Women Can't Hear What Men Don't Say: Destroying Myths, Creating Loveby Warren Farrell
In Women Can't Hear What Men Don't Say, Dr. Warren Farrell demonstrates how gender-based anger at home, in the workplace, in omnipresent media images, and throughout the overall culture combines with men's own fear of speaking out to misrepresent the inner and outer reality of men's lives. Looking at the world from the perspectives of both men and women, Dr. Farrell provides a remarkable communication program to assist couples in moving beyond the current tripwire assumptions that lead to so much gender-based conflict, and to allow them to understand and love each other more fully than ever. His methods are the culmination of thirty years of experience with thousands of men and women in workshops, groups, and seminars. They prove that strategies that create love at home can also produce success and respect in the workplace.
"The relationship logic alone is worth your time and money. The author is a man well known for his evenhandedness with both sexes."-Los Angeles Times Syndicate
"Warren Farrell argues that women and men may be more alike than we realize, but after thirty years of the women's movement, it is now men who are in crisis."-Time
Reporter, CBS News' 48 Hours
Attorney; Former President, National Organization for Women (NOW)
Author, The Psychology of Winning
Pulitzer-nominated author, Gifts of the Heart
co-author, Chicken Soup for the Soul
author, Men are From Mars, Women Are From Venus
, Author, The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem
District Attorney, Mendocino County, CA
"Warren Farrell argues that women and men may be more alike than we realize, but after thirty years of the women's movement, it is now men who are in crisis."-Time
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Read an Excerpt
The Most Important Thing to Understand About Men ... In Fact, About Anyone
There will always be a battle between the sexes because men and women want different things. Men want women and women want men.
No One's Ever Told Me, "I Want A Divorce, My Partner Understands Me"
The most important thing to understand about men is their desire to be understood. In fact, it is the most important thing to understand about anyone. In more than thirty years of conducting workshops, no one has ever said to me, "Warren, I want a divorcemy partner understands me."
What is so precious about being understood? First, it is rarer than a diamond. Often, when we explain a problem to our parents, they problem-solve. Or they criticize. Or they reassure ("You don't really need to feel that way because ..."), thus discounting the pain. Or they say "I understand," but we don't feel their compassion. We wish they would let us know what they understand. When we hear someone tell us, "I understand what you're saying," we often feel our feelings are being dismissed rather than elicited.
Conversely, if we are parents, being truly understood by our children rarely precedes the birth of grandchildren. Young children are too needy to think of anyone but themselves. Teenagers are too concerned with their own identities. Adults without children ate focused on careers or the problems they imagine their parents to have created. When it comes to beingunderstood, the best hope of a parent is becoming a grandparent.
Most of us don't try to understand our partner, we try to explain our partner. Which is a polite way of saying we try to analyze their faults. Yet, in those same thirty years of conducting workshops, I have never heard anyone say, "Warren, I want to remain marriedmy partner has such an accurate analysis of my faults." An analysis of our faults may help someone else feel they understand us, but it does not leave us feeling understood.
With about 50 percent of marriages ending in divorce, the fact that any one characteristic is associated with marital survival is astonishing. And survival isn't the only victory. People in relationships in which they feel understood usually want to be there. That's in contrast with many marriages in which a couple is legally married but psychologically divorced. What I call "Minimum Security-Prison Marriages."
On the surface, it seems men should feel understood. After all, as corporate heads and "heads of households," don't men have the power to explain themselves and speak up about whatever they think? Yes ... about whatever they think, but not about whatever they feel. A man becomes successful by repressing his feelings, not expressing his feelings.
It used to be that women didn't speak up either. Especially around men. They became passive-aggressive (e.g., passively agreeing to do something, but then not doing it; or agreeing with the man to his face and expressing their real opinion to their women friends). Especially around men. Today, men are the passive-aggressive sex. Not only individually (April: "Sure I'll fix the faucet, honey"; May: "Sure I'll fix the faucet, honey"), but collectively (which is what this book is about).
Isn't It Natural for Men To Emotionally Withdraw ... into Their "Caves"?
