First, check out the introduction post here before you get started. Also, if you haven’t read the summary for Chapter 2 on Respect & Chapter 3 on Insecurity you may want to do that as well. This post will assume you’ve read them.
Disclaimer: this is a summary of Chapter 4 in the book For Women Only not my own thoughts, feelings or research.
Let’s get started.
Your tl;dr of this post is this: Men address issues by pulling away to process and think first so that later they can communicate more clearly.
It’s almost a cliche for a married woman to say of her husband “we have trouble communicating”. What this means in reality, is that we don’t often communicate in the same way as our men. Caring men want to communicate with their women. The problem arises because how they go about it is different from how we might prefer. Understanding that there is a difference goes a long way to smoothing over conflicts.
How to read his signals
How many of you have hear something like this before: “I don’t know what I’m thinking... I just need a few minutes to decompress before you hit me with your day... Can we please talk about this later... Sorry honey, did you say something?”
We might feel hurt or brushed off when he says these things so it’s important to remember that these are not signals of a lack of care. These signal the difference ways in which men process and talk about emotions.
Men have to think something through before they are able to talk something through. We women are completely different because we usually think it through by talking it through. This actually comes down to a bit of brain science. The connections between hemispheres of the brain allow women to do fast, surface processing of many ideas at the same times. We will circle through options and this gives us more clarity and helps us feel better.
Men do not process the way we do at all. They are internal processors, he has to think about it before it’s possible to speak about it. It is actively difficult for many men to think something through by talking it through. A man’s brain is wired to process one thing at a time and he goes deep on each topic. Your average man can talk about it, feel about it, or think about it but rarely all at the same time.
Pressing your man to talk, especially right now, only makes it harder for him to think through the topics that you want to discuss. What’s more, it’s even harder if there are emotions involved, like when a “discussion” is really code for an argument. Often men’s preference is tol step away so that he can get distance to think first.
And boy does he think it through. When you are talking through every possible scenario and feeling with your girlfriend, he’ll be reflecting on each and every option quite deeply. He does this by considering the first line of thought as completely as he can. Then once he is finished that thought along with all it’s implications he will move on to the next line of thought / option / scenario. Once he has run through the scenarios he will consider his feelings and all the implications about that. Then, finally, after he’s examined everything he’ll be ready to talk to you.
“I don’t know what I’m thinking or feeling” is Man for: “I don't know what I’m thinking or feeling now but I will know later once I have time to process everything”
Even more important, if a man is going to talk about something important, he needs to know that so he can include ‘how do I communicate this’ in the processing. Some men explained to the author that it is possible for them to think through everything and still not be able to talk about it. If they know ahead of time they will have to explain ‘why’ then that gets included in the thinking process.
Emotions inhibit the ability to articulate.
Men’s brains are more geared to act on things whereas women’s brains are geared to talk. This difference means that women often perceive men as having no feelings. This could not be further from the truth. Men have as many internal feelings as we do, but they don’t always have words to put to the feelings. It is easier for men to do something about their feelings than it is for them to talk about their feelings. The author explains it this way:
Guys don’t like to talk through things on the fly because they don’t know where the conversation is going. Not knowing where the conversation is going causes discomfort whereas for women it’s the whole point. On the flip side, men don’t like to ask for directions because there is a sense of adventure in figuring it out. A woman, on the other hand would feel uncomfortable driving without directions because she doesn’t know where she’s going.
Men need time.
The solution that enables men to properly think things through is so basic you probably already know it. Men need time apart. This is particularly true on issues of emotional importance but really with any important issue men need time and space for their internal processing. This can mean a few hours to a few days depending on the guy and the issue.
In the surveys men said that they felt better able to talk about something big the next day. Brain science backs men up here. Men more than women will not know what they feel at the moment of feeling and will take longer to figure it out. It will also take men longer to express feelings into words. Science tells us that it takes a man, on average, about a 7 hours to process something emotive. One man explained that he needs a cooling period before being able to rationally work through what is wrong. Some men do just “check out” (ie: they aren’t processing anything, they are just avoiding) but in the research this is rare. Give him processing time, your discussions will be much more productive and communication will be smoother if you do
Men think through everything.
We often make the assumption that they take action and don’t think at all. This is, of course, only an assumption we making when he does something we disagree with. We then stare at him as if he’s grown a third head and exclaim: “What were you thinking!” What we mean, and what he hears is: “You weren't thinking you naughty boy!”. And we all know the problem with that implication.
Over the course of researching the book, the author began to ask friends if she could jump in when she saw situations of conflict. She’d ask the husband “Wait! What did you think before you did that?” Inevitably the man comes out with a long list thoughts that ran through his mind before he took an action. She discovered that there is always reasoning behind every action.
When surveyed, 8 out of 10 men said that when taking an action their wife didn’t like that they had thought about it ahead of time. What’s more, ⅓ had even considered (and dismissed) their wives’ objections.
Once again, we are brought back to the respect chapter. When he does something that we find inexplicable, do we respect our men as rational adults with pure motives... or are we thinking “well that was stupid, what was he thinking?” Mistakes are inevitable - a man’s ideas won’t always work out, but our ideas won’t always work out either. Disagreement is healthy and sometimes necessary. It is important that we go into a discussion or disagreement assuming the best intentions of your mate.
Sometimes men need to think nothing.
A man is going to need time when he doesn’t have to think of anything at all. Do you rush him at the door or give him space? Because at the end of the day, when we want to talk, he probably just wants to collapse and channel surface. The same processes that require men to think and process everything on a deep level also mean that a man needs time to reset. He’ll accomplish this reset by doing something mindless that helps him to ‘make more room’ in his brain.
Work with the way your man is wired instead of against it. No one is suggesting that our partners shouldn’t also make an effort to work with how we are wired, but this is about you and what you can change. We can adapt and do things that are important to our men even if those things don’t come naturally. Since some realities don’t change, like the way their brains are wired, we’ll be so much better off if we bend our behaviors to fit their needs. Give him time to process before asking him to communicate (Honey, I’d like to talk about X, when would be a good time?), or give him time to empty his brain before dumping more on him (that half hour after work that he needs to unwind can be crucial).
If you are unsure ask him how long “later” means. Demanding our men discuss things before they are ready can even hit their insecurities as men. If he can’t process as quickly as we can in a discussion, he may feel insecure, unable to communicate or less smart.
Make the best assumption of your mate. Recognizing and understanding how men process thoughts can help to alleviate so much conflict within the relationship. You know he’s a good man, give him time he needs to be the man you know he is.