Stop Blaming Dad: Improve Your Communication with Men
Goodbye to daddy's girl: Be assertive with men without guilt.
Posted Jul 16, 2019
Women’s problems in their relationships with men are often related to the kind of relationships they had with their dads while they were growing up. But blaming your dad gets you nowhere. It’s time to put on your big-girl pants and improve your communication with the men in your life.
These three issues are often related to your father-daughter relationship. First, can you communicate honestly and openly without being aggressive or being childish? By childish I mean crying, withdrawing, pouting, using a babyish, “pitiful” little girl tone of voice, giving him the silent treatment, or throwing a childish temper tantrum. Being aggressive ranges from cursing, yelling, and throwing things to hitting, slapping, pushing, kicking, or shoving. Second, can you stand up for yourself and speak your mind assertively without feeling guilty or selfish afterward? Third, do you know how to ask men to make changes in ways that are likely to succeed?
As I explain in my books, the answer to these three questions largely depend on the type of relationship you had with your dad while you were growing up. Positively, our fathers teach us how to be assertive without being aggressive and without acting like a child, how to stand up for ourselves without feeling guilty or selfish, and how to ask for what we want in ways that are clear and reasonable. Fathers teach us these skills and attitudes by allowing and encouraging us to behave this way with them. But if we don’t have fathers who allowed and encouraged these positive behaviors, we are likely to have problems communicating and asking for change with the men in our lives.
If you weren’t fortunate enough to learn these relationship skills from your dad, don’t waste your time blaming him. You empower yourself when you understand how the past with your dad affects your present relationships. But you weaken yourself when you wallow in self-pity or anger by believing “I can never change” because of my dad.
So how do you improve things with the man in your life? Start by telling him how your relationship with your dad has affected the way you feel and behave when you're having a difficult conversation--especially when you're asking for changes in your relationship. For example, you might let him know that you have a hard time asking for what you want without feeling selfish or guilty. Explain that your dad rarely allowed you to be assertive or ask for what you wanted without making you feel selfish and guilty. So you might say, "That’s part of the reason why I start to cry, or clam up, or leave the room. I want to stop behaving like that. And I need your help.”
Next, let him come up with some ideas for how to help you see that he is not going to respond like your father did. For example, he might reassure you more often that he doesn’t think you’re a selfish person. Or when you're having a difficult conversation, he might say, “Relax, I’m not your dad. I don’t want you to feel guilty when you stand up for yourself with me. I want you to be honest and open with me.” You two might even turn this into a private joke to help you relax when you're having a tense talk. "Knock, knock." "Who's there?" "Not your dad."
When you’re asking for someone to make a change, you need to be very specific about what you want. What exactly is the behavior you want to be changed? For example, “don’t embarrass me” or “pay more attention to me” are not specific enough requests. Those vague phrases could mean a dozen different things. What do you mean by “embarrass” or “pay attention?” Does embarrass mean you want your boyfriend to stop getting drunk in public? Or does it mean you want your husband to stop cursing when your parents are around? Does “pay more attention” mean putting down his phone and turning off the TV when you’re talking to him? Or does it mean calling or taking you out more often? In my chapter on communication, I offer dozens of examples of specific ways to word these kinds of vague requests.
To increase the odds of getting what you want, limit the number of changes you ask for. Two is enough. You also want to ask for changes that are reasonable and achievable. You can’t expect anyone to hit the “alt delete“ button on major components of their personalities, any more than they can ask you to “delete” yours. You can ask your husband or boyfriend to speak more softly and not to interrupt people so often. But you can’t ask him to be a less outspoken or less talkative or less outgoing person.
Your dad has had a major impact on how well you communicate with men and whether you feel guilty or selfish when you stand up for yourself. By recognizing his impact, you empower yourself to improve your life in the many ways described in my book. Don’t work against yourself by using your dad as an excuse for not making changes that are within your control.
Linda Nielsen, (2008) Between fathers and daughters: Enriching and rebuilding your adult relationship. Nashville, Cumberland House. l
Linda Nielsen (2019) Father-daughter relationships: Contemporary Research & Issues. New York: Routledge Press.