For years, I have seen men roll their eyes and exclaim, “Women! I’ll never understand them!” I have always been at a loss for how to respond to this outburst, since I have always found myself and other women completely understandable. I’ve tried to find out just what it is that men can’t comprehend, but – either because they don’t know what to ask for clarification on, or because I am too steeped in my own female perspective to understand the source of the confusion – the conversation has never gotten off the ground.
But recently I’ve developed a better understanding of the male psyche, and I have some ideas about how to explain women to men. In particular, my women friends have emphasized and repeated two key needs and concepts also corroborated by research findings in positive psychology.
Secret #1: Women feel nurtured when men assist them with tasks.
Secret #2: Women long for their men to welcome their influence.
It’s all about assistance and openness.
It’s Astounding What Goes on Inside a Woman’s Head (See Secret #1)
Men, if you think it’s scary to watch a woman go into a cleaning frenzy, you would be wise to stay away from the inner workings of her brain. Hidden within the confines of her skull is a personal 12-ring circus, complete with dancing bears, trapeze artists, and raucous music.
This is how she is able to talk on the phone, do her nails, and oversee the kids’ homework all at the same time – and while she’s driving! Managing the many roles women embody is an intricate dance. We are amazingly adept at keeping many plates spinning at once. Most of us do this as a matter of course, and can forget that not everyone functions in the same way. When we occasionally hit overload — when there is one task too many on our to-do lists — we (sometimes emotionally) react in proportion to the entire load we are carrying. If we have reached the point of asking for help (even if it comes in the form of bursting into tears), it probably means that we have already maxed out our energy reserves.
At that point, what we want is for our partners to do one of two things: 1) Give us a hug and tell us he loves us, or 2) Offer to take on some of the work load that we have created for ourselves. Although option #2 might not seem fair – after all, you didn’t ask us to take on all the jobs we must complete, and it probably seems to you like many of those jobs are unnecessary (see Secret #1 from the article For Women Only) – but your offer signals love and support at a critical time.
Think of it this way — you know that comfortable home you live in, where sheets are clean and food is in the fridge? Well, the creation and management of that home, as well as the the complexities of modern family life, is largely thanks to the brilliant 12-ring circus inside your partner’s head.
Women Long to Feel That They Matter (See Secret #2)
Have you ever noticed this pattern in relationships between men and women? As the husband walks out the door, his wife says something like, “Honey, don’t forget your umbrella; it’s supposed to rain later today.” He may react in several ways, but one that leads to trouble is the sigh of exasperation followed by “It’s perfectly sunny out. What are you talking about?” Or worse, he completely ignores her.
Not being a man, I can’t really say what motivates a reaction like this. Perhaps it has to do with feeling controlled, or a desire to reduce complexity in life (see Secret #1 in For Women Only). Maybe he’s thinking, “I don’t want to have to carry an umbrella all day, and I’m already late for my meeting. If I get wet it’s not that big a deal anyway.”
But the man in this scenario is not acknowledging something important: his wife’s suggestion comes from a place of genuine care. When he rebuffs her, she feels shut out and hurt. Relationship researcher John Gottman has found that marriages in which the husband accepts influence from his wife are far less likely to end in divorce than marriages where he is closed to her suggestions.
Here is a more successful reaction to the scenario above: after the wife suggests her husband bring along an umbrella, he pauses. He thinks, “Hmmm… I don’t think I’m going to need this, but I can see that she is trying to help me.” He thanks his wife and takes the umbrella.
If it starts to rain later in the day, he pulls out the umbrella and feels nurtured by his wife. Or, if it doesn’t rain, he can appreciate his wife’s caring nature, rather than label the effort was a waste of time. If he gets home and makes the effort to thank his wife for her suggestion, their relationship is strengthened.
Men, we aren’t trying to control or nag you. This is our way of showing we care.
From Languishing to Flourishing
What is the smallest change you can make that will create the biggest difference in your relationship?
Small efforts can make a huge difference in showing your partner that you care about her. Next time your wife asks for help on a task that you don’t believe is important, consider the benefits of dropping what you’re doing for 10 minutes and pitching in. She will feel supported and cared for because what you’re really doing is helping her manage the 12-ring circus in her head. That’s huge! Or, if she dissolves into tears when a relatively small adversity strikes, rather than think she’s simply overreacting –and worse, then attempting to explain to her why it’s not that big a deal — try simply holding her and letting her cry. You will benefit in spades. The same goes for accepting her influence — take the umbrella to work. Try it and see.
Gottman, J.M. (1994). Why Marriages Succeed or Fail: And How You Can Make Yours Last. New York: Fireside.
