“We need to talk.”
Yikes! Nothing sends men running for the hills – or golf clubs – faster than those four words, am I right, Ladies? In fact, if having to face the prospect of an evening… talking (dun dun dun!) or stuck on the couch for a ‘90s rom com marathon, men would choose Richard Gere every time.
It’s no secret that men HATE to talk about relationship problems. Unfortunately, most women really don’t understand why.
That’s why in my dishwasher scenario from last week, this is what I wanted to do:
Wait by the door for my partner to come home, putting off the five other things I had planned to do after work so I could enlighten him on how it was his fault that we had no clean dishes for dinner before he even got a chance to put his keys down. Accused him of not caring about taking care of the household or giving me the support I need to run it because he thinks chores are a colossal waste of his time.
Does that sound about right? Let’s be honest, most of us would have done exactly that AND expect him to respond with something like this:
“OMG! I totally spazzed out. I’m so sorry to have inconvenienced you. I’ll try harder next time.”
This example illustrates how you’ve both got your lines memorized in this play that is your relationship. Both trigger a series of emotions that lead to expected results: defensiveness, frustration, rolling eyes and shutting down, to name a few. The situation ends up being worse than when the conversation started, most likely erupting in a fight that leads to the both of you feeling disconnected.
That’s really dangerous. If you don’t understand what’s disconnecting you, whether you’re talking or not, the relationship will fail.
So what’s so bad about talking it out?
Nothing, if it’s done right. But proper communication is more than just tone, word choice and phrasing. In order to communicate effectively, we need to understand how conversation works differently for men and women.
I spoke last week about the greatest fears that men and women have: men fear being shamed and women fear being isolated.
When a couple is disconnected, a state most visible when they are having issues, women will feel anxious, isolated and afraid. What makes them feel better? Talking it out with their partners.
Ironically, talking about the relationship in turn ends up triggering her partner’s worst fear: being shamed.
While talking may make women feel better, it makes men feel worse. Why? Because the only thing men hear in these “we need to talk” conversations is that they are failures and cannot adequately provide for their partners.
Indeed, his feeling of shame is so great that he will be unable to understand her fear of being disconnected.
So what the hell are we supposed to do?
Fear not! There is a time and place for talking now that we understand how men and women react differently to it. But before we can have effective verbal communication, we must first rebuild our connection with our partners using a variety of other skills. I’ll talk about a powerful way to start reconnecting in my next post.
Talking when disconnected is the biggest relationship mistake you can make. Talking works differently for men and women. It soothes women while scaring men. To help men get to a place where conversation isn’t so terrifying, the couple first needs to work on reconnecting.
How to Improve Your Marriage Without Talking About It by Patricia Love, Ed.D. and Steven Stosny, Ph.D