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Professional Christian Counseling

                Emotionally Focused...Solution Driven Counseling

  Bulding Healthy Marriages and Strong Families


Trust is being so convinced that you can rely on the integrity strength, character and faithfulness of another that you are willing to place yourself in

―Paul David Tripp[1]

Her Love Gauge

The Conversation She Monitors

Revised 11/29/2015

Both men and women monitor aspects of their relationship to determine whether it is working well or is somehow in jeopardy. They look at the frequency and quality of certain kinds of words and behaviors in order to determine whether or not these are being displayed by their partner. All words and actions communicate additional meaning beyond what is seen or heard superficially. Communication experts say that underlying messages, which get assigned to every word, gesture or even silence all provide us with deeper meanings that they call manifest content. Because many of our spouse’s thoughts and attitudes are not usually verbalized, they come out subliminally in the form of intimations, implications, euphemisms and innuendos. In fact, all behavior, speech or silence communicates something. The way something is said along with the facial gestures and the tone of voice used all add additional content to what is being communicated. These additional messages are called metamessages and couples cannot avoid sending them. In an intimate relationship there is a constant conversation happening in the background between the two. Deborah Tannen in her book That‘s Not What I Meant!: How Conversation Style Makes or Breaks Relationships writes “If you want to take the temperature and check the vital signs of a relationship, the barometers to check are its metamessages: what is said and how.”[1]

One of the more aesthetic aspects of relationship that women take readings of and gauge is based on the frequency and quality of how perceptive a husband is at picking up on the subtle cues she gives him. Dating is just a prelude to what she expects marriage to be like. Just as he picked up her cues in dating and acted upon them, so she wants him to continue doing that throughout their marriage. She wants him to understand what she needs and desires without having to tell him. While she would like for him to be able to read her mind at times, to empathize with her and then satisfy those desires without having to say a word to him, women often settle for sending small cues to help their husbands figure it out. They do so because no one wants to have to tell their mate how to love them. Both men and women reason that if you need to do that then it is better to just do it for yourself. No, people want their mate to know them so well that they do those things without having to be asked. When this happens it sends a strong message of affiliation, love and caring that translates into a stronger sense of connection, security and well-being.

The Mechanics of Her Love Gauge ― Protoconversation

The metamessages that women intuitively read from people around them find their roots in protoconversation. Protoconversation refers to the conversation a mother has with her infant child. Overt messages such as crying are fairly easy to interpret. Generally that means that the child is either hungry or needs to be changed. Other messages such as cooing denote happiness or contentment. You can also tell how glad a child is to see you by how it kicks its legs when you enter the room or from its smiles. Turning its head and looking away may be a sign of disinterest. As a mother gains skill at reading her child’s unspoken messages she and her child become attuned to one another. The Insula is the part of the brain that process these gut feelings and it is larger and more active in women than in men.[2] This process is a phenomenon of relationship and is repeated each time new relationships develop.[3]

The Mechanics of Her Love Gauge ― Attunement

We call the process that mothers use to establish a nonverbal language and caring relationship with their children attunement. In the process of attuning with her child a mother is also honing another skill called intuition. In essence mother and child develop a vocabulary of facial expressions, sounds, gestures and body movements that all convey some meaning. Because the child cannot confirm or disconfirm the meaning that the mother has assigned to the child’s behavior, a mother must learn to rely on her assumptions. While women are innately predisposed to making assumptions,[4] overtime these patterns of assuming can become reinforced. Especially when she finds out that an assumption she has made was accurate. Taken to extreme measures, making assumptions about people can become a double edged sword for women. If her assumptions are correct then everything is fine. If she assumes wrongly then delusions are possible. False beliefs about what someone’s words or actions mean can be particularly destructive in a romantic relationship.

The Mechanics of Her Love Gauge ― Metamessages

Women are much more attuned to protoconversation and metamessages than men are because they have been created to focus on affiliation with others and on the development of relationships. Researchers have found that women have a two thousand times better ability at reading the subtle cues from others than men do. Deborah Tannen offers “…it is through metamessages that relationships among people are established and maintained.”[5] If you recall from our discussions of His Heart that dating women send subtle cues to signal a man of her interest. Signals such as glances, smiling and head tilting are all metamessages designed to communicate romantic interest. Flirting is full of metamessages and men employ them too. The only problem occurs when people do not read them correctly. Mostly wrong conclusions are what show up in the things couples argue about. If you find yourself arguing with your spouse frequently then you may check yourself for false beliefs and begin seeking replacement truth.