Gottman, J.M., Coan, J., Carrere, S., & Swanson, C. (1998). Predicting marital happiness and stability from newlywed interactions. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 60, 5-22.
Gottman, J.M. & Krokoff, L.J. (1989). Marital interaction and satisfaction: a longitudinal view. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 57, 47-52.
Trapeze artists from hbp_pix’s photostream
Man and umbrella from mysz831’s photostream
Lovebirds from suneko’s photostream
Thanks for the tips, Kirsten. I am reminded what happened in a class I taught a few years back on the Psychology of Gender to middle-aged adults. They broke into two groups, one all men, the other all women, to come up with just ONE question they wanted to ask the other sex. The women asked this: “Why do you stop courting us after the wedding?” (wWhen one guy shouted, “Why throw bait in the water after you land the fish?!” the other fellows nodded.) The men asked this: “Why do you always grind the gears when you shift?” (The women rolled their eyes.) Next time, taking a cue from you, I’ll change the instructions: “What would you most like to TELL the other sex?”
Kirsten, thanx – It seems that when I think my partner is nagiing that she might be trying to help – will have to remember this
I love that you’ve isolated two research-based secrets for each group – two for men and two for women. And I love that they’re not just the reciprocals of each other. And I love that there are just two.
I’ve been looking forward to these articles ever since you told me about them.
They did what I could only hope – concise, research-based, full of life and story. And memorable.
I love these two questions.
* “Why do you stop courting us after the wedding?”
* “Why do you always grind the gears when you shift?”
I laughed out loud to both! In a great way.
I also really enjoyed your take-away of “what would you want to TELL the other folks?”
Thanks for an insightful, fun comment.
What a delightful comment.
Thanks Gayle, Wayne, and Senia.
So, Gayle, how do you think the questions that were raised in your workshop tie into the two secrets for each men and women? I have some thoughts on this, but I’m curious about what you think. And, as for having them tell the other group one thing, I think the true limiting factor – something that I tried to convey in these articles – is that for some strange reason we forget that our actions and words really matter to the other person. How to reinforce that idea… now THAT is the key, I think.
I once participated in an interesting exchange between a group of high school students and a group of parents of high school students. People on both sides wrote anonymous questions that were put in a hat. Then we alternated. The moderator drew a question from one hat and read it out loud. Then anyone on the other side could answer, and people could add to each other’s answers.
I still remember one question by a teenager, “Why don’t you trust us when we go out at night.” One answer was, “Because we haven’t forgotten the dumb things we did when we went out at night as teenagers.”
Anyway, that’s what your questions brought to mind. I wondered if you’d find this approach useful, since it allows people to ask questions anonymously that others in the group probably share.
I think women have most, if not all, the power in a relationship. That being said, women need to know that they can make or break the relationship, if they wanted to. They just need to learn how to maneuver the relationship with the man’s basic necessities: food, sex, and sleep. Men are so delightfully simple. Generally, they really just want their women to be happy (unless you have a psycho/abuser). What a woman conjure about his response is all in her head; they have control over that.
From this simple article…why tell him he needs an umbrella (it does sound like a nag), just go and give it to him with a hot short make-out session, like stealing a kiss from a secret lover. I’m sure he’ll be happy to take the kitchen sink with him after that way of suggesting from his woman and probably come home early for dinner too.
I hear what you’re saying Thanh, but I don’t think I agree about women having all the power. Ideally, there would be a sharing of power and influence. But I do think, based on my conversations with men, that they generally do want their women to be happy. They aren’t always good at conveying this message, but women can also contribute greatly to the health of their relationships if they assume positive intent on the part of their men. Your point about sex is also a really interesting topic, one that I hope to address in a future article.
Kirsten – I agree with Thahn to a certain extent. All the great relationships I know are primarily due to the woman in the relationship. They do all the relationship work.
Well, Wayne, does that mean that the woman holds most or all of the power? And what does that mean when relationships break down? That the woman is responsible?
P.S. Nice pic!
Kirsten – I feel like I’m teading on dangerous ground here. I’d say women hold most of the power. And no the woman isn’t at fault when the relationship breaks down. I suspect that in good relationships the male contributes to the environment that the female creates – when they break down the malke isn’t responsive or takes it all for granted
And yes I’m the hairy one in front
Wayne, don’t worry. I’m not easily offended. I really enjoy a good discussion, so I appreciate your thoughts. I’ll have to think about what you’re saying, though, especially with regard to the power in the relationship.
Anyone else have thoughts on this?
