Men, you know better, yet you still do it.You still offer women suggestions without first asking if they want it.Why?
You’ve seen the cartoons of a woman complaining how a man wants to fix her problem, when all she wants is empathy. Whether the problem is her boss, a bad hair cut, or an overheated radiator, a woman shares her feelings in order to feel validated and heard.Men hear her comments as a call for a solution.
Barry and Tina, who have lived together for four years, sit in my office talking about a recent spat. Tina says, “My daughter wrote me that she was angry at me and didn’t want to talk with me for a while.I was devastated. When I told Barry, he immediately said, ‘Write back and tell her ….’I cut him off; whatever he was going to say would only make me more upset.I was already feeling unloved by my daughter and now he does this to me.”
Before I open my mouth, Barry teases, “I know, I know.We men always give suggestions, and you women just want us to listen”
Barry knows that.You know that, too.In fact, you probably make your own jokes about how men give suggestions when women only want support. Yet, you still do it.Why?
Barry was teasing, but Tina wasn’t smiling.“Help me understand,” I say to him.“You know Tina gets upset every time this happens, yet you keep doing it.”
“It’s hard to change. It’s hard to remember. No, it’s more than that. I want to feel helpful. I care about her, and if I don’t offer her a suggestion, I feel I’m letting her down.”
“But,” I push on, “you also just said you know that’s not what she wants.So, it’s like force-feeding chocolate, that you love, to someone who’s allergic to it.”
“Yeah. I can see that, but,” he hesitates.“I know it makes no sense. Tina has even told me if I want to be helpful, I should ask her if she wants a suggestion.I hear her say that; it sounds so reasonable, but I don’t know.I just don’t think about it at the time.”
Tina sits forward to speak; her voice has an edge.“Doesn’t it occur to you that I’m smart enough to come up with my own suggestions – once I’ve vented?Sorry to break it to you, but your suggestions aren’t so earth-shattering.Of course I can figure out what to do. I get a double whammy; one, your not there for me, and two, you insult me by implying I’m too stupid to figure out what to do.”
“Then fine,” he snaps. “From now on, I’ll just shut up. You can solve all your problems yourself.”
“You don’t get it,” her voice rises. “I don’t want you to shut up anymore than I want your unsolicited suggestions.I want to feel you care that I’m upset, that you love me, that you have a big enough shoulder for me at these moments when I need it.”Then her voice softens. “I don’t want to feel bad for needing your shoulder, and I don’t want to feel stupid that I can’t solve my own problems.”
This conversation occurs all across the country. Men, what happens that you don’t use what you know? That you can’t just listen and be empathic?Or, as Tina proposes, ask if the woman wants a suggestion?
Barry says it’s hard to change.But, if the reward is big enough, it’s worth the effort.You can be assured the women in your life will reward your effort by their abundant gratitude.