Monday, July 19, 2010

Get a Clue Ladies: (I hammered on men last time.)

People sometimes ask where I get ideas for my blog columns. It’s not very difficult. I am blessed with a fairly large number of patient/teachers (my very best teachers are my patients). Frequently, every 45 – 50 minutes, another “teacher” comes to my “classroom” and teaches me something unique about the human experience. Yes, there are recurring themes but each person is unique and has something to teach me – and I thank each one of you. If you weren’t there to help me, I’d only have my schooling.

Recently, I wrote a column which, in large measure, was critical of men. I’ve previously, lamely tried to excuse my bias by explaining that demographically, about 70% of most therapy patients are women. Why is that? (Here, I get to fall back on a cop-out word therapists increasingly use to explain the “WHY” questions.)

The answer is, “It’s MULTIFACTORIAL. (Translation: “We don’t know.” – but, therapists seem to have a delusion that we know everything, so we’ve come up with a word that sounds smart but really it just means that there are so many reasons and we really can’t determine which or which ones explain the WHY.)

In counterpoint to my earlier column in which I expressed the frustrations of many women, let me say UNAMBIGUOUSLY that just because you might be a woman, it does not mean you are a paragon of mental health. The flip side of the coin; if you’re a man, it DOES NOT automatically mean that you’re somehow emotionally vacuous or that all your decisions are regulated by the now infamous “small head”.

Because men see the world through male eyes, it means only one thing – men see the world differently than women. That’s good! Thank God!

My old teacher used to speak of the dialectics of life; the inclination of life to swing pendulum-like. It is true that for centuries the culture was dominated by a male worldview. Psychotherapy has existed since before 1900. While women were “in the mix” from the early 1900's, there has been an increasing presence since that time.

Today, roughly 75% of MFT therapists are female. In most universities, the classes in feminist theology, feminist sociology, feminist education and feminist psychologies are over-enrolled. There’s a clear movement in the culture suggesting that male world-views are anachronistic and that female world-views are more elevated, evolved and valued. As a culture, as individuals and couples, we need to appreciate and value EQUALLY the male and female worldviews. One is not superior to the other. Neither is right or wrong. Both are to be valued. Men can learn much from women and women can learn just as much from men.

Why is it that there are articles littering the media telling men how they can (and should) change in order to be better partners for women, but the articles suggesting that women should change or understand men are viewed as conspiring in some continuing and nefarious subjugation of women and that the ideas suggested are counter to a progressive existence?

Granted, it is women who bear children, but is there some inherent reason there that explains why women have better intuition or knowledge when it comes to parenting? One needn’t be a sociologist to recognize that as the influence of active fathers has faded we have witnessed a near-identical uptick in ill-behaved adolescents and an epidemic of younger male and female criminals?

Men ARE different. Vive la difference! When thinking of the many “suggestions” men are bombarded with daily to be better partners for women, consider that the reciprocal may also be useful suggestions for women. I’ll offer a few examples but I encourage women to consider and perhaps ask what their partners would welcome when it comes to changes in behavior. Before you ask however, let me suggest some preliminary considerations.

If you ask for suggestions, be honest enough with yourself to know whether or not you really care enough about your mate that the answer will be valued. If you ask for information, it is not an invitation to argue about the answer you receive. This doesn’t mean you have to do what your mate suggests – it is information to be heard and to be valued. If your mate asked you what you would like, I’m guessing you’d want them to really hear what you say.


  • Men and women have very different modes of communication. Don’t expect your mate to communicate the way you do. You do not communicate the “right” way; you communicate “your” way. Your mate’s style is different but not “wrong”.
  • More talking does not mean better communication.
  • Ask your mate what their preferred communication style is. Tell your mate that you don’t expect an instant answer. The complete answer may take weeks and it may come in segments.
  • In a longer-term relationship (more than six months), sexual appetite is seldom synchronized. Because your mate’s desire is different, it doesn’t make it wrong. Different levels of desire are an opportunity for a conversation. Most of us have been heavily influenced by the media. Variation of sexual activity is considerable and very different that what media suggests. In the USA, foreplay will vary between five and fifteen minutes – actual intercourse lasts between two and ten minutes.
  • The dynamics that effect sexual desire for women may or may not be similar for men. Again – there no right or wrong – this is opportunity for conversation. The goal is not to win - but to learn what is ideal for you or your mate; to find what is enjoyable based on mutual caring.
  • Criticism is a killer of relationships. Don’t nag. If you sense an impulse to criticize, resist it. Reframe nagging or criticism as a goal or as something you're trying to understand.
  • You have ideas about what makes for a nice evening, a nice weekend or a nice long weekend; guess what – YOUR MATE DOES TOO! Instead of being dissatisfied that your needs aren't sufficiently valued – think of what your partner would enjoy. Don’t assume that you know – ASK!
  • If your mate is loving and caring, your response should be respect and appreciation. There are women by the boatload who contend daily with jerks. If you’re lucky enough to have found a good guy – value him.
  • Don’t whine! Take responsibility for doing what you can do to improve situations. In the last few decades many women have developed the idea that the man needs to make all the changes… WRONG-O! Change is a gradual, bilateral process. Before you set out to remodel your mate, make sure you’ve done everything you can to sweep your own side of the street.

Before I end this little rant, rather than repeating myself, I’d encourage you to review my Memo for Women.

PS: One last observation – frequently, when I see couples, it seems like they engage in little verbal "knife-fights". A little poke here, a little slice there… people can die from thousands of little cuts and relationships can die even quicker. Be nice. I’m reminded of an old cartoon ( I’m a guy – so I remember humor that’s a little blue.):

A man is sitting in a dentist’s chair and the dentist has tools in the man’s mouth. The patient, simultaneously has a firm hold on the dentist’s “family jewels”; the caption beneath reads, “We’re not going to hurt each other are we?”

Think of relationships like delicate glassware. Even though guys may be tough in many ways, we are easily injured also – we just do our bleeding internally. Usually when we’re hurt, we don’t say so – and don’t expect us to. As women, you’re pretty smart and if you have the ability to be rigorously honest you’ll be able to know if men are hurt by asking yourself if you’d be hurt if the same was said or done to you.

Primum non nocere

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