Kristen, Good men love their women. What man wouldn’t do anything for his woman if she adores him, looks up to him, leaves playful sexy notes, feeds his needs, makes him dinner, verbally appreciates him for who he is and what he does, whether he is a worker bee or a nerdy professor? In return, he acts like her hero, he listens to her, tends to her, nurtures her, caters to her, defends her, serves her. Men are resilient and they will do anything for a woman’s love. Women need to understand that, get over themselves and out of their own destructive way sometimes, and realize that the man they married just wants them to be happy.
This premise is all based on women choosing wisely. All bets are off if you choose the wrong man (psychopath or abuser). If you choose the wrong man, no amount of power will be enough to turn the course of the relationship – so in that sense, her power is limited. However, in a normal situation where girl meets boy, boy courts girl, girl & boy get married – women get to choose and then direct the course of the relationship – the ability to choose and decide is power. It’s good power that benefits the woman, the man, and the family.
And it’s cheaper and less destructive than divorce: make good decisions on the man as husband and a father, and women don’t have to be sleeping with the enemy.
To ask whether the woman is responsible when the relationship fails, if she holds the power in the scenario I described above, I would suggest yes. But relationships are generally too complicated to entertain that single question, it doesn’t do justice because it takes two to tangle.
But then, we shouldn’t be asking that question in the first place – why, so we can blame? That never does anyone any good. “Ok, great, it’s your fault, so I deserve my high horse and you suck, or it’s my fault, so you can get on your high horse and I suck. Now what? We’re still miserable, but at least we know who to blame. Yay, that’s wonderful.” Yeah, blaming is never a good idea.
It should be, “I’m happy and satisfied in my relationship, who’s responsible?” or “The relationship didn’t work, but what did I learn?”
Thanh ~ Wow. You don’t mince words. I can actually see what you’re saying here. I definitely subscribe to the philosophy that it never does anyone any good to place blame or wallow in self-pity. It makes much more sense to ask ourselves where we have power and then to exercise it there. And I can see that a woman’s approach to her man can make a huge difference in his approach to her. And, yes, that is an exercise of her power. Gottman talks in the articles I cite for my article about the “negative start-up” by the wife as a negative influence on the happiness of the relationship. What he’s talking about is when she starts out the conversation with whining or nagging, and I can totally see how her initial approach is very important. I think this is partly what you’re talking about.
But I guess I wonder if it can’t also go the other way around. I have seen couples where the woman is really negative in her approach to her man, but he puts in the effort to make things work, and that holds them together. I’ve also seen situations where a woman who is “good” to her man is taken completely for granted (and I wouldn’t classify the man as a psychopath or an abuser). It’s almost as if the more she gives, the more he expects. Have you ever seen this? Then she’s not in any position of power at all.
As a guy, I really appreciate women’s ability to give and receive help. It’s at the core of caregiving and self-care in my opinion. These are critical skills that I believe men can and will learn.
In the meantime, I can speak to the umbrella scenario. At the very least, the woman deserves acknowledgement for offering to help. I might hear the suggestion to take an umbrella with me as interference rather than as a caring gesture. If the weather was to later change, that’s my problem in other words, not hers. After all, I’m the one who will get wet. Men might also be hearing their wife’s suggestion as telling them what to do. They might also feel “dumb” or child-like being told to prepare for bad weather. What about the classic “she worries too much.” Our Ego? Possibly.
I see the woman’s suggestion as feeling/caring/empathy-based, and very logical, and the man’s reaction as a fact-based counter argument: the weather is currently ‘this’, so I’ll deal with ‘that’ if and when it happens. The love-umbrella connection is a leap for men perhaps, so we could start with
“it’s the thought that counts.” That’s one that I use all the time, rain of shine.
Thanks so much for your contribution, Brad. (I love the fact that we have both men and women commenting here. Helps keep the conversation balanced.)I think you raise several really important points here. I’ve often wondered what it is that causes men to bristle at times in scenarios such as the umbrella suggestion. The idea that it might be interpreted as interference, or maybe an inference that the man isn’t capable of taking care of his own life, makes absolute sense, given his reaction. And your point to the man to just appreciate the thought behind the suggestion is really key. Of course, that requires that the man is able to reinterpret his original assessment of what her thought IS (from an indictment of incompetence to a caring gesture). Maybe it’s this reinterpretation of the knee-jerk thought that makes the difference between the man who can say, “thank you, honey” and the one who sighs in frustration.
I love your final paragraph, because it explains each sex’s actions in a way that does not make one right and one wrong. They’re both valid and a simple understanding about the reasons behind the other’s approach can yield huge rewards. Thanks so much for shedding light on this topic!
While I think these articles are useful, I’m surprised that the debate is at such an “elevated” level.
I jnbow I’m going to get lots of heat for this, but here’s some reality from the male perspective.
