For Men

Then You Get The Women (Part III)

Contoured Communication for Idiots!

Most guys need a lot of help distinguishing understanding from agreement and are loathe to agreeing (if they don’t). Probably the most helpful relationship skill is active listening where you actually sit opposite the person, make eye contact, nod your head (“attending behaviors”) and then spit back to the person what they just said in terms of their feelings. This communicates understanding and doesn’t mean you agree. Most men deal with their upset girlfriends by getting defensive, withdrawing if they are mad at them or trying to give unsolicited advice or a “it’s going to be ok sweetie” cheerleader response. Women generally know what to do…they just want to be heard.

Having said that, work on being both honest and assertive and not repeating your complaints a million times! Coercive communication (nagging, criticizing) is the problem (not the solution). Remember to not say yes when you mean no. Unassertiveness often results in anger build up and future blow ups.

There is an old family therapy saying about not pursuing a “distance”, in other words don’t chase someone who seems to be avoiding you for some reason. Express a willingness to talk about it and then pull back in an un-angry way until they are ready or you get sick of it all.

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I used to threaten to write a book about how behind every great man stands a woman who thinks he’s an idiot. Studies have identified factors which predict divorce accurately. These include contempt for the other person along with criticism accompanied by defensiveness and emotional withdrawal during conflict. Try to stay engaged if she’s upset and not roll your eyes let alone leave the room. However, if you really feel devalued, frequently criticized and an absence of both affection/sexual desire coming from her, either get to the root of the problem or hit the road. Try to identify why she’s so angry and help her understand it better if factors like envy over parts of your life (e.g. career) are issues. Nice is unbelievably important and is generally ignored in the mating selection process. There is an old joke about a Jewish man alone in a forest (without his wife) who decided to express an opinion. The predictable question is “is he still wrong?”

If you are constantly finding fault with her and have convinced yourself that she’s a this or a that, you need to work on yourself. It’s hard to change yourself but it’s virtually impossible to change someone else. Identify specific loving things you could do (or say) that would make her feel loved and try to increase the frequency with which you express those behaviors and feelings. Relationships are systems and if you change, she has got to as well as long as you don’t keep score and revert to your old negative patterns. If she takes a while to get with the program or is less consistently loving than you would like, work on having a thicker skin and try to avoid the obvious…i.e. threats, blaming, etc. Ultimately, it’s about acceptance, persistence, and forgiveness.

 

Stephen C. Josephson, Ph.D., is a Clinical Associate Professor of Psychology in Psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medical Center.

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