Three Phrases Men Everywhere Stumble Over, Yet Women Long to Hear

by Brett on February 3, 2009 · 35 comments

in Dating, Marriage, Relationships & Family


Image from Tobyotter

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post from Tim Clark. Tim is an entrepreneur and Japan specialist. He writes about money and meaning at Soul Shelter. Check out his site and become a subscriber.

While working overseas for nearly ten years, mainly in Japan, I enjoyed the privilege of observing manly (and womanly) behavior in cultures very different from the United States.

So when Art of Manliness asked me to provide an updated perspective on Japanese-style manhood, I was happy to oblige – and surprised at what my research uncovered.

AoM readers enjoyed a glimpse of traditional Japanese manhood in a previous essay on Bushido. While those ideals are popularly known as the Way of the Warrior, as the article showed, they might be better termed the Precepts of Chivalry.

In practice, though, chivalry in Japan is something men have extended primarily to, well … other men. A woman’s role was to have dinner, beer, and bath ready however late her husband returned home. Men, for their part, were expected to focus exclusively on work, which meant ignoring their wives and children.

Unfortunately, over time the “absent husband/father” syndrome became widely accepted and drove a terrible wedge between the genders. Today it is reflected in fewer, later marriages, and skyrocketing rates of divorce, especially those initiated by older women, who shudder at the prospect of becoming little more than a housekeeper for a retired, estranged husband who is clueless without his company – and helpless around the home.

Yet hope for true chivalry survives, in the unlikely form of Shuichi Amano.

Mr. Amano, a dedicated salaryman in his late 50s, foresaw his own marriage foundering and recognized that Japanese husbands had to mend their ways if they were to live like true men (and stay married). He formed an organization, Zenteikyo (loosely translated as the Chauvinistic Husbands Association of Japan), which serves as a support group and resource for men striving to become more sensitive to wives’ needs.

With Art of Manliness mission firmly in mind, last month I called Mr. Amano to chat, and found him warm and companionable. We bemoaned that opportunities to demonstrate chivalry these days seem limited to such mundane tasks as opening wine bottles, carrying packages, and walking on the traffic side of the sidewalk. To be sure, the days of hewing logs with ax and adze, building fires with flint and steel, and using fisticuffs (or swords) to defend one’s beloved, are, for almost all of us, long past.

amano2008Men today, we agreed, face challenges of a different sort. And increasingly, words, rather than actions, dominate metrics of manhood. I was struck by Mr. Amano’s assertion that there are three crucial phrases that many men find almost unutterable. That’s too bad, because they’re precisely the three things most women long to hear. I assured Mr. Amano that the problem of lack of chivalry, while acute in Japan, is universal.

So, are you ready to test your international manliness quotient? Then assess how frequently – and on what occasions – you voice the Three Magic Phrases.

The first is the simplest:

“Thank you.”

Women rarely hear this enough.

Words of thanks come easily in response to the big things. But real men express gratitude for the thankless, everyday chores that make a home, for the tasks too often left to women. Real men may no longer hew logs, but they must hone gratitude.

Readers, can we have a show of hands? How many of you offer daily thanks for the small stuff? (if you’re like me and Mr. Amano, you’re shifting uncomfortably in your seat.)

Well, onward nevertheless. Most men find Phrase Two even more challenging:

“I’m sorry.”

Even boys will voice contrition for their big failures. But it’s your ability to recognize – and say you’re sorry for – smaller failings that ranks you as a man. Forget about pumping iron; pump up the apologies.

Finally, there’s Phrase Three. It’s the least voicable of all, especially in Japan. Around the world, though, it occasionally pops out at, well, mission-critical moments:

“I love you.”

But real men say “I love you,” not only in the heat of passion, but in the cool calm of daylight: while driving the car, while washing the dishes, while eating breakfast. Men, forget about lifting logs; focus on lofting those love words.

So, there you have them: Three magic phrases men everywhere stumble over – yet women everywhere long to hear. Now, the question is: Are we manly enough to give them voice?


{ 35 comments… read them below or add one }

1 dylan February 3, 2009 at 8:32 pm

Great article. Excellent advice.
When I use these phrases, things roll smoother. I have learned from experience.

I also really enjoy the art of manliness, I have been reading for a few weeks.
Keep up the good work.

2 LS February 3, 2009 at 8:35 pm

I say each at least once a week, often daily, and my relationship is very healthy. It’s all about respect. :)

3 David at Animal-Kingdom-Workouts February 3, 2009 at 8:37 pm

I really enjoy the art of manliness too. A lot of the advice and wisdom found here wouldn’t have been considered advice or wisdom once upon a time. It seems we nee to relearn this stuff. I’m not really sure why that is. I do think it’s saying something not overly positive about our society though.

