I am continuing my thoughts from my post quite a few months ago titled, Don’t Talk So Much! I received a great deal of feedback from the first post and want to address some of it as well as expand upon my original thoughts.
To remind you, the basic premise was that while a majority of couples enter couples counseling with the (valid) idea that they need to learn better communication skills, after almost 25 years as a couples therapist my belief is that COMMUNICATION IS NOT THE PROBLEM!
The problem is NOT about communication. The problem is about CONNECTION! Or more accurately, about the LACK of connection.
We are all seeking connection. I believe that we are designed to seek out connection. However, men and women seek out connection in different ways and the two ways can sometimes conflict or nullify each other.
In general, women connect by talking. And by “talking” I more specifically mean talking about their feelings and “processing” them. Men connect more through shared activities and physical (including sexual) contact.
My experience in working with men is that most men would prefer NOT to talk about their feelings and especially prefer NOT to process them. If they really love their partners, they can go against their nature and listen to their partner’s feelings and help them process them (if they learn these skills), but generally won’t reciprocate. And this really does hurt most women, as they connect this sharing of feelings and processing with love.
Let me state that I am a clinical psychologist AND I have been in over two decades of personal psychotherapy. I worked hard to develop the capacity for and the skill set of communication and I’m pretty good at it. I earn a living with it.
AND, I don’t particularly like to talk about my feelings with my partner either! It isn’t my preferred method of connecting. I can engage in it when it’s necessary, yet from my personal and professional perspective, it’s not nearly as necessary as most of our female partner’s believe it to be.
Which is why my recommendation at the end of the original Don’t Talk So Much was for women to use the 80/20 rule. Take 80% of what you believe you need to share with your partner and share/process it with your friends or your therapist. The remaining 20% can and should be shared with your partner. Choose your battles wisely!
Women don’t understand or appreciate the emotional “expense” to a man of engaging in communication/processing. I’m not saying this to have you feel sorry for men or to believe that they are broken or inferior in some way. In general, we just don’t have the emotional muscles that women do. We can build them, but still probably won’t be a able to keep up. Emotionally, we can sprint, but most men are not marathoners!
The story of “The Boy Who Cried Wolf” comes to mind here. We love you and will process and communicate on that deep level when necessary, as a gift of love and nurturing to you. Yet if most of what comes up could be addressed without us, we will feel that you are “crying wolf” and that becomes a pattern, we WILL eventually resent it and you.
Now, many of the comments responding to the original Don’t Talk So Much seemed to agree with my premise. And these agreeing comments came from both men AND women, generally those in long term relationships.
Some women felt that it was unfair. Some felt it wasn’t right that women had to be sensitive to men’s limitations and that men didn’t have to be sensitive to women’s.
And I agree with you. It ISN’T fair! And it goes back to the old saying, “do you want to be right or do you want to be happy?”
When I work with couples, I always encourage the more aware partner, the more conscious partner to take steps to break up the dysfunctional patterns in the relationship as they show up in the moment. I believe that this is another example of that type of situation.
This doesn’t mean that men value their relationship with their partner less than women value the relationship. However, in my experience, men are much more reactive and women much more proactive when it comes to relationship.
I can’t tell you how many couples come into my office a year or two after the woman has been asking her man to come into treatment. And often, that is “too little, too late.” In fact, the research shows that long term couples enter couples counseling about six years after they acknowledge they have a problem.
So, YES, the woman will need to be the one to take the first steps the majority of times. And by recognizing the best ways to connect with a man won’t that make your relationship better? And won’t you then get your needs met as well? As I wrote before, as the more evolved of the sexes, women can definitely influence the relationship for the better, for the highest good of all involved.
Again, I am addressing this particular issue to women. When men come to me to improve their relationship, I teach them an entirely different skill set, which involves giving women what THEY need for connection. And when the partners come in together for couples counseling I take yet another approach. I have to work with who comes into my office (or telephones/Skypes).
However, I am writing this followup post on Don’t Talk So Much because many women have partners/boyfriends/husbands who refuse to be part of the solution. And so I am considering the creation of a program to support these women, as well as men in the same predicament to improve their relationships from their “side of the street” and would love to hear your comments about the idea and my additional thoughts in this post.
Thanks so much,
Dr. Adam Sheck
If you’re interested in more of my thoughts about relationships and creating passion and purpose, please download my Free Special Reports, “20 Rituals For Romance!” and “The Secret To Owning Your Mission!” by subscribing to the Passion Doctor Newsletter at the top of this page.