Along with finances and sex, communication problems consistently rank among the top issues couples are discouraged by. When women complain of communication problems in a relationship they are indirectly saying that there are not enough high quality metamessages. What women are trying to say is that her husband is not sending the right kinds of loving messages or that he is not giving her enough communication in order to draw the correct meaning. She may also be saying that he is not paying enough attention to the metamessages he is sending by what he says to her or how he says it. Furthermore, women who point to communication as a relationship issue are grieving the loss of attunement and the Biblical unity that Genesis 2:24 calls for, along with what they are wired to want with their husbands. Instead, wives feel that for some reason he is failing to tune into her life and to her feelings about her life as well as reassuring her that she is safe, secure and cared for. Since women pay much more attention to metamessages than men do, how something is said is just as important as what is said. Men often pay little attention to this important feature of relationship with a woman causing it to contribute majorly to the communication problems and disappointments that women are distressed by. Women are not only distressed when the frequency and kind of communication that they desire goes missing but also because of the communication style me often use.

Since women mostly use indirect styles of communication it makes perfect sense that they would be put off by the direct communication style that men often use. While directness is a very efficient style of communication thus making it desirable for men to use, women feel that it can come across as harsh and insensitive. Because women tune into metamessages, a direct tone might mean that he is expressing displeasure with her which feels harsh when in fact his straightforward and to the point style may not be trying to communicate that at all. For some women even an emotionless face turned toward her signals that she has done something wrong which she takes to mean that he is displeased with her.[6]

While men tend toward directness women, on the other hand, tend to use more indirect styles of communication that aims for the opposite―to be sensitive to the feelings of others and to not offend others. To prove this point, a study of over one thousand sexually active girls age sixteen or younger were asked what topic they wanted more information on. An astounding 84% of them responded that they wanted to know “how to say no without hurting the other person’s fee1ings.”[7] The large percentages indicate that these attitudes are biologically driven in females. And since estrogen is the hormone that makes a person feminine, the level of estrogen in a woman’s body helps to determine the strength of these behaviors. Because estrogen does not decline until after menopause, this means that these attitudes are not likely to change much through adulthood. You may also want to keep in mind that pregnant women produce about eighty times more estrogen than a woman who is not would, which suggests that pregnant women may be more sensitive to metamessages than anyone else. This aspect of femininity puts women in relational paradoxes.

Created For Others Not Self

The paradox that women face is an internal one and it has to do with how much she values self versus others. Valuing self, as a form of assertion, insulates oneself from harm while valuing others places oneself in an arena of vulnerability. Christian author Beverly LaHaye writes that women tend toward a strong sense of nurturing and that they have been created for giving, nurturing, serving, and comforting. “To deny this selfless nature is to deny our personalities and the purpose for our existence.”[8] Even the indirect style of speech we have been discussing is aimed at accommodating others. Furthermore, Dr. David Schnarch observes that men often sacrifice relationships in order to maintain their sense of self while women often sacrifice their sense of self in order to maintain their relationships.[9] The problem women face with always considering others first is―who will consider them? Some psychologists have recognized that this selfless nurturing stance makes women dependent on others for support and some have even tried to label it as a pathological syndrome in efforts to force women to be more assertive.[10] To do so, goes against a woman’s very nature. Because women tend not to be as confrontational as men they rely on others to help them deal with the negative feelings that ensue from encountering less than ideal life situations.

Since many women are unwilling to assert themselves and confront the behaviors of others that are offensive, then they have only two choices of what to do with the strong feelings that are associated with it. If a woman cannot express her negative feelings to the person who caused them then she either must keep those feelings bottled up inside of herself, thus making her like a pressure cooker, or she can express them to someone else who is a safe listener. According to an eighteen-month longitudinal study, it found that young females are more likely than young males to engage in ruminative coping. Ruminative coping is replaying over and over in one’s mind some injury. The hope is that a different more positive cause for the offensive behavior can be found thus resolving the strong negative feelings that were associated with the offense. Ruminative coping has been shown to predict the onset and severity of depression.[11] Of which, women suffer from at rates twice as often as men.[12] In another study of women age 24 to 44, respondents reported that the major cause of their depression came from an inability to express their anger.[13] By the way, continuing to mull hurtful events over and over in the mind is not an effective method of coping. If a woman cannot express her feelings to the person who caused them―aside from depressing―she has only one other choice.

