Thursday, June 25, 2009

When She Wants to "Talk," Man Up and Own Your Stuff

I used to hate to hear that frightening phrase, "We need to talk." My first thought was always, "Shit, NOW what did I do?"

Generally, it was something I had done, or not done. But I showed up, took responsibility to the best of my ability, and tried to the best of my ability to change my behavior if needed.

So I'm good with the message in this article.

I have one thing to ask in return of women (or same-sex partners): When it's time for a "talk," please be rational and have it sorted out in your head. If you are emotional and all over the place, bringing up old shit that has nothing to do with the current situation, I'm going to tune out pretty quickly.

So the deal is, you be clear and concise, and I'll own my shit. Deal?

Men: Own Your Crap

When Your Wife Wants To Talk, Do Not Avoid

In the Love Bytes blog two weeks ago [Guys Night Out (Part 1)], it was suggested to men that if we want a successful marriage, then we need to own our crap. I thought it might be valuable to give a little background to this assertion.

Arguably the foremost marriage expert in the world is a man named John Gottman. He was once asked: "If you could give just one piece of advice to men for the success of their marriages, what would you say?" Barely taking a breath, Gottman stated that the most important thing for us men in our marriages is to NOT AVOID discussions with our wife --- even the tough (and maybe especially the tough) discussions.

In a study published a couple years ago (in the Journal of Psychosomatic Medicine), a sample of 3,682 married men and women were surveyed about the ways in which they discussed and resolved differences in their marriage. It turned out that approximately 25% of the women in the study reported that they typically did not bring up issues to their husbands / that they tended to bottle up their feelings rather than express them / that they generally kept quiet about those things that were bothering them. As one author put it, they "silenced" themselves.

These 3,682 men and women (and their marriages) were then studied over the next 10 years. During that 10 year period, those women who tended to not bring up issues to their husbands were 4 times more likely to die of coronary heart disease than were those women who freely discussed their concerns with their husbands. Yes, you read that correctly --- the death rate DURING THIS 10 YEAR PERIOD was 4 times greater for these women (and that was AFTER controlling for all the usual suspects in heart disease --- body mass index, cigarette smoking, cholesterol, diabetes).

Furthermore, we know from repeated studies what happens to marriages when wives are silent about those things they want (need?) to talk about. In the short run, when wives keep quiet about communication patterns, work done around the house, the quality of the relationship, the amount of time spent together, things that her husband could improve on, what could be done to make the marriage better (I suspect you get the idea!), the marriage looks like it is in pretty good shape (sort of like the fake fa├žade on a movie set). That is in the short run --- for the first 2 or 3 years. But in the long run (within 4 or 5 years), such marriages do not fare very well. Both in terms of stability and satisfaction, silencing the self contributes to the demise of a marriage.

On the other hand, those marriages in which wives are free to bring up their issues --- and husbands fully participate is the discussion of those issues --- these are the marriages that thrive.

So how should we think about these sorts of things?

Essentially, our wives tend to have lots of insights into relationships. Most of them grew up with loads of experience maintaining and nurturing relationships. They tend to know how to make relationships work / how to build connections / how to sustain harmony / how to facilitate intimacy --- all of which are key elements in successful marriages. [Now, admittedly there may be times when they fail to put this knowledge to work with us --- that is for another blog entry --- but they nonetheless tend to have lots more insights into this world of relationships than we do.]

So if a man has a wife who is not irrational and unreasonable / a woman who is not a catastrophizer, terriblizer, awfulizer, horriblizer / a woman who takes the advice of Harlan Miller to heart [Harlan Miller once stated: "Often the difference between a successful marriage and a mediocre one consists in leaving about 3 or 4 things a day unsaid"] --- if we are married to such a woman, then why wouldn't we talk with her about the things that are on her mind?

Most married men (approximately 85%) avoid such discussions with our wives. And when we do, we tend to create raving maniacs --- what a couple responders to previous Love Bytes blog posts have referred to as women who use "harsh start-ups." [Anyone who has lived with such a woman understands my preference for the term "raving maniacs".] But such women have found themselves in a situation where they begin to think that the only way they can get us to listen to them is by being more forceful about their need to talk.

Guess what --- it doesn't work! The last thing that is going to encourage us to sit down and have a discussion is a woman who forcefully says: "WE NEED TO TALK!" But women who are married to avoiders seldom see any other recourse.

Women tend to maintain and nurture their marriage, but whether or not it will ultimately take off and be successful generally rests with us men.

So it bears repeating --- MEN: WE NEED TO OWN OUR SHIT.


justice Marshall said...

"So the deal is, you be clear and concise, and I'll own my shit."

How's that deal working for ya? :)

WH said...

very well, but my girlfriend is a therapist :)