I know that this sounds insensitive and politically incorrect. I know that psychologists and couples counselors such as myself are supposed to push “communication” as the key to a better relationship. AND, I’m here to tell you the truth or at least MY TRUTH.
This post is specifically for women in heterosexual relationships. While I’ve worked with many gay and lesbian couples over the last twenty years, I’m not sure if this perspective applies to their relationship dynamics. I’d love feedback though.
Back to the premise: Don’t talk so much!
Couples enter counseling with the idea that they need to learn better communication skills. While this is often true and I definitely teach communication skills, COMMUNICATION IS NOT THE PROBLEM!
The problem is NOT about communication. The problem is about CONNECTION! Or more accurately, about the LACK of connection.
In general, women connect by talking. And by “talking” I more specifically mean talking about their feelings and “processing” them. We’re men. We can only “tolerate” so much of that. Talking about our feelings makes us feel young and insecure; it regresses us.
And while regression is good and beneficial in the process of psychotherapy, it’s not so good in a relationship. Wouldn’t you agree ladies?
You DON’T want a regressed man who feels like a helpless child as your partner in a relationship, do you? You don’t want to turn into his mommy! Trust me, it puts a big damper in the romance department and in your sex life.
So women connect through sharing their feelings. This is a big part of why the majority of psychotherapy patients are women. Men don’t want to go there. Do they NEED to go there? Sometimes they absolutely do. And with a professional that they aren’t building a life with, the process works!
And as a couple in couples counseling it also works, at least to a limited degree. Learning to share your inner life in a way that doesn’t become regressive is absolutely a healthy thing. And while I believe in it, most of my work with couples is about creating CONNECTION, which for me isn’t usually about talking or about being talked TO (or AT, which is how it often feels). With connection comes intimacy and passion.
We’re men. We DON’T want to talk about it! Talking makes us feel weak. Talking makes us feel vulnerable. Talking makes us feel anxious. Talking makes us feel shame. Talking makes us feel “less then”. And when we feel like that, we tend to act out our insecurities in our relationships and take it out on YOU!
Yes, we’re babies! Yes we want it our way in our own time. Yes, if we don’t get our way we will sulk and withdraw and get passive aggressive or just plain attacking and aggressive. For most of us, this reaction is primal and is quite challenging to change.
Even with years of therapy, we will only become aware of it and manage it a little bit better. And most men will never agree to years of therapy. We’re babies. So what are the options here?
There IS hope! Although the majority of men won’t come into couples therapy or will only begrudgingly allow themselves to be dragged there by their partners, there IS hope.
While I prefer working with the couple to improve the relationship, it often doesn’t happen that way. Most of the relationship improvement work I do is with one partner, not with both. Most of my relationship coaching is performed with one female partner. And it works!
The couple is a system. If we change one component of the system, the entire system will change. And if it doesn’t change sufficiently, at least the partner knows that they have done everything that they can do. After you clean up “your side of the street” you have a clear conscience for whatever actions are necessary from there, one way or the other.
So, ladies, back to helping you. If my recommendation is DON’T TALK SO MUCH, what can you do? First of all, get clear about your priorities. What is the purpose of your relationship? What do you need from your partner, that only they can provide? What can you “delegate” to others in the need department?
My advice is the 80/20 rule: process 80% of what needs to be processed with your girlfriends and your therapists. Process the 20% that REALLY needs to be processed with your man, with your man. It might actually be even less than that. And learn how to do this in a way that they can tolerate (Actually, I have some tricks for you here).
Don’t talk so much! Instead, SHARE your life with your boyfriends and your partners and your husbands. Sharing comes from a different place and has a different intention than talking does, at least for men.
Allow men to talk when they are in the mood. Reward them for it! Yes we can talk endlessly if we are sharing our vision of the future or bragging about our accomplishments or our prowess. In fact we can become obnoxious in our verbosity at this point.
But it’s not really a dialogue and we’re not really “processing” in the conventional sense. We talk to share our fantasies and our hopes and our desires. If we really are feeling safe, we sometimes share to have a sounding board and to reflect.
And all we really want from you at that point is to be admired and appreciated and valued. You can relate to this, can’t you ladies?
We are sharing as best we can, most of it being nonverbal. So share with us as well and as an experiment, share more with us through activities instead of words. Shared games, shared adventures together, shared romance, shared sex! After that kind of sharing, a man might surprise you and open up and be vulnerable enough to want to actually talk about feelings!
If you give us what we want (which isn’t very complicated most of the time) we will give you the keys to our kingdom and share our world with you. And be excited and thrilled to do so. And give you everything we have and are, with an open heart.
Don’t’ talk so much! That is the key. Would you rather be right that talking is what you need or would you rather connect and experience deep intimacy?
Bottom line: men and women are different! And as the more evolved of the sexes, women can definitely influence the relationship for the better, for the highest good of all involved.
I’m really excited about this new direction my work is taking, working with one partner to improve the relationship and would love to hear your comments about the idea. In fact, you can COMMENT as much as you’d like!
If you are interested in more of the inner workings of men and how to be successful in a relationship with them, I will be holding a “Don’t Talk So Much” teleseminar course on this in early 2011. Click here (www.donttalksomuch.com) to be kept updated about this work and specific programs to help women improve their relationships.
Thanks so much,
Dr. Adam Sheck