1. If you must criticize, do it constructively, gracefully, and hardly at all.
If you intend on criticizing a man, ensure that you do so constructively. A man with a healthy amount of self-esteem can usually handle criticism, especially if he’s in some type of leadership position. But that doesn’t mean he’s going to always enjoy being criticized by his woman. In fact, he’ll probably never enjoy it for the most part. Constant criticism will put your husband or boyfriend on the defensive and he’ll develop the habit of NOT sharing his inner most thoughts, feelings, desires, and ambitions with you. The long-term product of your criticism and his “shutting you out” is a relationship filled with resentment and a loss of emotional connection. You can still express your feelings and get your needs met without chastising a man with your words. Remember, don’t treat him like a child, treat him like a man you respect…YOUR man.
2. Make him a criticism sandwich.
Now the time may come when constructive criticism is a necessity. In those times you make him a criticism sandwich. Instead of telling your man how much he sucks, give him some praise and appreciation first, state exactly what you think could use some improvement (do this with grace and tact), and then lavish him with more praise and appreciation. For example, if your man sucks at helping you with the dishes and you’d like for him to help out more, try something like this: “Honey, I love how thorough you are when you do the dishes, it’s great how you pay special attention to making sure that everything’s spotless. It would be wonderful if you could help me with the dishes at least twice a week because it makes me feel like you enjoy helping me out. I think we make a great team, and I love it when you’re so thoughtful of me.” Now, you can pick my example apart if you want, but the science behind it is sound. Any reasonable man will be more than happy to acquiesce to your request because you took the time to approach him in an attractive, non-critical manner.
3. If you need to have a serious conversation, give him a non-threatening head up.
Telling a man, “we need to talk” might cause him to put up his defenses way before the conversation even begins. Even if you’re upset, there’s a good chance he might already know that. So try not to make him feel as if he’s in “big trouble” before a serious conversation. I’ve never met a man who says he enjoys hearing “we need to talk” from his woman. For men, this sort of phrase stirs up memories of emotional freak outs, lover’s quarrels, or a simple reminder that he’s not making you happy and that your mom was probably right about him. Okay, I’m exaggerating, but you get the picture. Men fear the worst when they hear this phrase.
4. Don’t bring up a past fault unless it’s extremely relevant.
Bringing up something he did wrong in the past is a recipe for communication disaster. Remember, don’t complain, condemn, or criticize. Bringing up old dirt to help you “win” the argument will only make him feel like crap; either causing him to shut down or get on the defensive by bringing up your old dirt as well. This is a game you don’t want to play with your man if you value your sanity (and his emotional well-being). Keep it clean and focus on the present.
5. Don’t bruise his ego to make a point.
Never attack a man’s ego, no matter how pivotal your point may seem. If you desire a more favorable response during an argument, avoid attacking his self-image. What I mean is, if you know he has a particular insecurity about something, don’t use it against him. If you do, he will blindly defend himself (or shut you out) regardless if your “point” is reasonable or not.
6. Avoid hostile facial expressions.
Nothing causes a man to throw up his defenses faster than a woman with a scowl on her face. Your body language is extremely important when communicating with a man, because nasty looks will turn him off before he even knows what’s happening. Think about it. Most men have had YEARS of conditioning because of good old mom. When mom gets upset, she scowls. When mom scowls, boy knows he’s in trouble. When boy knows he’s in trouble, he knows punishment and/or pain usually follows. Boy does not like/want punishment or pain. Don’t make a habit of showing your man just how disgusted, angry, or frustrated you are with him before you even begin talking. If you do, he’ll want to avoid communicating with you altogether just to avoid “punishment.”
7. Be reasonable.
Ladies, I think we can all agree that men are just a bit more reasonable when having an argument or disagreement with the opposite sex. The reason is because most men are naturally much more pragmatic in how they see conflict. It’s extremely frustrating as a man when you’re trying to get your point across but she’s just not hearing what you’re saying. She hears the words that leave your mouth, but because women process information differently it means something else to them. If a man is trying to communicate with you to get you to understand his point of view, try to be more reasonable. In truth, there are varying degrees of reasonability, and I think it’s a communication quality that can be developed. I’ve met unreasonable men and unreasonable women, and let me tell you, communicating with all who fall into this category is nearly impossible. If your husband, boyfriend, or potential beau is taking his time to help you understand his point of view, take a step back, take note of your emotions, and ensure that they’re not hindering your ability to understand what he’s saying. Be the woman that can listen to reason. It is a rare feminine quality, and therefore HIGHLY attractive to a man.
