The tips you’re about to read pertain to conflict-ridden conversations. I don’t think you need assistance making superficial talk or with discussions that are void of emotional content. Those are no brainers. Emotion-packed conversations are where we get in trouble. They bring out the worst in everyone. In keeping with the “it takes one to tango” spirit, when you change your steps in the dance of conflict between you and your guy, he’ll respond more sanely and your heated talks will become more productive. So consider this a primer in conflict busting. Here’s the scoop.
Twelve Tips for Talking to Men
Talking Tip #1: Let him say when.
You already know that men aren’t crazy about talking things out. That’s why it feels as if you’re infringing upon your man when you say you want to talk. Consequently, it is extremely helpful to try to catch your man when he’s most amenable to conversing. I can’t stress enough the importance of choosing your timing wisely when you approach your man with something important. If your man is otherwise preoccupied or is unprepared emotionally to deal with your issues, it won’t be a productive conversation. He’ll become defensive, nasty, or shut down.
When you announce that you want to talk about something, you should ask him whether now is a good time for him. If he says, “No,” respect that and ask him, “When would be a better time?” Many relationship experts suggest that a twenty-four-hour time frame should be sufficient. Then honor your man’s request and wait it out patiently. If he asks what you are going to talk about, briefly describe the subject, but don’t go into too much detail. If he’s not ready to talk, it behooves you not to get him going. Some women notice that by giving their partners the power to decide when these confrontations will occur, their men are more willing participants in the conversations.
Talking Tip #2: Be brief and to the point.
Men are not particularly patient with long-winded explanations about things. In fact, when it comes to verbal communication, they’re not very patient at all. Please don’t forget this. You have a very narrow window of opportunity to be heard. Like kids, they have an extremely short attention span. So you have to make the most of the time you have.
One thing to avoid at all costs is doing something guys refer to as rambling. I’ve come to figure out that when guys say “rambling” they generally mean one of two things: that we’re jumping from topic to topic or we’re talking about feelings. Let’s take jumping from topic to topic first. Women often briefly discuss one point and quickly move on to another. This “stream of consciousness” style of relating is very comfortable to us. We think out loud. When we talk with our women friends, speaking in half sentences is the rule. Our friends follow along without blinking an eye. They fill in the blanks effortlessly. We expect this sort of understanding with our friends and we’re rarely disappointed.
But here comes the problem. We talk to our men as if they are our women friends- but they’re not. Guys can’t fill in the blanks. If we switch topics midstream, halfway through the second topic, they don’t hear a word we’re saying because they’re trying to figure out what topic one has to do with topic two. They get lost easily, and when they do, boy, do they get angry. “You’re so illogical!” they inform us. “Why can’t you ever stay on one subject at a time?” Sometimes they say worse things. Then we think they’re being obstinate because we can’t, for the life of us, understand why they can’t understand…but they cant.
If your man has criticized you for jumping from topic to topic, here’s what you need to do. Prior to your discussion, plan one or two points you want to make. It might help for you to write down your points in short sentences. You might even rehearse your lines before you approach him. When you start talking, make sure he understands point one before you move on to point two. Then, prior to switching topics, it’s helpful to say, “I’m changing topics now. I’m on to something different.” This will make the transition a lot smoother for him.
Okay. That’s the jumping-around thing. What about the business of talking about feelings? Why do guys get off track when we talk about feelings? When men are unhappy about something, they try to identify the problem and then quickly want to figure out what to do about it. They’re not interested in “wallowing around” in discussions about feelings. To them, that’s a waste of time. Get the issues out on the table and start fixing them. To us, talking about feelings is anything but a wast of time.
I’ve worked with many couples who have gotten stuck because of this difference between men and women. She identifies a problem and starts talking about her feelings. He can handle listening to her discuss the nature of the problem, but when she expounds on her feelings about, she loses him. And because she senses he’s lost, she keeps explaining her feelings rather than identifying potential solutions. This makes him crazy.
The point to remember is that if your man keeps telling you that you’re losing him or you’re repeating yourself, it may mean that all he wants is the facts, just the facts, ma’am. If you want something from him, make an effort to be more succinct. Describe the issue, tell him what you want, and talk less about your feelings. It might help.
Talking Tip #3: Notify him if you want to discuss feelings.
Sometimes, you want to share your feelings with your man. After all, why be in a relationship if you can’t talk about your feelings, right? Then why is it that every time you talk about negative feelings, even if it has nothing to do with him, it ends up in a fight? I can tell you why this happens and what you can do about it.
Guys have an incredible need to fix things that are broken. When you talk about feeling sad or unhappy, he thinks you’re broken and that he needs to do something about it. So when you start talking about being concerned about your job, the kids, your weight, other family members, he thinks he needs to give you a solution. He believes that’s what you want from him. He starts telling you what to do, and you get furious. You think he’s not listening. You think he’s not caring. You believe he just wants the conversation to be over. Because if he did care, you tell yourself, he would give you empathy, not advice. You get angry at him. And he gets even angrier, because from his perspective, he’s helping and you’re not appreciating him. So you end up mad at each other. Sound familiar?
