Disclaimer: Hypocrisy is the worst. I was a shitty husband who shortchanged my marriage, frequently chose me-things over my wife and am now divorced. I’m in NO position to be “advising” women on how to improve relationships. Please trust that these ideas aren’t being hollered from an imagined pedestal. They’re merely humble suggestions I hope can help someone’s relationship fare better than mine.
- Assume Good Intentions You are probably married to (or dating) a pretty good guy. Defaulting to a position of positive intent will make a huge difference in your relationship. It requires Herculean efforts to speak and behave with loving kindness to someone who just said: “You’re a jerk for making me feel bad and ruining my day.” (No human being should ever have unlimited power over your emotional health. We should have partners we can inform about the feelings we felt after something they did, and trust that they’ll care enough to not do something that hurts us. But if someone can MAKE us feel something — if we’re giving them that power — then we have a major problem with personal boundaries.)
- Enforce Boundaries Vigilantly Many men demonstrate the ability to be likable, good guys who routinely hurt their wives or girlfriends. Good men can be shitty husbands and boyfriends. Sometimes this happens because their wives or girlfriends don’t enforce personal boundaries, allowing relationship-damaging things to continue without consequence. Men usually hurt their partners because they lack a certain level of understanding or skillset about relationships and emotional intelligence. Thoughtless, selfish, inconsiderate behavior is a common complaint among dating and married women, and an oft-cited reason in the 70 percent of divorces initiated by women. We don’t get to change people. But we DO get to vigilantly enforce personal boundaries. When you enforce personal boundaries and refuse to tolerate bullshit (kindly, but clearly), you may find yourself ending painful relationships or no longer seeing people you like. The guys who respect and honor personal boundaries are the guys with whom relationships can go the distance.
- Offer Words of Respect and Admiration Men often report feeling loved but not respected nor admired. In a relationship, this is very bad. “They may forget what you said — but they will never forget how you made them feel,” Carl Buehner, a high-ranking Mormon church guy, famously said. Some guys respond to praise for a job well done on a home project or expressions of gratitude for a gift or something he planned for her. Others respond to random compliments. Don’t be fake. Believe in him and say so. Encourage him to be whatever it is in life he wants to be. If you can’t think of something you respect and admire about your partner, or believe he’s capable of personal growth or achievement, one wonders why the relationship exists in the first place. Identify the good things.
- Argue and Criticize More Effectively One of the biggest causes of the aforementioned feelings of disrespect men feel is the perception that their wives or girlfriends are criticizing, complaining about or nagging them. To argue or criticize effectively, your goal shouldn’t be to WIN. The goal should be to ARRIVE AT TRUTH. To borrow from philosopher Daniel Dennett:
- Attempt to re-express your target’s position so clearly, vividly, and fairly that your partner says, “Thanks, I wish I’d thought of putting it that way.”
- List any points of agreement (especially if they are not matters of general or widespread agreement).
- Mention anything you have learned from your target.
- Only then are you permitted to say so much as a word of rebuttal or criticism. (I think if everyone magically followed these steps, the world would change overnight)
- Treat Disagreements as Colorblindness Instead of Battle Imagine the world before vision specialists were able to prove colorblindness is real. How could two people looking at the same thing ever come to agreement on what they saw? Person #1 says it’s orange. Person #2 says it’s green. Through their respective lenses, they’re both correct and incorrect. Perspective, context and frame of reference can sometimes impact how true or false something is. You (or your partner) are probably colorblind and it’s probably damaging your relationship. I believe that more empathy is needed for the moments in our relationships that aren’t just black and white. Maybe the reason your partner seems so sure of himself in another frustrating round of The Same fight you tend to have is because you’re BOTH right.
Matthew Fray is a writer, single dad, divorced guy and creator of MustBeThisTallToRide.com. Likes: Funny stuff, books and not divorcing.