Much of the conflict in male/female relationships is about control and equity—a form of power. Many women insist on everything being their way in the home and elsewhere. Men generally hate being told what to do, being controlled, being disempowered. The disempowerment and the perceived lack of respect gives rise to anger, resentment, etc., which then manifests itself in various ways. As the man tries to assert some “control”, the woman asserts her “ultimate control:: she withholds sex as a tactic to get what she wants. Withholding of sex and use of sex for control then sends the relationship into even deeper depths.
Many women demand that everything in the house is to be their way: the joke is that the guy is left with the garage. While that’s humor, the emotinal reality is the man is dispossessed from his own home. Indeed, sometimes he’s thus dispossessed even though he’s the only bread winner and is actually paying for everything. Decor, food, dishes, artwork, sheets, social life, etc. are all usually controlled by the female. She insists that the “seat be up”, the clothes be where she wants them, th TV be on her channels, the menu be set by her, the vacations be chosen by her, etc. Indeed, the female lament of “why do you stop courting me…” is reflective of the phenomenon that i describe. In courtship, the woman demands and is treated like a queen: she gets everything she wants. problem in a relationship is that if “she” alwqays gets what she wants, and wants to be “courted always” is what she’s really saying is the man should never get what he wants, at least when there is any disagreement–e.g., different tastes, desires, or even energy levels. Moreover, while demanding to control the household and social life entirely —asserting that they are in charge–many women take for granted the poor sap’s backbreaking work out of the household. In sort, it’s not about being told to take an umbrella: it’s just one more “order”, demand, control assertion in the morning…. And, many women do not express the “umbrella” issues as “I’m trying to help…”. Instead, the message delivered is ” are you so dumb that you’re not taking an umbrella…you are always wrong, and this is just one more time…”
Think of how much truth is hidden in humor: T Shirts say “If a man is alone in the forest without his wife, is he still always wrong?” Or, the pillows that say “I’m not bossy, I’m just right all the time…”
Courtship is where the woman gets treated as a queen. That’s great if you’re the queen. The guy is basically in the “poor supplicant” role, a bit like the slave at court. And, perhaps most amazingly, women don’t realize that when they’re being “courted as they like” the poor slob guy is close to hell: nothing he does is ever enough, more is always important… Only roses at Valentines? Where’s the jewelry? Why not a better restaurant?
I also love all the disgruntled wives who insist on an outsize lifestyle, with second homes, fancy vacations, private schools, etc., and then actually trash their husbands for not being home enough: In short, you should figure out a way to earn the big bucks without actually putting in the work,, cause wifey wants to play….
It’s not just nagging and whining: it’s the underlying assertion of the right to control everything, and the basic “no matter what, it ain’t good enough….”
American reality: as women complain incessantly about how much they do and how busy they are, the Ellen Degeneres, Oprah and similar daytime TV shows thrive: that is, they’re actually watching daytime TV, and thereby learning to dump on men, claim a right to control the household and hearing that they’re “oppressed” cause they don’t get everything they demand.
My first reading of your comments had me – honestly – thinking, “Wow. That’s pretty bleak,” and wondering how I could respond to them. The picture you paint of women is pretty negative, and my kneejerk reaction was to come to their (our) defense. After reading your words through a couple more times, though, I think I want to begin by recognizing the truth in much of what you say. I have also noticed women throwing their weight around, and usurping control over household and family decisions. I have seen them taking pride in the power they can wield through the withholding of sex (or granting of it), and I have heard them making disparaging remarks about the incompetence of men in many different areas of life. This approach to life is best summed up for me by the bumper sticker I have seen some women proudly displaying: Bitch on board.
There is nothing of value in the approach to the world and relationships that you describe. Of course relationships will suffer as a result of such one-sided and self-motivated behavior. And you’re right that this article and many of the comments do not address such an approach. I guess I take a different perspective, though, when I think of women. I see them as mostly wanting what is best for their partners, as well as wanting happiness for themselves. Experience in talking to women makes me think that it is their high ideals for romance and love, originally untainted by any selfishness, and the ensuing realities of relationships that lead to their bitterness. I’m not excusing their behavior or their attitudes, but I think that often they feel that their efforts to bring about closeness are rebuffed or unappreciated and so they become cynical.
My articles were both attempts to look at the intrinsic nature of men and women, admittedly from something of an ideal perspective or at least one in which the complexities of the interplay between them is somewhat removed from the picture. In other words, if we take a man and a woman from the beginning of their relationship, before the waters are muddied with hurt piled upon hurt and acts of retribution are hurled as a form of self-defense, what are they really wanting and needing? I think what you are describing is the outcome for women of many instances of being hurt, where they end up divorced from their own best, softest selves.
