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When I was engaged to be married, I read a lot of books on relationships, and every single one of them gave some form of this advice to men: "Don't try to fix her problems when she tells you about them; she just needs you to listen." You'd be hard pressed to find a book on relationships between men and women that does not offer this classic and somewhat cliché warning. Even though I had heard the advice many times, I still found myself running into the issue once I got married.
It happens to every couple. At some point they are deep in conversation, and the woman tells the man about something that is troubling her heart. The guy listens and immediately goes into "fixer" mode. He offers the simple solution to her problem and ends up confused when the girl responds with frustration and resignation.
The problem she expresses might seem as superficial as a headache or as deep as a failing friendship. Either way, what the woman is looking for in these moments is to be known. She wants her guy to see her, hear her and simply acknowledge what she is going through. A woman's heart is extremely relational, and feeling connected can be more important to her than solving the problem right then and there.
The dude, when he hears his girlfriend/fiancée/wife express her difficulty, assumes she is coming to him for a solution. And of course she would, right?, he thinks. I'm good at fixing things. So he totally misses the mark and feels confused when the woman gets miffed or even angry, telling him he doesn't understand and stomps off.
We men can feel like the guy in this video:
We see something that's wrong, see a solution, and feel frustrated when we're not free to fix the problem.
For women, the frustration comes in not being heard and having their emotions invalidated. She comes to him and opens her heart, offers him a chance to grow closer to her, and he completely ignores her by focusing on the problem.
As ironic as it might seem in the context of this blog post, I'm going to offer a few solutions I've found for this classic source of static between men and women:
1. Guys, when she tells you about her issues, resist the urge to start firing away with your solutions and ask yourself what she is really needing from you. Sometimes it can be hard to know when to just listen and when she actually wants you to fix something. I have actually asked my wife, "Do you want me to offer any advice on this or just listen?"
2. Girls, we men like to fix things. Sometimes you might just have to let the guy love you by trying to help even though that's not exactly what you were looking for.
3. Guys, the truth is that getting closer to a woman's heart can scare us. Realize this when you are tempted to use the stereotype of being a "fixer" as an excuse not to be there emotionally for the woman in your life. Ignoring a woman's heart and focusing on her problem can be a coward's way out. In Christ, you have the guts it takes to pursue her.
4. Girls, if you feel like the guy should "just know" why you're frustrated, you may be letting your expectations prevent you from helping him be there for you. Don't be too proud or stubborn to say, "I don't want you to fix my problems; I just want you to know me."
Here's to better communication and deeper intimacy.
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--Great video. Now what did I do with my claw hammer? :-P
--Great advice. I wonder what biblical principles that might be connected to this. Maybe 1 Peter 3:7? Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you[a] of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.
--"I wonder what biblical principles that might be connected to this."
There are a number of Bible verses, especially in Proverbs about being quick to listen and slow to speak. Both genders would be wise to follow that advice in their relationships. Especially because a lot of times people of both genders immediately start brainstorming solutions before taking the time to fully understand the problem.
--This isn't the simple guy/girl mind dichotomy. It has more to do with Meyers-Briggs typology. I'm a female introverted intuitive thinker, and my gut reaction when hearing a problem is a) figure out the cause of the problem and b) figure out a solution. Quietly listening without offering any input is NOT my gut reaction. Nor is it what I want from someone else. If I'm telling them something it's because I want feedback/creative input. If I could solve the problem on my own, I would.
Sooo... just remember, not all guys and girls think alike.
--" A woman's heart is extremely relational, and feeling connected can be more important to her than solving the problem right then and there."
My introverted heart is shuddering from this. *shivers*
ARay hit the "nail" (lol) on this one. This isn't simply about men and women's distinct wiring but just how two personality types work together. This would be amazing advice if you are dating someone (male or female) who is very emotional and sensitive.
But for introverted women like me (INTJ) helping me fix the problem is perfect! Especially considering I like to fix problems myself. :)
Just ask your partner personally exactly they want you to do with said communication.
-- ARay and Koopagrrl...AMEN! I'm an introvert who tends to be a "fixer." Granted, there are times when I want someone to just listen to me, but it's more often that I want some solid advice, or a plan of action, or something! I've also had to really work on being a good listener rather than always trying to offer up solutions to someone's problem. All that to say, perhaps women are more relational and emotional than men in general, but I've known my share of exceptions...in both men and women!
--Alyson, ARay, Koopagrrl -
It's totally true that when we speak of men and women with generalizations there is always the caveat that not everyone is the same. I think the stereotypes are well deserved in this case but you make a great point in the need to leave room for those who don't fit the example.
You hit the nail on the head with that verse.
--Ah the joys of not fitting the stereotype! Also, if guys always want to fix a girl's problem, how do they deal with their own? Do most guys only talk about problems when they need/want help fixing them? Or do they not talk about problems at all to save face? I
--ARay - Sounds like a great topic for a future post. My own observation is that the masculine (negative) stereotype in the US at least is not to talk about it for probably more than one reason. Good questions which I'll be thinking about.
--@ARay, my dad was raised to be stereotypically masculine in most respects, but he frequently tells Mom about problems with his co-workers, not to solve them but just to decompress. There isn't much he could solve anyway; you can't just tell nutty people to stop being nutty. :) He tells them off if they get too out of line. Mom says he has never talked about grief, and he is pretty emotionally reserved, but other than that, he and Mom discuss their individual significant problems together.
--ARay... You asked "Do most guys only talk about problems when they need/want help fixing them? Or do they not talk about problems at all to save face?"
My experience is that men talk about problens with those who are ALREADY close, where women talk about problems to GET close, . It's not just about "saving face". It's also about not going into problem-solving mode with someone that you don't trust to understand, react sensibly and offer sound advice.
--Watched the video... I want nothing to do with the kind of person who has so little appreciation for another person's desire to help.
I learnt this lesson several times during family funerals. The selfish thing to do was to focus on omy own hurt and loss and how I felt like dealing with it. I had to learn that when others wanted to help me, it helped them deal with the grief, and therefore letting them help me was the self-LESS option.
--I'm a 'fixer' and I'm happily married to a 'fixer'. We really wouldn't have it any other way, but I know that my 'fixing' nature hampers my friendships with other women. I'm working on being a better more compassionate listener, but goodness that girl really needs to get the nail out of her head!!!
--I'm with the other introverted girls who said usually when they share they don't mind problem solving--sometimes yes, I want people to just listen, but on the whole, if I bring it up, I'm figuring you'll give me your perspective.
Generally if people come to me with problems, I will listen sympathetically, but then I'll try to suggest solutions. It's just the way I respond, because to me, part of helping is solving.
--"Do most guys only talk about problems when they need/want help fixing them? Or do they not talk about problems at all to save face?"
You really just get that with insecure guys trying to pretend they're manly. Obviously everybody has some insecurities, but we can all spot someone who's way over compensating. "Hey bro, wanna go shoot guns after we get done taking our protein supplements? We have to be back by 5 though to cook meat with fire before the football game!"
The truth is, people are individuals with unique wants, needs, and communication patterns. Part of the reason that men and women seem so wildly and crazily different is because the Church loves segregating everything by gender. Heck, walk into an integrated college Sunday school class, and you'll see one side of the room filled with guys and one side of the room filled with girls. Nobody is assigning seats, but that's just how so many of us have been conditioned. If you're never really interacting with the opposite sex, the differences are going to seem way more significant than they really are.
It takes more effort to understand a person as an individual than it does to deal in stereotypes though.
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