We often hear that it is natural for men to withdraw into their caves. Natural? Maybe. Functional? No. When either sex suppresses the expression of feelings, it is almost always because they don't feel there is a safe environment to express them. Many men fear that expressing feelings will lead to conflict. His wife is usually more articulate, so he often loses; but if he "wins," she may withdraw emotionally. Or sexually, into her cave. Either way he loses. Cave is safer.
Withdrawal into a cave is almost always a sign that the environment outside the cave is not safe; withdrawal is usually an unconscious calculation that outside the cave the potential for loss exceeds the potential for gain. The remote control is his security blanket. Unfortunately, what gives him control makes him remote. There is little incentive for a man to remain closed up if he feels understood when he opens up.
It works the same with our kids. Two friends with a teenage daughter complain that she never shares her feelings with them. When I was at their home for dinner, though, I overheard her talking with a friend on the phone nonstop about her feelings. Why? One day, she tells her parents that the guy she's dating is moving too quickly toward sex. The next day, she has a curfew. Or a lecture. It seems like the feelings she expresses one day are used against her the next. It's natural for anyone to withdraw when the environment for expressing feelings is unsafe. It is more functional, though, to have a safe environment.
Are so many men afraid of expressing feelings because they are afraid of intimacy? No. A man fears that conflict with his wife will lead to less intimacy, not more intimacy, He suppresses the expression of his feelings because he fears destroying the intimacy they do have. Men and women both fear the loss of intimacy, but he fears discussion will leave him losing and, therefore, he'll lose intimacy, while she feels discussion will bring them closer. And even when it doesn't, her hope triumphs over her experience. From her perspective, the more he withdraws, the more alienated she feels, thus the more convinced she is that he doesn't want intimacy with her, or doesn't want intimacy, period. So depriving our partner of a safe environment to express feelings makes both sexes feel intimacy is hopeless.
Providing a safe environment to express feelings is not the best way to get a man to express feelings. The best way is to choose a man who already expresses them! Our choice of partners is perhaps the clearest single statement of our choice of values. Therefore, when we blame our partner for anything, we should really be confronting ourselves. Not as in, "Yes, I made a bad choice," but as in, "How does this choice reflect my values?"
Most women genuinely feel they value a man's feelingsif she could have those feelings without making herself less secure (either emotionally or financially). But if she values security more, she often chooses a man who is successful at work. The problem is that the process required to succeed in most high-paying careers is inversely related to the process it takes to be vulnerable. If she likes his success but deplores his capacity for intimacy, she should be looking within herself, not blaming him. Similarly, if he's forty and marries a beautiful twenty-year-old but then blames her for being immature and entitled, he should be confronting his own values, not hers.
While most of us can agree that our choice of partners is the best statement of our choice of values, men continue to choose sex objects and women continue to choose success objects, and then both sexes claim to want what's missing! Put another way, why do both sexes fall in love with the members of the other sex who are the least capable of loving?
For millions of years, women have biologically selected men who were heroes and rejected the other menthe "losers." So their children had heroes' genes. But think of a hero's feelings. You can't? That's the point. The very word "hero" is derived from the Greek word "serow," from which we get our words for "servant," "slave," and "protector." Servants and slaves were not expected to express feelings, but to repress feelings. Just like heroes. Just like corporate executives. Just like surgeons, engineers, CEOs. Our genetic heritagethe socialization process that led to women marrying killer/provider men and men marrying beautiful women, thus selecting genes from which the next generation of children were bornis still with us. If we have integrity about our desire to support men to express feelings, every institution and attitude between the sexes will require questioning and adjusting. That's what I'll investigate in chapter 4 on supporting men to express feelings.
If Understanding Each Other Is So Valuable, Why Haven't We Learned It Already?
Throughout history, we learned to survive by killing people who didn't understand uswe called them "the enemy." Compassion for the enemy was not a top priority because survival was more dependent on combat than on compassion. In fact, compassion for the "other side" was called treason. In the 1950s, even one positive statement about Communists would elicit the beginnings of ostracism ("You Commie!"). In brief, humans have spent tens of thousands of years learning to fight and debate with the other side, and almost no time learning to listen and empathize.
