As a heterosexual man married to a woman, I can safely say that being in relationship with Sonika, and other women before her, has provided me with the biggest continual learning opportunity and the biggest blessing of my life.
In previous relationships, I routinely bombed. With Sonika, I’ve turned that trend around and now I routinely get it right (feel free to verify this with her:-). To a large extent, my previous failures and my current success can be boiled down to how much or little I understood about being in relationship with a woman.
Clearly, I was not alone in having difficulties understanding women or feeling baffled about how to succeed in my relationships with women. For many years, Sonika and I have worked with couples and singles to help them create empowering, deeply satisfying relationships. During all those years, we have seen the common misconceptions about women and men play out in relationship. (Also see this post about understanding men).
If you’re a woman in relationship with a man, you’ve probably experienced feeling puzzled, frustrated, or flat-out heartbroken at his lack of attention to connection and intimacy, or his inability to “meet” you heart-to-heart when things get difficult.
If you’re a partner to a woman, you’ve probably been equally frustrated at her insistence on talking about problems and “making a big deal” out of conflicts that appear insignificant to you.
These are small illustrations of where men and women are prone to misunderstand each other. And in relationship, misunderstandings are the first seeds of frustration, hurt, and breakdown.
After the honeymoon
Here’s a personal example. In a previous relationship, I got together with a kind, smart, gorgeous woman. We really liked each other and had hopes for our potential future. But as the relationship matured beyond pure honeymoon infatuation, she began to voice concerns about my “not showing up” and “not being present”. At the time, in my male mind, I couldn’t make sense of those complaints. I argued that since I was always on time, mostly willing to help with stuff around her place, and wasn’t sleeping around, she didn’t have the right to say I wasn’t showing up. I told her it was unfair, and I did a good deal of mansplaining about why she really didn’t need to feel that way.
She, on the other hand, did not have the ability to help me understand why “being present” and “showing up” was important to her. From her point of view, it was ridiculous that she even had to explain something so obvious. She was incredulous that I didn’t get it.
Yearning for deeper intimacy
She was right, by the way. I wasn’t’ showing up and I wasn’t present with her. I have since learned that it’s entirely possible to be on time and helpful and faithful and still not really “be there”. She had a yearning for a deeper kind of intimacy and connection that neither of us understood nor could turn into something practical we could use in our relationship.
Another frustration she had with me was an issue we’ve heard from hundreds of women. She was tired of being the one who always spoke up for the relationship; the only one to point out where we needed help or needed to talk. Again, to her it was clear as day that we needed to talk or do something, anything, to improve our connection. But I brushed it off as “making a big deal out of nothing” and “every couple has problems; it’ll pass, it’s nothing.”
Common complaints about women
If I were to list to the most common complaints women’s partners have brought to us, it’d look something like this:
- She makes a big deal out of nothing
- She talks for hours on end
- She changes her mind all the time
- She’s impossible to please
- She’s too emotional
- She’s always criticizing me
- She nitpicks
There are many more.
Sometimes these stereotypical assessments are said in earnest bafflement by partners. Sometimes they’re yelled in anger and exasperation. Sometimes they’re part of the steady stream of bullshit men have told women for centuries. And sometimes they’ve been repeated so frequently even women themselves believe them.
Most of the time, these assessments are off the mark. Not to say any given woman, or women in general, can’t display facets of those stereotypes. They can and sometimes do. Just like I as man sometimes display facets of male stereotypes, like how men can’t multi-task, or how men are always trying to fix their partners instead of listening. Stereotypes can have elements of truth to them.
Here, I’ll focus on just one of those stereotypical assessments and look a bit deeper.
She makes a big deal out of nothing
If you’ve ever told your wife or girlfriend that she’s making a big deal out of nothing, your next step will be to dismiss her and stop listening to her. In the process, you’ll make her feel disregarded, and unless she’s extremely self-assured, your dismissal will make her doubt herself. Bad cycle!
That’s exactly what happened with my partner and I in the example above. I told her she shouldn’t make such a big deal out of it (“it” being my lack of presence in our relationship). I effectively gave her the message that her concern was not valid, and that I knew better, and perhaps worst of all, that she shouldn’t trust her own instincts that something was off. I succeeded in making her doubt her own instincts – so much so that she dropped the issue. As a consequence, we both missed out. Our relationship missed out. We didn’t make it.
“She’s making a big deal out of nothing” convinces everyone involved that there’s no problem when there really is one. It might not yet be a life-or-death level problem, but it’s still an issue when one or both partners don’t feel safe, happy, or taken care of.
What do to
Instead of dismissing her when she speaks up about a problem, here’s what to do:
- Stop saying, “You’re making a big deal out of…”. Just quit it. It’s infuriating to women and it shuts down what could be an important exploration for your relationship.
- Assume she’s got a valid point, even if you don’t understand it yet.
- Assume she is speaking on behalf of your relationship, and that she’s probably sensing something that you haven’t registered yet.
- If you can, validate her concern directly. In my example above, I might have said to my partner, “Yeah, you’re right, I don’t really want to engage in this conflict”. Granted, that takes a level of self-awareness I did not possess at the time. Or, if you can’t validate it, you can …
- Ask more questions, be curious. You could say, “How do you mean?” Or, “Say more about that …”. Or, “What makes you say that?”
- Then zip it and listen.
- Thank her for speaking up! Thank her for paying attention. Thank her for looking out for your relationship.
- If you are the woman bringing something up, say these things to yourself. If you have a tendency to doubt yourself or dismiss your “hunches”, try instead trusting your intuition and assume you are on to something.
In this post, I’ve focused mostly on one common stereotypical assessment of women, i.e. they make a big deal out of everything. This assessment gives rise to a myriad of misunderstandings, which in turn create more triggers, fights, and hurting hearts. It’s just one of many misunderstandings that get in our way of creating harmonious, loving, effective relationships.
I gave you a few ideas for what you can do instead. If you want a more comprehensive approach with more practical tools, consider doing our 90-minute mini-workshop, How To Love And Understand A Woman.
In this mini-course, you’ll get a much deeper insight into the heart and soul of women. You’ll learn …
- Why she needs to talk, and what “the point” is
- How to help her open to you and trust you
- What she really wants (often, she doesn’t know, so she can’t ask for it)
- How to be a trustworthy partner to a woman
- How to make her happy and give her what she really needs
- How to talk effectively to a woman, or as a woman, and get more of what you want in your relationship.
Mini-workshops are easy courses to attend. You join from anywhere, like your kitchen or bedroom (yes, some couples attend from their bed:-) and you get to practice new tools with your partner on the spot. Plus, it’s the most affordable way to get a quick infusion of connection and skills practice.
On the last mini-workshop we hosted, which focused on how to love and understand men, a man was really touched to see people genuinely trying to understand each other better. He said, “I’m so stoked to see how many people turned up with the intention of understanding each other and figuring out how to interact with each other better. It touches me … thank you all!”