By Barbara Pierce
“Men and women are different animals, not meant to live together!”
Scrolling through the internet, I was surprised to see this blog, from someone who calls himself “Solitary Beast.”
“It never works!” he claims. “The man pays most of the bills, but is exiled to some dark, unwanted corner of the house, separate from the woman and all her tacky, floral stuff…The woman decorates the entire home the way she wants: pastel colors, lace, and throw pillows. The man’s prized possessions are locked down in the basement, without a second thought.”
I admit he has some points, but I think it’s possible for a man and a woman to live together companionably, both reasonably happily.
There are some things Solitary Beast may not understand about how men and women differ. Things that maybe would let him be happy in a close relationship.
• Different styles of communication: “Much of the frustration, disappointment and anger that couples have toward each other come from faulty communication and incorrect interpretations of each other’s behavior and communication,” said Aaron Beck, the psychiatrist who developed the cognitive therapy approach.
Communication is tough. It’s tough because much — even most — meaning in conversation isn’t in the words we use but is filled in by the person listening. We talk and hear through our own perspective. Like trying to see through someone else’s glasses; you can’t see clearly through her glasses and she can’t see through yours.
Men are fixers; women want to be heard. In conversation, men try to “fix things,” to solve the problem that the woman is sharing, while the woman just wants to vent, just wants to be heard. She’s not looking for a solution, so she feels misunderstood when he tries to solve the problem she’s venting about.
Therefore, real understanding of what the other person is saying is critical. This means that you put yourself in the other persons’ shoes and try to see the world through her eyes. Most of our conflicts are caused because we really don’t understand where each other is coming from.
Making an effort to discover some semblance of truth in what she is saying is the most powerful listening tool. Find some grain of truth in what she is saying and agree, even if you think she’s wrong.
For example, if she says: “You always make such a mess leaving your stuff all over the house!” you could say, “You’re right. I don’t always put my stuff away,” instead of going on the defense.
• Appreciate the strengths of your partner; accept her shortcomings. Cut your partner some slack. Sometimes people get very annoyed by aspects of their partner that really aren’t that big of a deal. Since she’s probably not going to change the thing that annoys you, what are your options, other than continually banging your head against a brick wall? How can you work around it and reduce the stress you feel?
Accepting her weaknesses doesn’t mean being blind to her shortcomings. It just means you stop fighting it. You work around it.
For 15 years, I lived on a boat with my husband; he was good at this. If you asked him what was my biggest shortcoming, he’d say “She could never learn to tie a bowline knot!” Living on a boat, one must know how to tie a bowline and I learned and I learned —but under pressure, I’d forget. He could tie one behind his back.
But he accepted that tying a bowline was something I didn’t do. Instead, he focused on the fact I could do laundry by hand on the boat, I could prepare dinner on the top of the refrigerator and cook it on a stove that’s swaying. He appreciated that I did well with living on the boat. He focused on what I could do instead of what I couldn’t do. He was aware of my shortcomings; he just didn’t fight them, but focused on the things he appreciated about me.
Letting her know what you appreciate about them is powerful reinforcement.
• Use praise and positive reinforcement freely. This is the most effective way to get her to do what you want; not negative correction.
Couples who show appreciation toward each other are more likely to maintain healthy relationships, because when someone feels appreciated, they’re less likely to take their significant other for granted.
Appreciation works so much better than ‘mansplaining,’ (when a man explains something to a woman, in a condescending, overconfident and often inaccurate manner).
Praise her when she makes the move in the slightest direction you want her to go and I guarantee she’ll keep going in that direction. We’re all suckers for praise.
Living with a woman may not work for Solitary Beast, but it’ll work better for you if you give these suggestions a try.
Barbara Pierce is a retired licensed clinical social worker with many years of experience helping people. If you would like to purchase a copy of her book, “When You Come to the Edge: Aging” or if you have questions for her, contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.