Haven't women, though, spent their lifetimes learning compassion? Yes, when someone is on their side. But neither sex learned compassion for people who argued with them. At the time of divorce, women are not more compassionate to men than men are to women. Under adversarial conditions, both sexes have learned much better debating skills than listening skills. Just go to a divorce court and see if anyone is listening.
There's one downside to understanding someone. Almost as soon as we do, we expect understanding in return. We up our ante. It's easy to still be unhappy by increasing our expectations faster than our partner's ability to respond. When we do, we paralyze our partner with unrealistic expectations. And then, although we are deepening our love on one level, we are also destabilizing the relationship.
If we don't get the understanding we expect in return, then we expect something else. Like a new car. The good news is, we will usually receive it. Understanding is that powerful of a gift. The bad news is that if we don't receive even more understanding, the material girl is as unhappy as the material guy.
If I Really Want To Be Understood, What Do I Do?
Give up. (Just kidding!)
If communicating effectively were easy, we'd already be doing it. I often joke that when I decided to focus my life on getting women and men to understand each other, at least I knew I'd always be employed! Before you assume the effort is more than it's worth, let me tell you how much it's worth.
Imagine having one relationship tool that would, more than any other, make your partner less likely to want to divorce or break up with you. Spend one moment thinking about the costs of a divorcenot only economically, but psychologically; not only to you, but to your children ... and their children.
Now imagine this same relationship tool being almost as likely to improve your relationships with your children, your parents, your employer, and your employees. If it took you as much time to learn this relationship language as it takes most people to learn computer language, wouldn't it be worth it?
I often see couples in my workshops afraid to understand their partner's point of view partly because they fear they will have to give in or compromise. The fact is that when we do not understand our partner, we wind up giving in a lot more. A man who wants more time watching sports on TV will be less interested in it the moment he feels more understood at home; a woman who wants a new necklace or ring is a lot less interested in it when she is encircled with understanding. People who cannot offer understanding will find themselves paying for more and receiving less.
The good news about the first four chapters is that, as with a computer, learning even a little will bring some success. The benefit of computer language is that it opens us up to options that our parents couldn't have dreamed of fifty years ago; the benefit of relationship language is that it opens us up to a type of love no one could have imagined fifty years ago. And, as with a computer, every option becomes usable through learning something new and practicing it frequently. As with computers, our children will sometimes be able to learn it faster than we, but we old dogs can learn.
If you're overwhelmed, remember, if we give to our partner nothing more than a few of the steps that follow, we'll be giving more than 95 percent of what couples give their partner. We will have made love ... from a new position.
How To Give Criticism So It Can Easily Be Heard
The practical steps to giving criticismthe focus of this chaptercontain the underlying assumption that criticism should be given. But should itdoes it help or hurt relationships? And if it should, how much and in what way? Do men and women have different approaches to giving criticism and expressing anger?
Are Criticism and Anger Good or Bad for a Happy Marriage?
Common wisdom seems divided. Some feel it's better to get criticism and anger out; others feel that what you say, especially in anger, can never be taken back. The truth? Both. Studies of happy marriages find that anger and criticism are expressed, not repressed ... up to a point. And they find that the way they are expressed does count.
In marriages that ended in divorce, it was more likely that the ex-wife expressed a lot of anger, sadness, disgust, and fear, was often belligerent, contemptuous, defensive, was domineering, and frequently whined and stonewalled her husband. The husband was more likely to have been belligerent, defensive, and contemptuous.
Do Women Have More Difficult Expressing Anger?
Books like Harriet Lerner's The Dance of Anger, articles in women's magazines, as well as TV talk shows and assertiveness training classes, all tell us that women are socialized to be uncomfortable with anger, especially toward men. This leaves us with the belief that expressing anger is difficult for women, but the one emotion that is easy for men.
What's true is that everyone is uncomfortable with expressing anger and being critical. Anger and criticism generate rejection. And everyone hates rejection. Men do learn to express anger and criticism toward other men, but when it comes to women, men are socialized to protect women, not attack them. They are socialized to argue outside the home (with men), not inside the home (with women). The research bears this out.
