Revive Our Hearts Podcast

The Eyes and the Minds of Men

Leslie: While researching for her book For Women Only, Shaunti Feldhahn asked a group of men, “What’s the one most important thing that you wish your wife knew?”

Shaunti Feldhahn: The top answer, by far, was the one most important thing they wish their wife knew was how much I love her.

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss for Friday, July 5th.

All week Nancy Leigh DeMoss has been talking with Shaunti Feldhahn, author of For Women Only. Barbara Rainey has been joining in on those conversations as well.  

When we first aired this interview some years back on Revive Our Hearts, listeners really responded enthusiastically. They wanted to get a copy of this book to better understand the way men think.  

Fast forward to 2013, Shaunti just released a revised and updated edition of For Women Only. Yesterday she told us about some of that new material. If you missed it, you can hear it at ReviveOurHearts.com.

Later today we’ll hear more from Shaunti Feldhahn about the new material in her book. First, we’ll hear from that classic interview between Nancy, Barbara and Shaunti—one of our all-time most popular series. 

Nancy: We are going to put together here, in this last session, a couple of insights that you gave. It has to do with the concept that men are visual, and again, that probably doesn’t come as any great surprise. But let’s talk about some of the implications of that that were a surprise to you as you did this survey.

Shaunti: Yes. Absolutely. One of the things that I realized is that I heard in premarital counseling and many other places that my husband was visual. Then I realized I didn’t even know what that meant—really.

Nancy: What does it mean?

Shaunti: Here is really what it means, and, okay, ladies, hold on to your seats here for a minute and have an open mind as we talk about this because some of this can be a little hard to hear frankly.

Nancy: Or hard to believe.

Shaunti: Or hard to believe, right, exactly. What “men are visual,” means is two separate things that are related. It means that a man is wired in such a way that he can’t not notice a woman with an attractive figure. He just can’t not notice her.

Nancy: Now, you’re talking about godly men—spiritually mature men?

Shaunti: Godly men, wonderful Christian husbands. Yes. All men. It doesn’t have anything to do with sin. This is an initial temptation. The Bible says that Jesus was tempted in every way and yet without sin. This initial attraction to not be able to not notice this woman is an involuntary reflex. And by the way, the Scripture can bear this out very easily if you look at Job. God said Job was the finest man in all the earth, okay?

Nancy: The most righteous.

Shaunti: The most righteous man in all the earth, and this man even had to say, “I had to make a covenant with my eyes to not look with lust upon a young woman” (Job 31:1). Okay? So if Job had this struggle, every man has this struggle. That’s the first thing that “men as visual,” means.

Nancy: Which is very hard for us as women to understand because most of us are not wired that way.

Shaunti: That’s right. That was the first thing, here’s the second thing that it means: That image of that woman that he just couldn’t not notice is burned into his brain and becomes part of what my husband calls a “mental rolodex" of images that stretch back to his teen years that can arise any time in his mind without warning. This picture just sort of pops into his mind without warning, and it could assault him, basically, at any time of the day.

I didn’t really understand what this meant. I’ll explain this in the same way that I found out about it, which was: We were driving in the car one day, and Jeff said,

Jeff: I bet you do understand what this means, and maybe we’re just using different words to describe it. So let me give you this illustration. Remember this movie we went to last week with Tom Cruise?

Shaunti: Yes.

Jeff: Okay, you think he’s an attractive man, right?

Shaunti: Yes.

Jeff: Okay, so how many times the next day does this image of Tom Cruise with his shirt off just sort of rise up in your head?

I said . . .

Nancy: Let me guess—never?

Barbara: Zero.

Shaunti: Never.

Jeff: No, no. I must not be explaining myself correctly. You’re just sitting at your computer. You’re working on a column or something. You’re not doing anything sensual, and a picture of Tom Cruise with his shirt off just sort of flashes across the screen of your mind. How many times does that happen the next day?

ShauntiNever! It just doesn’t happen. I realized this is what goes on in the minds of our men, all day.

Barbara: All the time.

Shaunti: Every day they have these images that rise up and can really assault them without warning, and for any man who wants to keep his thought life pure, that’s when he has the choice. That’s when the temptation rises up, and he has the choice of what he’s going to do about it.

They have to take that thought captive and say, "I don’t want that in there," and tear it down. Do you know what? If they’re having a hard day, it could pop up again five seconds later. “Uh, I don’t want that there. Take it captive; tear it down.” And this culture, because it’s a mine field of those images, many men have described this as exhausting.

