"He Just Doesn't Understand"

More Relationship Communication Challenges

What you want: To vent
What you say: "Listen to what happened to me today."
What he hears: How would you fix this?

What's happening: "Men are problem solvers," says Dr. Doherty. "When they offer unsolicited advice it's their way of trying to be helpful. What they don't understand is that a woman feels 'helped' when she is sympathized with and listened to."

What to know for next time: Tell him precisely what you want to get from the conversation. "I want to tell you about something that happened today," you can begin. "I just need to vent about the situation; you don't have to try to fix it. Can you hear me out?"

What you want: More help around the house
What you say: "This place is a mess."
What he hears: This place is a mess.

What's happening: In his mind you are making an observation, which he is free to agree with, disagree with, or ignore. He may be thinking anything from "It sure is" to "You think this is messy? You should've seen my college dorm room!" We often wish our partner would see that we're upset, and we believe that because they love us they should figure out how to make us feel better, says Dr. Doherty. "But most men just don't think about logistical things in emotional terms." In other words, this statement is never going to inspire him to leap to his feet and start Swiffering.

What to know for next time: State your wants and needs directly so there's no room for misinterpretation. Try this: "I get really stressed when I come home and see the house like this. Let's sit down together and come up with a system that stops it from getting so out of hand." Keeping your words and tone neutral is the key to avoiding a defensive comeback. And consider this: If you can explain why you need something -- for instance, you grew up in a cluttered, chaotic home and always felt anxious there -- it helps to deepen the understanding on your partner's part, Dr. Bradley explains, and may make him more receptive to the request. Sucks to be her! "I hate making the kids' sandwiches every night."

Happy Couple Tip: Pay It Forward

What's the difference between couples who stay together and those who don't make it? Relationship experts at the acclaimed Gottman Institute, in Seattle, found the answer through four decades of observing couples. "We call the happiest ones Masters. They're in a stable, satisfying relationship with consistently positive behaviors and interactions," explains Dr. Renay Bradley. One thing Masters have gotten down pat is something Gottman researchers call the "emotional bank account," which is an accumulation of those little things you do in a given day to make each other feel special and loved. "These aren't diamond rings or vacations to Hawaii," Dr. Bradley says. "These are things like saying 'thank you' to each other, and telling your partner you appreciate him or that you're lucky to be with her. Research has shown that when we take the opportunity in our everyday interactions to create an overall culture of appreciation, the inevitable spats or harsh words between partners aren't so harmful." We'd call that advice you can take to the bank.

Originally published in the August 2013 issue of Parents magazine.

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