Break Toxic Communication Habits with The STFU Method

Comments 23
STFU patch
(Image/The Cheap Place)

Actor and comedian Denis Leary has a bit in his hilarious 1992 stand-up act No Cure for Cancer where he jokes about developing a revolutionary new form of therapy that involves him curing his patients by angrily telling them to shut the fuck up.

Leary’s kidding. He’s telling absurd jokes to elicit laughter.

And while I use profanity infinitely less often than early-90’s Leary, it occurs to me that I have spent the past several months offering the same advice to coaching clients in slightly more polite ways.

“E=MC squared + STFU.” — Albert Einstein

I didn’t anticipate this going in, but my first full year of working one-on-one with coaching clients covering much of the same territory I’ve been writing about here for the past six years, has been emotionally triggering in surprising ways while listening to clients walk me though their personal stories of relationship conflict.

Their fights look, sound and feel just like my fights.

My male clients tell me things they say and feel. They sound just like things I used to say and feel.

My female clients tell me things they say and feel. They sound just like things my ex-wife used to say and feel.

I spend more time these days thinking about the dynamics of an argument between a man and a woman (typically husband and wife) than I did when I was doing all of the self-work needed to understand how my marriage had fallen apart.

I’ve long called this toxic communication cycle The Same Fight.

Because, no matter the subject matter or triggering incident, the ensuing fight tends to follow the same ugly patterns. It’s just the same fight over and over and over again for years until one or both of them decides to do something different—something positive, healing and reconnecting; or total withdraw which often ends in divorce.

The Same Fight isn’t unique to anyone, but couples often believe they’re the only ones dealing with it because this isn’t the stuff we talk about with our friends or at holiday gatherings. So few of us are aware that every couple who hasn’t mastered the art of healthy communication suffers from this same relationship-damaging pattern.

The sick part is that neither person is trying to hurt the other, nor are they on a personal mission to grenade the relationship or put them on the path to an eventual break-up or divorce.

Relationships have three paths. Two of the paths are shitty.

  1. A good relationship.
  2. A bad relationship that lasts forever until one of them dies.
  3. A bad relationship that ends in a break-up or divorce.

Approximately zero percent of people would intentionally enter a relationship (marriage particularly) believing that it would sour and become unhealthy.

Similarly, almost no one would knowingly behave in ways they understood to harm their partner and damage their relationship to the point of jeopardizing it.

Two people meet. They’re pretty awesome and well intentioned. They love each other. They love each other so much that they decide to forsake all others to be together in a relationship model that the majority of participants understand and intend to be a life-long commitment to one another.

They enter this relationship voluntarily.

And as everyone reading this knows, it fails more than half of the time. (All of the people who get divorced plus all of the miserable people who are still together but wish they weren’t.)

Where the Black Magic Happens

This commonly observed breakdown that’s ending thousands of marriages per day couldn’t be more insidious.

Two articulate, intelligent, good-hearted people who seriously love the other and genuinely desire a lifetime marriage, simply start speaking to one another.

Sharing ideas. Emotions. Beliefs. Opinions.

They tell stories about their day. They explain why they said or did something.

Everyone is usually telling the truth.

They talk on the phone. Via text. At the dinner table. Riding in cars together. Before bed. In the morning before work. Sitting on the sofa watching something together.

And then it happens. The black magic. The barely visible, barely noticeable poison begins to infect them, and gone unchecked, will end their good relationship, sentencing them to divorce or a life-long relationship full of stress, conflict, anxiety and pain.

The Him-and-Her Conversation That Mismanaged, Will End Your Relationship Sooner or Later

Disclaimer: This does not always break down gender lines like this. Same-sex couples experience this too, and I’ve had two male clients that were on the opposite side of this equation. It’s just like this the vast majority of the time. But you already know that.

In its simplest form, The Conversation That Ends Relationships looks like this and has a couple of variants.

Her: I’m going to share something I’m thinking about because sharing what’s in my head and heart is how I connect with others, and there’s no one I want to connect with more than my relationship partner.

“Hey babe. A thing happened and it made me feel bad, so now I’m telling you about it because you’re the person I talk to the most and I wanted to let you know what’s going on with me.”