Nancy: A wife needs to appreciate and honor the fact that her husband is making the effort and is making the commitment to make those right choices when he does.

Barbara: She needs to thank him for being pure and for wanting to be faithful and for talking about this with her.

It is one of the things that I value most in my relationship with my husband—that he feels like he can confide in me when he is faced with temptation, or when he’s struggling in some area. He’ll talk to me about it, and I feel so honored that he feels safe with me, and we can talk about it. I can say, “Thank you for wanting to do what’s right. Thank you for doing what’s right. Thank you for not dwelling on those things or not lingering on a channel on the TV when you’re changing channels.”

All of those kinds of things—I’m so grateful. I make sure he knows that I’m grateful for the commitment that he has.

Nancy: But your husband is not going to feel free or safe to let you know he struggles if he knows that when he shares his struggle, you’re going to freak out.

Barbara: That’s right, he won’t. If when he shares that, not only will you freak out, but if he shares a need to be with you intimately, physically, sexually, and you’re not interested, or you don’t respond and you don’t welcome him, he’s thinking, Why should I talk to her about it? She doesn’t get it. The truth is that many women don’t get it.

Nancy: The fact that men are wired this way, that they are so visual says something, also, about the importance to those men of their own wife’s physical appearance.

Shaunti: This was actually a very important light bulb to me that went on, especially because I had just had two kids. I was twenty pounds overweight, and I just didn’t think it affected anybody but me. Honestly, that’s the way I felt about it. Instead, a man shared, “This is such a blind spot for so many women. They don’t realize the importance of this.”

The good thing that I learned that was such an encouragement (because it’s very hard to hear this) is that for men, it’s not about being a size three. And, of course, for me I say, "good thing," because it’s not going to happen! But it’s not about being tiny.

It’s about our men simply seeing us being willing to make the effort to take care of ourselves for them and to take the time to put ourselves together well. What a blessing it is to know that that’s important, because frankly, we say, "It’s what’s on the inside that matters."

We’ve come to this idea that what’s on the outside doesn’t matter, and instead, we just need to deal with reality on this and recognize that to our husband it does. Thankfully, again, recognizing that it’s about them seeing us willing to make the effort.

Nancy: Let me illustrate that with an email we received. Most of the emails we receive are from women, but this one came from a man who said exactly this. He said,

When my wife and I dated, it was so wonderful. We loved spending time with each other. She took care of herself. She took care of our home. She took care of me after we got married.

Then he described some work-related issues that came up, some financial issues, she had a baby, and in the process of marriage, years in the marriage, some things changed in her heart, and he said she became a very unhappy camper.

In all this time, she also has the extra weight from the baby; she’s growing heavier. She once was a very neat person. She no longer keeps the house clean and tidy. She’s let herself go physically; she’s at least sixty pounds overweight. I know it shouldn’t, but this has become a huge issue to me personally.

Quite honestly, this is hard for me to understand. I come home each day from an intense work situation, and she’s not dressed attractively. I know that it's not possible every day, but nine days out of ten the house is a wreck. She and our daughter are fighting with each other. "Welcome home, Honey!" I just want to go back to work.

Then he says what you just said, Shaunti.

If I could even see some small effort to please me as a husband, such as trying to control her weight and look more attractive—I’m often embarrassed in public. I’m not saying this is the right attitude; I’m just being honest. If I could just see some effort, I would at least see some light at the end of the tunnel.

He is really saying that when a wife doesn’t take care of herself, that the man feels unvalued and rejected.

Shaunti: The other thing that I hear from him is the same thing that I’ve heard from so many men. The sentiment that, “She doesn’t understand how hard it is for me in this culture to go through my day, all day, every day, making an effort to keep my eyes off of other women. She expects me, and I want to make that effort to try and keep my thought life pure for her, and to recognize that it’s that same kind of willingness to make an effort on her part—to do something that will help me in that process.”

Nancy: Shaunti, at the end of your survey, you asked men, “What is the one thing you most wish that your wife understood—that she knew about you?” You were really surprised at the answer that stood out from all those responses.

Shaunti: I was just blown away. I gave men a blank space to answer that question, “What is the one most important thing you wish your wife knew, but feel you can’t explain to her or tell her?”

I gave them a blank space, and I thought, really, they’d probably use it to vent. I mean, really, that’s what I expected. Instead, the top answer by far that I got was that the one most important thing they wished their wives knew was, “How much I love her.”

