In our last post I talked about many woman prefer an Empathy first response where as men respond far better to a Validation response, “You make sense to me.” However the first block that many women face is getting their partner to participate in a discussion at all.
There is a secret permission that many woman ignore because they don’t normally need to use it with their girlfriends or even with close male friends. Women tend to operate from the assumption that talking about issues is a good thing that will help you resolve emotional issues, get closure and feel better. This is typically based on decades of socialisation and experience. The vast majority of men do not share this assumption. For most men talking about issues tends to highlight some area in which they have failed or could have done better. Since men tend to evaluate themselves on a task basis if you (woman) are upset I (guy) have failed and so it connects me with a sense of shame and failure and my experience is that any conversation starting with the phrase, “We need to talk,” is a conversation best avoided.
Now as men we are adept at avoiding conflict. Negotiating high school requires us to learn multiple ways to avoid humiliation, conflict with the bullies or big kids, or unnecessary conflicts with our male friends because if we fight the odds are that we will lose that friend permanently. So if you picture our islands we have moats, castle walls, crocodiles, barbed wire, land mines, snipers etc. Whereas women tend to invite, relish and initiate connection and will often take significant risks for connection, men tend to prioritise safety and will sacrifice connection if there is a perceived safety threat.
Because of this difference most women blithely assume that it is ok to go wandering over to a man’s island and then feel shocked, attacked, ambushed when they trigger one of the man’s defenses. In a woman’s world she would love it if he would paddle over to her island and surprise her with a picnic and a small gift. Men on the other hand get really stressed when there is an unidentified intruder on their island.
So the permission is simple – it goes like this. “I would like to talk to you about planning Christmas holidays this year, would now be a good time to talk about it? What this does is engage the man’s adult brain (neocortex) and gives him a chance to consciously evaluate the invitation. The invitation bypasses the automatic defense system in the baby brain (amygdala) and gives him the chance to consider it rationally and say. “Sure now is a good time” or, “Actually I’m really busy.”
There are three keys to a successful invitation.
The first is that it should be invitations should be inviting – smile, touch, appreciate – your tone is one of the most important keys to successful invitations. Remember men do want to be connected but they will prioritise safety and will actively avoid unsafe situations.
Secondly, invitations should be specific. The specific invitation also tells him which part of his island you want to come to (and some areas are more available than others e.g. “I would like to talk to you about how to sexually pleasure you more,” is a conversation few men will turn down. Other areas may be significantly more defended money, sexual issues, family problems and others are likely to attract some blocking (we will talk more about some strategies to negotiate heavily defended areas in a later post). It also gives him an idea of how long the conversation will take. Many avoidant men have a huge fear of the never ending conversation. In fact it can help to say I probably need about 10 minutes or half an hour – and stick to that time frame.
Thirdly an invitation can be declined. If an invitation cannot be declined it is in fact a demand which is a specific threat. So expect your man to check if if he can say no – he will test this. The thing to remember is that if you invite a conversation and he declines and you respect that (i.e. no tantrums, demands etc) you automatically became safer in his world. Invitations make a man feel respected, desired and valuable these significantly soothe the baby brain.
In the next post I’m going to look at a specific skill you can use to increase the odds of your invitations being embraced.
* I apologise in advance for the gross generalisations in this blog. These generalisations hold true for about 80% of couples where the woman is the expressive talker. For about 20% of couples the reverse is true and these strategies will work very well for a woman who tends to shut down.