- Dave

4 Tom February 3, 2009 at 8:51 pm

Something my girlfriend likes to hear (and I mean this sincerely) is “you’re right”. You know guys, sometimes we know we’re wrong and it actually causes more damage to be stubborn and drag the fight out than to just openly and honestly admit you’re wrong (throw in an I’m sorry too, for effect).

My girlfriend and I were having a fight last week about an ex girlfriend of mine (whom I considered a friend up until I met my girlfriend) calling and sending text messages persistently. While I thought first to stand up for my right to befriend who I choose I realized her point that I would have a serious issue if she was running around with someone she used to elope with. So I admitted my wrong, said I’m sorry, and apologized.

The look on her face was that of astonishment.

5 Tim February 4, 2009 at 6:34 am

@ All: Thanks for the kind words about my article. As you can tell, I’m a big AoM fan, too!

@ Tom, I vote for making “you’re right” the fourth Magic Phrase. Sounds like you are one of the growing number of men who have figured out that they’d rather be happy than “right.”

Cheers to all!

Tim Clark

6 Eric L February 4, 2009 at 7:37 am

I guess I’m ahead of the curve then. I’m 34 and I’ve always tried to say these three phrases without prompting or artifice. I think the hardest one for me is “you’re right” but that speaks more to my personality in general. I hate being wrong :) My wife does love to hear me say “you’re right” because even though I say it, it’s probably less than I should say it. She often asks if I’ll repeat it, slightly louder.

I am a firm believer in telling the people around you that you love them. First learn to tell your wife or girlfriend. Then maybe your parents. Telling your closest friends you love them is a little more difficult, but platonic love is important and helps to define our character.

I tell my wife I love her every day. Sometimes out of the blue, and sometimes in place of a “thank you”.

7 CoffeeZombie February 4, 2009 at 7:59 am

Another phrase I’ve learned can be important is “My wife said…”. My wife has gotten upset at me a number of times because of some idea that she, apparently, expressed to me at one point in time. Later, someone else said something along the same lines, and I thought, “Gee, that’s a good idea!” I then go and tell my wife or someone else what they said. Invariably, my wife looks at me and says, “I told you that!”

My wife is a very smart person, it seems.

Anyway, “I love you” is one of the most frequent things said in our house. Mainly because I grew up in a family that says “I love you” a lot.

“I’m sorry” and “Thank you” are the two biggest ones I need to work on.

8 Scott February 4, 2009 at 10:29 am

Tom… I completely agree. “You’re right” is definitely the hardest one for me to say, but it means a lot.

9 Gdub February 4, 2009 at 12:32 pm

It’s bizarre that such important ideas are so often unexpressed, especially in vocalization. I don’t really think the difficulty is so much in us SAYING these things, as it is in truly feeling them. If you really do love someone you’re bound to express it. So the root of the matter seems to be focusing on developing those attitudes of appreciation and deciding to get over yourself enough to express them.

For anyone interested I wrote up something explains this idea:

Also, love AoM. Keep up the good work guys!

10 bfwebster February 4, 2009 at 12:41 pm

I’ll echo Tom and a few others above: “You were right; I was wrong.” is one of the more powerful things you can say in a romantic relationship.

I have a standing joke with my wife that I need to say that to her at least once a day, whether it’s true or not. :-) ..bruce..

11 Cindy Sue Causey February 4, 2009 at 2:34 pm

“Here, let me help you with that” is nice to hear *once* in a while.. :)

Tom’s “you’re right” is good.. Can’t say I’ve ever heard it said, and I *have* said it myself when it was due from my end.. :))

12 Roger February 4, 2009 at 2:39 pm

I long to hear my wife say these things, too :-(

13 Lee February 4, 2009 at 2:44 pm

Oddly enough in my house it is totally different. I rarely, if ever get a thank you, I never get please, and I am the one that does all the household chores. If she does cook, I make sure to kiss her and thank her, sure it makes her day, but where is the reciprocation. As far as I am sorry, well, I learned a long time ago to own up to my faults, no biggy here, most people just take it for granted with me, so I don’t get the big deal.

As far as I love you, meh, overly said. GF wants me to say it when we go to sleep, when we wake up, when we leave, whenever we breathe almost. I try, I really do, mostly for her cause I know it makes her feel better, but lordy it feels so played out.

14 Paul February 4, 2009 at 3:27 pm

This makes me think of something an old friend used to say. He’d ask “Hey man, how do you feel?” Always as I pondered, before I could come to a conclusion about how I “felt”, he’d say “I don’t care how you feel, I care what you DO!”