Him: I’m not 100% in agreement with her interpretation of what happened. I’m going to offer an alternative theory and a solution to the problem so that she doesn’t have to feel bad about what happened.

He explains to her why he disagrees with her assessment of what had occurred, and frequently offers an idea for how she could ‘fix’ the problem.

Her: Why is it that every time I try to connect with my husband/boyfriend, he makes it a point to try to correct my experiences or my feelings? Why does he think I’m stupid? Why does he care so little about me that he rejects my attempts to connect with him in ways that hurt me? Why doesn’t he consider my feelings when he says and does things like this?

“Honey. It really hurts my feelings when I try to share with you things that are bothering me or that scare me, and then you trivialize them and make me feel stupid.”

Him: Oh Jesus. Here we go again. First, she’s dumping her problems on me, which is fine because I’m happy to help. But then when I do my best to offer help, she rejects it and tells me I’m being an asshole who hurts her. I’m so frustrated by this. Why doesn’t she want to solve the problem? And why am I suddenly responsible for her emotions?

His wife or girlfriend is doing what she would do with anyone she loved and felt close to and safe with. She’s sharing things—thoughts, feelings, and experiences—that are reserved only for the most important people in her life.

When he fails to appear concerned about this situation causing her to feel pain, it increases her frustration. It makes everything hurt even more because she’s carrying the bad thing alone even though she’d just tried to recruit the person she loves and is committed to, and who promised to love her always, to help her carry the bad thing too, and he was totally dismissive.

He said she was mistaken about what had actually happened, rendering her emotional reactions invalid.

Or, he said her emotions were out of line with what had happened, because if that same thing had happened to him, there’s no way he’d feel that way or act that way. Therefore, she must be overreacting. She must be being overly dramatic unnecessarily, which is bad for both of them. He doesn’t want her to feel bad, and he doesn’t want to have another problem to deal with that he perceives to be a non-issue.

Him: “Babe, can we please just agree to disagree? I wasn’t trying to upset you. I don’t know what you want me to say. You told me about something that happened. I tried my best to share ideas that might help you because I don’t want you to have to deal with those bad things, and then you turned that into me hurting you.”

Her: “I did not turn anything into you hurting me. I told you—truthfully—that when you say and do things like that, it hurts me. It scares me that whenever I tell you that I’m hurt, you make it about you, and tell me how I’m stupid for thinking and feeling these things I think and feel. How can you think so little of me? Why don’t you love me enough to want to help me not hurt anymore?”

Him: “Right. It’s always my fault. Because nothing I do or have done provides sufficient evidence that I love you and want to spend the rest of my life with you. It’s awesome how no matter what I do or say, and no matter how many changes I make, you continue to find new things about me that are such a disappointment to you. I’m sorry I’m such a scourge on your life by being faithful to you, and giving everything I have financially and emotionally to you. I gave up my old life to be with you but that wasn’t enough, apparently. In order for you to actually be loved, I need to always agree with everything you think and feel, and never share anything I actually believe since being honest about what I think equates to me not loving you. Got it.”

She feels shitty. Her connection attempt failed, and worse, now she feels pushed away even further by him. She feels rejected and unloved.

He feels shitty. His honest efforts to help his wife were rejected, and moreover, he was reminded once again that she thinks he’s a bad husband and that her life is harder and worse for having married him. He feels rejected and unloved.

He retreats to reset.

His retreat feels like him running away and abandoning her to stew in her pain alone in the dark.

I can’t win, he thinks. Everything I do is the wrong thing. Nothing I do is ever good enough for her.

I’m so alone, she thinks. I married someone who refuses to acknowledge that I’m hurt or help me to not hurt anymore.

The STFU Method for Connecting with Your Partner

My guy clients mostly all ask the same thing: “Matt. I know she’s in pain. And I don’t want her to hurt. But I don’t understand this. I don’t understand what I’m supposed to say or do. It’s like, if I don’t agree with her, I’m hurting her. Which is bullshit. Why am I not allowed to have my own, independent thoughts and feelings?”

I lived exactly that. Exactly.

So I know what he means.

And I know how frustrating it is to see your wife either sad or angry and continuing to withdraw further and further away from the woman you married.

