Let’s get this out of the way: no one knows how to give effective feedback in relationships.
Seriously. Nobody. Dating coaches, okay, maybe. The occasional therapist? Sure. But the rest of us silly creatures are just muddling around doing the very best we can. Most of the time, the best we can do is not so great.
Women tend to spend a lot of time yelling at men for not being more like women, just like men spend a lot of time frustrated with women for not being more like men. We need the men in our lives to be more emotional, more sensitive, more intuitive and more responsive to our unspoken needs..but it’s hard to explain how to do that to men, who have been taught to be none of these things.
So instead, we say silly things. Like “get in touch with your feminine side.”
A Hint: That is not what we mean!
Do not go purchase some yarn and a knitting needle, or begin a skincare regimen, or make time on your calendar to get your nails done. Unless, of course, you really actually want to, in which case, go for it. There’s nothing wrong with doing any of these activities, regardless of your gender. However, picking up feminized activities is not going to get your partner what she needs from you.
Because when a woman tells you to “get in touch with your feminine side,” she means..
1. Do less, talk more.
Women are almost pathologically incapable of noticing the small acts of service men typically do to show their love, just like men are unlikely to notice that the dishes by the sink have been sitting there for three days.
Instead, women have learned to recognize love in the words that people say. Telling your partner you love her will go a long way to resolving any conflict at hand, and making her feel reassured and safe.
I know these words don’t come easy for men. I know that it is a big freaking deal to say “I love you” even once, let alone weekly. Using these words as a tool to resolve fights might seem manipulative or even sacreligious. But think about it this way. You do love her, right? And you do want her to know you love her, right?
You do want your partner to feel loved, right?
So swallow your ego, ignore your hurt pride, and learn to tell her you love her even when you’re upset or angry.
Learn to say these words often and easily. That will go a long way towards easing any hurt feelings on her side, and repairing any breach in the relationship on yours.
If you do this more often, and you find that you start to resent all the Herculean labors you undergo daily to prove your love, there’s an easy solution. Stop doing that other stuff!
Your partner cares about you. She does not want you to work yourself to death to make Partner. She does not want you to work late three days a week to add up overtime pay, at the cost of spending time with her.
She definitely does not want you to risk life and limb climbing the side of the house to clean the gutters or reshingle the roof yourself.
Live sustainably and as easily as you can. Treat your body and your heart with respect, and you will be a much more pleasant partner to be around.
Show your love by giving your partner the kindest, most loving partner you can give. Don’t kill yourself trying to prove you deserve her. Deserve her by being good to her, right now.
2. Do the chores.
Do as many chores as you can, as often as you can.
Given our different gender socialization, your partner is probably doing a whole host of things you’re not even aware of. She’s keeping a list of the birthdays and anniversaries of everyone both of you care about. She’s keeping the household organized and maintaining a running list of what needs doing when. She’s taken it upon herself to take responsibility for making sure the cleaning and cooking gets done.
Sure, this is not every single household. But it’s most. Statistics show that.
You can’t change gender norms. You can’t go back and raise yourself up differently and learn how to manage a household like she probably did.
What you can do, instead, is do what you can now to fix it.
So do the chores. If you see that something needs doing, do it. Do not wait for her to ask. You are equally responsible for running the household now. That means that you need to show some initiative to take care of whatever needs taking care of.
Think of the household like an office, like your office at your private company. This company has a staff of two. Whenever potential customers enter the office, you are both equally responsible for ensuring future business.
If that were the case, you’d make darn sure that the place was spotless, wouldn’t you?
You’d do the dishes. You’d sweep the floors. You’d make the photocopies. You’d buy plants to pretty the place up.
You’d have a conversation every morning with your partner, your fellow employee, about what the day’s priorities were going to be and how to handle any challenges that came up. You’d have a conversation every evening with your partner about what went well and what went badly.
You wouldn’t personalize these questions, because business is not personal.
Similarly, who does the dishes is not personal. Who does the laundry is not personal. No one likes to do these things! They are boring and they suck.
But just the same as you have to file taxes or collect mail for your actual company, you have to take care of the boring details at home.
That’s just what it means to be an adult.
People make a huge mistake when they personalize conversations about housework. These conversations are no more personal than conversations about who is responsible for what tasks in a business partnership.
And just like a business partnership between two equals wouldn’t go very far if you left your partner to be responsible for making the coffee every day? Your home life works just the same.
3. Forgive Your mother.
You did not have a perfect mother. Maybe you think you did, but you’re wrong. In fact, the more convinced you are that your mother was perfect, that probably means that your mother deeply wounded you.
That’s okay. Really. I’m serious.
It’s not a red flag. It doesn’t mean something is terribly wrong with you. I’m sure you’re a lovely human being. I’m even more sure that when you were a boy, and you needed someone to comfort you, and your mother wasn’t there or maybe was even the one that hurt you? She messed up. Not you.
She messed up. Your mother messed up sometimes.