What do you think?
This conversation is becoming very entertaining. It sounds like LeanRainMakingMachine needs some venting time! 🙂 As we all do sometimes.
But he does bring up a very good point: that some women (myself included) during sometime in her life need to grow up (just as some men do) and show the relationship some RESPECT and humor.
However, his ranting proves a general point: we need REAL MEN. Women need real men.
Real men who don’t take crap and garbage from unevolved or immature women. So to LeanRainMakingMachine, I say “you chose her!” If a guy is in a relationship with a bitchy woman who doesn’t respect him but feels entitled and is demanding, why is he with her? Women act a certain way because weak men allow it. How many men out there would leave their girlfriend behind if she’s late because being late is rude? Not many, because all men are pretty scared of their woman or they don’t have high personal standards. He sells out.
The opposite is also true, men act a certain way because weak women allow it. I’d say to the woman “You chose him!” How many women give up sex without commitment or marry a mama’s boy? Plenty! They’ve lowered their personal standards. She sells out.
It’s not a gender issue, it’s a personal issue. If either a man/woman is in a relationship with a woman/man that is not supportive, positive, and empowering – why commit further? If man/woman continue to be in destructive/negative/dis-empowering relationship, you’re not only being self-destructive, but you’re also enabling your partner to be the jerk he/she is by staying in the relationship.
Dating is a selective process, it’s not a commitment. Dating is a time to see who’s bad, who’s good, who’s mature, and who is not ready – before further commitment between the two.
However, since no one is perfect and we are here to evolve and improve as human beings, Brad’s suggestion to give the other the benefit of the doubt is a pretty good start, because what we give, we essentially receive. Given that a man/woman chooses wisely of a spouse, then give your wife/husband kindness, and she/he’ll give you kindness.
IT BEGINS WITH GOOD DECISION MAKING.
I love the messages in your comment, particularly the idea that good relationships begin with good decision-making, that much of what makes relationships work is not gender-related but is about human decency, and that treating our partners with kindness will reap rewards (even if indirectly).
I am in a position now, having gone through a divorce, where I can exercise much of what you recommend about choosing a partner. But there are many people who are already in committed relationships, and who can’t or don’t want to throw them away. What do they do to muddle through the morass of hurt and confusion that builds up over years?
I think good decision-making is still an option for them, although it may no longer be the decision of whether to partner up with someone. The decision may have more of a pragmatic flavor: What do I still have control over in this situation? And how can I turn my attention to making my life and relationship as good as it can be, given the circumstances? Showing kindness, giving the benefit of the doubt, and cultivating one’s own passions (such as hobbies and things – not a passion of the heart… lol) are probably really useful avenues. Insisting on being treated with respect, as you suggest, is probably good at certain times, but also may lead to a dead-end. Drawing lines in the sand should be considered carefully because they tend to set up contentious interactions. Sometimes that may be necessary, but I suspect it happens too frequently. A Zen approach, where opposition is met with flexibility and compassion, may be more useful in the long run.
Thanks for your thoughts on this. Keep them coming!
Kirsten, I agree with you that much of what makes a relationship work is human decency.
It is amazing the power that people have inside of them. It’s really a shame that many people don’t know even an ounce of what they can do for themselves and in their relationship. Even as I write these words, I still have a lot to learn, but these words are based on my glimpse of my own ability to change things, just by changing ME, not him. I have seen how I was able to turn a belligerent and combative relationship into one with caring and civil understanding. I did this by raising my standards for myself. When I no longer tolerated myself to be mean, belligerent, insulting, or unkind, I started to change the dynamics of my relationship. I set my own boundaries, what I could and could not do. When I no longer allowed MYSELF to act destructively, I also stopped allowing myself to receive it from my significant other. He had to change if he wanted to work and be in a relationship with the me that I wanted to grow into, otherwise I was fine without the “old him.”
I started to ask myself, am I the kind of person I would want to have a relationship with or come home to? No? Then I, not him, have a lot to develop and change. It wasn’t about him, it was always about me. He & the relationship were merely a reflection of who I was.
It really doesn’t matter who hurt whom or who disappointed whom. That’s just keeping scores, and it gets old – it’s a relationship, not sibling rivalry. And talking about feelings of hurt, confusion, etc…that’s just psycho babble talk. Women love to talk…talk talk talk! Too much talking, not enough action. Just stop talking (not another word) and start acting nice, loving, and decent, and he’ll turn around (if he’s not a psycho or abuser).
I believe that most men are good men, however there’s a difference between a male and a man. Some women confuse the two. I want a real man, not a silly boy in a male body suit, who lets silly women (like my old self) run circles around him. Lord knows we have too many of them silly boys runnin’ around. And there are silly women who have low standards because the feminism movement gave them a “pass” for everything that they don’t need or expect much out of men. Silly women/men raise boys into males. Real women/men raise boys into real men.
