Can women really claim to be fairer sex?
THAT'S MEN: Maybe men are not emotionally illiterate after all
IS IT REALLY true that women are the experts on relationships and that men are generally illiterate when it comes to matters of the heart?
Many people have long thought so, including, I suspect, most women. To a large extent, I have tended to accept that view myself in the past.
Now I’m not so sure. An article by Dr Scott Haltzman on the men’s website, menweb.org, is prompting me to change my mind.
Haltzman points out that “despite their marriage vows to endure better or worse, women are more likely to react to marital unhappiness by leaving”.
Most divorce proceedings are initiated by women. It is easy to make the assumption that this is because a woman who ends marriage to an emotionally illiterate man has to initiate the proceedings all by herself because he is too lazy or unconcerned to get the ball rolling.
Couldn’t it also be the case, though, that some of these women are just not as good at enduring a troubled relationship as men are? Do some of them, in other words, cut and run more quickly than men do?
Most arguments in the household are begun by women, according to Haltzman, who cites a figure of 80 per cent. And women are more likely to criticise their husbands than the other way around.
It has to be acknowledged that women do most of the housework, child rearing and catering in the family, even where husband and wife are both working full-time. This, no doubt, accounts partly for the fact that women are more likely than men to raise criticisms and issues. When it comes to sharing the burden, they have more to complain about.
But could it also be that women are more likely to complain, not because they’re incredibly good at spotting problems in the relationship, but because they are too quick to spot problems, to the detriment of the relationship itself?
When women complain, men often back out of the conversation as fast as possible. Stonewalling, as this is called, when taken too far definitely contributes to the breakdown of marriages.
But must everything be discussed? Must every feeling be brought out into the open? Must every sliver of marital dissatisfaction be dissected minutely on the kitchen table?
Defensiveness often characterises men’s reactions to women’s concerns. Unremitting defensiveness is bad for any relationship. Haltzman quotes the marriage researcher John Gottman, who found that in successful marriages husbands resist giving immediate negative reactions to their wives’ concerns.
This isn’t about becoming a doormat. It’s about holding off on the instant defence and considering whether she might be right or whether her request is reasonable before making a response.
One long-married man, who contributed to Haltzman’s relationship forum, secretsofmarriedmen.com, said he used to put up an argument whenever his wife asked him to do anything for her. Finally he realised that most of the things he argued about were things he was going to do anyway. So he quit putting up pointless arguments and thus improved the relationship.
Note that he figured this out himself. So maybe men are not as far behind women in working out solutions to relationship problems as many might think.
In what I have written so far, I have mingled Haltzman’s points with my own opinions. So if there’s anything there that annoys you, blame me and not him.
On the forum, men – and sometimes women – talk about problems in their marriages and get very reasonable and well thought-out advice from others. It’s the best of its kind that I’ve come across and, whether you’re a man or a woman, well worth a look, at secretsofmarriedmen.com/phpBB2/
Padraig O’Morain (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a counsellor accredited by the Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy. His book, Light Mind – Mindfulness for Daily Living, is published by Veritas. His mindfulness newsletter is free by e-mail.