MAKING LITTLE CHANGES
One day I noticed that when my children asked me to do things I would always say "no problem." It was my way of saying I would be happy to do that. My stepdaughter Julie asked me one day, "Why do you always say 'no problem'?" I didn't actually know right away. After a while I realized that it was another of those deeply ingrained Martian habits. With this new awareness I started saying "I would be happy to do that." This phrase expressed my implied message and certainly felt more loving to my Venusian daughter.
NOW TO COMMUNICATE WITHOUT BLAME
A man commonly feels attacked and blamed by a woman's feelings, especially when she is upset and talks about problems. Because he doesn't understand how we are different, he doesn't readily relate to her need to talk about all of her feelings. He mistakenly assumes she is telling him about her feelings because she thinks he is somehow responsible or to be blamed. Because she is upset and she is talking to him, he assumes she is upset with him. When she complains he hears blame. Many men don't understand the (Venusian) need to share upset feelings with the people they love. With practice and an awareness of our differences, women can learn how to express their feelings without having them sound like blaming. To reassure a man that he is not being blamed, when A woman expresses her feelings she could pause after a few minutes of sharing and tell him how much she appreciates him for listening. She could say some of the following comments: • "I'm sure glad I can talk about it." • "It sure feels good to talk about it." • "I'm feeling so relieved that I can talk about this." • "I'm sure glad I can complain about all this. It makes me feel so much better." • "Well, now that I've talked about it, I feel much better. Thank you." This simple change can make a world of difference.
In this same vein, as she describes her problems she can support him by appreciating the things he has done to make her life easier and more fulfilling. For example, if she is complaining about work, occasionally she could mention that it is so nice to have him in her life to come home to; if she is complaining about the house, then she could mention that she appreciates that he fixed the fence; or if she is complaining about finances, mention that she really
appreciates how hard he works; or if she is complaining about the frustrations of being a parent, she could mention that she is glad she has his help. Sharing Responsibility Good communication requires participation on both sides. A man needs to work at remembering that complaining about problems does not mean blaming and that when a woman complains she is generally just letting go of her frustrations by talking about them. A woman can work at letting him know that though she is complaining she also appreciates him. For example, my wife just came in and asked how I was doing on this chapter. I said, "I'm almost done. How was your day?" She said, "Oh, there is so much to do. We hardly have any time together." The old me would have become defensive and then reminded her of all the time we have spent together, or I would have told her how important it was to meet. my deadline. This would have just created tension. The new me, aware of our differences, understood she was looking for reassurance and understanding and not justifications and explanations. I said, "You're right, we have been really busy. Sit down here on my lap, let me give you a hug. It's been a long day." She then said, "You feel really good." This was the appreciation I needed in order to be more available to her. She then proceeded to complain more about her day and how exhausted she was. After a few minutes she paused. I then offered to drop off the babysitter so she could relax and meditate before dinner. She said, "Really, you'll take the babysitter home? That would be great. Thank you!" Again she gave me the appreciation and acceptance I needed to feel like a successful partner, even when she was tired and exhausted. Women don't think of giving appreciation because they assume a man knows how much she appreciates being heard. He doesn't know. When she is talking about problems, he needs to be reassured that he is still loved and appreciated. Men feel frustrated by problems unless they are doing something to solve them. By appreciating him, a woman can help him realize that just by listening he is also helping. A woman does not have to suppress her feelings or even change them to support her partner. She does, however, need to express them in a way that doesn't make him feel attacked, accused, or blamed. Making a few small changes can make a big difference. Four Magic Words of Support The four magic words to support a man are "It's not your fault." When a woman is expressing her upset feelings she can support a man by pausing occasionally to encourage him by saying "I really appreciate your listening, and if this sounds as if I'm saying it's your fault, that's not what I mean. It's not your fault." A woman can learn to be sensitive to her listener when she understands his tendency to start feeling like a failure when he hears a lot of problems.
