
Then she receives that and says: “Oh, man. That was so sweet of him! What can I do for him?” It’s this constant positive cycle that truly changes the tone of the marriage from: “What are you not doing? What am I doing that you’re not doing?” and keeping score of the bad to keeping score of the good. It changes the tone of the marriage.
Dennis: One of the challenges that occurred early in our marriage was that I found out that both Barbara and I had very high expectations. We were high-expectation people.
We expect a lot out of life. We expected a lot out of our kids; and we expected a lot out of each other and our marriage. Expectations, if they’re not properly handled, can become unreal / unfair. A lot of disappointment can reign in the relationship. You found that expectations—and managing them—were a key component of happy marriages.
Shaunti: The chapter title is that these happy couples have “Factual Fantasies.” Everybody’s like: “Okay; what?” [Laughter] Basically, what that is—it is so easy to have unrealistic expectations—we all know; right? What makes you unhappy is having an expectation of how something should operate and it’s not met. Okay? That makes you unhappy. What these couples were doing was—they were refusing—these happy couples were refusing to kind of long for or expect something that was really difficult for their spouse to deliver.
Instead—to really celebrate the things that they could deliver and that they did do.
A classic example that I heard so many times—you know—one of the things that makes wives unhappy is the idea that—in a conflict—when we’re all upset, and we’re at odds with each other, and he’s pulling away—he’s withdrawing and that means, “He doesn’t care about me!” Because, you know, in the romance novels, the hero never pulls away; right? [Laughter]
Shaunti: The hero always moves towards and gives the big hug. So, this wife is expecting, and wishing, and longing that, in a conflict, he would just move towards her and give her a big hug. Well, when a husband in a real-life situation—a real-life husband is in a conflict—and he sees his wife starting to pull away, he’s going: “Whew—because I don’t know what I’m thinking. I need some processing time. I’m so glad she’s pulling away because this will give us time to process and think it through and come back together again.”
Realistically, he has no idea that she’s wanting him and longing for him to give her a big hug. That’s just not reality! Most husbands need that space and time to think. But it is so easy—especially—I think women and men—it is so easy—for us to have these—Can I be honest about one—of the one men go into marriage with?
Shaunti: I mean, I can’t tell you how many men who have said, “I kind of expected we’d get frisky every day.”
Shaunti: You know? “We’d have that time of intimacy every day. If she really desired me, I wouldn’t have to approach her. She’d approach me.” That’s what happens in the movies.
Shaunti: If he’s enough of a stud, she couldn’t keep her hands off of him. So, “What does this mean when it doesn’t happen—you know—every day? It sometimes doesn’t happen even every week. This means she doesn’t care about me,”—to have this kind of depressing feeling, on his side, as opposed to: “You know what? God wired men and women differently in this area. Yes, sometimes, absolutely, you can bridge that gap.” Women need to understand how important that is to men too.
But, you know, women need to be approached differently. Expecting that if you’re enough of a stud, she wouldn’t be tired—that’s an unrealistic expectation. Instead, she needs to know what you’ve got on your menu for the evening. You need to kind of set the stage a little bit and have that anticipation time because that’s the way God wired most—not all—but most women.
Bob: I tell guys who have that unrealistic expectation—I say, “Those women, whom you’ve see in those movies—first of all, they had to sign a contract that said they would do that.” [Laughter]
Shaunti: Well, that’s depressing!
Bob: “Secondly, they had to pay the women a whole lot of money to act that way! Third, they had to write lines of dialog for the women to say in that setting. Then, they had to get a guy in who said, ‘Action!’ As soon as the guy said, ‘Cut!’ the woman quit acting that way. It’s fiction! It’s phony!” [Laughter] You know?
Dennis: Now, wait a second, Bob. It does happen—
—there are some women going: “Time out! Time out!”
Shaunti: “Now, wait a minute!”—exactly; exactly.
Dennis: I think what we’re talking about here—and have all day, here on our broadcast—is really how, in marriage, we need to be generous.
Dennis: We need to be really thinking about how we can encourage, how we can bless, how we can forgive, how we can seek forgiveness. We need to love generously.
Dennis: And if we did that—if we did that day in and day out—if you’re sowing generosity into your marriage, you know what? I think you’re going to get some back, occasionally.
Bob: Yes. When we were in Hershey, Pennsylvania, earlier this year, speaking at the Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway, I remember talking to the crowd and saying: “When it comes to sharing love with your spouse—expressing love to your spouse—are you stingy? Are you thrifty? Are you generous? What if we went beyond being generous? What if we were extravagant in how we lavish love on one another?”
It would make a difference!
That’s what you found, Shaunti, as you explored the things that couples are doing that cause them to still like the fact that they’re married—to be in happy, healthy, strong marriage relationships. Shaunti’s written a book called The Surprising Secrets of Highly Happy Marriages. We’ve got the book in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center, along with her new book called The Good News about Marriage that debunks a bunch of the discouraging myths about marriage and divorce.
I want to encourage our listeners to go to FamilyLifeToday.com. Click the link that says, “GO DEEPER,” at the top of the page. Find out more about these books from Shaunti Feldhahn. You can order them, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com or you can call 1-800-FL-TODAY to order the books.
Shaunti’s going to be joining us here in a couple of weeks when we’re at the Allstate Arena in Chicago—Saturday, August 2nd.
We still have seats available and would love to have you come and join us for a great one-day event with Dr. Al Mohler, Crawford and Karen Loritts, David Nasser, Dennis and Barbara Rainey, Andrew Peterson, and Ron Deal. It really is going to be a great one-day event at the Allstate Arena in Chicago, Saturday, August 2nd.
The same event’s going to be happening on Saturday, August 23rd, at the Moda Center in Portland and then on Saturday, October 4th, at the Verizon Center in Washington, DC. That last event is going to be a worldwide simulcast. Churches, all over the country, are going to be hosting that one-day event in their church.
You can find out more about joining us at one of these events or how your church can be a part of the simulcast. Go to IStillDo.com. All the information you need is available right there—IStillDo.com or call, toll-free, 1-800-FL-TODAY; 1-800-358-6329.
That’s 1-800 “F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
And we hope you can be back here again tomorrow when Shaunti Feldhahn will join us. We’ll talk about why we should be more optimistic about marriage. It really does have an impact on how the two of you get along. We’ll talk more about that tomorrow. I hope you can join us.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with 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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