Okay ladies. Yesterday the guys got an awareness-raising. Today it’s your turn. I’ll have to speak in the same broad generalities, but it will still be useful. Ready? 😉
First off, yes we have feelings. It might surprise some of you to know that we have all of the ones you have. On top of many others, we feel sorrow, pain, guilt, regret, heartache, fear, insecurity, joy and love. We understand that you often don’t include our emotions in your deliberations because we don’t display them the same way you do, but they still are very much present.
Many of the men you may call “cold” are in fact badly wounded by their memories of past events. Because our culture does not encourage men to expose these aspects of themselves, when we do it is particular challenging when that trust is betrayed. In essence we are taught not to show that aspect of ourselves anymore. So please don’t talk and act like we’re not emotionally capable creatures just like yourself. That’s a common expression in the media but we’re human too. We just got male conditioning instead of female conditioning.
Speaking of conditioning, in the Western world (and in much of the rest of it too), men still feel the burden of providing for the household. Even if this isn’t literally true, the man will feel it. It’s why rich young inheritors will often want to build businesses. It’s not for the money—they simply don’t need it. Instead it’s for the value to their sense of themselves. So when a man loses his job he not only loses his income and worries for his family, but he loses a large amount of his capacity to successfully apply for a new job. With his confidence undermined he will appear less capable than he is. Remember, identity comes from thought. If the man is thinking insecure thoughts his performance will be insecure.
There are men who are more comfortable being bossed around by an aggressive woman, and there are men who prefer to have total control with a woman doing nothing more than following, and most men are in between. But there are some commonalities.
The first is that many of us do not generally share your ambition many of you have to impress others with our home. Yeah, we can get into cars and toys, but we truly don’t get the concept of guest towels. Most of our competing comes from behaviours or accomplishments. Even a lot of liberated women still feel an impulse to feather a nest.
To man, a home is often a never-ending ever-expanding list of things for a couple to do. There are guys who see themselves as having worked their asses off to pay for and renovate a home, and as soon as it’s done the way his wife wants it, his wife will often shift to asking for the next change. There are men who have literally spent lifetimes in that crazy pursuit. But he will actually volunteer to do many of these things out of love, even though he personally sees zero value in doing them. This is important to remember.
When you say a guy doesn’t love you because he forgets your anniversary, be reminded that from his perspective, he may also have worked for 6 months to earn the money to pay for your engagement ring, or to pay a large portion of a wedding that wasn’t very important to him, or to buy some home renovation he has no interest in doing nor paying for. And yet he’ll surrender half of his year to it. Think about that. Why? Because he loves you and it’s important to you. The same reason you do things for your kids even though they can’t pay you back. That’s what love does. So no, most guys can’t write a very romantic birthday card. But a lot of them work way more hours for things their wife wants than for things they want. For a lot of guys their house is just that other building near their garage or in front of their deck.
Things guys really don’t like? Being talked to like children. I know you don’t mean to do it, but just listen in a grocery store or at the Farmer’s Market some time soon. Many women are shocked when I take them and have them listen in this way. If you closed your eyes you’d think a large percentage of the wives were talking to small children. The tone, the choice of words. Even slaps to the wrist! Men are not children. They have different priorities than you. It’s not frivolous to value fun or relaxation. It would do a relationship good if both genders spent more time trying to truly understand where the value comes from in each others choices.
In conflict we are a different creature than you. While estrogen tips your emotions toward drama and pain, testosterone tips emotions us towards frustration and anger. So when a guy is really angry, it’s important to try to determine what he’s mad at. Because way more guys are mad at the situation than they are at the person. Sure, some will focus on the messenger. But men are fixers, so if they can’t solve a problem with their relationship they will become frustrated. And so their anger will not be about the woman, it will be frustration over not being able to solve the problem. Angry, frustrated yelling is more often the release of pent up chemistry, than it is a precursor to violence.
In divorce most women assume men are protecting money when they’re calculating their 50%. Again, much like when they spend their money on renos they often don’t really care about the amount; it’s not the money itself that’s the issue. It’s what it stands for. A man doesn’t have to be greedy to attach his masculinity to his ability to earn and purchase. This is the modern version of hunting.
If you get divorced and have to bring your dates to a tiny little crappy apartment, that’s like the caveman equivalent of bringing home too little food. You lose the girl that way. So after a guy’s already lost a relationship he’s really not motivated to surrender meat and pelts when he’s looking for another girl. (Not to say that there aren’t some upsides for divorced men. Whereas in most cases, a 40 year old divorced woman gets to date men 40-60, a 40 year old divorced man gets to date women 20-45.)
The reason so many men turtle in later years—choosing to be single instead of dating—is often directly related to how women react when they’re angry. Sorry ladies, but the schoolyard taught you to fight socially. As you often self-report, some of you can be pretty vicious. I’ve seen men’s entire lives destroyed by lies spread with the purpose of making the man pay for something he’s done. And by “done” I mean, he lived his life and the woman didn’t approve of his choices. So for a lot of ladies, if he’s not going to follow her plan he will pay because his freedom of choice will be viewed as him letting his partner down. And his payment will often be to have his personal, social and professional life badly damaged or even completely destroyed.
Despite the common myth, you don’t hear a lot of men complaining about women much. Sure, bitter men in the midst of break-ups and comedians can do it, but most men avoid the subject. I’ve played on teams with men of all types for years, and I can’t say I’ve heard very much in terms of men complaining about wives. Even if they do it amounts to little more than shrugs or brief comments. But at the same time we are aware that women have meetings just to discuss our shortcomings. Do you really think it’s possible for us to succeed with you when you come home after hours of discussing our “failings” with your friends?
Ladies, as I wrote yesterday, men need to buck up in all kinds of ways. We need to hold other men more accountable for their violent or abusive behaviour. We need to honour your interests and pursuits more authentically. And we need to remember that you can have orgasms too. But we also do a lot of things that get taken for granted. Because this I know: of the people I work with that get divorced, 90% of the breakups are initiated by the woman, but way less than half of those women–by their own account–end up better off by ending the marriage. Most see their life get worse.
Most women only imagine what qualities of their husbands they want to get rid of. But very few calculate what qualities they would really hate to lose. So it’s not uncommon for me to have a female client contact me two years after I negotiate their divorce to see if her husband might still be single. So yes: leave violent or grossly unappreciative men and do it quickly. But be careful. Because most of us are trying really hard to be the best people we can and, in my practice, a lot more women regret having left their partner than the other way around. That’s just the facts ma’am. Use them as you will.
Scott McPherson is a writer, mindfulness instructor, coach and communications facilitator who works with individuals, companies and nonprofit organizations around the world.
PS: If you’re looking for tools to make things better, try reading An Open Letter to Men.