Understanding The Woman In Your Life
Steve Vinay Gunther
© Lifeworks Publications
for internet reading only
If there is one thing women say they want, it is to be heard. ‘I just want to be heard’. This sounds so simple, but the way men usually listen doesn’t fit the bill.
Basically, it’s a skill to be mastered like any other. Learn the technique and then practice it. Barbara Graham calls it ‘aural sex’ because it is one of the ways that women get turned on.
The first part of listening is straightforward. You pay full attention. That means not reading the paper, thinking about what you have to do tomorrow, or building a counter argument. It means having some level of interest in what she is saying.
It’s not a good idea to interrupt. If you are busting to go to the toilet, or have a time limit, or if she is taking up all the space in the conversation, interrupt. Otherwise, keep quiet. Sometimes this requires physically biting your tongue. This is well worth doing.
If for some reason you can't or don’t want to pay full attention, or the topic is really not interesting you, then say so. She may react, especially if you put her off repeatedly. But pretending to listen is much more destructive than being honest. The best way to avoid the likelihood of a negative reaction is to say, ‘this is not a good time for me to listen to you, I am distracted/need some space. Lets talk … (e.g. tonight after dinner).’
Here is a basic caution: don’t give advice or try to solve her problem. Well at least not straight away.
If you respond immediately with advice its called premature closure. If you are like most men, you quickly tire of listening to compaints; you want to get in there and do something about it. Most of the time however she won’t be anywhere near ready to move on so quickly.
The result will almost certainly be that she won’t feel heard, even though you believe you are listening with full attention and responding in a way you think is appropriate.
So if you don’t give advice, what do you do?
This is the second part.
It’s very simple, and very difficult.
You acknowledge how she is feeling. It's like being sympathetic without the syrup. If she doesn’t actually tell you how she is feeling (i.e. she is in complaining mode), ask her. Or you can take a bold step and imagine: ‘I imagine that must really frustrate you.’
If she is expressing a resentment, you can be pretty sure she just wants to be heard. Don’t defend, don’t make excuses. Just listen. It's hard to hear someone else’s pain, particularly if you think it's your fault. Well, listen anyway. It’s an important life skill. It’s worth the effort!
Acknowledging how she is feeling is usually preceded by a simple formula: ‘I hear that you are feeling…….’ Sometimes it’s all she needs; you will see her visibly relax when you say this. The trick is to stop after this statement; allow some time for it to sink in that you are simply there for her. Don’t explain, justify, suggest, analyse, criticise, or put in your two bobs’ worth.
Usually your partner’s complaints will appear to be a demand for action or advice. But often all she wants is for you to understand how she is feeling. If she really feels understood, her demands may dissolve. If she doesn’t feel heard, even effective action about the complaint will not completely satisfy her. The skill required here is called Empathic Listening.
For instance she might say, ‘I am really annoyed that it's been a week and you still haven’t fixed the tap on the washing machine, it's making such a mess.’
If you are like most men, you skip over the ‘annoyed’ bit and focus on the ‘fix it’ bit. Who wants to focus on someone else’s annoyance? Easier to move straight into the solution – ‘I’ll fix it now’. The trouble is, she probably wants you to really hear her annoyance first. She wants you to take it in, acknowledge it. First.
A case in point
Sutara, was heading off on a long trip, and decided to leave very early in the morning. When she woke up at the appointed hour it was raining. I was half asleep when she said, ‘I don’t know whether to go now or wait till it’s light.’ My brain was not in full gear and I mumbled, ‘well why don’t you go seeing as you are awake anyway, and just take it slowly’. She didn’t like that answer so I tried the other base, ‘well why not just go back to sleep and leave when it gets light.’ That didn’t go down well either; I was running out of responses. Her reply says it all: ‘I don’t want you to give me a solution, I just want you to hear my dilemma.’
The best time to give advice or offer your solutions is when she asks you specifically for that. If you are just bursting at the seams with your perfect solution but she doesn’t seem to be getting around to inviting you, ask first if she wants to hear your suggestion.
And what if she rejects your perfect solution? If your self worth is tied up in being Mr Fixit, you are probably going to feel personally rejected. This is just going to create another problem, and now there are two problems, rather than just the original one.
So watch out for any hidden expectations:
Spot the hidden contract? It goes like this: ‘I have given you the right answer, so you should be solving this in my way.’ This is a unilateral contract, and if you press it, you will end up in strife.
The gift of an open ear
Time. Not a lot of us have much time in this busy modern world. Whether you are a full time dad, an employee with pressure from underneath and on top, or the boss with early morning starts and late finishes, time is generally a precious commodity.
By the time you get to the evenings you may still have a lot on your schedule, whether that’s jobs around the house, helping the children with their homework, doing a hobby, or getting to your favourite TV show.
