Welcome to another installment of the Relationship Help For Men series!
When it comes to love, guys need all the relationship help they can get. It isn’t that we’re simple minded or anything like that. Rather, I would make the argument that we are actually a little more complicated than we’d like to admit.
And this disconnect with our complex nature makes it a challenge for our spouse/partner to be in a relationship with us—to really understand what we want and need.
As a marriage/couples counselor I’ve worked with hundreds of men and have come to appreciate the following two truisms of any man who loves his spouse/partner:
1) Your man wants to please you (but may not know how to)
2) He can easily feel like a failure (even though the word “failure” is not in his vocabulary).
A Core Difference between Men and Women?
When a woman feels emotionally hurt, she seeks out the support of others (women are more likely to take comfort by emotionally connecting with loved ones);
When a man feels emotionally injured, his masculine identity tilts on its axis: He feels like he is losing control and, depending on the circumstances, a part of him may feel like he has failed.
Men often cope with these intense (and unwanted) feelings by shutting down emotionally. The withdrawn, non-communicative husband or boyfriend feels like he’s been asked to act in a movie with no script or director. He freezes with stage fright and is confused about what to do next. Anger is often a smoke screen that covers up his feelings of inadequacy.
A man who feels inadequate is likely to misinterpret your intention/message.
When you tell your husband or boyfriend, “We never go out anymore” or “You used to buy me flowers, what happened to Mr. Romance?” (two messages intended to get your husband to do something you’d enjoy), he hears:
“I’m unhappy and you’ve failed to make me happy.”
Emotionally, the perceived message is devastating for men (though he’ll never admit it) and to cope with failing to make you happy (and feeling inadequate as a result), a guy will do what he does best when under stress: flee from the source of pain in an effort to protect himself.
So what does this mean for anyone who’s in a relationship with a man?
You can use this information to facilitate communication. Choose your words wisely. So when you talk to your guy, try not to focus only on what’s lacking. Rather than saying, “We never go out anymore” (which he’d hear as, “You’re really messing up”) try, “You’d make me so happy if…” or “I’d love it if we could…”
Focus on the positive impact his behavior has on you (“I love it when you…”).
Also highlight the specific behaviors that he’s done in the past that you’d like him to repeat more often. Don’t assume he already knows this—when it comes to relationships and intimacy, guys do best with a detailed blueprint that spells out how to make you happy.
If you and your spouse/partner are struggling to communicate effectively, check out my Couples Communication ebook
Thanks and until next time!
Dr. Rich Nicastro