This is how two people—two good, well-intentioned people—accidentally extinguish the love they once shared. This is how two people slowly, incrementally, insidiously add tiny bits of damage to one another repeatedly until there’s so much hurt and resentment piled up after years of it, that the entire relationship comes to a standstill until that pile of hurt is finally dealt with.

“What do I do, Matt? Any time I try to explain my side, I’m accused of being defensive and that I never listen to her. I DO listen to her. I just disagree with her.”

I get that.

Believing that what I was doing was disagreeing with my wife, and being consistently baffled by what I interpreted as my wife demanding I agree with her.


She didn’t need me to agree. And she definitely didn’t need me to try to fix anything for her.

She needed her husband to be one of the people in her life who genuinely cared when she was experiencing pain.

Someone willing to help shoulder the load during life’s difficult moments. Not abandon her to figure it out for herself because “It’s not my problem and you don’t want my help anyway.” You don’t help by offering solutions. You help by demonstrating that it matters to you that she’s hurt.

When someone is in pain and you love them, an appropriate action is to show concern and support. Not scorn, mockery, dismissal or abandonment.

My wife needed her husband to be someone who worked in partnership with her to modify behaviors that would reduce or eliminate hurt.

My wife felt pain, and I was in a position to contribute positively by:

  1. Showing loving concern and support.
  2. Mindfully adjusting things I said or did if they could help heal wounds or stop bad things from happening.

But I did neither of those things.

I wasn’t trying to be an asshole. Seriously.

I wasn’t trying to be a shitty husband. I loved the woman intensely.

And that’s how all of my male clients feel too.

They’re trying to be good guys and good husbands, and repeatedly are told that their version of love and support aren’t good enough for her.

They don’t see the pain.

But they must. It’s the only way.

She hurts. And you’re in a position to offer loving emotional support, which is one half, and you’re also in position to literally reduce instances of her being hurt.

It’s easy enough, in theory. It’s just extremely difficult in practice, because you must mindfully stop reacting and responding in the same ways you’ve been doing your entire life.

Her: “This bad thing happened and it hurt me.”

Him: Instead of worrying about whether I agree that something bad happened, and instead of worrying about whether she SHOULD be hurt by that thing, maybe the most loving and supportive thing I can do for her right now, is behave EXACTLY HOW I BEHAVE whenever she feels bad because of something that I do easily recognize and understand.

“I understand why you feel that way. I’m sorry that happened because you didn’t deserve it and I never want you to feel pain. I’m here in whatever way helps the most.”

If the bad thing that happened and is hurting her is being attributed to something he did or didn’t do, the STFU Method primarily entails NOT trying to explain how she misunderstood or misinterpreted or otherwise made some kind of mistake that renders her feelings about it ‘wrong.’

“I understand why you feel that way. I’m sorry that happened because you don’t deserve to feel that. Because I never want you to feel pain, I really want to understand how this happened—whatever I’m missing—because I’m here in whatever way helps the most. Always.”

When the People You Love Ask You for Help

That’s what this is most of the time.

It’s not nagging. It’s not complaining. It’s not criticizing. It’s not picking on anyone.

Usually, it’s someone feeling hurt and vulnerable asking their partner to help them not feel that way anymore.

It’s not ‘wrong,’ to share your honest thoughts and feelings in return.

It just so happens that doing so is statistically correlated with shitty relationships and ugly divorce.

If you’re stuck in this cycle, I implore you to reframe what your partner is doing, and instead of making judgments about whether it’s right or wrong for your partner to feel a certain way, PLEASE accept on faith that they DO feel whatever bad thing they say they’re feeling.

Sad. Embarrassed. Angry. Anxious. Afraid.

And rather than offering all of the reasons why they are incorrect for feeling the way that they feel, either because you interpret the situation differently, or believe that emotion is an overreaction to what’s happening, just love them.

Listen to them. Try hard to understand them. Ask questions if you have to.

Stop making it about you. Make it about them.

Comfort them. Reassure them. Support them.

Love them.

And if you must, try using Dr. Leary’s radical form of therapy.

Shut the fuck up.

23 thoughts on “Break Toxic Communication Habits with The STFU Method”

  1. “Approximately zero percent of people would intentionally enter a relationship (marriage particularly) believing that it would sour and become unhealthy.”