Finding Emotional Support

The other choice that women have if they believe they cannot talk to a perpetrator is to talk to another person about what has happened to them. This is how and why women choose confidantes with whom they can confide. A good listener who empathizes with a woman can help her to feel understood thus enabling her to release those strong feelings. Often women believe (erroneously sometimes) that if they have been emotionally understood then the situation has resolved itself. This is not unreasonable. Certainly a person should expect that if they were able to express how hurt they felt by what someone had done to them and, if that person were able to understand how it felt to be treated that way, then theoretically, they would never do that hurtful behavior again. Why? Because truly feeling how it felt to be treated that way would be painful. Who would intentionally inflict painful behaviors onto another person? Incidentally, women tend not to discriminate who understands them whether it be a perpetrator or a confidant. Both seem to be just as suitable. Because women know this about each other, it causes them to form alliances with one another in order to share, empathize and decompress feelings of being treated wrongfully.

Many women find biological comfort in one another’s company and language. It is the glue that connects one female to another.[14] Dr. Marianne Legato refers to this as Friending and Befriending.[15] Friending and Befriending starts early in a woman’s life. Dr. Brizendine in her book The Female Brain relays a story of when she taught a class of teens, and the topic of why girls go to the bathroom together came up. The boys wanted to know why girls did that while assuming that it involved something sexual. The girls replied however that “It’s the only private place at school we can go to talk.”[16] Females want privacy in order to avoid conflict with those who hurt them because discord puts them at odds with their urge for relationship.[17] In private conversations they trade secrets and gossip about others in order to create connection and intimacy with their female peers.[18] Young girls learn quickly who can keep secrets and who cannot. A confidant is one who is able to hold confidences, especially from those whom her confiding friend finds difficult to confront.[19] Conflict registers as a major psychological stressor for females and they will try anything to diffuse it.[20] Confidentiality is a key ingredient in relationship and every counselor knows that maintaining it builds trust, connection and attachment.

Connecting with others through talking activates the pleasure centers in a female’s brain. Sharing secrets that have romantic and sexual implications activate her pleasure centers even more. Dr. Brizendine has this to say about its impact: “It’s a major dopamine and oxytocin rush, which is the biggest, fattest neurological reward you can get outside of an orgasm [sexual].” Dopamine is the neurochemical responsible for stimulating the motivation and pleasure circuits in the brain. It creates addictive qualities that cause people to want to regain whatever caused the rush. Women produce more dopamine and oxytocin than men do and oxytocin is the neurochemical that triggers and is triggered by intimacy.[21] Women feel this to a much larger degree than men do which makes communication the female counterpart to the sexual orgasm that men seek which is why I refer to the rush females seek from communication―the Verbal Orgasm. While confidantes help women to achieve the psychological release needed for a verbal orgasm, women desperately want this to happen with their husbands. Just as the sexual orgasm addicts a husband to his wife, so the verbal orgasm is what especially addicts her to him. Because this is so, hurtful words, actions or metamessages from a woman’s husband convert him into a perpetrator rather than her confidant. When a woman start looking at her husband this way may mean that she must start keeping secrets from him and start talking to others instead.

The Impact of Frequency and Quality of Conversation

“One of a woman’s greatest needs and desires is to have healthy, open communication with her husband.”[22] Because of her more intense levels of feelings, she is more vulnerable to daily twists-and-turns that may befall her in any given day. She wants to know that he is available to her when she needs his reassurance that everything will be fine. Being available to her, even over the urgency of other matters, sends two very important metamessages that do reassure her. First, his availability satisfies her need for frequency. That is, he listens to her often enough that her negative feelings about the world remain relatively dissipated. Second, the fact that he makes her a priority satisfies her desire to be affirmed and validated by him. It tells her that she is important and special to him. If that is true then in her mind she reasons that he will do what it takes to take care of her.

In regard to quality, because of a man’s lower intensity of feelings, it is easier for him to listen to her without becoming agitated himself. He can remain more objective to what wives sometimes refer to as chattering, which offers her a calming presence amidst strong biological pressures to talk. Because he is not anxious about what she is telling him then that means she does not have to be either. Women adjust their own feelings to match the feelings of others. Studies conducted by Harvard Medical School found that infant girls do this better with their mothers than do boys.[23] It is reassuring for her to know that he will be there to help settle her feelings when the worst thing that could happen looks like it might which women often conclude that it is already a foregone conclusion.

