Most of my work with male clients surrounds helping them have more fulfilling relationships with their wives. If they are single, a lot of the reason they come into therapy is to figure out how to get into a fulfilling relationship and why this has eluded them so far. Having a happy and loving relationship is integral to the happiness and self-esteem of the majority of males, which is obvious evolutionarily because if you can’t get a woman to love you (at least for that evening), you can’t pass on your genetic material. But if you cannot empathize with women, and you have no idea what they are thinking, you are much less likely to be able to initiate and maintain a close, connected relationship.
The more empathy and understanding there is in your relationship, the likelier you are to have expectations for one another that can actually be met. But if, for instance, a man has no idea that his wife is worrying about her body as much as she is, he will be baffled as to why she doesn’t want to take her shirt off during sex and will take this personally, which will lead to conflict. If he understood what she was thinking, he could not only be more complimentary but also never take her reticence to mean anything about his attractiveness (men do think that if they were sexier, the shirt would come off. This and other misconceptions will be laid out in my companion piece to this one: what men really think about).
The following is a list of nine things that women actually think about during most hours of most days, in varying proportions based on their stress levels, what else is going on, where they are in their menstrual cycles, and so forth.
1. Their body
Women think about their weight, whether they look old, whether their hair is getting thinner, whether their boobs look terrible after nursing, whether they should just buy the next size up in clothes or if that is just giving up entirely, when and how they will next work out, guilt over not working out, and so forth, approximately 10 times a day or 100 times an hour based on the individual woman. Formula = multiply how often your wife verbalizes negative thoughts about her body and times by one million to get how often she thinks negative thoughts about her body.
2. Food or drink
When women struggle at all with moderating food or alcohol intake, they think about this approximately every 1–2 minutes. “What am I going to eat, how many calories is it, if I start eating now will I be able to stave off snacking later, can I wait to eat until afternoon so then I eat for fewer total hours, should I have my glass of wine now or is it too early, how many do I deserve to have since it was a bad day, do I have a problem with food/alcohol, I won’t think about it, I’m thinking about it, are there medications to help people not eat so much??????” Many many women have subclinical levels of eating disorder or substance use issues, and if you hear your wife say any of the above, it is likely she is among them, and is consumed by thoughts about consumption.
3. The kids
Despite wives saying that they think about the kids 24/7, their male partners don’t seem to really understand how literal this is. In my opinion and experience, there is a biological difference here, which may stem from the fact that women think about their (first, at least) pregnancy 24/7, which then continues after the baby is born. Women think about their kids as a backdrop to everything they do. The thoughts range from basic “I need to pack the lunches” thoughts to higher-level “I hope the kids are learning positive things from me.” Also, sometimes women think about the kids getting older and just feel like crying and go through all their photos from when the kids are babies. Your wife does this about 100 times more than you suspect.
Unfortunately, rates of depression and anxiety are higher in women and these often both concord with elevated rates of guilt. Your wife probably feels guilty about something every minute. When she has no pressing immediate thing, she just feels guilty for the last time she yelled at the kids or let them watch too much screen time. Guilt about the kids is a big one and happens approximately 300 times a day on a slow day.
5. Her family
Women think about their own families of origin very frequently. Even women who are estranged from their parents think about them at least every day as a conservative estimate. Women think about their relationships with their moms a lot, especially if they are conflictual. They think about when they are next going to see their families, whether they are being a good daughter/sister, and whose birthday is coming up. They think about when their kids will next see their cousins. They wonder if they are messing up their kids in the same ways they feel their parents messed them up.
Whether your wife loves or hates your family, in most couples that I work with, your wife thinks about them about 100 times more than you do. She thinks about whether you are a selfish jerk because your mom coddled you, whether your mom likes her, when she will see them next and/or how to get out of seeing them, whether your sisters are judging her, and so forth. You only hear about 10% of the stuff your wife thinks about your family. Scary, right?
7. Her career
If your wife works outside the home, she thinks about her career and its future a lot. She thinks about whether it is fulfilling and whether it makes a difference. She thinks about what her clients or students or patients or customers think of her. She worries about what her coworkers think about her. Especially if she is an anxious person, she thinks about whether she is doing a good job or if people secretly think she sucks.
Women think a lot about their friends. They place great importance on staying connected with friends, remembering life events, asking how their friends’ kids are, and planning calls or get togethers. Women derive a great deal of self-esteem from being considered a good friend, and they get a lot of comfort from sharing their feelings with their friends. Men do not think about their friends’ marriages or kids that often, but women think about this all the time. They also compare their own husbands, careers, kids, looks, and homes to those of their friends, for better or for worse.
9. You, with qualifiers
Your wife likely does not think about you much during the course of her day. If she is happy with you, she may text you something funny or cute during the day. If she hears during the day about a husband who is worse than you in some way, she may feel happy and think you’re pretty okay. But that’s about the extent of it. However, if she is unhappy or unfulfilled, she thinks about you and the marriage pretty much all the time and is consumed by anxiety, anger, and sadness. A happy marriage is to some extent like that saying about air: you only think about it when you don’t have enough of it.
Note what is not on this list: sex. Your wife thinks about sex approximately two different times: when she is having it, and possibly when she is ovulating. If you need a refresher on how much women think about sex during the day (never), read this. If your wife does text you about sex or tell you she wants to have sex later, it is likely because she is ovulating, or you’re being so sweet and helpful that she is feeling really positive about you, or she is trying to be a rockstar wife because she read some of my blog posts about men and sex, or she wants to make a baby (or her ovaries do).
There are really very few women in long term monogamous relationships that think about sex with their husbands frequently if ever during the day. This should be reassuring intel for all the men who feel shortchanged that their wife isn’t one of the imaginary wives that exist in their heads that send their husband frequent nude pictures without an ulterior motive. (Note that some awesome wives do send sexy texts, but their ulterior motive is usually “to be a good wife and distract myself from my other 40 anxiety-inducing thoughts” rather than their husband’s fantasy reason of “because I’m just so horny sitting here at my job that I need your body right now.”)
If you are a woman, send this list to your husband or boyfriend with the ones highlighted that you think about most. If you are a man, ask your wife or girlfriend if this is true. (And if you are a woman consumed by a constant parade of the aforementioned thoughts and even think I’m being conservative in my frequency estimates of the “guilt” or “bad body image” ones, therapy can help you. If you don’t have many positive thoughts at all but lots of the negative ones I mentioned, therapy can help change that ratio, and that is called being depressed or anxious vs just being a normative female.) And till we meet again, I remain, The Blogapist Who Says, Yup, Even A Woman With A High Libido Thinks About The Kids 10,000 Times More Than She Thinks About Sex.