    … I love it when you use stats to support your articles ?

    But really? This is great.
    I was confiding in my ex-husband about something, about 2 years into our marriage. He sighed and said “i just want to be happy and have fun.” Felt like a knife. It’s nice to understand both perspectives here… thank you for this, one of the simplest things we can do better in marriage – communicate with intent or STFU.

  2. Yes, I’ve been married many years and this article does describe a dynamic in my marriage. I’ve finally figured out that my husband doesn’t connect through sharing thoughts and feelings. Verbally sharing is the only way that makes sense to me, though, and I am absolutely starved for it. How can a couple connect without it? What IS connection from a man’s point of view?

    1. In my opinion, men too will connect through sharing thoughts and feelings, but generally will do so about “good news” things rather than “bad news” ones. Look at men embracing each other when their team has scored a goal. Or see if your man wants to share feelings when he’s had a good pay rise. What men are not used to doing is sharing feelings about bad news, especially if there’s nothing that can be done about it.

      1. Mike, that sounds a little like avoidance.
        But, I do think you touched on a general premise of why men communicate vs. why women communicate.
        [(-as a generality, not as a rule
        -along with the generality is various degrees of difference
        -I make no claim as to the source of the difference (whether biological or social)]

        What it sounds like you’re saying is that most men will communicate in order to make a plan and execute an action but also to share in celebration. Great! Positive feelings are awesome.
        But…there is a certain amount of life that isnt positive, and it cant be changed.

        Im not advocating dwelling on these things and become a misery to yourself and everyone around you,.. but they exist. Cancer, (or any illness), loss of parents , loss of a child. Getting fired, having someone you trust betray you in some way, being condescended…
        none of these things feel good, and they have a huge impact on us and are out of our control.

        We wouldnt have bumper stickers that say “shit happens” if it didnt.

        I think for women relaying events or issues, that may even seem negative, are a way of relaying her emotional experience.

        She’s just letting you know what she’s feeling, “where she is at”…and when her husband/boyfriend/partner is able to just be present for that she feels a hell of a lot less alone. Which in turn makes whatever shitty thing that happened feel a little more tolerable to deal with.

        IE: the solution she is really needing is you to just be present, so she can have the strength to do whatever she needs to do with the shitty thing she is talking about.

        Dont offer her options of what she should do (unless she expressly asks), come knowing the solution is to allow her just to feel her feelings in front of you.

        If men feel better being action and solution oriented, then this is the action and solution that would be most helpful.

          1. In other words, men too communicate to relate and to be seen.
            But we learn already from early childhood to better STFU unless we have something positive, and/or something to contribute.

        1. Nonny,
          I pretty much agree with you that in a relationship, we must be open to communicate and relay events and emotions that are negative as well as positive.
          And, there is also usually a noticable difference in communication between men and women.

          I think a lot comes down to how we think about men who try to, as you say, relay negative emotional events. What are the expectations? Are we (general we) as positive to hear a man out, or are we just expecting men to “suck it up” to whatever negative “shit” happens to them?

          I have seen relationships and marriages fall apart after being struck by tragedy. And I’ve heard more than one man lament a situation where there was no room for him to grieve, where the emotions of his wife always took precendence and he had to bottle up his own thoughts to try and provide some kind of stability. And then in hindsight be accused of being “cold” and indifferent to the world.

          Also in everyday life, how much patience do we have with men who need to just “vent” on a daily basis, compared to women? How many derogatory terms are coined and flung around in pop culture and social media about men who need some kind of emotional support.

          Being respected and listened to in a relationship is great and all. I guess that’s something we all crave, or at least could benefit from. But it has to go both ways, and I don’t really think that’s where the discussion in general is heading today.

          Hope you have a great 2020 as well.
          Personally, 2019 was pretty awful, and 2018 too, so I just hope to see some light at the horison.

          1. Kal,
            I can agree that often times there are repercussions for men expressing their emotions.
            It’s a thing, but I do think there is more awareness about this than there has been in the past.

            I want to make clear that being present for your partner should be mutual. It’s a way to support one another.
            I don’t want to get caught up in pointing fingers at the opposite gender or gender blaming.

            Speaking in generalities : men tend to be action oriented , seeking a solution to be DONE.