That blew me away because I realized that most of the men in our lives are good guys who love us, adore us, cherish us, and feel absolutely handicapped at really getting that across. I did a talk recently where a man came up to me afterwards after I shared this. He said, “It’s not even so much that I feel like I can’t tell her this. It’s that I can’t tell her in a way that she’ll really believe me and get the depth of how I feel about her.”

What an encouragement to us to recognize that we have such an opportunity to build the men in our lives up, and that they want to do the same thing for us.

Nancy: Women, it is as we receive the love, the incredible unconditional love that God has for us, that we grow in our capacity to give and receive love from others. If there’s an issue in your marriage—and there is in every marriage—where the love isn’t what it ought to be, the intimacy isn’t at the level that it ought to be, the starting place is in your relationship with the Lord.

As with every issue in life, it all goes back to your relationship with Jesus Christ. To have been loved by Him, and to receive His love with gratitude and with faith and realizing, His love is grace.

It’s not something we deserve; it’s just that He is a lover. He loves us with a dying and undying love, infinitely, eternally—what can ever separate us from the love of Christ?

As you begin to, by faith, receive that love, I think you’ll find that you have a greater capacity to believe and receive the love that your husband said in this survey, he really does want you to know that he has for you.

Leslie: Nancy Leigh DeMoss has been talking with Shaunti Feldhahn about her book For Women Only. Barbara Rainey joined them for that interview as well. 

I mentioned eariler that when we first aired that interview several years ago, our listeners responded like crazy—with gusto. They were intrigued by this topic and wanted to get a copy of the book. 

In the years since then, Shaunti has continued to research these topics and speak with women.

One of the topics she’s been studying is women in the workplace. Since men are visual like we’ve been hearing on today’s program—how should that affect the way women dress in the office?  Our team recently caught up with Shaunti and talked with her about modesty in the workplace. 

Shaunti: When a guy sees a woman who’s dressing in a way that causes overt attention to her figure, like cleavage, it turns out that there is a part of the brain in the back of the brain stem. The brain stem controls things like digestion and breathing. You don't think about this area of the brain stem, but it lights up, for example, when you haven't eaten all day and you walk into a room and see food. It's a gut level response. You're drawn to consume that food. You are not thinking, I am hungry. I want some food. There's an automatic biological response that happens where you are drawn to that.

Then your thinking centers kick in. You can decide whether or not, yes, it's time for dinner. I can go eat, or no, I've got to wait because I'm meeting my husband for dinner.

When a man sees a woman who's dressed in that way, like with a low-cut top. His brain stem does the exact same thing. He's automatically, gut-level drawn to that image. He automatically views that very sexually.

Then his thinking centers kick in and he goes, "Whoa, wait a minute, stop that." The problem is he is wrenching his thoughts away from this automatic response, this initial biological, non-thinking response that happens. He doesn't want that to happen, but that's what he has to do to take his thoughts captive, to wrench them away, to move his eyes.

But let's say he is in a workplace meeting. The way the guys describe it is like, "I can't sit there across the desk from her and have my hand up to block the view." So the brain stem keeps firing, and he has to keep wrenching his thoughts away. He's having this little inter-brain war going on, and he's not hearing a word she's saying.

We actually found that when we did this little experiment using a ninety-second video—a little video presenting four customer service suggestions. If they saw the version of the video where the woman had cleavage, the percentage of men who remembered her four points dropped by twenty-five percent. And that's with just a ninety-second video. The men who remembered the points said it was because they could look down and take notes.

It's interesting that women don't have the same response, so we don't get it. If we see an attractive man, the brain stem doesn't light up. We think a thinking-oriented response from the beginning. We think, Oh, he's an attractive man. We don't have this little inter-brain war. We do not know what that feels like.

That's what I tell women in corporate events. I do a lot of corporate now. This is one subject we often cover. Just realize, he's not hearing what you are saying. It's not just that he won't respect you as much, which is an issue. It's not just that you are having this temptation to fantasize, which he doesn't want, and you a causing a man to stumble—it's all true. Just from a self-interest perspective, he's not hearing you.

Leslie: Shaunti Feldhahn surveyed women in the workplace, trying to figure out why some of them choose immodest clothing. Was it because they thought this kind of clothing would help them get attention or get ahead at work?

Shaunti: We had a control group of women who took the survery. The women who said they did dress that way said it was not that at all. It was a high-ish number, like twenty percent, were dressing that way because they "officially" wanted to feel sexually attractive. But most women were horrified upon learning what was going on in the man's brain.

