Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Distant Men, Frustrated Women

Distant man

Women often view men as being insensitive and for good reason. But one way that men are sensitive is to criticism. Women are typically able to understand feedback designed to improve the relationship versus criticism of the woman herself.

Men have great difficulty distinguishing between personal criticism (you are falling short as a man) versus relationship feedback (you aren’t giving me enough attention). Both forms of feedback tend to trigger an inner voice that says, “You are falling short; you’re a loser in her eyes.”

When men experience shame they typically react by withdrawing or lashing out defensively. Each response serves to create a barrier to further shame. This protection comes at a price for the relationship as their partner feels rejection just as she was attempting to suggest a repair for the relationship.

Men who have received much shame as a child grow up with a protective barrier which easily goes up at the smallest sign of disapproval. Even normal withdrawal of attention or affection can lead the man to feel he is falling short and worthy of shame. Instead of asking for feedback and reassurance of the connection, he is more likely to withdraw or lash out in anger.

So how do you give feedback to a man who is hypersensitive to rejection? Many women allow resentment to build within rather than risk their partner’s defensive anger/withdrawal. A better approach is to offer feedback based on describing your own views, feelings and desires rather than talking about your partner’s behavior.

For instance, you can say, “I have felt disconnected for the past week; I would like to spend time with you so that we can reconnect” rather than “I feel ignored when you spend so much time at work.”

Now understand that either approach can trigger a defensive response but the first approach is challenging him to address your views and feelings not his behavior. If you are met with a defensive response, avoid becoming aggressive. Instead, show your vulnerability (i.e. being sad rather than mad)  but be firm in asking for him to appreciate your views, feelings and desires.