            In the same general way women tend to be relationally oriented, seeking a way to be together in the moment.

            It can absolutely go back and forth within the relationship or be demonstrated in varying degrees.

            This isn’t about male or female / right or wrong.

            Matt is writing from a male perspective, addressing men and this is a common male behavior.
            It doesn’t mean that women are right or don’t have their own issues they need to address.

            I pick up a lot of feelings of injustice and that life isn’t fair in your response.

            I’m not saying those things aren’t valid. Yes women suck at allowing men to be vulnerable.

            But we all have to do what we need to do to be responsible for our own lives.

            I’ve had pretty shitty things happen, I’ve lived in circumstances that were not just or fair , I’ve not had things that were very much needed.
            It totally wasn’t my fault.
            But I still have to take action (even and especially mental action) every day in order to make things better for myself.

            Being dropped in a pile of mud is not often done by our own volition. (It wasn’t our plan or our fault)
            But once were in it, it is absolutely our own volition to stay in it or get out of it.
            The mud is,more often than not, really more about the thoughts and feelings (aka attitude) we have abou the situation than the situation itself.

            I really just want to say that as an encouragement. It’s totally possible for your circumstances to not change, and you feel ok about it.
            (Not in a hopeless, resigned way either- but in a way that demonstrates internal strength and wellbeing.)
            I am
            Hoping for this for you.

          2. Nonny,
            Thank you for your reply. And sorry for my late reply. I’ve been on travelling feet, and I don’t much fancy writing “essays” on my smartphone… 🙂

            Yes, we are all sharing (mostly) from our own experiences.
            And I’m offering the perspective that men (at least a few, some, most of them?) are the way they are for a multitude of reasons. Most men aren’t born that way, nor do they simply wake up one day in early adolescence and decide to become lazy and daft to their own and other people’s emotions.

            My experience is that it is OK for me as a man to share my emotional weakness, insecurity and/or grief in an emotional “safe” environment, But only as long as there’s no woman within that same group who also expects to share or vent, because then my vulnerable emotions are expected to take the backseat to hers and be stuffed away so that I can be the comforting, solid, stoic “rock” that she needs instead.
            Failing to do so will immediately prove to her that I failed to step up to the situation, that I’m not the man she thought I was or expected me to be, and she will go on to treat me accordingly.

            It’s not so much bitterness or resentment on my part. It’s mostly just how it is.
            You said yourself that women communicate to relate and to be seen.
            I’m stating that men often want to communicate mostly the same way, but that there are way more terms and conditions that they need to consider.

            As to Matt’s text about improving communication with the “STFU method”.
            I’ve tried that too. But in my experience, I could never figure out in what situations I was supposed to STFU and be understanding and sympathetic, and when I was supposed to come up with ideas and solutions. And I mostly got them mixed up.
            Trying to ask, in a benign way, is rarely much help either, because that’s usually a queue for the “you care so little about me, it’s no use trying to explain anyway” speech.

            Again, I’m speaking from my own experience, and for what I’ve seen and experienced in my community.
            As you say, if I’m handed a big enough pile of mud, I can choose to dig myself out of it, or I can choose to learn to get along living in it and try to make the best out of it. Perhaps if I rally a big enough group of friends, together we might be able to shovel it all away. But I can’t really be expected to shovel it all away all by myself, and still come out squeaky clean on the other side.

            Here’s hoping you had a great couple of holidays!

          3. Kal, you said “Again, I’m speaking from my own experience, and for what I’ve seen and experienced in my community.
            As you say, if I’m handed a big enough pile of mud, I can choose to dig myself out of it, or I can choose to learn to get along living in it and try to make the best out of it. Perhaps if I rally a big enough group of friends, together we might be able to shovel it all away. But I can’t really be expected to shovel it all away all by myself, and still come out squeaky clean on the other side.”

            This is going beyond the scope of this blog, and I will likely not be able to help you to the extent that it takes, but I believe this statement is a huge core belief that keeps you exactly where you are at- and unsatisfied in your life, or at least your relationships with women.

            The expectation that you need others to, or others are suppose to “dig you out of the mud” is false.
            It’s hard to discuss this in metaphor alone, because well- we may be talking about two different things while we think we’re talking about the same thing.
            So let me recap-
            Bad things happen. The mud the is murk that happens in our own heart and minds due to pain.