Researchers find that when only one sex expresses argument-provoking feelings, it is likely to be the wifeby a ratio of almost six to one (85 percent vs. 15 percent). When both sexes participate but one dominates, women are about twice as likely to dominate. Overall, women are more willing to initiate conflict, more willing to escalate conflict, better able to handle it when it occurs, and, when they have initiated it, are quicker to get over it.
These findings come from numerous sources. They are found among couples of high, medium, and low socio-economic status. They are found using a variety of methodologies: The couples themselves acknowledge this gap, and, much more reliably, researchers who systematically observe couples verify the couples' own assessments.
Probably the most respected researcher in the field is John Gottman at the University of Washington. He records pulse rates, heart output, skin conductance, and other indicators of stress. Then he videotapes the couples to observe facial expressions and body language. He does not ask the couples to fight, since that would be artificial. Instead, he basically works with a couple and when a major area of disagreement naturally evolves, he asks them to discuss it and attempts to resolve it. When a fight naturally occurs, the equipment is there to record it.
Gottman found that men are more intimidated by angry women than women are by angry men. Men are more stressed by marital arguments, while women are more comfortable with emotional confrontation and are better at it.
Even in the feminist movement, the medium is the message: Feminists express anger even as the message is that women cannot express anger; men repress anger even as they are judged to be the sex that has no problem expressing it! We often hear we have a battle of the sexes when, in fact, we have a war in which only one side has shown up. (Men put their heads into the sand and hope the bullets will miss!)
Withdrawal is not the way men do battle with men. It is the way men do battle with women. Because the purpose of doing battle with men was to prepare men to protect women from conflict, not to be the source of conflict.
The job of this book is not to create an affirmative action plan for men's anger to be equal to women's. It is to create a method of communicating that transforms anger in the way a solar panel transforms heatby taking intense heat that would normally leave us hot one moment and cold the next, and transforming it into energy that keeps us warm all the time.
If Women Express Anger More Easily, Why Do We Think Men Do?
A nine-month-old infant was crying. In a scientific experiment, observers who were told the infant was a boy were much more likely to say "he" was expressing "anger"; observers told the identical infant was a girl were more likely to say "she" was expressing "fear." One reason we think men express more anger is because we tend to interpret as "anger" in a man what we would call "fear" in a woman. We can see why we do this when we look at the effect it has.
When we interpret a woman's emotion as fear, two instincts are set into motion: the instinct to protect any woman, and the instinct to protect someone who is afraid. A woman in fear is assumed to be a woman in jeopardy, and this generates a double dose of our protector instinct. When the identical emotion (e.g., the crying) is expressed by a man, but we interpret it as anger, we want to fight back or run away.
When a woman appears to express fear, we cannot assure her without at least releasing her from responsibility; when we interpret the same emotion in a man as anger, we want to blame him and be certain he acknowledges responsibility. We want to find her guiltless; we want to find him guilty.
Once this double standard is woven into our mindset, it translates into our feelings about how to criticize a woman vs. a man: When a man criticizes a woman, it makes us fear for her; when a woman criticizes a man, it makes us cheer for her. Either way, we're on her side. Emotionally, we experience her as a damsel in distress and, if we're a man, we feel summoned to compete for her love by protecting her. When then Vice President Candidate George Bush was campaigning against Geraldine Ferraro in 1984, he and his advisers realized they could not criticize her the way they would a man and expect positive voter reaction, which is one reason they focused on her husband's finances, as did Dianne Feinstein's opponents when she ran for U.S. Senate in California.
This is no one's fault. The difference has evolved from our genetic heritage (the socialization process that led to women marrying killer/provider men and men marrying beautiful women, thus selecting genes from which the next generation of children were born). A nineteenth-century "gentleman" carried a sword with which he was expected to avenge an insult to a woman, even if it cost him his life. Criticism of her meant possible death to him. This heritage makes it difficult for all of us to accept even today a man whose feelings about a woman are critical.
