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When I work with couples, one of the most common complaints I hear from men is that they feel criticized and unappreciated by their partner. Many of their partner's behaviors help create this impression, some subtle and some not so subtle: negative comments, disapproval, reprimands, fault-finding, rolling of eyes, criticism, nagging, solving problems, offering advice, or questioning their partner's actions and decisions. I also hear the same complaints from women; however, recent brain research indicates that men are more vulnerable to complaints and criticism from their partner than women are.
We often assume that women are emotionally more sensitive and more susceptible to criticism than men. However, the studies say otherwise. It turns out that men are highly stressed when their partner is unhappy, and therefore, complaints or criticisms are very taxing. For men, making a difference in their partner's life isn't just a nice idea; having their partner happy actually serves as a testosterone stimulant.
Most men will tell you that their aim in their relationship is to make their woman happy. It is a great surprise to me when women not only don't know this but actually feel their happiness isn't a priority to their partner. The difference in how men and women respond to stress may help to explain this miscommunication.
When women are stressed, they need nurturing, and they recharge by talking to a good listener. When men are stressed, they need to go into their cave by watching television or reading the newspaper or recharge by accomplishing something. One of the last things men want to do when they need a recharge is to sit around and chat. Plus, guess what women tend to do when they get overwhelmed and frazzled without anyone to listen? Yep. Complain and criticize. See the difficulty brewing here?
If your partner starts feeling like they need a hard hat, it's time to reconsider how you're interacting as a couple and learn to communicate in more positive ways. In our hectic lives, it is common for both partners to be overwhelmed and stressed at the same time.
Since men and women need different things to de-stress, a conflict can ensue when both are stressed in a relationship. The key to reaching more understanding at this tense time is to honor each other's different needs. Both need the support of their partner in getting their specific needs met.
Where couples often err is on the receiving end of behavior. Many people personalize the behavior of their partner and react in an attempt to defend their own needs. But what if you didn't personalize your partner's behavior? Consider seeing negative, and sometimes hurtful, behavior as a signal that your partner has an unmet need-for example, the need to relax and regroup or the need to be nurtured. If we depersonalize our partner's behavior and encourage them to get their needs met instead of playing tug-of-war, this will allow us both to recharge quicker, reconnect with each other sooner, and create more loving relationships.
Imagine you're driving along at a nice speed and suddenly you have to screech to a halt at a stoplight just as it turns red. If you're in a hurry, you might curse in frustration, but no matter what you do in response, you cannot change the color of the light. Depersonalizing your partner's behavior is similar to realizing you can't change a red light. No matter how hard we may try, we cannot change or control another's behavior. What we can control is our response to it. We can depersonalize the behavior so it doesn't trigger us. Our true power to influence our partner in a positive way lies in choosing to respond lovingly rather than react impulsively.
Is this easy? Not at first. Does it take effort, practice, and perseverance? Yes. Is it worth it? Depends on how important that person is to you and how precious the relationship. The good news is: If you apply this simple strategy regularly, it gets easier and more natural. And your relationship becomes increasingly connected, fun, and meaningful.
Even though men's brains may get more stressed than women's when their partner is unhappy, it doesn't mean that it's a one-way street. Men and women both have needs and both want to feel heard and appreciated. We all get stressed, and we all need understanding. In other words, work together to ensure that the needs of both of you are met so you're at your best in your relationship.
Jennifer Williams' passion lies in helping parents and couples create loving and harmonious homes and communities where everyone can thrive. Jennifer's life mission is to give children and families the support and skills they need to flourish and to help build a society in which all children are loved unconditionally.
To learn how to depersonalize your partner's behavior successfully, please refer to my step-bystep process, "How to Depersonalize Your Partner's Behavior So Your Partner Doesn't Need a Hard Hat!" in the Thirty-Day Stretch
She is the founder of the Heartmanity Center and is a highly sought-after relationship expert and behavioral consultant with a proven road map to heal relationships from the inside out. Yet, Jennifer still prides herself most in being the mother of 3 grown children and in a happy marriage of 32 years. To learn how to quickly shift your life and relationships, visit www.Heartmanity.com.
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