Don’t talk so much!
I know that this sounds insensitive and politically incorrect. I know that psychologists and couples counselors such as myself are supposed to push “communication” as the key to a better relationship. And, I’m here to tell you the truth or at least MY truth.
This post is specifically for women in heterosexual relationships. While I’ve worked with many gay and lesbian couples over the last twenty years, I’m not sure if this perspective applies to their relationship dynamics. I’d love feedback though.
Back to the premise: Don’t talk so much!
Couples enter counseling with the idea that they need to learn better communication skills. While this is often true and I definitely teach communication skills, in my judgment, communication is not the problem! The problem is
about connection! Or more accurately, about the lack of connection.
In general, women connect by talking. And by “talking” I more specifically mean talking about their feelings and “processing” them. We’re men. We can only “tolerate” so much of that. Talking about our feelings makes us feel young and insecure; it regresses us.
And while regression is good and beneficial in the process of psychotherapy, it’s not so good in a relationship. Wouldn’t you agree ladies?
You DON’T want a regressed man who feels like a helpless child as your partner in a relationship, do you? You don’t want to turn into his mommy! Trust me, it puts a big damper in the romance department and in your sex life.
So women connect through sharing their feelings. This is perhaps part of why the majority of psychotherapy patients are women. Men don’t want to go there. Do they need to go there? Sometimes they absolutely do. And with a professional that they aren’t building a life with, the process works!
And as a couple in couples counseling it also works, at least to a limited degree. Learning to share your inner life in a way that doesn’t become regressive is absolutely a healthy thing. And while I believe in it, most of my work with couples is about creating connection, which for me isn’t usually about talking or about being talked to (or at, which is how it often feels). With connection comes intimacy and passion.
We’re men. We don’t want to talk about it! Talking makes us feel weak. Talking makes us feel vulnerable. Talking makes us feel anxious. Talking makes us feel shame. Talking makes us feel “less then”. And when we feel like that, we tend to act out our insecurities in our relationships and take it out on you!
Yes, we’re babies! Yes we want it our way in our own time. Yes, if we don’t get our way we will sulk and withdraw and get passive aggressive or just plain attacking and aggressive. For most of us, this reaction is primal and is quite challenging to change.
Even with years of therapy, we will only become aware of it and manage it a little bit better. And most men will never agree to years of therapy. We’re babies. So what are the options here?
There is hope! Although the majority of men won’t come into couples therapy or will only begrudgingly allow themselves to be dragged there by their partners, there IS hope.
While I prefer working with the couple to improve the relationship, it often doesn’t happen that way. Most of the relationship improvement work I do is with one partner, not with both. Most of my relationship coaching is performed with one female partner. And it works!
The couple is a system. If we change one component of the system, the entire system will change. And if it doesn’t change sufficiently, at least the partner knows that they have done everything that they can do. After you clean up “your side of the street” you have a clear conscience for whatever actions are necessary from there, one way or the other.
So, ladies, back to helping you. If my recommendation is don’t talk so much, what can you do? First of all, get clear about your priorities. What is the purpose of your relationship? What do you need from your partner, that only they can provide? What can you “delegate” to others in the need department?
My advice is the 80/20 rule: process 80% of what needs to be processed with your girlfriends and your therapists. Process the 20% that really needs to be processed with your man, with your man. It might actually be even less than that. And learn how to do this in a way that they can tolerate (Actually, I have some tricks for you here).
Don’t talk so much! Instead, share your life with your boyfriends and your partners and your husbands. Sharing comes from a different place and has a different intention than talking does, at least for men.
Allow men to talk when they are in the mood. Reward them for it! Yes we can talk endlessly if we are sharing our vision of the future or bragging about our accomplishments or our prowess. In fact we can become obnoxious in our verbosity at this point.
But it’s not really a dialogue and we’re not really “processing” in the conventional sense. We talk to share our fantasies and our hopes and our desires. If we really are feeling safe, we sometimes share to have a sounding board and to reflect.
And all we really want from you at that point is to be admired and appreciated and valued. You can relate to this, can’t you ladies?
We are sharing as best we can, most of it being nonverbal. So share with us as well and as an experiment, share more with us through activities instead of words. Shared games, shared adventures together, shared romance, shared sex! After that kind of sharing, a man might surprise you and open up and be vulnerable enough to want to actually talk about feelings!
If you give us what we want (which isn’t very complicated most of the time) we will give you the keys to our kingdom and share our world with you. And be excited and thrilled to do so. And give you everything we have and are, with an open heart.
Don’t’ talk so much! That is the key. Would you rather be right that talking is what you need or would you rather connect and experience deep intimacy?
Bottom line: men and women are different! And as the more evolved of the sexes (in my judgment), women can definitely influence the relationship for the better, for the highest good of all involved.
I’m really excited about this new direction my work is taking, working with one partner to improve the relationship and would love to hear your comments about the idea. In fact, you can comment here as much as you’d like!
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.
I like your thinking… the key obstacle as a woman is not to get too excited and start talking when the process starts to work. Sometimes, when the man starts to talk, we jump in with too much “encouragement” and the man can start to shrink back into silence…I think women get excited and start to share too early.
How can we help ourselves keep the talking to a minimum? sometimes it’s hard to wait…
I agree, it’s not easy to do and the intention is to deepen the connection, not to shut it down. It’s a skill set that psychotherapists must develop as well, meeting our clients where they are and encouraging THEM to open up and share with us.