Why Being Criticized Feels Like Being Killed
While anger and criticism need outlets for expression, using them to clear the air of problems is a bit like using insecticide to clear the air of bugs: Both can pollute the air to clear the air. Criticizing and complaining create negative energy before they create positive energy. And they don't always create positive energy. Why not?
Being criticized feels like being "killed." A woman friend of mine told me, "I remember when my third grade teacher criticized me in front of the class. I disintegrated. And when you criticize me, it feels like you're putting a knife into my heart."
My woman friend may have been more literally accurate than she knew. The New England Journal of Medicine reports that speaking about one's faults creates abnormalities in the pulsation of our heart. Tiny abnormalities? No. Abnormalities as great as those produced by riding a stationary bicycle to the point of either exhaustion or chest pain.
Why does being criticized feel like being stabbed in the heart? Why are we tempted to stab back, even though we know intellectually it's the worst thing we could do? Historically, criticism could lead to ostracism, which could lead to death. The word "ostracism" itself comes from the Greek word ostrakon, meaning "tile." The ostrakon, or tile, was the ballot cast by the community to decide whether or not to ostracize someone. If there were more ostrakons in the "yea" group, she or he was ostracized. To ostracize someone meant to not speak with them, trade with them, or in any way deal with them. So if you were a doctor, for example, and you were ostracized, you would have no patientsyou couldn't support your family. Being the subject of criticism could mean your family starving.
Criticism feels like it will kill us, then, because it could lead not only to our own death, but to our family's deaths. And to parents, a child's death is more to be feared than their own. Thus our genetic heritage made it functional to kill the criticizer before the criticizer killed us. If you're the one contemplating criticism, that doesn't create much incentive to be honest. And today, with our partner able to leave us, perhaps the incentive is even less. So we became approval seekers.
Put another way, we are the offspring of approval seekers. We want approval so badly that we vacillate between conforming to get it and standing out (being outstanding) to get it. Even the rebel, whose defiance may create the illusion of not caring about approval, secretly nurtures the hope of being admired (awaiting the day when they are ultimately seen to be right while everyone else is seen to be wrong).
Many of us can't even go to a party without first finding out how most of the guests will be dressed; without checking our appearance in the mirror half a dozen times; without mentally rehearsing how we will respond when we meet someone who matters....
Our need for approval comes in many forms for our children, too. One boy will join a gang, where having a "rep" is just another way of saying he wants love, respect, and approval. A boy in my high school joined the Marines because he wanted to prove himself, which is just another way of saying that he wanted approval, respect, and love. He risked his life for it, and was killed. At least a hundred women in my workshops have said that they knew before their wedding that getting married wasn't right for them, but they were afraid to back out because "the invitations had already gone out." All these men and women risked their lives for fear of criticism.
If criticism is ranked next to death and worse than taxes, is it possible to provide a safe environment against being, well, killed? Yesit is possible. The process begins with mastering the "Rules of the Game" to giving criticism.
Five Rules of the Game
It is the responsibility of the criticizer or complainer (or the person who is upset) to abide by five Rules of the Game.
1. Tone of voice is more crucial than words. Words don't hold a candle to the tone of our voice and the look in our eyes. Try using the words "I love you" in a malicious tone of voice to a baby or a puppy dog and watch it withdraw; yet say in a loving tone of voice "dumb doggie" or "smelly baby" and watch it be responsive. If the tone and the look reflect respect, appreciation, even a touch of admiration, well, you'll melt any iceberg! Studies find that although a wife is more likely than her husband to complain, a marriage is significantly more likely to be stable and happy if she softens her complaints with positive affect (e.g., humor, affection, interest, agreement, approval, smiles, positive physical contact, laughter).
2. Don't complain too often. How often is too often? Rule of thumb: "Complaining every day keeps your lover away." If complaints come too often or you feel like you're walking on eggshells, group your complaints as I suggest in the Plan Ahead Method below. Turn the rest of the week into a "Complaint-Free Zone."
3. Never criticize someone who has just criticized you. Wait until that person says she or he has felt heard.
4. Ask the listener to just "play listener." If you have the listener's "buy in," you have a partner; if you don't, you have an opponent. Make sure the timing is right.