Well, the good news is that you can talk about feelings, even negative ones, but you have to give him directions first. Prior to discussing your emotions, tell him, “I just want to talk to you about something I’m feeling. It doesn’t have anything to do with us and you don’t need to fix it. I just want to share my feelings with you. So just listen.” Most guys will go along with the program if they know the rules. And once they know that “just listening” is really doing something, they feel they’ve been helpful. This will satisfy their urge to fix things, after all.
Talking Tip #4: Start softly
Sometimes the negative feelings you’re experiencing have something to do with your partner. And, believe it or not, you can talk to him about these feelings, too, if you get off to a good start. Psychologist John Gottman, Ph.D., has done some very interesting research on couples’ communication patterns. One of the characteristics of conversations that go well is something he refers to as “a soft start.” Some say that the outcome of a chess game can be dictated by the first move. Gottman would probably say that this metaphor also applies to conversations between loved ones.
A soft start simply means that you approach your partner gently. You don’t want him to feel attacked, even if you’re angry about something. For example, if your man was insensitive at a party and said some things that embarrassed you, although you might feel like clobbering him verbally, it’s not in your best interests to do so. You should start your conversation by saying something like “you probably really didn’t mean to hurt my feelings, but something you said last night didn’t sit right with me.” Or “Maybe I’m off base here, but I found something you said last night kind of confusing. Could you help me out with this?” If you’ve been going round and round about housework, instead of saying, “I want to talk to you about something. I’m so sick and tired of doing everything around here,” you might try softening the blow a bit. Try “You know, I really love you and I can’t stand al this fighting we’ve been doing about the housework. Let’s find some solution we can both live with.”
Even if your conversation gets more heated as time progresses, research shows that if you start softly, you’ll end up in a better place. So get yourself into a good frame of mind before you tackle hard issues. Don’t approach your man until you can genuinely begin your conversation with something he won’t mind hearing. If he feels attacked from the start, he’ll spend the rest of the time defending himself, and that’s not what you want. A soft start will lower his defenses and make it more likely that he’ll listen to you and take in what you have to say.
Talking Tip #5: Say what you want.
Two crucial aspects of goal setting include thinking about what you want versus what you’re unhappy about and being concrete. These principles apply to conversations with your man as well. If you talk about those things that make you unhappy – “You always ignore me” – you’re bound to have more trouble than if you discuss what you want him to do instead – “I really would like to spend a half hour each evening talking together.” If you talk in negative terms, as far as he’s concerned, you’re nagging. He hates that and he’ll tune you out or resist. Positive statements, ones that say what you want, are not viewed as nagging. They’re requests for change, and to him that’s a whole lot better than complaints.
In addition to stating what you want in positive terms, it pays to be concrete. Instead of saying, “I want you to be a better love,” which may be Greek to your man, say, “when we make love, I’d like you to start by kissing me, make eye contact with me, and spend more time touching parts of my body other than my genitals,” and so on. Men are much more responsive when things are spelled out in black and white. So before you approach your partner with anything important, do a self-check. Make sure what you’re about to say is positively worded, specific, and action-oriented.
Talking Tip #6: Say what you mean.
Men need for women to be positive, specific, and have our words accurately reflect what we mean. That’s because they’re so damn literal. That’s why when you’re saying, “We don’t spend time together anymore, ” instead of understanding that you’re missing him and you’d like to be together, he’ll dissect your sentence to bits. “What do you mean that we don’t spend time together anymore? You mean we never spend time together? You mean we never see each other anymore? What exactly do you mean?” Isn’t it frustrating when that happens? It sure is. But that’s the way their minds work. They’re just literal beings.
Jim, our daughter Danielle, and I were out to dinner the other evening. The waiter came over to our table. Jim asked him, “Do you ever eat here?” After inordinately long time, he said, “Yes.” I didn’t quite understand what was so tough about Jim’s question, but what happened next made his long silence more understandable. The waiter asked if he could take our order, and we told him that we were ready. Before making a final decision, Jim asked, “How do you like the veal?” and again, after a few moments, the waiter replied, “Well done. I’ve served it medium rare-a few times, but it’s too juicy for my taste.” I had to stop myself from chuckling. Obviously, Jim wanted to know whether or not the waiter liked the veal, not how thoroughly he liked it cooked. But the waiter didn’t have a clue because he was so literal. In fact, I realized why the waiter hesitated when Jim asked, “Do you ever eat here?” He must have thought that Jim was asking whether he ate at that particular table! Oh, well, what can you expect. He’s a guy.
If you don’t want your discussions sidetracked, be careful to say what you mean. Don’t exaggerate to illustrate your point, or your point will get lost . Be simple and direct and remember that he is going to take you literally.
Michele Weiner-Davis is the creator of the Divorce Busting Centers, learn more on how you can solve marriage problems and stop divorce. Follow me on Twitter @divorcebusting, add my Divorce Busting Facebook Page, and subscribe to the Divorce Busting YouTube Videos for more advice and upcoming marriage saving events.