Because of the greater intensity of a woman’s feelings, even the smallest perception of a threat can produce strong feelings of insecurity and vulnerability. In her vulnerability she fears what the outcome may be and consequently begins formulating what to expect and how she will react if it does. Forming an action ahead of time assures her that she will not be acting out of her feelings alone which she knows can cause exaggerated or inappropriate behaviors at times. The only way to ease these fears is to gain calming information. Obviously the best way comes through open and honest conversation but if it doesn’t―women are equipped to develop their own understanding through intuition.

Intuition is not the best way of forming beliefs because it may or may not be based on fact or truth. For example, a woman would be blindsided if her husband suddenly quit his job. Something like that would be a severe blow to her desire for security. Therefore, because of her strong desire to be secure she will have constantly monitored his mood about his job instead of waiting for something like being fired or quitting to be sprung on her. Hence her question, “Honey, how was your day?” She wants to know if things are going haywire so that she can prepare herself for what to do in response to something like that if it really does happen. Women seek reassurance in this and many other ways.

Women who are able to have their intuitions either confirmed or corrected stand the best chance at making correct assumptions in the future and living presently in reality. The more she is able to read her husband correctly and the better he is at reading her, the closer they get to gaining the Genesis 2:24 Cycle of Intimacy unity that the Bible calls for.

In the next section we will examine the importance of a couple’s verbal intercourse

Works Cited:

[1] That‘s Not What I Meant!: How Conversation Style Makes or Breaks Relationships, Deborah Tannen, New York: Harper, 2011. (p. 136).

[2] The Female Brain, Louann Brizendine, New York: Broadway Books, 2006. (p. xii).

[3] Ibid. (p.115-116).

[4] Ibid. (p. 8).

[5] That‘s Not What I Meant!: How Conversation Style Makes or Breaks Relationships, Deborah Tannen, New York: Harper, 2011. (p. 136).

[6] The Female Brain, Louann Brizendine, New York: Broadway Books, 2006. (p.15).

[7] The Desires of a Woman’s Heart, Beverly LaHaye, Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, 1993. (p. 154).

[8] Ibid. (p.77).

[9] Desire Problems: A Systemic Perspective, Chapter 1, David Schnarch, In Sandra Leiblum and Howard Rosen (Eds.) Principles and Practice of Sex Therapy, 3rd Edition, New York: The Guilford Press, 2000. (p. 27).

[10] Orgasmic Disorders in Women, Chapter 5, Julia R. Heiman, In Sandra Leiblum and Howard Rosen (Eds.) Principles and Practice of Sex Therapy, 3rd Edition, New York: The Guilford Press, 2000. (p. 128).

[11] The response styles theory of depression: Tests and an extension of the theory. N. Just & L.B. Alloy, Journal of Abnormal Psychology, (1997). (pp.106, 221-229). In G. C. Davison, J.M. Neale, & A. M. Kring (Eds.), Abnormal Psychology (9th ed.) USA: John Wiley & Sons, Inc. (p. 302).

[12] Why Men Never Remember and Women Never Forget, Marianne J. Legato MD, FACP, United States: Rodale, Inc., 2005. (p. 177).

[13] For The Record: The Foster Report, Gary Foster, Christian Counseling Connection, Volume 18 Issue.4, Forest: American Association of Christian Counselors, 2012. (p.15).

[14] The Female Brain, Louann Brizendine, New York: Broadway Books, 2006. (p. 36).

[15] Why Men Never Remember and Women Never Forget, Marianne J. Legato MD, FACP, United States: Rodale, Inc., 2005. (p. 78).

[16] The Female Brain, Louann Brizendine, New York: Broadway Books, 2006. (p. 35).

[17] Ibid. (p. 21).

[18] Ibid. (p. 36).

[19] The Desires of a Woman’s Heart, Beverly LaHaye, Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, 1993. (p. 123).

[20] The Female Brain, Louann Brizendine, New York: Broadway Books, 2006. (p. 6, 21).

[21] Ibid. (p. 37).

[22] The Desires of a Woman’s Heart, Beverly LaHaye, Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, 1993. (p. 118).

[23] The Female Brain, Louann Brizendine, New York: Broadway Books, 2006. (p. 18-19).

Her Love Gauge Page

The Birds and Bees Talk 

You've Never Heard...

Mikel Kelly, MA, LMHC

AACC World Conference

Nashville, TN

September 24, 2015


The Genesis 2:24

Cycle of Marital Intimacy

“That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.”

Genesis 2:24 — NIV



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Heading Quote:

[1] What Did You Expect: Redeeming the Realities of Marriage, Paul David Tripp, Wheaton: Crossway, 2010. (p. 138).