5. Try not to cross-examine the listener with questions that require an explanation for her or his behavior ("Tell me, why did you do that?"). Explain to the listener that if you slip up and ask for an explanation, the request should be treated as rhetorical.
If there are two iron rules of criticizing they are tone of voice is more crucial than the words and don't complain too often.
Sometimes criticism will come from us like the spontaneous combustion of a sneeze. To get a handle on criticism though, it's better to control it rather than have it control us. If you're going to use a knife, it's better to think ahead before the sharp edge that's cutting for you is cutting into you. (No, that's not something my mom told me!)
The "Plan Ahead Method" of Giving Criticism So It Can Be Easily Heard
Step 1: Write Down Your Negative Feelings
I like it best in my personal life when I arrange with my partner to write complaints on a piece of paper or ah index card and put them in a little box. I find that the mere act of writing them down releases much of the negative energy.
It also helps me sort out which ones are worth bringing up. Harry Truman used to say, "When notice of an emergency arises, I stuff it in a drawer. At the end of the week, I open the drawer. If it's still an emergency, I take care of it." I try to take care of complaints the same way.
Step 2: Create a Predictable Time in Which To Share Negative FeelingsOnce Every Week or Two
The best way to take care of complaints is to create a predictable time to do so every week or twoa "sharing and caring" evening. Harry and Sally illustrate why.
After Harry met Sally, they moved in together (they didn't tell you that in the movie; you learn these things from books). It was about seven P.M. and they were running late for a play at eight. They had tickets to the play for more than a month and Harry especially was looking forward to the evening. The phone rang. It was Sally's sister. Sally always got caught up in long conversations with her sister, and Harry was pacing before her, catching her eye, pointing to his watch. Finally, Sally got off the phone and exploded, "You've never liked my sister. I really felt controlled. You don't give me the freedom to make my own judgments. So what if we are a little late to the play?"
Now Harry was doubly impatient. He wanted to tell her that he wished she would have let the answering machine pick it up, but he was afraid she'd have a response and they'd miss the play altogether. His face showed impatience that her "ranting" was making them even later. Sally picked up on his impatience and hammered the nail into the coffin, "Now you're impatient that we're talking about this. What's more importantone stupid play of our relationship?"
Harry sensed the question was a bit biased. Nevertheless, he didn't want to miss the play. So he responded, "Can we put this on hold, and discuss it after the play?" "No," Sally said, "I have these feelings now; I've had them before and we never talk about them. I can't enjoy the play with all this swimming around in my head."
They both are. Fortunately, there's a win-win solution.
Sally needed some assurance that feelings that had cropped up repeatedly would not, once again, get postponed. She needed a security blanket. Harry had been looking forward to the play for more than a month and, from his perspective, there was no need to sacrifice either the relationship or the play. This was a play that he, more than Sally, had been looking forward to, and he felt that she would not now be bringing up this relationship issue if they were on their way to one of Sally's beloved operas. To him, Sally was either being manipulative or having problems setting boundaries.
If Harry and Sally had created a predictable time to share negative feelingssay, seven on Sunday evening (60 Minutes will kill me for this)Sally would have had her security blanket. And Harry would have had his play. And both would have had time to discuss their underlying feelings.
Back to the "sharing and caring" evening.
At the end of the week, then, about an hour before the planned meeting time, review the cards and choose between three and six issues that still retain some negative energy. Harry Truman might have called these the "emergencies."
Once there's a predictable time each week, turn the test of the week into a "no-complaint zone." At least no complaints that our partner has to hear. In some ways this is easier said than done; in other ways it is easier to do than it appears because the process of writing the complaint down releases our need to keep reviewing it in our mind; and the security of knowing we'll have a predictable time to discuss it releases the anxiety that comes when we feel we have to keep bringing it up in order for it to be attended to. In brief, don't dismiss this before you try it.
Applying the Predictable Time Approach to direct complaining and criticism strikes a good balance between two extreme ways of dealing with potential conflict: The "stuff it" extreme and the "clear the air now" extreme.
