Klondike aired a commercial a few years back that, depending on my mood, made me stew in outrage or laugh out loud in amusement. The clip shows a man shut off the TV and “actually listen to his wife” for five seconds (!), straining and sweating until the bell goes off, streamers fall from the ceiling, and he’s rewarded with a mint chocolate chip Klondike bar by a pair of dancing dames dressed in cocktail dresses.
I wasn’t sure who should be more insulted: women, who are presented as either boring ball-and-chains or eye candy (and nothing in between) who either annoy men or reward them merely for showing a pulse; or men, who are presented as deadbeats who would rather do anything other than give their wife the time of day… unless, of course, there is ice cream involved.
After seeing it another time or two, my moral indignance faded and I couldn’t help but laugh. Not because it became any more flattering to men or women, but because it so clearly, with the help of hyperbole, highlights a tension any man or woman who’s been in a relationship constantly deals with: woman’s incredible capacity (and need) to express her feelings and man’s daunting and interminable challenge to be a helpful listener.
Of course, good communication is a mark of any healthy relationship, and when a couple is at its best, women can seemingly share anything at any time and their man has no problem making them feel perfectly edified and appreciated. But at their worst, or even not-their-best, women can have a hard time connecting with men on important subjects.
Ever feel like you just can’t get through to your man? You need to talk about something important but for whatever reason are afraid to bring it up? You’re not alone and it doesn’t mean your relationship is broken. But there are some simple things to know about men that, if you keep them in mind, can make communicating on sometimes-difficult subjects less daunting.
01. Give us a chance to transition.
One thing the Klondike commercial got right is that men, from what I can tell, have a fairly low capacity for dropping everything to listen to something, even something important. It doesn’t mean we don’t want to listen and it doesn’t mean we think the TV, a garage project, or a nap is more important than you. That uneasiness you may feel if you have to wait before talking about something important to you? To a certain extent, that’s what we feel if we have to leave something unfinished to have a conversation about something unrelated. We like finishing things, however inconsequential, and if we’re able to do that we’ll be more at ease when it’s time to talk. “Honey, I’d like to talk about something, how about when you’re done browsing Pinterest? No rush,” you might say. It’s pretty well understood that women generally need more time to “warm up” for sex than men do. The inverse is true for important conversation, we simply aren’t as sharing-ready as women.
02. Show affection.
Feel free to file this under “no-brainers,” but it’s worth saying: Make a point to show us that you love us before diving into a tough conversation. A nice long kiss out of nowhere has a way of getting our attention, in case you hadn’t noticed.
03. Pay attention to stressors.
If we’re hungry, angry, lonely, and/or tired, we’re going to be less inclined to talk about sensitive topics, and if we do, we’re probably not going to be very good at it. Waiting until after dinner on a weekday or after breakfast or lunch on the weekend is almost always preferable for men who are typically just as conscious of our stomachs as you are of your Amygdala or whatever it is that processes emotion. One study reported that men prefer to disengage from a heated conversation to collect their thoughts so that they are better prepared to give a helpful response. If we’re just coming home from business, wait a day or two before you tell us that you wished we would have called more. We very likely need some quality time with you before we’re ready to accept some constructive criticism. And getting a good night’s sleep or even a power nap will work wonders for your man’s ability to listen attentively and respond positively, believe me.
04. Plan ahead and carve out time.
Dr. John Buri, professor of psychology and author of How to Love Your Wife, recommends setting aside some time every week specifically for sharing. Sure, there are things that need to be addressed mid-stream, but most things can wait. Have a nice brunch or a latte, and then catch up on what you need to talk about. Hell, given the opportunity, we might even have something to bring up.
And remember, we’re really simple creatures, when it comes down to it. While women are, well, less simple at times. So give us credit when we do a good job (ice cream wouldn’t hurt...) and cut us a little slack when we have a hard time understanding how we can best love you. We really do want to help. Because, as they say, happy wife (or girlfriend, or fiancé), happy life!