            It is possible to feel pain, dissappointment , betrayal- etc and to be able to heal from
            It. For it to make you a more compassionate person, in fact.
            But it is up to the individual and individual alone to not stay hurt…To ruminate, and marinate in the pain.
            Pain is the body’s way to warn of danger.
            If it hasn’t taught you anything , and you continually make it the truth of your life then that is one staying in the mud.
            No one wants to be the one to have to pay for what someone else did, and it’s nobodys job to convince you to change your mind and attitude.
            That’s yours.
            So, you have to be the one to dig you out.

          4. Hi Nonny,
            It may have been a bad metaphor, or I did a bad job putting words to it. Either way I’m sorry, and I’ll try to do a better job.

            I was referring to the “mud pile” as the societal set of conditions or prejudices that are imposed upon us as men and women. In this particular case about how we deal with expectations around communication and emotional support, since that was the subject of the blog post, and our prior discussion. (Also, English is not my first language, so I may be off regarding some nuances or choice of words?)

            As I tried to say, I can learn to live in the situation as it is, and be as happy as I possibly can as it is.
            Or, by “digging myself out of it”, I can extract myself from the current situation and try to find new friends, new partners within other social circles, people who are less concerned about how men and women “should” be and who are more inclined to support each other along less traditional gender roles.
            Or, I can try to gather people who can work together to change the “mud pile”, i.e. the roles and expectations, from the ground. That doesn’t mean that I think I need, or expect, other people to dig me out of the mud. More that it probably require some kind of paradigm shift throughout society that is a bit too large for me to handle by myself.

            As for myself, I guess I’m part digging myself out, and part learning to live in it.

            I have stepped out of situations and relationships that proved to be very one-way-oriented regarding communication and emotional support, situations where I’d tried my best but couldn’t go on anymore.
            I have sometimes stayed in situations that were emotionally, financially and/or practically more or less difficult to get out of. Then I’ve tried my best to live with the situation as it is, but also to learn from mistakes and adapt to the situation.

            This might mean I haven’t learned, healed, or been compassionate enough. I don’t know. Only, I thhink I’m doing the best I can with what I’ve got. Is it enough? Who knows? Who’s judging?

            Sorry for rambling.

      2. Mike – That’s an interesting point. But i think men will share bad feelings, too. Like griping if he didn’t get a raise he thought he deserved. I think it might be a distinction that men do not share in order to connect but rather share because of connection.

        1. jeffmustbeleast

          I think that is a good way of putting it. Men are generally less likely to share bad feelings, and I do think some of that is cultural, but I also think a major reason is the way men feel like they earn respect. I think most men have a very real need to appear strong and in control. Most men feel respected if they appear this way. Because of that, I believe a lot of men are less likely to share anything that may make them seem needy or weak.

          I like the way you put it in your last sentence. Men don’t share to connect, but they do share because of connection. I think that is very accurate.

  3. That’s a really good article. I like the way you explain it.

    Having said that, it needs to be used with skill and judgement. We don’t want this:
    Her: Hey babe, the car won’t start.
    Him: Oh, that’s so sad, tell me more about how that makes you feel.
    (Just kidding)

  4. Admittedly, I don’t have an ocean of relationship experience, only a handful or so. But the little I have is that once we’ve been “settled in” to the relationship, say somewhere around the 6 months mark or so, Whenever She’s come home to say that something bad happened that she wanted to share, then if I didn’t try to offer a solution I was an inconsiderate buffon who didn’t care for her happiness or wellbeing.

    BUt maybe I’ve just had a streak of bad luck, I don’t know.

  5. Yeah, well… Be the YES Man she needs! Extra points for you if she is a narcissist or compulsive/obsessive. Which statistically is not that rare. Then just nod when she’s telling the same story every f… day, about somebody who did not meet her standards again (mother, brother, coworker, obviously yourself). I stopped making any suggestions a long time ago. But just seeing her burn inside every time somebody as much as looks at her in a wrong way just makes me want to be somewhere else. Being there feels like walking on broken glass. And now I expect no goddamn advice from you people, remember it’s validation time! Just kidding, roast me all you want 😉

  6. Hi Elwood. No roasting, I promise. It sounds like youre in a tough situation.
    Some things to note: Personality disorders , and illnesses like true OCD *are* rare. If they were common, they would be normal- and not a disorder, but just how people are expected to operate. With true personality disorders the whole crux is they will not change, no matter how many times the same issues come up, or no matter what evidence is given that contradicts the beliefs they are operating from.

