I have been looking deeper at my marriage lately and wondering… what can I do to make my marriage even better? How can I show up in such a way that allows the relationship to blossom in ways that I never could have imagined? I am aware enough at this point in the game to know that improving any situation in my life is up to me and me alone. I am the one who decides how deep my relationships, especially my marriage, can get. I can only control my own behavior and I am always holding the key in my pocket… whether or not I decide to use it. And I get really excited when I discover more ways to grow the relationship.
Now I am not saying my husband doesn’t have equal power….he does. But I don’t have control over his choices. Only mine. So here’s one of the things I find fascinating in the male/female relationship: even though I have known for a long time there is a drastic difference in how men and women think, my first inclination seems always to expect my husband to think like me. This is not fair at all. For one thing, the hormones that dominate how men and women think are very different. Men (not all men, but the majority) are influenced by testosterone which makes them really good at focusing on one task at a time (and working on it until it is complete before starting a new task). Women (not all, but a majority of us) are largely influenced by estrogen making it easier for us to multitask. Evolutionary psychology has a good explanation for this which goes back to our hunter gatherer days, but I will let you read about that on your own. My point is that our brains think differently. So if you are in a heterosexual relationship and ever find yourself thinking “I have no idea why my partner does this or that”, start with the understanding that our brains think about things differently and just know that both of your perspectives are equally valid and deserve consideration.*
We both have something to add to the mix and we both have a lot to learn from each other.
So if instead of getting frustrated that the other person isn’t seeing it the way you see it…instead stop, open your mind and consider how they might see it and try to understand where they are coming from. Curiosity instead of judgement goes a long way.
Here are some of the traps I find myself in regularly. Often I will want to explore a new idea or work through an issue with my husband, and I tend to get over excited during the discussion and interrupt him when he is in the middle of sharing his perspective. I will jump ahead, thinking I already understand what he is trying to say and I’ll throw out other things to consider to move the conversation forward…..when he hadn’t yet had the chance to fully express his whole thought. Or I will ask him a question and before he has a chance to finish his answer, I will throw out another question…. so he feels cut off. Luckily he will tell me when I am doing that. Looking back at partners I have had, they would get frustrated and storm out and I wouldn’t even know what has happened. Now I know that if I want to have a deeper conversation, I have to pause a lot longer than I am comfortable to offer enough space for him to communicate his perspective. And when I do this, I discover a lot more than I would if I were to jump ahead and assume I already know what he is going to say.
A metaphor I like excerpted from “The Queen’s Code” by Allison Armstrong, is that men have to walk down into their vault to pull out the right file that holds the answer to your question… so if you interject while they are walking down the staircase, you will miss out on the goods. So ladies, if you ask your guy a question, do not interject until he gets to the part where he indicates… “okay, I’m done”. If you have never heard, or felt, a man complete his thought, well then, perhaps you haven’t given him the chance.
And anyway, interrupting is just rude. No one wants to be interrupted. We all want to feel heard so learn how to listen in a way that your partner feels heard. You might want to do your own research here. Notice your partner’s body language during your next conversation. It will tell you everything you need to know about how the conversation is going. Is their posture open and engaging? Or is it tense and closed off? Is their face relaxed or tense? Are they standing up straight and tall or are they slumping, feeling beaten down, defeated? Look at these cues. Notice how they are receiving what you are saying.
If you notice your partner is not responding well to the conversation, then back off a little and find out how they are doing. If they are shut down, they are no longer receptive to what you are saying so you might as well be talking to a brick wall. The door is locked. Closed for business. Instead of getting frustrated they are not listening, get curious. Most likely they’re just not responding well to your approach. So instead of getting louder or getting frustrated, find out what you have said that has caused them to shut down. This is an easy way to get your foot in the door, back into their good graces. If you want to be heard, you have to make sure you are communicating in such a way that your partner is hearing you. You can count on the fact that you will need to be really patient to get that door back open once it’s closed. Especially if you have been using the same approach for years without realizing that it shuts your partner down…
Here’s another one I’m guilty of: I’ll ask him to help me with something, and if he doesn’t jump up and do it right away, then I just do it because he didn’t move quite fast enough. Then I would make up a martyr story in my head; something like “I guess I just have to do it all myself.” Luckily, I learned I need to have more patience. He will get to it, but he may be in the middle of something else right now (and that something else may not look like anything important to me, but for him…well…it is!) and so he may need a minute or 5 or 10 to switch gears. Even after I realized this, I still catch myself doing this behavior, but now I’ll giggle at my own impatience instead of being annoyed. I might even laugh with him about my own lack of patience…so he doesn’t feel hurt in any way that I didn’t let him do what I asked him to do.
I have also learned that this behavior of asking for something and then doing it myself can be emasculating for a man, just because of how men think. On many levels. For instance, this behavior sends out a message that A. you don’t trust they can do it; and B. You are taking away their opportunity to provide for you and make you happy (which can actually be quite damaging for a relationship).
So, just some food for thought if you ever feel frustrated in relationship, men and women really are very different…and it’s actually a beautiful thing. We both have something to bring to the relationship, but we have to find a way to look through a different lens in order to really begin to appreciate the gifts.
· I asterisk this sentence because I can only personally speak to heterosexual relationships and not to same-sex relationships. Certainly there are hormonal differences between two loving people of the same sex, and I imagine they could be as difference as two people of the opposite sex. I believe the techniques expressed in the rest of this post are still relevant and useful in understanding your partner, however they express their sexuality!