No matter how successful you are in your leadership, or in your business or career, many men still cringe when it comes to talking to the woman (or women) in their life, about making a change that would please them. Especially if that change would meet their own needs–needs for understanding, support, intimacy, closeness, or just plain picking up a consistent mess.
While culture is changing, we can blame this on socialization and a bit of nature.
Do any of the following statements resonate with you when it comes to your wife, girlfriend, daughters or your mother – even though you are a grown man? Or maybe they remind you of your female boss or workmates.
You want to please the woman in your life; sometimes you feel like you don’t know how.
You sometimes feel like she doesn’t acknowledge what you contribute to your relationship and the family.
You want her to be happy; when she’s unhappy it makes you feel helpless or shut down.
You wish she’d let you know when she’s unhappy about something else in her life versus when she’s unhappy with you; you wish she’d do more things to make herself happy.
You want her to simply tell you what she wants or likes – because you can’t read her mind or when she does tell you what she wants it sounds too vague or global and you’d like more concrete requests.
If I were showing these statements to a roomful of men, you’d see a roomful of heads bobbing in agreement. It happens in my office all the time. Many men say to me: “I am a simple creature – much simpler than women! I just want to make her happy and it’s hard to know how. It’s hard not to feel like a failure. Yet I love her (or respect her or care about her) and want to please her…”
This is NOT meant to disrespect to men by the way. I learned this from men (and experts) seeking to understand why men put some of their needs last–with everyone in their lives. You are super-responsible and wonderful fit-it guys. But sometimes it is to your detriment. And sometimes to the detriment of your mate, and potentially to your closeness and greater emotional trust and intimacy in your relationship.
So here are a few thoughts, because hard as it is, I really believe in maximizing any tools for your growth that maximize greater partnering intimacy .
There are some signs you can be aware of when it comes to the women in your life and whether you not engaging might be effecting your relationship.
If women are talking with you or sometimes even nagging as you see it, it is a sign they are still engaged in the relationship and trying to communicate with you. But if she goes quiet, she has disengaged and this is not a good sign – my experience indicates that once this happens for a prolonged period, the relationship is in trouble. By engaging with the women in your life, you are helping her personal growth, your own growth and the health of your relationship.
It works the other way, too — when women push a man’s failure buttons, they often end up tuning women out and emotionally shutting down. Some rely on inappropriate attempts at humor to deal with their feelings of shame or inadequacy while others resort to more macho ignoring, feeling peeved and pushing their own agendas ahead, without regard for their partner or workmate.
While women need to learn that your #1 agenda is often to make them happy and that you aren’t sure how to do this, and maybe they need to help you to know how, I’ve got a few suggestions – let’s call them “tough love suggestions” – for you!
Go on the offense
Instead of avoiding women’s unhappiness and resulting resentment or silence, it is best to show you care by asking to have a conversation about it. When you are aware she’s unhappy, you bring it up: “It feels like something might be bothering you, if you want to talk I’d like to listen, just let me know.” Or perhaps try for a huddle up: “Could we sit on the porch get some coffee and talk about what might be bothering you?”
Challenge the call
She might say nothing is bothering her, and likely will if this is a new approach for you. Or she might not be ready to talk about it. So ask for a meeting time and tell her it is important to you that you talk together. Give her time to think it over if her first reaction is usually negative or defensive. But don’t back down: “This is important to me, so let’s pick a time to talk.”
Tackle the tough stuff
You may be fearful of conflict, believing you could make the situation worse. Yet conflict is a part of life — learning to deal with differences is important to moving your relationship forward. Conflict does not always equal fight or argument if you communicate effectively. Being nice all the time doesn’t address the issues and is a way for you to disengage by avoidance. If you are fearful of a woman’s feelings or anger, you are depriving both of you of a better relationship and opportunities to grow.
Take a timeout
Once you do make the opportunity to talk with her, be curious, be interested in what she has to say and use your listening skills. Avoid being flooded, or overwhelmed, by what she says, which can cause you to withdraw or become angry. If you feel that happening, negotiate a time out and plan a replay: “Let’s leave these issues on the table and come back later tonight (or tomorrow)”, making sure to set a time to revisit the table and to reassure her you will continue the conversation. Be careful, too, not to criticize her “tone” as this tends to be a hot button for many women — instead ask her to speak gently.
Play for the team
Whether it’s your wife, girlfriend, partner, boss or workmate, it’s important to start thinking in terms of “us”, the team, the partnership. By engaging with a woman in healthy communication, you are making the team better. At home, try asking for a meeting about vacation, schedules, dates, finances… At work, initiate discussions of needs and goals of your work team and yourself. Waiting for the women to start the talks can lead them to be resentful for having to take the lead. Good teams need contributions from all the players!
Don’t give up
This is not a one time deal. Part of making a woman happy is to continue to engage her in communication with you. Your interest sends a powerful message: “I am here, I care, I really want to hear you.” The results will likely surprise you – you will feel more empowered in the relationship, and the women in your life will be happy in their growth and the growth of your relationship!