    That being said, maladaptive behaviors can be common. Most of the time our adult maladaptive behaviors were actually how we adapted and survived our childhoods. So they worked for us at one time. But as we become adults obviously the circumstances change- but we may still respond emotionally (Even if we believe it is a logical response) in very similar ways that we did as children. Given the chance, most people can and will make changes to these behaviors- when given the things they need to make the change.

    In relationship, one cant pander to someone elses maladaptive responses forever (or ever, really- though I do think you can kindly be open and honest about what you see happening and how that affects you, giving someone an opportunity to make changes) .
    Ultimately, I dont think that pandering is what this post was about at all.
    Its about listening and being present for your partner.
    And not carte blanche either. It all should be framed in respect, and awareness..meaning, that any complaining or “need to talk” should be done when when the other person is emotionally and mentally willing/ able to be present. If they arent ever willing or able to be present I would say that is an accurate reflection of the relationship as a whole.

    The point isnt for one person over the other to “Win”, or have power or control over the relationship..the point is to have a more unified, cohesive, coherent, flexible, meaningful, deeper relationship. When I know I have been listened to, that meets about 90% of my emotional needs. It tells me that I matter, I am respected, I am not alone …that gives me so much more in my reserves for things that happen at work, or with the kids, or even within the relationship. It really and truly goes a much longer way than any advise that can be given.

    I am sorry to hear about your personal experience. All I can say is Its not your job to “fix” her or change her. You can only be responsible for you.

    Hope you have a Great New Year! …(man, so soon??)

  7. Also this, two functional adults (relatively…) share a life within the same four walls. They both work fulltime jobs, but they don’t have kids so their lives should be somewhat free and joyful, right?
    Why is it then that most every evening we should emotionally connect by her scrutinizing in minute detail every somewhat negative angle of every interaction she’s had during the day?
    I get that sometimes you’ve had an exceptionally bad day and you have to blow off steam. A customer screamed at you or your boss thought you weren’t up to your usual performance.

    But on routine, day-to-day basis, why not leave your job in your office and try to connect over something you have in common? Be proactive about something that you might both enjoy? Perhaps “I’d like to see this new movie on Friday. You up for it?” instead of “My mom and sister are going to museum X on Saturday. I’m thinking of joining them. What do you think?”.

    Most of my relationship experience are with women whose first priority was their job. Then in falling order came the wellbeing of family, extended family, co-workers, friends and acquaintance, and then somewhere the state of our relationship. Making plans for a holiday or even a weekend getaway often proved futile, because there were so many people she seemingly wanted to be with rather than to be with me, so she always kept several doors open for other opportunities.

  8. Why can’t we agree to disagree?
    a) You can – just not all the time. Who wants to live their life with someone who *constantly* disagrees with them?

    I currently live with someone who likes for me to listen to their stories (positive and negative) and be empathetic to their point of view but who will dismiss me and my thoughts / feelings in a heartbeat.

    Me: please put your laundry in the hamper (said almost every day in life). I don’t mind washing your clothes but it would help if you put them in the right place.
    Him: Why are you always trying to start a fight?

    And I don’t buy this “it’s because he’s a man – they communicate differently”. From what I can see, he’s perfectly empathetic with other women in his life (e.g. his mother, sister, boss).

    1. Yeah, no, that’s nothing to do with “he’s a man and they communicate differently”.

      I think it’s important to be clear about what a “disagreement” is. I was recently in a conversation with someone, he said he likes to meditate in the morning, I said I like to meditate in the evening. Someone else said something about us disagreeing. I said no, we agree perfectly. We agree that he prefers the morning and I prefer the evening. That’s not a disagreement!

Comments are closed.

Scroll to Top
Matt Fray

Get my latest writing!

Sign up for my free weekly email newsletter as I continue an on-going exploration of love and relationships.