This is the reason I do so much now with youth as well, to explain this to the teenage girls. The girls think, It is not any of his business what I'm wearing, he shouldn't be looking. The way we describe it to them is its equivalent. Because he's so visually wired, it is equivalent to if you were walking through a mall and every boy who passed you reached out to touch you. Touch. Touch. Touch. The girls are like, "Eww." But you are being stimulated over and over and over and over again. You don't want to be. That's what it is like for a guy in this culture.

Leslie: That’s Shaunti Feldhahn. Yesterday she told us about some of the new research that’s gone into the updated version of her book, For Women Only. She explained why most men need time alone to think. 

So what does this mean to a wife who’s waiting for a decision? Here’s what research shows.

Shaunti: Neuro-scientists have actually found that because of the way the brain is structured and the way a guy is wired to do one thing deeply, deeply at a time . . . as opposed to a woman's brain structure which is wired to do a surface kind of zip processing of a bunch of things and then go a little bit deeper on a bunch of things and a little bit deeper and then a little bit deeper, going in circles downward . . . The guys are doing one thing at a time.

They have found that the same signal in a woman's brain to have a thought and a feeling and to talk about it, that signal can pass instantaneously in her brain. In a man's brain that same signal can take up to seven hours to pass. That's because he is doing this deep, deep, chess match processing.

So if you say, "What are you thinking?"

And he says, "I don't know what I'm thinking."

And, of course, I would always say, "How can you not know what you are thinking?"

But if you are demanding an answer before he has processed it, neither of you is going to end up with a good result. He's going to feel backed up into a corner and not sure of what he is thinking yet. He can't win this verbal sparring match with you. He's at a disadvantage. And you're going to get something he hasn't thought through. You might get an answer, but it won't be one that you're happy with or that he's happy with.

A lot of women at night might get into an argument and want an answer right away. We'll have such a better response if we will say, "Okay," and give him until the next morning to process. You'll get a much better response over breakfast than you will right in the heat of it.

Leslie: That’s Shaunti Feldhahn. She’s recently released an updated edition of her book, For Women Only. We’d like to send you a copy, along with the booklet, 30 Days of Encouraging Your Husband. 

The booklet describes a challenge you’ve been hearing all this week on Revive Our Hearts. That challenge is: For thirty days, don’t say anything negative about your husband, and for thirty days, say one positive thing about him each day. A listener named Allison took this challenge. 

Allison: My husband originally went to school at college to be a pastor. Right now he's working in a warehouse. It doesn't have a lot of prestige. It's a warehouse job. He makes money to support the family, and he does a good job, but it's not something you want to brag about or go "Ooh, look what job I have."

It really changed my perspective to be able to encourage him that God is using this even now to prepare him for what God has down the road. It made me focus on looking for skills or talents that he was using in his job now that you could see that the Lord was cultivating for the future.

I think that's really changed my heart, and it has encouraged him to fully embrace his job and to see his job as more of that's where the Lord called him and that's his mission field for right now. That's where the Lord has called him to speak to people and share with people and minister to people. He takes every opportunity he has now in his job to be faithful with the little that the Lord's trusted him with. 

Nancy: I’m so thankful that God has used the 30-Day Husband Encouragement Challenge to affect Michael, Allison, and so many marriages like theirs.

I want to say that I hope every married woman who is listening to the sound of my voice today will take this same challenge over the next thirty days.

Starting the thirty-day challenge has never been easier, because we've created a booklet called 30 Days of Encouraging Your Husband. It will give you fresh ideas on how to effectively build up your husband each day through the challenge.

When you send in a donation of any amount to Revive Our Hearts, we’ll send you the booklet, 30 Days of Encouraging Your Husband. And we’ll also add the book our guest Shaunti Feldhahn wrote called, For Women Only.

You can make your donation of any size at ReviveOurHearts.com, or give us a call 1-800-569-5959.

Finally, I want to acknowledge that every situation is unique. Today’s discussion on outward beauty and physical needs of husbands is going to resonate differently with different women. Each person brings their own experiences, and sometimes hurts, to a topic like this.

I want to encourage you to just ask the Lord what He wants you to take away from today’s program? If you need some further help sorting things out in your life or your marriage, consider approaching an older woman in your church or perhaps your pastor and his wife. Ask them to help you think and pray through how to work these issues out in your specific situation. 

Leslie: Thanks, Nancy. And thanks to you, our listeners for joining us today.  

Next week we’ll talk about an incredible opportunity to build God’s kingdom. That opportunity?  Entering the empty nest years. Please be back for Revive Our Hearts. 

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

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