8. Don’t expect him to argue with you on YOUR emotional level.
I’m often stupefied at how women can outthink men on their feet even when they’re emotionally compromised. When a man is emotionally compromised he either shuts down, shuts up, or…shouts. A woman on the other hand can attack, counterattack, and verbally react with amazing speed. Smart men know this. And because we know this (yes, I consider myself a “smart man”), we’re not going to try to argue with you on your emotionallevel. When we lose our cool, we can’t think straight. There’s only one of two ways a man can go when he loses his cool, he either gets really angry or he gets really anxious. So just because he’s not flying off the handle at you, crying, or embracing you passionately when you flare up does not mean he doesn’t care. There’s a good chance that he’s really listening, but he either doesn’t want to say or do something to hurt you or he hasn’t the slightest clue of what to do next to bring you back to “normal.” Trust me on this. The minute you lose your temper or start to break down (especially if he’s the reason for it) he immediately begins searching his mind for the right words to bring you back to normal.
Some men have never been trained to utilize their own emotional intelligence when a woman expresses certain intense emotions. Instead of embracing her, he may sit there overthinking her every word in his head trying to find the right thing to say. He doesn’t know that sometimes (most times) it’s better to act than to speak. The solution? Next time let him know that you expressing yourself emotionally might be an indication that you need him to show you that he cares in some way. He may not realize that sometimes your emotional outbursts are just subconscious tests of his resolve to see if he’ll always stand by you, even when you’re not at your best. If you don’t tell him what you need when you need it (and maybe remind him every so often before you lose it) he may never know. That is, of course, unless he reads a book like this one.
9. Understand his communication habits during conflict.
We all handle relationship conflicts differently. Some people have been brought up to confront relationship issues boldly while others were trained to just bury their feelings or blow up the relationship entirely. You and your man’s communication habits for resolving conflict will determine how effective you will be at dealing with your disagreements. If he’s a quiet, stoic thinker and you’re a quick-to-act, emotional livewire, you’re going to have some challenges. I believe that it’s healthier to get things out in the open to resolve your issues as best as possible, but even I know that this isn’t as easy as it sounds.
If you can first accept your man’s communication habits (the reality of how he is) you can be more understanding with him as he tries to understand you. Trying to change a man’s way of handling relationship conflicts DURING a relationship conflict is both impractical and impossible. These are actually two separate issues. It’s one thing if he never remembers your anniversary (or birthday), but it’s another thing if he completely mishandles your emotional discontentment.
10. During an argument, don’t create an audience.
I can say this with confidence that most men – reasonable, quality men – don’t like drama. No matter how angry or frustrated you get, don’t give him reason to ignore or resent you because of the audience you’ve created. Arguments are best reserved for privacy or for a relationship counselor’s office, not for the public to see. Raising your voice and throwing your hands up in the air while flailing them about like one of Jim Henson’s Muppets is going to make it difficult for him to communicate with you in a rational manner, especially if he has to reprimand your behavior publicly. No man in his right mind wants to have to treat his wife or girlfriend like a misbehaving teenage daughter throwing a public temper tantrum. So don’t give him a reason to. I could go on and on about this, but I think you get the message. Don’t make a spectacle of your relationship problems in public. Save your arguments for the privacy of your own home, car, or wherever.
11. Disagree respectfully.
Men don’t mind being corrected or disagreed with once a woman does so with respect and politeness. Actually, let me correct that. Reasonable men don’t mind being corrected or disagreed with, especially when communicating with the woman they love. The problem arises when a woman’s way of correcting or disagreeing with a man is disrespectful or rude. What this means is observing the way you communicate with your man to ensure that you’re not sending the wrong message across. It’s the message behind what you say that he really hears. For instance, if he wants to start his own business this year but you think it’s a stupid idea, for heaven’s sake, don’t tell him that you think it’s a stupid idea. He wants your support and admiration more than anything, so the message behind what you say to him matters the most.
If you struggle with this, try talking to him as if he’s your co-worker or even boss. You wouldn’t insult, belittle, or ignore your co-worker (hopefully) even if you disagree with them. In a healthy working relationship you’ll ensure that you speak your mind but in a respectful manner to effortlessly reach a win-win solution. Remember, don’t be an obstacle that your husband or boyfriend has to fight against just to reach a sensible resolution to your conflict. It’s tough enough that you have opposing views on a subject, don’t make it even more difficult by making yourself a hindrance to his reasonability.