The "stuff it" extreme first. People who stuff their feelings eventually find them popping up in two other forms; Attacking and/or Avoidingwhat might be called the Double-A responses to stuffing feelings. The Attack substitute for complaining and criticism may surface in the form of little digs, sarcasm, put-downs, backstabbing in the presence of company, or the worst infidelity: talking to our friends about our partner, behind our partner's back. The Avoidance substitute for complaining and criticism may come out in headaches, hiding behind a sports event, gambling, drinking, or preoccupation with work, church, children, or a cause. The Avoidance list is endless.
The Predictable Time Approach works because predictability fosters security. When our security needs are met, the vacuum of neediness is filled. A baby breast-fed at predictable intervals needs to be fed much less than the baby who cannot count on when it will next be fed. Without predictability the baby becomes anxious, needy, and has to be fed much more to be equally secure. In all of us there is that baby.
Step 3: Share at Least Four Positive Feelings with Each Negative
Then comes the tough part: making the transition from negative feelings to a positive event. This is the part we even look forward to. Couples who are happy give each other between four and four hundred positive strokes for each criticism. So, I find this works best when my partner and I create at least four things we appreciate about the other for each problem area. We require ourselves to give specific examples. Instead of, "I like how thoughtful you are," we'd write, "I liked it when you noticed we were running low on fresh-squeezed orange juice, volunteered to pick some up, and asked me if there was anything else I needed while you were at the store. I felt so nurtured." To each of the examples we tried to add the positive feeling or feelings it created. In this case, feeling nurtured.
By requiring ourselves to create four positives for each criticism, and allowing ourselves only an hour for review before meeting time, we found ourselves making positive notes throughout the week, which also meant we didn't begin the pre-meeting review hour with a flood of negative feelings. It remained easy to see the positives in the relationship. This worked well for a number of reasons, but my favorite was the incentive we gave ourselves to do the positive notes ahead of time.
We could get double-duty out of these positive notes by writing a version of them on a Post-It that we might leave immediately on the other's steering wheel, or on a card with a fresh-cut flower from the garden on each other's pillow, or E-mail. By doing them ahead of time, then, four positives could be turned into eight or twelve. Cheating? No one complained.
What the positive notes really created was (no, not writer's cramp!) but a "muscle"the "muscle" of pro-actively looking for the positive.
Step 4: Incorporate Humor and Romance into the "Feelings" Evening
For me, humor might take the form of mocking what I do. For example, one of my criticisms might say, "Sometimes I question your judgment. How can you be in love with a relationships manual?" Humor glues souls, reminding us that we're on the same team.
And so does romance. I like lighting candles, cutting flowers, turning on Enya-type music. My woman friend loves the candles and the flowers, but is ambivalent about my turning on Enya.
We sit eye to eye. One of us starts by sharing our positives and then one criticism. Then we hold each other, in part for nurturance, in part for congratulations. (Or maybe it's relief.) Then we alternate. That's one round. We continue until we complete between three and five rounds. Hopefully three.
Sometimes we feel so understood that we want to make love. We allow that. But if we do that before we complete the process, we always return to complete the process. And that last point is crucial. Otherwise the lovemaking becomes an escape from the process, then the security blanket disappears, things start getting brought up midweek, and the rest of the week as a no-complaint zone disintegrates.
When I bring up this last point in workshops, I am sometimes asked whether lovemaking should be saved until afterward, as sort of a reward. The value of being spontaneous is that it doesn't create performance pressure at the end of the process. Also, men, in particular, will sometimes keep from being fully honest if they feel it may deprive them of sexual intimacy; so if you want to encourage honesty, allow yourselves to make love when it comes naturally. Having said this, if you try a lovemaking break but don't return to complete the process, then next time save the lovemaking until the end.
Meet the Author
Warren Farrell, Ph.D., is the author of Women Can't Hear What Men Don't Say and The Myth of Male Power. Dr. Farrell taught at the School of Medicine of the University of California in San Diego, and has taught psychology, sociology, and political science at Georgetown, Rutgers, and Brooklyn College. He is the only man elected three times to the board of N.O.W. in New York City. He lives in Encinitas, California.
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