You have provided yet another thought-provoking comment. Thank you for that. I couldn’t agree more with you about the fact that changing the dynamic in a relationship must start with oneself. After all, the only person we have control over is ourselves. And I love the way you put it, that “I did this by raising my standards for myself. When I no longer tolerated myself to be mean, belligerent, insulting, or unkind, I started to change the dynamics of my relationship.” This is so critical, and something that could work either way, I’m guessing. If a man wants to change the dynamics of his relationship, he could also do the same thing.
Your comment reminds me of an aha I had a couple years ago. Shortly after my marriage ended, a friend encouraged me to write a list of qualities I was looking for in a partner – to aid my selection process, and also in a Law of Attraction kind of way, to help bring that person into my life. I thought, “What the heck?” and tried it. It was a good exercise, but I got frustrated when months and months went by and this man wasn’t “showing up.” I put the list in a drawer and forgot about it until a year or two later when I found it again. It was at that point, when I read through the qualities that were still important to me, that I realized that that list should be my prescription for who I want to become, not who I want to magically materialize into my life. Ever since then, I have been on the journey to embody as much as possible the qualities that are on my list, and I see this as addressing your point in a way. If I can take my mentality into my next long-term relationship, then I am not relying on my partner to fulfill me; rather, I am continuing to become the best I can be, and hopefully he will love me for that.
Congratulations for the book! the topic is hot!, I am amazed and appreciate a lot everybody’s comments, there are big contributions in them and very helpful. After reading about it and trying to find answers to myself I got to the conclusion that when an unhappy person is in a relationship hoping that the other fulfills her/his needs, this expectation can contaminate the relationship making it a toxic one. So, from there we all can become “the bitch” or “the bastard” in a relationship if we don’t get to recognize that it is all about working in ourselves first. If we dont feel fulfilled then we might take a look inside and not outside blaming our partners for what is missing. It is a complex topic. I just wanted to send my best wishes to your work and hope we all can benefit from the resilience research you have done.
Thanks so much for these thoughts, Fani! (And so fun to see you pop up on this forum!)
Your comments remind me of a pattern I often observe in couples (and am guilty of myself also) of wanting to “punish” the other party when they don’t fulfill our needs/desires. It seems to make sense in the moment, but if you look at it objectively, it makes zero sense! I mean, if I’m not getting what I want, can it possibly increase my odds of getting that thing if I am horrible to the other person? Just another way we human beings are crazy, I suppose…
Kirsten, thank you for sharing your story.
I wonder in your transformation, if it becomes difficult to tolerate people who live withing their emotional limits?
Since you expect more of yourself, I would assume that you also expect more of your significant other in your future long term relationship. And being that as you continue to work on yourself, you will improve as a woman, which means that the quality of the guy will also be greater than before your transformation.
And do you think the search is more reduced to fewer and fewer as you improve, compared to if you were the kind of woman who would settle for anyone (there’s plenty of guys for that kind of woman)?
Your comments are very much on my mind. Some say that my standards have become too high, and it’s true that the further on my own path I go the happier with myself I become. So that, I suppose, makes it easier for me to turn away (with a hug and a blessing) from the relationships that don’t feel like a fit for me. It’s really not that I think of any man as not being of high enough quality; it’s more that I know better and better who helps me be the best I can be (and vice versa). It may take me a long time to find the fit I’m looking for, but I trust it will be worth the wait.
To my mind, the mating game is mostly about selection pressures and horse trading. It is a serious game. Play to win.
Here’s a handy quiz:
What exactly are you looking for in a lover that is so rare?
Who do you know that most resembles your wish-list? Does anybody come even close? Investigate the actual person…you want witnesses that can testify as to the quality of the candidate. Use Intelius.com and check out their criminal history, credit score, name changes, marriages (they could still be married) …all that factual stuff that could sink a relationship. Drop the bums.
What does that real-life person want from you? Can you give it without going crazy?
What do you have to bring to the table? What do you have about you that is frankly obnoxious to a potential suitor? I’m personally abrasive to live with. It just how I’m built. Oh well, my wife is an Eastern Bloc Soviet and not a big emoter. She deals.
It is totally a game of trade-offs and negotiation. There’s a lot about dating that is zero-sum. Either you got the one you wanted or you didn’t. Be ready emotionally to walk if you are getting a raw deal. For my own criteria, if I could only get 3 qualities in a mate, I’d go for loving, emotionally stable, and loyal. With those three, I know I could put up with some odious habits, annoyances, etc.