What with all this busyness, it can be hard to find time to just hang out with your partner. Perhaps when you talk with each other it’s about what you have to do tomorrow, or what you didn’t do yesterday.
Here is a simple suggestion that won’t cost you anything… except a willingness to slow down time. Doing this is like giving her a gift, and believe me, she will certainly appreciate it as such.
Ensure that you carve out some space where you neither of you will be interrupted. Tell her you want to spend some time, just talking with her. Tell her you don’t have any particular agenda, you would just like to hear how she really is. She might need no more encouragement that this, or you could ask her a few starter questions such as:
‘How do you really feel about your life.’
‘How happy are you in your work.’
‘Tell me what you enjoy most about our relationship.’
‘Tell me something about you I don’t know.’
Then, listen. Make an effort to be as open and receptive as you can. Be curious about her inner world.
If you haven’t done this for a while she may initially be suspicious. She may query you as to an ulterior motive – why is it that suddenly you are taking time out and listening to her. Tell her whatever you want – you read it in this book, or perhaps you just want to sit down and really make contact with her.
She probably won’t need much more encouragement than that. This is one of the ways in which you can most please your woman. This kind of intimate contact is what she craves, and it’s such a simple thing to provide. She will feel valued and loved, and that will work for you in both the short and long term.
You will probably discover in the process of doing this that you enjoy the increased quality of contact. You might even find yourself insisting that you have this kind of time together regularly.
Do you consider yourself a good listener? Do you believe that you listen to her in the way she wants? Here is a listening test:
She tells you that while she was buying a new desk the salesman was rude, and afterwards she discovered that he overcharged her.
How would you normally respond? Check out if you do any of the following:
Then you can offer support or try to be helpful.
Listening is not everything. One time not to listen for very long is when you are getting dumped on by her; you know, that feeling of getting run over by a freight train. Just end the conversation, and don’t try to get the last word in.
The whole listening thing is sometimes confused by a wild card: the coded message. This is a statement which seems to mean one thing, but in fact means another.
The challenge is to:
1. work out if there is a hidden message
2. if the answer is yes, then decipher what that message is
This requires very advanced skills.
It’s dangerous to jump to conclusions straight away or play the analyst, accusing her of double messages or hidden agendas: ‘I know you really mean something else’. That is just putting fat on the fire.
The best way to determine if it’s a code is to listen to your gut feeling. You will have a sense that something doesn’t fit, something else is being asked for. It’s like when a kid says, ‘I just want to go into town to look around,’ and you can hear in their voice that they have in mind something more devious than window shopping.
Let’s say she proposes something outrageous such as, ‘I want to move to Greenland’.
Perhaps she has always had a dream of going to the wild, and now she wants to do it with you; perhaps she wants a colder climate to live in. No coded message.
On the other hand, this may be an indication that she is sick of having so many people around and wants more peace and quiet; or she may feel things are too heated between you and she wants to chill out a little. Who knows?
Don’t jump to conclusions such as: ‘That means we will have to sell everything, and buy 3 sets of winter clothes’. Don’t go to the reverse end either, and rubbish her idea. Both extremes are the opposite of good listening and are not going to help you unlock the code, if there is one.
Begin by taking her at face value; ask her to tell you more about it and then listen hard. A powerful invitation is: ‘So tell me exactly what it is about that idea that appeals to you’. Or: ’What is happening in our lives that makes you think of this idea?’ By exploring her feeling and thinking in this way, whatever she is trying to get through to you will be revealed without unnecessary dramas.
Here’s a coded scenario. It’s her birthday and you say, ‘what do you want to do tonight? Let’s go out for dinner’. She says, ‘no, it’s not that big a deal. We can just stay home.’
But…she really wants you to ‘prove’ you care and love and value her. Decoding the reply you might realise it’s a cryptic invitation: ‘please tell me I am important and that I really deserve to have a special night out.’ In this case, it is best that you don’t take what she says at face value.
At this point, like many men, you are likely to throw your hands in the air and want to give up ever trying to understand exactly what it is that women really want.
Don’t give up. You can work it out, with patience and skill. Although it’s not always a formula, once you understand her pattern of coding you are more likely to be able to accurately interpret what she says. You are never likely to get to 100%, but if you can understand what she wants 70% of the time that is ‘good enough’ partnering.
I don’t need to tell you that this is all part of the exasperating and challenging joy of being in relationship with a woman. Ultimately you need to listen with your male intuition. It’s the deep ancestral knowing you inherit from countless generations of men who have applied themselves to deciphering what women want. The operative question being what your woman wants, in this situation at this time.
Keys to making a difference
 Graham, B, Women Who Run With The Poodles. Virago, London ,1994