“Let her know how I feel? Are you crazy? The last time I did that, she threw it in my face the very next time we had an argument. I felt like a fool for letting my guard down with her.”
Tom: Holy cow, Margaret, you committed us? We have to cover all the expenses for the Christmas party — decorations, catering and everything?
Margaret: Yes, darling. Why?.
Tom: I don’t think you have any idea how much that terrifies me.
Margaret: What are you talking about?
Tom: I’m talking about you committing us to expenditures we can’t afford. I just finished paying off Thanksgiving. I’m really afraid we won’t be able to pay for all the stuff you want to do.
Margaret: You’re really ‘terrified’?
Tom: Well, yeah. I really do get terrified. It scares me every time I look at our expenses every month. We’re spending way more than we make.
Margaret: Tom, you are such a coward. I sometimes wonder why I married you.
Women are socialized to be indirect while men are encouraged to be direct.
Powerful social forces come into play in a girl’s life that discourage her from behaving the same way as boys. “Little ladies don’t hit other children,” nor should they be “bossy,” or impolite, they are told. Direct aggression can sometimes gradually morph into very oblique methods of getting one’s way and hurting others.
When women introduce this passive style of fighting to their relationships with males, they find their partners ill prepared to deal with its subtlety, its meanness. For men, it can be a sucker-punch.
Guys may try to choose reason or persuasion as a response, but they prove to be flimsy responses to passive statements.
If “winning” is what’s important, you may be tempted to do anything, so long as it “works.” Indeed, you may succeed in winning every argument. But, we may want to ask ourselves this question: How many arguments do you have to win to have a happy marriage?
Some may argue that women are often “mean” to men for “good reason.” Men sometimes do things, frequently without thinking, that really hurt women. Women remember those things. So, when they see an opportunity to hurt their partner back, they jump at the chance. Often, they do so hoping the guy will want to know why, to open a discussion about how the woman has been hurt. But only under remarkable circumstances does that strategy work. More often, like the individual in our example, a man is instantly repelled by a woman’s betrayal. The last thing he wants is a deeper discussion about her feelings.
This is a pity because a conversation about hurt feelings is exactly what needs to take place.
Rather than striking back, we need to have the courage to let our partner know when and how we’ve been hurt. This might be more natural for women, but some men are going to struggle with this.
How can partners create an atmosphere that welcomes an open expression of their partner’s feelings?
This can be more vulnerable for men. They might need to learn how to talk about their feelings. They may have been shamed for doing so in the past. It would be a terrible mistake to think that men are incapable of talking about their emotions. In men’s groups, men honor the feelings expressed by other participants, encouraging each other to let submerged emotions come to the surface. Knowing the courage it takes for a guy to let others see how he feels, they come to realize how important this is. This new awareness of what it takes to connect helps to offset the foolish notion that an emotional man is a weak man.
Men are often worried that a woman will see any display of vulnerability (especially expressions of hurt, fear or anxiety) as weakness. They are afraid of what a woman will think. They would benefit greatly from being more concerned about their own integrity, have more respect for their own feelings.
Clear, open, and honest communication restores intimacy.
If a woman expresses disrespect (“throws his feelings in his face”) when a man reveals what he’s feeling, rather than hiding, he needs to stand up for his own feelings. He may want to confront his partner with her lack of respect.
A woman who wants a strong, loving relationship with a man can’t afford to minimize his feelings. Jumping on a guy’s emotional honesty like it’s some kind of prize does damage.
We all need to identify what we really value in a relationship. If we want “intimacy” we need to cherish our partner’s openness. Not just in the moment of its expression, but forever! Our partner’s vulnerability is a gift of great value. We mustn’t betray that trust whenever it suits us, simply to win an argument or to get our own way.
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Photo: Tony Alter/Flickr