Ladies, if there were a reality TV show like “What NOT to Wear,” but for relationships, these three things would be at the top of the list for “What NOT to say to your man.” Now, don’t get me wrong; I’ve actually said all these things at one point! You’ve probably said them, too. And you probably also saw the same thing I did: it never works out so well. Why? In research with thousands of men I learned these hurt far more than your man (or your son!) will ever let on. So let’s agree to put these on our no-no list.
- “What were you thinking?” The truth is, this phrase is demeaning when said to anyone (would you want your man to say it to you?) but when applied to a male (husband, boyfriend, son, colleague…) it layers pain on top of humiliation. Let’s be honest: the translation of this phrase is “You weren’t thinking.” But although we may not see it immediately, most guys think things through and have legitimate reasons for what they do — just like we do. The problem for us is that we don’t know that they have thought it through because (unlike us) they usually don’t think it through by talking it through. The male brain tends to need to process things internally. So you may not agree with his reason, but he probably does have one. So the next time you’re perplexed, angry or exasperated, stop yourself from blurting out this phrase. Instead, assume he probably has a reason for this and politely ask, “I know you had a reason, can you help me understand?”
- “You didn’t do a good job at ______.” Whether spoken or implied, this comment is way, way more toxic to a male than you ever realized. In fact, the research is clear that it’s a guy’s equivalent of hearing “I don’t love you.” The reason is a hidden emotional reality. Where a woman’s most profound inner vulnerability is usually, “Am I loveable?” a man’s is usually, “Am I any good at what I do?” Each of us subconsciously look for signals from our mate about the answer to our inner question. You may think it is such a little thing when you re-clean the kitchen counters after he has just done it, or re-make the bed “the right way.” But for him, it looms large. (This is why you start hearing him say “Nothing I do is ever good enough for you.”) So when you see something that isn’t done “your way” ask yourself if correcting it is worth hurting his feelings. (Even if you don’t understand why on earth they would be hurt!). If it is worth hurting him, well then fine, but correct him in a gentle way that tells him “I know you want me to be happy, and this is the way I like such-and-such.” (“Thanks for cleaning the kitchen. Do you mind if I move a few things back around? I really do like the spice rack over here.”) But even better, look for ways to answer his inner question in a positive way: simply say “thanks for making the bed, honey,” and you’ll be surprised at how happy that makes him.
- <Sigh of exasperation> This, placed in front of any words – or on its own – is like a knife. As you can infer from the findings discussed above, a man’s greatest emotional need is to feel that you respect, appreciate, admire and believe in him. Signs of exasperation say exactly the opposite. We would never look at this man we love, and say out loud, “You’re an idiot” or “you’re incompetent” – yet we don’t realize that the sigh of exasperation says exactly that. When we are frustrated, it makes all the difference if we take a deep breath, count to three, and say what we need to say in a calm and respectful way instead.
I know it may be hard to believe that these things really matter. In fact, you may want to give a sigh of exasperation at this list! But since each of us does care about our man, let’s give it a shot. Try minimizing the above words and actions, and exploring the positive alternatives instead. The response you get will be the best possible incentive to continue.
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Shaunti Feldhahn is the best-selling author of eye-opening, research-based books about men, women and relationships, including For Women Only, For Men Only, the groundbreaking The Good News About Marriage, and her newest book, Through A Man’s Eyes. A Harvard-trained social researcher and popular speaker, her ﬁndings are regularly featured in media as diverse as The Today Show, Focus on the Family, and the New York Times. Visit www.shaunti.com for more.