All men dread those four words: We need to talk. When she decides that their problem is so serious that they must talk it over, he knows he’s in trouble.
It’s not exactly like being taken to the woodshed. It‘s more like being taken to couples counseling.
He knows he is going to be put on the spot, asked to express his feelings, and required to feel empathy for hers.
He doesn’t like the exercise. He doesn’t think it makes sense. He believes that he is wasting his time.
He might also know that it doesn’t work.
How can you solve a problem by engaging in a form of commiseration that does not even attempt to solve problems?
Human relationships, especially the romantic variety, are not a form of therapy. They should not be modeled on therapy.
Yet, the culture has told everyone that they should be. Working on a relationship is like working on issues in therapy. The culture has persuaded everyone that the best way to solve problems is to talk them out.
Isn’t that what therapy is supposed to do? True, it’s supposed to do it, but it is all too rare for therapy to do what it says it’s doing.
Rumor has it that therapy works better for women than for men. Unfortunately, it risks turning women into empathy junkies. Finding a kindred soul does produce some good feelings, but only for women.
For men, therapy that focuses on empathy does not produce similarly good feelings. Why would any man find comfort and solace in a therapeutic process that is treating him like a woman?
When therapy does not work for men, therapists tend to think it means that men need a lot more therapy. This explanation is so self-serving that it becomes laughable.
Still, therapists have been promoting the idea that if men do not respond to therapy they are not in touch with their feminine side; they are not strong enough to accept their true feelings; they are afraid of feeling vulnerable.
Therapy does not just set up this unrealistic expectation to keep men in therapy. Through the culture it tells women that a good relationship involves the mutual exchange of empathy.
Women have been seduced by the culture into thinking that men are capable of showing themselves to be sensitive and vulnerable.
When their men do not satisfy these expectations women often become frustrated. Not because of anything that men are doing, but because women have bought into an unrealistic expectation.
It’s relationship poison.
For the antidote let’s look at a study just completed by University of Missouri psychologist Amanda Rose.
Rose reports: "For years, popular psychologists have insisted that boys and men would like to talk about their problems but are held back by fears of embarrassment or appearing weak ….However, when we asked young people how talking about their problems would make them feel, boys didn't express angst or distress about discussing problems any more than girls. Instead, boys' responses suggest that they just don't see talking about problems to be a particularly useful activity."
Uh oh. Boys are not afraid to get in touch with their feminine side. The reason they do not want to talk out their problems is that they think the exercise is a waste of time.
Boys are geared toward solving problems. They recognize-- perhaps it’s in the DNA-- that talking it over does not bring them a step closer to solving anything.
Girls, however, are differently constituted. Rose explains that girls gain comfort and solace from talking out their problems… especially with other girls. They feel “cared for, understood, and less alone.”
Girls like to commiserate with other girls. It makes them feel that they are not alone with their problems.
All of this is well and good. No one ever said that girls should not commiserate or share feelings with their girlfriends.
Unfortunately, the convergence of therapy and feminism has caused our culture to idealize this form of connection. Women have been led to believe that men are just stunted women who have not realized their ideal form.
I will tell all the young women out there that if they find men who can make them feel that they are making an empathetic connection, they should run away.
Men who can commiserate with women are usually ladies’ man, and ladies’ men are not the best relationship prospects.
Prof. Rose explains: “Women may really push their partners to share pent-up worries and concerns because they hold expectations that talking makes people feel better. But their partners may just not be interested and expect that other coping mechanisms will make them feel better. Men may be more likely to think talking about problems will make the problems feel bigger, and engaging in different activities will take their minds off of the problem. Men may just not be coming from the same place as their partners.”
Men exist. They are not the same as women. They should not be treated as though they are the same. Amazingly, we now need academic research to tell us something that we should have always known.
Undoing the damage done by the therapy culture is not going to be an easy task.
Rose’s study shows us that therapy has been in the business of trying to make men more like women. It has tried to empower women at the expense of men. In so doing it has damaged both men and women.
Men are saddled with expectations they cannot really meet and women are tricked into thinking that empathy solves problems.
Women have an enhanced capacity for commiseration, but that, in and of itself, does not solve problems. It only makes women feel less bad about having their problems.
In a better world women would be encouraged to understand that the skills that solve problems-- skills that they possess-- are not the same as those that commiserate. And they would also get over the idea that they can succeed in the workplace by bringing more empathy to bear.