There is something to be said for Jerry Seinfeld’s idea that every guy thinks he is some kind of low-grade super hero. There are few problems us guys encounter that we won’t make an attempt to solve, whether we have the slightest clue what we’re doing or not. If there is a funny noise coming from under the hood, any self respecting man will at least take a look and poke around in there until his hands are greasy and he feels he has fulfilled his masculine obligation. If the dishwasher won’t rinse he’ll stand there and press buttons, grunting and pretending to understand all the flashing lights and beeps, whether he achieves anything or not. We do this because at heart, guys like to solve problems. It’s kind of what we do. So whenever we come up against a situation where something doesn’t appear to be right, we immediately start trying to find ways we can fix it.
The time that this is least helpful, of course, is when the women in our lives are trying to talk with us.
It would be fair to say most women have, at some time or another, known the frustration of their man apparently oversimplifying things or completely misunderstanding them. While she is trying to let him in on how she is feeling, he seems to be throwing unhelpful suggestions her way and the whole exercise ends in tension or an argument. What she doesn’t realize is that instead of understanding where she is at, he is hearing a problem that needs fixing. And the more she tries to explain, hoping to get through to him, the worse it feels for the guy, because it seems like he is failing to find the right solution.
It’s really that simple. A guy doesn’t deliberately try to minimize or disregard a woman’s inner turmoil. It is not that he’s disinterested in her struggles or worries. We just don’t get that they are there to be understood, not fixed. Usually however those things are expressed as difficulties our women are facing, and that means they sound an awful lot like problems. The solution to the escalating misunderstanding is to let your man know what you expect of him up front.
If he knows that what is about to follow is not something that needs fixing, the pressure will be off for him. Instead of trying to grasp a complex set of emotions and situations, condense it all and then find some way out of it, he will suddenly be free just to listen. Which means that instead of having everything reduced to simple solutions, her feelings will be received for what they are – an expression of where she is at. The end result of the experience suddenly changes from a terse silence to a greater intimacy.
So next time you have something to share with your man, let him know what is happening first. Tell him that this is not something that needs fixing, but simply something he needs to hear. If he knows his job is just to listen, to understand and be compassionate, chances are you will see him visibly relax. Finding answers is not easy, and when the pressure of always fixing things is lifted off us, we appreciate the respite as much as you will appreciate someone who will really listen.
Men are straight forward creatures. Its true, if you want a guy to just listen to you and not try to solve the problem, just tell him. Let him know very point blank “Sweetie, I really need to vent about my day and I just want someone to listen to me.” As Dan said once he hears that, he can relax and listen. He doesn’t feel the need to solve the problem for you. All he needs from you is to just tell him to listen.
P.S. Do you have a question you would like Dan to answer, or any of the other guys at Decoding Men:
1) Please be specific when you ask your question. Asking questions like “Why are men jerks?” is not enough information to go on, to provide a decent response. What exactly did this guy do to make you feel like he was a jerk?
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