Monday, August 29, 2011

We Need to Talk

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.


Deadman said...

In my limited experience, “We need to talk” meant “You need to listen and then comply without further discussion.”

Pete the Streak said...

Or "I need to talk. You need to listen".

Dennis said...

Does anyone recognize that therapy always winds up with Men being wrong and responsible for every problem that exists? Therapy is a woman-centric idea that finds being male an anachronism.
Therapy goes to the heart of why the American woman seems to indicate that she is unhappy. Therapy does everything possible to turn men into women and women don't like the men they have created.
At what point does it take for women to realize that we are different sexes for a reason? It takes the strengths of both genders, and the synergy that creates, to survive as a species. We are meant to be different.
The real problem is getting both genders to recognize those strengths and utilize them to improve their lives instead of trying to create something that is doomed to failure. Wisdom denotes that it is great to be a woman and it is equally great to be a man. Enjoy who you are and accept who the other is as a gender and life becomes so much easier.
Women have always been their own worst enemy and because most men love them we have tried to meet their expectations much to our own detriment. It takes a while for most men to recognize that they have to be a man in order to have a well balanced relationship. It is no secret or wonder that the more feminized a man comes the more women will like him, but not love him and the probabilities that she will leave him for a demonstrated stronger male rises almost exponentially.
I made the mistake of listening to feminist drivel when I was younger and tried to help my wife. She made my life a living HELL for about two weeks until I got smart and let her be her. "What do women want?" Certainly not another woman wearing men's clothing.

David Foster said...

My experience is that the people who succeed are those who focus on what the job requires, not only what their natural inclinations point them to. Thus, a person who is very substantive and results-oriented who is promoted to a management position may need to work on improving empathy--in the sense of understanding people's actual and expected reactions, not in the Clintonian "feel your pain" mode. Conversely, someone with strong emotional intelligence may need to focus more on the substantive aspects of the job.

LordSomber said...

Guys want to fix the problem; women want to talk about it.
If she doesn't want to hear a solution, she should go talk to her girlfriends, pastor or shrink. ;)

David Foster said...

The husband of one of the women who writes "how the sexes communicate differently" books had some fun with this. She called him when having problem with her went something like this:

HE: I'm sorry you're having car trouble
SHE: It turns over but won't actually start
HE: I know that must be very frustrating for you
SHE: Is there anything I can try?
HE: It might help if you think about some happy times in your life

Dennis said...

Thank you David. It took me a while to stop laughing.

David Foster said...

The sad part is that most calls to customer service centers sound like this these days.

The next step is probably for air traffic controllers to be told to always show faux empathy...

SurlyAir 225: Uh, New York Center, we are losing cabin pressure and have lost all the navigation electronics. I need to descend to ten thousand and will also need a vector to Poughkeepsie.

ATC: Roger 225, I'm really sorry you're having a bad day. We aim to please, and I really want to make things better for you. Please tell me how I can help you.

Cassandra said...

At what point does it take for women to realize that we are different sexes for a reason? It takes the strengths of both genders, and the synergy that creates, to survive as a species. We are meant to be different.

Hmmm.... this might almost make one wonder whether the female desire to talk is just as normal and natural as the male desire *not* to talk. If the balance is somewhere in the middle, is it possible that communication is sometimes a good thing?

My experience is that the people who succeed are those who focus on what the job requires, not only what their natural inclinations point them to.

Bingo. And nowhere is this more true than in marriage, because you're dealing with two people who think differently and therefore often interpret each other's words and actions wrongly.

I don't think I could possibly disagree more with this post. Being able to talk about the normal problems that arise in a marriage (when that's required, and if you think talking is either *never* or *always* required then I'm going to suggest you try to see things from your spouse's point of view for a change) is a crucial skill.

Talking isn't therapy. It's communication. And misunderstandings and conflicts don't "magically" resolve themselves.

Which is why the Good Lord gave us words :p

Stuart Schneiderman said...

Just wondering, Cassandra, whether you also disagree with Amanda Rose's research.

Of course, couples need to communicate, but she seems to be suggesting that talking over problems and difficulties is not the way to solve them.

I think that the emphasis is on problem solving, not on communication.

I agree with you that couples do need to talk, but when it happens that one party tells the other, in no uncertain terms, that need to sit down and talk it over and out, I believe that the other party is not going to find that attitude to be conducive to open communication... and certainly not to a negotiated compromise.

I think that men will be more likely to respect a woman's wishes to communicate about feelings if they did not think that they were under the gun.

Anonymous said...

I agree. Expecting your male spouse to be a "girlfriend" is losing sight of the strengths of being a man.

The opposite is also true. Expectations that women can and should be "one of the boys" are unrealistic and as damaging to a relationship as feminizing the male partner.

My reaction to the words, "you're just too sensitive" is about the same as his reaction to "we need to talk".