As a young man in my late 20's and early 30's, I often found myself in the self-help aisle of my nearest bookstore, searching for solutions to challenges I was having communicating effectively with other people in general, but women in particular. I remember one instance where -- having walked in with the intention of buying either a deeply spiritual or philosophical tome to lug to my nearest coffee shop -- I instead went home with a copy of a book titled "Lesbian Sex Secrets for Men." "Finally!", I thought. "A straightforward instruction manual. Thanks, lesbians!" I opened it fully expecting charts and diagrams, tips on g-spot stimulation, advanced Kama Sutra poses.... basically cheat codes that guaranteed every woman I slept with would immortalize me as the best lover she'd ever had. Instead, the book opened with a chapter on the importance of communication. I flipped through it. Next chapter, same. Chapter after that, same. I felt the exact same disappointment I had experienced as a kid, when the "Sea Monkeys" I'd ordered from the back of a comic book turned out to be brine shrimp. Nevertheless, the bait-and-switch was effective in that -- once again -- it reinforced the message that women prioritize communication in relationships; and that without it, genuine intimacy simply isn't possible. In fairness, I should say as a quick aside that there is significant merit to learning the less conspicuous differences between the male and female anatomy, and putting in the reps to become a skilled (or at least competent) lover for your female partner. So as not to leave you in the valley, so to speak, you may consider reading Woman: An Intimate Geography, by Natalie Angier. [Caveat: While I do have gay clients, for the sake of this article I'm going to focus on straight guys in conventional relationships, who represent the vast majority of the Man-UP! Life Coaching (MULC) community.]
So back to communication. To understand it, let's back up. In fact, let's back all the way up. In 2018, researchers announced the discovery of the oldest known cave paintings, made by Neanderthals, at least 64,000 years ago, in the Spanish caves of La Pasiega, Maltravieso and Ardales. While there are varying theories on man's first efforts to use symbols to relay information, it is most commonly agreed that our earliest communications were strictly transactional; messages were left to indicate which animals were safe to eat, where they could be found, and so on. In other words, no caveman ever -- in the history of cavemen -- thought to scrawl a message in chalk on the damp inner wall of his meager grotto expressing his emotions. Never did a renowned archeologist and explorer decipher ancient Sumerian cuneiform, or Egyptian hieroglyphs, to learn that its author was suffering from a broken heart. The men who invented symbolic language did so to convey facts, not feelings. Does this mean that they didn't have feelings? Of course not. It only means that rudimentary concerns -- factors critical to group survival and development -- took precedence over the awareness and expression of individual emotions. In fact, the word "emotion" itself was only coined in the early 1800's, and it wasn't until the 1830's that the modern concept of emotion first emerged for the English language.
Yet here we are now, in the year 2022, and the modern family man finds himself challenged to manage a longterm relationship with a partner who typically expects him to be a bit further along in the emotional development department than a Neanderthal. For her, this isn't an unrealistic expectation. Science has debunked theories that women are more emotional than men; so if he is having the same feelings as she is having, then why isn't he willing or able to discuss them, unless he simply doesn't care? And here -- right here, gentlemen -- is the conundrum.
You DO care. I know you care, because I've been talking to you guys about exactly this subject for 8-12 hours a day, week after week, month after month, year after year, for almost a decade. When we're not in session, you're blowing me up in DM's on Discord, shooting me texts, and sending me emails looking for help navigating dialogs with your female counterparts.
Sometimes she's a girlfriend (or a dating prospect on social media), sometimes she's your wife, sometimes she's a family member. In all of these cases, you demonstrate that you genuinely want to say the right thing, yet -- having a history of saying the wrong thing, and fearful of the hell fury that ensues -- you bring in the big guns, and solicit me for guidance.
There is absolutely no way I can easily distill both emotional self-awareness and effective relationship communication into a handy series of bullet points for you here. I mean, both Psychology and Communication are entire fields of study for a reason. This said, here are three critical tips which will hopefully help you in your efforts to communicate with her more effectively:
Ask her frequently if she needs to talk. This is counterintuitive for a lot of guys, who actively avoid substantive conversations for fear of stirring up a hornet's nest. I'm telling you, ask and ask regularly. When you are the one to ask, it shows that you care. Also, it's wise to give her opportunities to vent regularly, rather than waiting for her anxiety to hit critical mass. Accept this as an axiom: She needs to talk as a way of coming to terms with her otherwise unmanaged emotions.
Listen differently. Instead of trying understand the point of what she is saying, learn to appreciate that for her the saying part IS the point. Let her talk. And talk. And talk. Be a polite listener. DON'T defend yourself. DON'T contradict anything she says, even if it is literally untrue. She is sharing her feelings, and there's no such thing as an untrue feeling. If she says, "You never take out the trash" (and you know damn well that you do), train yourself to hear it as, "I feel like you never take out the trash". All feelings are valid. Just nod and say, "I hear you."
Be nice. Please do not underestimate the profound importance of this deceptively generic instruction. If you're already in a good mood, great. Pay it forward by being pleasant. If not, use the same self-discipline as you would in a professional environment, and force yourself to be diplomatic. You gain nothing from being moody, temperamental, distant, or argumentative. Adopt the persona of the strong but gentle-spirited father and your conversations will go much better.
Now you might be thinking, "Okay, so that's good basic advice for receiving her end of the transmission, but what about when it's my turn to talk? What am I supposed to say, or not say? How do I avoid putting my foot in my mouth? That's the whole reason I avoid talking to begin with. If I'm gonna get flack either way, then it seems easier and smarter to just shut up."
Yeah, that's the common misconception. But women don't want to be in relationships by themselves. When all of your interactions are transactional, she starts to feel like you're more of a roommate than a lover, and that's no good for you. As stated earlier, for her intimacy begins with communication; so when you make an effort to communicate, however clumsily, you get credit for trying.
So again, I'm going to give you three tips -- called the The Three Sieves -- whose source is of questionable origin but whose wisdom is undeniable. Basically, before speaking (to her, or anyone else for that matter) ask yourself the following:
Is it True? You may think what you are about to say is true, but are you 100% sure? Have you fact-checked? Is there even the slightest, most remote possibility that what you think is true may be arguable, or simply wrong? If you wouldn't be willing to bet your life on it, then don't say it, whatever it is.
Is it Necessary? This can be a challenging question to answer. There's an argument that little of what we say is necessary, and that we'd all be better off if we talked less and meditated more. Let's assume for the sake of relationship communication that if you are speaking your truth, then yes it is necessary.
Is it Kind? This is where guys tend to struggle most in their communication efforts. Even if you have a statement to make which is both true and necessary, saying it in a way that is unkind blows the mission. She may be dead wrong. She may be using a nasty tone, or saying things that seem attacking. That's on her. You can't control her, but you can control you. Be better. That's what self-discipline is all about.
Hopefully the ideas in this article are useful for you. If you're already a MULC client, feel free to pick my brains for ways to navigate some of the hairier challenges you may run into as you attempt to deploy these strategies. If you're not a client but feel like you'd be interested in learning more on the subject of communication, please fill out a Client Application, get yourself on my calendar, and let's talk.