Of course, all of the above assumes you are a rational player, which none of are. So scrap everything I just said. Your freaky self will decide for you. Learn resilience.
It is all food for thought,
As a guy, let me tell you that you definitely understand men in a profound way.
As another human being who’s just trying to be the best person I can be, your self-assessment and taking responsibility for your own life is exciting and inspiring.
Your blogs are wonderfully thought-provoking, and you’re brave to put yourself out there after your divorce, and to turn that sour experience into lemonade that can hopefully refresh and nourish others.
You raise many great questions, including “What do [people in committed relationships] do to muddle through the morass of hurt and confusion that builds up over years?”
I have a huge vision, that this morass is absolutely avoidable and correctable. But then again, I’m a guy. Men compartmentalize easily and forget what’s not useful to retain, thank God, so men find it easier to forgive and forget. Women, I’ve read, can’t help but remember every hurt they’ve ever experienced, even when they want to let them go. They can consciously choose to forgive, but until you can actively really let the hurt go, then too often your self-protective shield will automatically go up, and in this mode you will no longer be able to even see your partner.
The “morass of hurt and confusion” is simply the result of two people misinterpreting each other’s intentions, like Aaron Beck does such a great job spelling out in detail in “Love Is Never Enough.” The imagined sleight. But we can avoid this unnecessary hurt by refraining from judging our partner. It is possible, with sufficient practice, every time we experience anger at our partner, to SWITCH from anger to curiosity and compassion. “Why is this otherwise reasonable person acting in such an apparently unreasonable way towards me right now?” The real problem isn’t our partner, but the story we tell ourselves about our partner, and that story is often a construct of our own imagination, especially if we assume our is judging us. We get defensive and respond in kind without thinking, all as a result of our own reaction to our own story.
It’s all about simple boundaries, the fact that each of us is responsible for our own thoughts, emotions, attitudes, etc. No one else. Nobody pushes your buttons. What buttons? Those feelings exist only inside of you.
Difference between reactions and responses. Sure, other people will trigger certain reactions in us. But it’s up to consciously choose a response. As human beings we’re the only animal that comes with a pause button, like Steven Covey writes so nicely in “7 Habits.” If we want a great life and a great love, then we respond instead of react. We have to practice this kind of emotional self-regulation until it becomes second nature, that’s all, like learning to play the piano or master any other art. No practice is more important than this one, for this will make or break our ability to love another human being, i.e. grow closer to and know.
Angry judgments kill connection and make people want to hide their innermost self from one another. If you don’t feel completely accepted by your partner, how are you ever going to feel it’s safe to expose yourself in vulnerability in order to be completely known? And isn’t love really about being known completely, and fully accepted anyway?
The “hurt and confusion” you spoke of, Kirsten, will be avoided if a couple would just commit to doing three things:
1) Always remember your partner’s good will toward you.
2) Always remember your good will for your partner.
3) Judge not, create safety, and get curious.
Your post made me laugh out loud. In several different places. 🙂
I love your very male approach to choosing a mate, and I know that I will be wise to take as much of your advice as possible. But you’re right that, in the end, my own “freaky self will decide.” (Maybe I can inject just a little rationality, though…)
Thanks so much for your thoughts. I’m going to copy them to a place where I can refer to them during my dating process.
You didn’t just say “dating PROCESS”. In which places did you laugh? Probably the bedroom. I get that a LOT. I actually toned down my previous comment. Be thankful!
I’ve been thinking about your comments since I read them last evening. I wanted to give myself a bit of time to consider them before responding.
You have stated so many things that resonate with me, and I think so many of them are contained in these sentences: “Angry judgments kill connection and make people want to hide their innermost self from one another. If you don’t feel completely accepted by your partner, how are you ever going to feel it’s safe to expose yourself in vulnerability in order to be completely known? And isn’t love really about being known completely, and fully accepted anyway?” Yes, yes, yes… And I love the way you have brought Aaron Beck’s work with reframing thinking into this conversation. So much of personal resilience is about being able to reframe events in order to focus on the aspects over which we have control, while accepting the ones we can do nothing about. And I can totally see the application of these same concepts to relationships.
Thank you for your insights.
Divorce can teach you a lot, can’t it? Pain is such an excellent teacher. Like Richard Rohr says, pain is the one thing that has the power to wrench us out of our arrogance and ignorance and help us finally see the reality of what we’ve been creating.
It’s great that you’ve nurtured such a positive attitude within you to reframe the events of your own divorce and find your own resilience, and to help others find theirs as well.