The word sorry just doesn’t have the weight it’s supposedly carries. Maybe if your Mr. Wonderful that rarely screws up, but for the average everyday guy, and his average everyday woman that he pisses off for reasons he’s not even aware of, sorry is just as effective as asking an acquaintance in the supermarket “How ya doin?” You don’t really care. It’s just words to satiate some sort of approval that your aware of the other person. When in actuality you really don’t give a ……sorry, I began to go off on a bit of a tangent there.

Not only am I not perfect, I’m arrogant to boot. When I want to express true sorrow for my actions, when I want to really say thank you, when I want my girl to not just hear I love you, but to know I love her- I change. That shows I love her. I’m not “whipped” by any means, but I am a better person for it. She’d gladly jump on any of my foes, if only because I say they’re my foe. No questions asked. She’s with me. Is it really going to kill me to actually listen to her? I, as a ( for the least part) am an insensitive beast, and she teaches me how to sit my silver backed ass down and enjoy what she brings to the table.

It’s nice to hear, yes, and I tell her often. I was raised with manners, and can be polite if not chivalrous when duty calls. But I can also be one hell of a dick, in a way that my reptillian brain finds very comfortable, so to make my woman know that she means more to me than pounding my chest and grunting, little by little, day by day, I’m changing for the better.

I want to make her happy. The only way I’ll figure out that riddle is to listen to her….as nonsensical as that may be at times. I balance it with how she feels and smells. It’s worth it. It’s like I’m Lenny, and she’s the rabbit. It all works out fine in the end. At least today.

15 Greg February 4, 2009 at 3:51 pm

Great article.
I live and work in Japan and was very interested in reading through Mr. Amano’s website. My Japanese male (and female) friends haven’t heard of “Zenteikyo” so it looks like it is time to spread the word. Too many men in Japanese society are too focused on work and climbing up the corporate ladder that their wives feel ignored and children abandoned. I’m in the process of joining now!

16 Susan Walsh February 4, 2009 at 4:08 pm

Ahhh, sigh. This piece is balm to a weary woman’s soul. Such simple phrases, yet so profound! I’m not sure there’s much else we need to say (and hear) in life. I love this blog – for my women readers at, it is a hopeful sign of the potential for better communication between men and women.

17 tom February 4, 2009 at 8:36 pm

I wrote an article recently that saying sorry can be somewhat degrading to yourself. This of course applies to certain situations.

The example I used was simple, you go out on a date with a girl, things are going great and at the end you go in for the kiss and get rejected. And then you end up saying sorry.

But are you really sorry for trying to kiss her? NO, you are not.

It should be more of, she should be sorry now because she lost the chance to get a kiss.

So in this context, saying sorry is degrading and can bruise your self confidence.

18 miss morgan potts February 5, 2009 at 2:28 am

Great article. Men and women alike should be saying these things (including “You’re right”) more often and with more emotion. Speaking a phrase for the sake of saying it doesn’t carry much weight, but when it’s sincere it’s the most wonderful thing you can hear, really.

19 Uberhack February 5, 2009 at 8:23 am

The fourth phrase, according to Mrs Uberhack, is “I’ll clean the house, honey.”

20 Adam February 5, 2009 at 3:57 pm

I would caution others to not use ‘i love you’ as an ice/tension breaker. In fact, a well placed ‘i love you’ speaks more than a day saturated with them. One must use caution and speak without cheapening it (what ever that may mean from the couple). ‘You’re right’ is simply patronizing and paints a picture of women that I feel has rightfully been discarded. All in all, this article is rather bland and uninsightful because you cannot prescribe the use of these phrases. Rather, it is not the phrases themselves that have power (so to speak) it is the context in which they are used; above all, such ways of speaking ought to come from a posture of gratitude, loving and regret. Again, it is not the words, but the posture from which they are spoken.

21 toddes February 9, 2009 at 11:51 am

I’m a little late on responding to this one. The three in the article and the one suggested in the comments are all excellent when used sincerely. The one that I would add is “I think you’re beautiful.”

Not “You’re beautiful” (my wife will argument with that one) but “I think you’re beautiful”.

22 ashley February 17, 2009 at 10:50 am

Thank you for the “Thank you!” You are sooooo right on that one. The hubby and I both work full time jobs, so when he notices the extra time taken to do little things around the house, it means a lot. And yes, I thank him when he does his part. :) We also thank each other for working hard when either has had a particularly long day or difficult client – its a nice reminder that each effort put into the relationship is appreciated, whether in or out of the house.