I know that’s hard to face. It’s probably hard in part because chances are, statistically, she was the only consistent loving presence in your life as a child. There was likely a moment when it became difficult to spend time with girls your own age. Maybe they pushed you away, or maybe you learned that all the things they liked were embarrassing for boys to enjoy.
Maybe your mother was the only loving female presence in your life. Maybe she was the only woman who made you feel welcome and safe. Maybe she was even the only person who felt like a refuge, in a world of people who all seemed to expect great things from you but have no time for your vulnerability.
Because of all this, it is probably extremely difficult for you to recognize that sometimes, she was the source of your pain.
Every mother messes up sometimes. On top of those normal human moments, sometimes mothers get frustrated or scared, sad or angry. Some mothers even abuse their children, no matter how much they love them.
If any of those things happened to you, I’m sorry.
If any of those things happened to you, know this: it was not your fault.
I am not here to forgive your mother. I am not here to tell you that her actions are just fine, #becausesexism. Her actions were wrong. Maybe her actions were even really, deeply fucked up. If that’s the case, know you deserve better.
Know that, but do what you can to forgive her.
Do what you can to understand her, and then, do what you can to forgive her.
Don’t do that for her. Maybe she deserves your forgiveness, but maybe not. But your forgiveness is not about her. It’s about you.
It’s about letting the women you meet in the future off the hook.
Hold your mother accountable however you need to, as the powerful, amazing adult you are now.
Then forgive her.
Forgive, so you can let her go, and move forward.
It is particularly difficult for boys who are survivors of child abuse and childhood assault to come forward. This society says that boys are supposed to be impenetrable and unaffected, even by trauma. That’s nonsense, of course, but it’s powerful nonsense. I know.
I know that, but I also know how it feels to be a survivor. I know how it feels when it seems like no one understands what you’re going through.
If this is you, know that you’re not alone. Understand that what happened to you does not make you any less masculine, or any less of a man.
You were brave. You survived. That’s enough.
4. Last but not Least: Forgive Yourself.
You are not Harry Potter. You are not Hercules. You are allowed to fall down sometimes. You are allowed to make mistakes. You are allowed to be not okay.
You are also allowed to be a person who makes mistakes. The #metoo movement has foregrounded all the harm that men have done women. If you are a man, then at one point or another, you were probably part of that harm.
I remember when I first started dealing with the harm that I’ve done to men emotionally over the years. It was hard. I realized that a lot of my ideas about myself as the victim were actually based in nothing at all. I had to face the fact that who I want to be is really far from who I am.
That’s not easy. Personal growth never is. And admitting that you thought you were the victim in the story, when actually, sometimes you were the villain? That’s agonizing.
It’s agonizing, but it’s worth it.
So instead of holding yourself accountable to some impossible standard of perfection, think seriously about times in your life when you let women and girls down. Think about what you could have done in those moments. Think about how to apologize or be accountable to those women now.
And then, think about why you did those things. And I mean really why.
Not “I was entitled” or “I felt like I had a right to hurt this person.” But, “I was scared” or “I just wanted to fit in.”
If you grew up as a boy in this country, then I already know some things about you. I know some things that you are probably scared to admit about yourself.
Your friends were competitive and sometimes aggressive in a way that scared you. Maybe you even felt forced to go along with things that didn’t feel right to you, anything from burning ants with a glass to harassing girls. Maybe you still carry the shame from those actions in your belly.
That’s called peer pressure. It is difficult for human beings of any age to withstand, and you were just a child.
Forgive yourself for being a child and being at the mercy of forces larger than you.
I know you probably felt alone and angry, because you were sad and no one seemed to care. I know you probably felt that being in a relationship was the only way to feel a sense of belonging in the world, so being rejected by one woman felt like being prevented from getting what you badly needed.
If you didn’t always respond well to those difficult feelings, that’s okay. Forgive yourself for being a human being who is still learning how to be a feeling, emotional person in a society that doesn’t like emotions.
You can be somebody who caused harm in this life, and still be worth loving today. You can be somebody who lashed out when you were hurt in the past, and still gift yourself some better tools for handling your emotions now.
You are worthy. Forgive yourself for your mistakes, and move forward now.
Talk to your partner about your own emotional history, especially your anger and your sadness. When you feel sad, what helps you feel better? When you feel angry, what do you need? Communicate these needs to your partner so she knows how to be there for you when you’re hurting.
If she reacts badly to this conversation, that tells you a lot about who she is and where she’s at in her own journey with gender roles.
If your partner ever responds badly to your vulnerability, you have my permission, even my encouragement, to leave.
You are entitled to be vulnerable. You are entitled to feel held and seen when you are tender and hurting.
If your partner is not on the same page about that, it says everything about her. It says nothing about you or your value.
Your partner should be someone you feel safe both crying with and expressing anger with in a healthy way. No matter what.
Take care of yourself. It’s rough out there.
Don’t make it harder than it has to be.
This post was previously published on medium.com.
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