It can be tough to dispel the demons of self-doubt when life delivers such a crushing blow, until we recognize that life didn’t deliver anything we didn’t order. We co-created the situation we’re in. But at the same time, we have the power to do something about it, maybe not everything we’d like, but in fact a great deal. Focusing on those aspects, like you say, can open up huge reserves of untapped energy we never knew we had.
In your article “Give Anxiety the One-Two Punch,” you really put things in perspective: “This moment is full, yes, with goodness and plenty, and the troubles that plague me were not a problem two years ago, and they will be utterly forgotten in fifty.” There is so much we can do on this planet while we’re here. “I could and often did reach out to others with the intention of bringing joy to them.”
Yes, yes, yes…
If you keep this up, those troubles may well be forgotten in fifty years, but that joy just might leave a viral legacy.
Thanks for bringing up such wisdom, Lee.
I am also a fan of Richard Rohr, although I haven’t ever heard or read his words that you mention above. So true, though. Pain IS an excellent teacher. I know that I have learned volumes about myself through my adversities in the past few years. Many of those lessons have to do with learning from the past (what I contributed to my adversities)and many of the lessons have to do with what I want to create for my future. It’s pretty exciting. This is posttraumatic growth.
I appreciate your comments.
Yes, Jeff. I said “dating process.” You got a problem with that? 🙂
I laughed at your very up-front approach. In several places. And I also felt like your words are good for me to pay attention to because they offer the male trait of reducing complexity. Hopefully, I can pay attention when it matters.
It is called DUMBING IT DOWN, not “reducing complexity” and YES, I have a problem with “that” 🙁
I checked your credit score online. Um, don’t bother calling me, I’ll call you.
P.S. put your pic on your thumbnail in the comments section. It is pretty.
I’ll see what I can do about the picture, Jeff.
Are you saying you have a problem with “reducing complexity?” Or “the dating process?”
And what is called dumbing it down? Sorry… I’m not following you.
It was a lame attempt at what you humans call humor 😉 I like your stuff. I mean I enjoy your writing. I don’t joke around with people unless I like their spin on the world. Very little of what I say a) makes sense to others and b) is entirely serious. Your confusion with my rambling is very common. You are not alone.
As for reducing complexity, I think the term is simplification. Simplify Simplify Simplify! Easy to say, Hard to do. Dumb it down means make dating so easy a caveman could do it. Without the club and the hair pulling. What do you want? What does he/she want? Give it and get it. If you don’t get it, kick him/her to the curb and start over. Easy to say, very Hard to do. The faster you do this process…almost like speed dating, the closer you’ll get to what you really want in a mate. Don’t waste time on a waffler. You are a very attractive woman with a brain. That’s a commodity. Work it!
I DO appreciate your humor, and I can even follow most of it. 🙂 I just needed you to connect the dots a little for me, which you did here. Thanks!
Yes, the speed dating approach is something that has also occurred to me. Meet someone, get to know them for a while, and if it’s not working – for whatever reason – move on and find someone else. This can be done, and there are good reasons for doing it. But at some point, after having done it for a while, a person might start to ask himself/herself, “Am I just being too picky?” Mostly a wondering because, for me, I just can’t see holding onto something that doesn’t feel like a hand-in-glove fit. That doesn’t mean that he is perfect, or that I am perfect, or that we will live happily ever after. And it’s also hard for me to define what exactly I’m looking for. But I know it when I feel it, and that’s what I’m after.
Keep making me laugh, Jeff. It’s good for my soul. 🙂
I love to work with couples, in therapy and coaching, and I want to thank you all for a fantastic discussion. And to salute the guys who, excuse me, dropped their drawers and let it all hang out. They got it. Honesty, trust, and whole lost less fuss! And gals, picking the guy who fits who you really are. Who respects your values even if some are opposite of his. Mutual understanding that “It ain’t just about me”.
I have everyone I work with take the VIA and compare them. Real fun begins here. I know our results blew my husband away. He said, “OMG, you were right. We ARE so different in so many ways.” Yet we are superglued with an understanding, non-judgmental love that puts a smile on my face when I think if it. And it only took me 39 years to choose a guy whose puzzle piece fit into mine. Loving is curious learning. I may have been a slow learner re: partners, but I agree that pain was a terrific motivator and teacher. Relationships, even the best of them, are often like mercury. They slip and slide. They separate, but they always come back together if the tilt in the same direction. Independence balanced with cameraderie. and lots of letting go and forgiveness.
Trade-offs. Frequent remembrances after you have figured out by a history of learning what really makes yourself as well as your partner happy. Like no $100 roses for me on Valentine’s Day, though I appreciated the first time he asked me what I would like. My husband knows I would rather have a note hand written by him. Just a few lines. I have saved every one. But he also knows my favorite flowers are daisies. 😉