Dear Life Coach Lynn
In my relationship I am having trouble dealing with my girlfriend when she is stressed.
Our relationship is great, and we really enjoy each other when things are good, but I know that if we can’t work through it when things are tough than we will have difficulty in the long haul. I see couples here and there that have a great relationship no matter what they are going through, and I want that kind of life with someone, a wife who is a best friend too.
If she has stress at work, or stress with her family, or just hormones (I know, as a guy I’m supposed to ignore those!) , I handle it badly. I just don’t know how to handle it better.
When I ask my guy friends they all give me the same advice, that women are hard to understand, and if you can’t fix what’s wrong, you are better to stay away until they are over it. I can tell you that is not helping.
I need a woman’s perspective, but I don’t really have a woman in my life I can talk to like that, so I was hoping as the Life Coach you could help.
It just seems like most of us guys don’t have a clue, why are women so hard to understand?
Confused But Willing to Learn
Thank you for your question, and let me assure you, you are not the only person to feel this way!
First of all, let’s remember that ultimately, men and women are very different, physically, mentally, and emotionally. Both men AND women often feel that the opposite sex is an enigma, and devote much time and energy to trying to figure them out!
We also need to keep in mind that everyone, men and women alike, handle stress and conflict differently. However, over the years of working with couples, and from my own personal experience, there are some basic guidelines that I can suggest.
First of all, I can assure you that I have yet to meet a woman who prefers her significant other to “stay away” when she is stressed, unless she is already in a very bad place in that relationship.
This, to most women, comes across as a total cop out on the man’s part.
A woman will begin to think that he only wants her company when she is happy and positive, and this can cause many women to stifle their true emotions with their man.
Ultimately, this will cause emotional and potentially physical issues for the woman, and will not cause the relationship to grow in a positive direction.
If she is stressed or unhappy, her man needs to be a safe place that she can share her emotions. Rest assured, if she can’t share them with you, she will find someone else to do so with. The bonding emotional experience of working through her issue with someone else takes away that opportunity for you to bond with her.
Another big confusion that men have is the feeling that they need to “fix” everything she is dealing with. Years ago I learned a valuable technique at a marriage and life coach seminar, and have found that it works very well for couples. It is simply this…
If your woman is dealing with something and she brings it to you, simply ask her if she wants you to just listen, or if she wants your help to fix the problem.
Many men that I have worked with in their relationships have come back to me after using this question in awe of the positive results they got! Men are generally wired to “fix” things, and so trying to solve her issues is a safe place. They feel comfortable and in control.
However, your woman sometimes just needs to talk through the situation and figure out the answer herself. Consider yourself her “sounding board” if you will…an important role for your relationship!
The third big complaint I hear from women over and over is the “what’s wrong” question. To women, it feels like men have a way of asking that question at the worst time, and place, and in a way that often comes across as accusatory and not caring.
Men get very frustrated when they ask a woman “What’s wrong” and she answers “Nothing”. Now, sometimes, nothing is wrong. But generally you men have read the signs correctly. The answer “Nothing” generally means that they can’t talk it about it where they are, or more often, they don’t truly think you care so they are hesitant to tell you until you work a little harder to demonstrate you really do care and do want to know.
Now, if you don’t care and don’t want to know, but are asking out of obligation, that is a different topic completely! However, if you do care, I have some suggestions.
First of all, if you have developed a pattern in your relationship of making your woman feel like you are not a safe place to come with her issues, she will be defensive when faced with that question. If in the past you have belittled the way she feels, made light of her emotions, made her feel that what she feels is not valid, or even worse, gotten into an argument with her over how she feels, then she is not going to easily and comfortably tell you anything!
I have found that when a man in a relationship puts a little more thought behind that question, it is much more likely to get a response that can create a positive for both partners. The telephone is not ideal, my experience is most woman prefer to be in person when dealing with situations. If you are not in person, but you feel that she is upset, you can try something like this…
“I feel like you are upset, and I want you to know that I am here for you. Is there anything you want to talk about right now, or do you want to get together later just the two of us and relax and talk?”
I can only imagine the eye rolling from the men right now, and the “Yah right” coming from the women, thinking that a man would never say that. Let me assure you, there are many men who are willing to learn how to talk to their woman, and many men who have used that phrase and returned back to their next session with me ecstatic at the results!
The bottom line is that the woman in your life needs to feel safe in telling you anything, needs to feel that you truly care, and needs to feel that when she does open up to you that you are willing to meet her at her own needs and not your own. (listening versus fixing)
Even if the trouble is hormone related, if she trusts you to not make fun of it or make her feel bad about a natural function, she will talk openly to you!
If you begin to put these suggestions into practice, I’m confident after a time you will be pleased with the results. If you are still having a challenge after you have consistently used these techniques, please let me know…I have lots more advice on this topic! 🙂
And for all you fabulous Drink Guy fans, please let us know what you think, and what has worked for you!
Cheers, Life Coach Lynn
PS. A couple fantastic books to help this are “His Needs, Her Needs” and “The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts” , I highly recommend them both!