Just the other day my sister called me and talked about a difficult experience that she was going through. As I listened I kept remembering that to support my sister I didn't have to give her any solutions. She needed someone just to listen. After ten minutes of just listening and occasionally saying things like "uh-huh," "oh," and "ready!" she then said, "Well, thank you, John. I feel so much better." It was much easier to hear her because I knew she was not blaming me. She was blaming someone else. I find it more difficult when my wife is unhappy because it is easier for me to feel blamed. However, when my wife encourages me to listen by appreciating me, it becomes much easier to be a good listener. What to Do When You Feel Like Blaming Reassuring a man that it is not his fault or that he is not being blamed works only as long as she truly is not blaming him, disapproving of him, or criticizing him. If she is attacking him, then she should share her feelings with someone else. She should wait until she is more loving and centered to talk to him. She could share her resentful feelings with someone she is not upset with, who will be able to give her the support she needs. Then when she feels more loving and forgiving she can successfully approach him to share her feelings. In chapter 11 we will explore in greater detail how to communicate difficult feelings. Now to Listen Without Blaming A man often blames a woman for being blaming when she is innocently talking about problems. This is very destructive to the relationship because it blocks communication. Imagine a woman saying "All we ever do is work, work, work. We don't have any fun anymore. You are so serious." A man could very easily feel she is blaming him. If he feels blamed, I suggest he not blame back and say "I feel like you are blaming me." Instead I suggest saying "It is difficult to hear you say I am so serious. Are you saying it is all my fault that we don't have more fun?" Or he could say "It hurts when I hear you say I am so serious and we don't have any fun. Are you saying that it is all my fault?" In addition, to improve the communication he can give her a way out. He could say "It feels like you are saying it is all my fault that we work so much. Is that true?" Or he could say "When you say we don't have any fun and that I am so serious, I feel like you are saying it is all my fault. Are you?" All of these responses are respectful and give her a chance to take back any blame that he might have felt. When she says "Oh, no, I'm not saying it's all your fault" he will probably feel somewhat relieved.
Another approach that I find most helpful is to remember that she always has a right to be upset and that once she gets it out, she will feel much better. This awareness allows me to relax and remember that if I can listen without taking it personally, then when she needs to
complain she will be so appreciative of me. Even if she was blaming me, she will not hold on to it. The Art of Listening As a man learns to listen and interpret a woman's feelings correctly, communication becomes easier. As with any art, listening requires practice. Each day when I get home, I will generally seek out Bonnie and ask her about her day, thus practicing this art of listening. If she is upset or has had a stressful day, at first I will feel that she is saying I am somehow responsible and thus to blame. My greatest challenge is to not take it personally, to not misunderstand her. I do this by constantly reminding myself that we speak different languages. As I continue to ask "What else happened?" I find that there are many other things bothering her. Gradually I start to see that I am not solely responsible for her upset. After a while, when she begins to appreciate me for listening, then, even if I was partially responsible for her discomfort, she becomes very grateful, accepting, and loving. Although listening is an important skill to practice, some days a man is too sensitive or stressed to translate the intended meaning of her phrases. At such times he should not even attempt to listen. Instead he could kindly say "This isn't a good time for me. Let's talk later." Sometimes a man doesn't realize that he can't listen until she begins talking. If he becomes very frustrated, while listening he should not try to continue-he'll just become increasingly upset. That does not serve him or her. Instead, the respectful thing to say is "I really want to hear what you are saving, but right now it is very difficult for me to listen. I think I need some time to think about what you have just said." As Bonnie and I have learned to communicate in a way that respects our differences and understand each other's needs, our marriage has become so much easier. I have witnessed this same transformation in thousands of individuals and couples. Relationships thrive when communication reflects a ready acceptance and respect of people's innate differences. When misunderstandings arise, remember that we speak different languages; take the time necessary to translate what your partner really means or wants to say. This definitely takes practice, but it is well worth it.