The “I love you” is an interesting one. Yes, it can become meaningless if said by rote, but its never *wrong* to say it if you’re really feeling it! In fact, *anything* my man says that reveals his reaction to me makes me feel amazing, things like:
“you make me happy”
“I missed you”
“you always turn me on”

They’re all different ways of expressing love – and that we can still make your heart race a little. :)


23 Tim March 3, 2009 at 11:04 pm

Good article. I am pretty good at saying the first two, “thank you” and “I’m sorry” (there’s always room for improvement when expressing fault and gratitude tho) but I find “I love you” a hard one to say to anyone. I’m glad I read this article, I need to make a point of saying “I love you” more often. Thanks.

24 mythago March 6, 2009 at 2:00 pm

Lee, I think the article presumes that you’re married to or partnered with a decent woman. If your GF or wife is somebody who does not treat you as a person either, why are you with her?

25 hablack March 7, 2009 at 9:59 am

My husband is really great at all of these… And it is so important to me. Several posters have said something to the effect that saying “I love you” too often cheapens it – not to me. My husband is very selective who and when he says it to others, but to me and to our daughter he says it all the time. To me, it adds to the general mood in our relationship. If he told telemarketers that he loved them, THAT would cheapen it. :)

I also grew up in a very expressive family, so if he rarely said “I love you,” it would really bother me.

“Thank you” is also huge – he really seems to appreciate it every time I cook (even when it’s an easy and/or mediocre meal). That’s important to me because I don’t really like cooking, so it’s a real emotional effort for me to do. I’m also not shy about liking his appreciation. If I clean out a particularly scary room or cabinet one day, as a game I hide his alarm clock there so he has to find it before he goes to bed – and he sees the clean cabinet. ;) (Don’t worry, I help him find it.)

26 Michael March 13, 2009 at 4:35 pm

Fraud. Plagiarism!

This article looks suspiciously close to an article posted online back in 2007.

Down to the man interviewed, “Mr.Amano”

27 Christopher March 14, 2009 at 4:47 am

Plagiarism is copying the exact same words, not writing a story on the same topic! Nice try though!

28 Phillip August 9, 2009 at 11:28 pm

Men can say this all they want, but if a woman thinks she can do better she’ll probably leave anyways

29 Adam Richardson October 29, 2009 at 4:39 am

Great article! Practice makes perfect, so let’s keep up our attentiveness to our woman not only to put wind in her sails and our relationship, but also as an example to our children that dad has the courage to be tender and accountable with mom. Another phrase that helps open up communication is “tell me more about that.”

30 gelo Giovas November 5, 2009 at 8:35 am

When I was 15 or 16, for some reason I decided, after reading a book on marriage, that if I got married I would tell my wife I loved her at least once a day, come sun, rain or hail . After 25 year of marriage I have achieved about a 90% success rate. It has turned out to be one of the best decisions I ever made. Interestingly during one our worst ‘hail’ when our marriage came within a whisker of wreckage, it was just as important for me as for her that I continued to say that even -especially- when I didn’t feel like it, It was just as much a statement tome as to her. It strengthened my resolve to live in the reality that love is primarily a choice. Some years after that period my wife told me how much she appreciated hearing it because it gave her hope and helped her in her hard work of re-connecting. Good blog and good comments.

31 Adam December 3, 2009 at 6:28 pm

In my family “I love you” was something rarely said, only in the most desperate times, and it seems that men who come from such families often have trouble saying it to their wives or girlfriends later in life. I’ve never had any problems like that, and really enjoy telling my girlfriend that I love her. Maybe that’s because I never felt comfortable saying it growing up, and I finally have an outlet. But I still have to screw up all my courage to say it to my parents once in awhile.

32 Cutter January 28, 2010 at 3:29 pm

Three things every man should learn to say when getting married:

Yes, dear.
I’m sorry, dear.
Of course I was listening.

33 Alex Goodell March 3, 2010 at 4:01 pm

I dated a girl that was upset too often about little things, and I would always respond with an “I’m sorry.” After a while, it was worn out. All of these phrases need moderation, but remember that it’s all in delivery. A “thank you” for handing you a dish is far different from looking her in the eyes and telling her how grateful you are for dinner.

34 Laura May 3, 2010 at 2:51 pm

I’d exchange most “I love you’s” and “thank you’s” for “hey, you had to pay the bills/clean up the mess in the kitchen/wash the clothes today, right? I already did that for you, no worries, honey” once in a while.

What you do is way more important than what you say.

35 Jeremy May 7, 2010 at 1:28 pm

@Laura-while youe point is valid, that men should help around the house as much as possible, i do believe that if a man works all day and is exhausted when he gets home, a gentle and meaningful “I love you”, or “thank you, dear” is probably nice to hear on the wife’s end if nothing else. However, when i wake up one day and find that i am suddenly married, i will do my very best to show love and appreciation to my wife by not only thanking her verbally, but also by making her job infinitely easier.

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