Several years ago I was fishing with a long time buddy who had a reputation as a decent fellow, if not a bit crusty. He was a man of few words, and was certainly not prone to revealing feelings or being soft. In other words, he was a typical guy.

We had some success at one fishing hole and had decided to drive to another spot just a couple of miles away where we thought we could improve on our good fortune. As we rode in his pick-up truck, I decided to speak words of affirmation. “Hank, you and I have gone fishing numerous times but I don’t think I’ve ever told you how thoroughly I enjoy our outings. There’s something about getting away with a buddy that makes stress and tension disappear and I just wanted you to know that I am thankful for our friendship. I hope we get to have plenty more times to get out and spend time together with Mother Nature.”

By the blush that immediately came to Hank’s face, you would have thought that I had just kissed him on the lips. He truly did not know how to respond. Stammering, he said, “Uh, yeah, uh, I guess that goes, uh, for me too.” He could say no more. He seemed embarrassed to have spoken in reverse to me about a touchy feely subject. I suspect it was the first time in his life that he had been confronted by the challenge of exchanging kind words with a man.

Inwardly I grinned, thinking it was fun to rouse a guy like I just had, forcing him to get way outside his comfort zone. (Was it was my masculine competitiveness that took glee in one-upping the dude?)

At least since the 1970’s popularity of group counseling (with its trust exercises and emotional catharsis) and the mainstreaming of feminism, Modern Man has been challenged to get in touch with his feminine side. If you think about it, we do actually see more men hug each other, and indeed more are willing to contribute to domestic and parenting chores that were once the exclusive domain of women.

But based on conversations I’ve had with plenty of still-frustrated wives, we men are nowhere near completed with the feminizing process. Let me underscore that it is good for men to be manly, so there is no need for us to apologize for uniquely male traits. It’s okay for men to wear dirty sweatshirts and yell at the quarterback on TV and tell jokes while puffing cigars. Yet, balance is indeed needed, and we can make a real difference on the home front as we allow ourselves to be well versed with traits that our wives hunger for.

So, men, here are a few thoughts to ponder:

  • We are human beings, not human doings. Focus on the traits of inner being that make a person successful.
  • Criticism is not a positive quality. Anyone can find fault in someone or something, but it requires thoughtfulness and creativity to compliment what is right and good.
  • Controlling behavior is not loving nor is it ultimately motivating. However, once you let others know they are accepted as they are, you are on your way to building the influence you so desperately want.
  • Gentleness is not a wimpy trait. In fact, it requires all the strength you can muster.
  • It’s therapeutic to get into the habit of telling your wife and kids something about them that you like at least once a day.
  • Hands can be used as bridges to another person’s heart. Use tender touch when possible.
  • Forceful communication is not nearly as effective as calm firmness. People respond better when you speak with respect.

And ladies, you can increase your odds of having tender exchanges with the man in your life as you consider the following:

  • More than anything else, a man likes to know he is honored. You’re not enabling selfishness when you let him know what you admire about him.
  • If he has difficulty identifying his emotions, help him out. For example, when a project goes as planned, openly speak about his feeling of contentment. When he’s ticked off at the kid’s unruly remark, let him know you sense his bruised hurt.
  • Model touch. Put your hand on his shoulder when you have something to say. Grab his hand and hold it when you are in public.
  • Don’t argue with him when he offers suggestions you neither want nor need. Thank him for his interest and let him know you’ll give careful thought to his notions.
  • Don’t take his gruff exterior as an unwillingness to love. Your consistent goodness can be more inspiring than you may realize.
  • Whatever you feel, refrain from telling him what to do. You can speak requests as an equal, but don’t act like you are his mother.

Few men want to be known as a girly guy, but in our private moments of vulnerability, most of us will admit that we know it is a good thing to prioritize love. We just need patient friends and mates who are willing to help pull it out.