I am going through this but I AM A GIRL. My hubby talks waaaaay too much and honestly, it’s getting quite tiring. I am an independent woman who has a stable job, lived on my own since i was 17 ( I am 26 today ) has a car, a social life and big dreams. We have been together for 2 years with a few ups and downs along the way. Today I am proud to say we have a beautiful son together and I mean the most beautiful kid in the world. Now let me talk about him a bit.. first off we live in Costa Rica ( yes I know I am lucky! ) and here men are a bit more “macho ” in the sense of being borderline sexist, they tend to live at home till they get married and are extremely babied by their mothers. This being said, we have our cultural differences and sometimes clash but now that we have a child together these differences have sky rocked. Before our son, we didn’t care much about how the other person managed his or her life, which path they took to get things done, etc etc But with our son, we both love him so much and raising him has highlighted these ” different perspectives ” or these ” different way to do things “. We have a son in concern now, neither has been a parent before and this is all new for us so as we act out of fear for the safety of our son, things can get tense on how to go about dealing with situations that involve different beliefs, traditions, customs, family pressure, etc
It’s a hard position at times for me because like I said, he is a bit macho and demanding, always used to get what he wants from his mother so treating me in that way comes natural to him. I consider myself to be a pretty open minded person and change and adaptation comes easily to me but since this is my son we are talking about, I think long and hard before giving in to whatever is being asked of me. I am a ” pleaser ” and I think people take advantage of that but I am very protective of my son so now that he is here, he is my #1 priority. I am the bread maker of this relationship, I have the car, nicer things etc I am more educated and I live on my own. He still lives with his parents.
I feel like he is continuously reminded of how he is not what society has taught us ” what men should be ” you know, the bread maker, the macho man. I knew he wasn’t from a wealthy family and this didn’t bother me and it still doesn’t but I feel like it does affect him. So when you talk about passive aggressive behavior and taking it out on the partner, it had our name written all over it. He is constantly bringing me down on small insignificant things and I believe it is to feel better about himself. He is harder on me with things he is careless about, so it’s very hypocritical of him. When I claim, he uses the poor excuse that is already a mess but that it doesn’t mean I can be. He says it’s bad enough that one of us is an idiot and that I am not allowed to be imperfect. One little mistake and I don’t hear the last of it. It’s very hard to acknowledge his claims and take him seriously knowing that he is the same or worse. Basically I have to be perfect, the perfect mother, the perfect girlfriend ( because we are not married ) and the perfect employee, the perfect everything. If I don’t cook a meal one night, then I am called lazy and that ” I never cook ” It’s ridiculous and I am very tired. I love him and I believe these differences can be addressed but I feel he is constantly bringing me down despite everything I do, and to top it off, he thinks I am unstable and at any given downfall I am going to throw our relationship away. But I don’t see it that way, I see it as ” I’m not going to put up with your bullshit ” I am better then this and I deserve better treatment.
He talks A LOT!!! He ALWAYS has something to say, typical Mr Know it All. That said, I understand where you are coming from and I agree, I just wanted to add, it’s not always in the “Man’s ” case. Us woman ALSO can feel regressed and like they are being treated like a child, I guess in my case it’s like a child trying to manage or give orders to a well established adult. It’s no fun, we are all human here, everyone is entitled to make mistakes and all tho communication is great, a little too much is very energy consuming and just not fun at all. We have a great connection I think, but he needs to take a chill pill sometimes or I don’t think we will last much longer.
I appreciate your thoughts and vulnerability in sharing them. Yes, there are no formulas, simply dynamics that sometimes are more often embodies in men, sometimes in women, sometimes in both. Usually they are complementary dynamics in the couples. It sounds like you are doing your best and perhaps some professional support might be of help. If I can help in any way, please let me know.
Can you please tell me what to do when the man refuses to talk at all. I am sure I made a lot of mistakes. I helped him sell his home and had to clean up a huge house of hording. It was just like from those shows. He seemed paralyzed by it all and barely could do anything. We are not married but he was so ashamed about it that he hadn’t had anyone to his home in 7 years. I was the first. You could walk through any rooms and there were dead things under piles. It was very scary. I don’t know all the psychological things about this kind of thing. All I know is that when it was all done and he was moved into a new house…he said he needed space. Now he won’t answer calls, text messages, and is angry if I show up at the house we were both going to move into. I really don’t know what I did wrong. It had to be done…it was a toxic situation. He seemed grateful all the way through until it was done. I don’t understand but he won’t tell me if we are broken up or if it space or anything. He says he doesn’t trust me but all I did was clean up a 7 year mess. I probably should have called a professional. I don’t understand the mind of a man yet alone a horder. I love him despite all faults but is there any way to heal this situation and open him up again.? He is still very messy but I see that he is trying very hard. I am a clean freak. I don’t mind cleaning. I know it is a bit Oscar and Felix but I didn’t put him down for it. I was frightened by the things I found…like dead creatures under piles but I didn’t put him down. It was so much work. I didn’t want to do it but he was burying himself. What am I missing here?
Sounds complicated. Wouldn’t view it as you doing something “wrong”. I’d recommend seeking out professional help to explore this more, as it’s a lot to deal with on your own.
Dr. Adam Sheck