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October 31, 2003

Yet More Husbandly Inadequacy

Dear Friedrich --

Something was clearly bugging The Wife. Nothing major, I could tell, but there it was. So I steered her over to the couch and asked what was up. She mentioned a problem she was having with a project she's working on. Being, as I like to fancy myself, The Man Who Isn't Afraid of a Woman's Feelings, I asked if she needed to vent a bit about it. She said she didn't, so I launched into a discussion of the substance of her topic. I was gentle and sympathetic, pulling it apart and looking at it from this angle and that. What could be more helpful?

After couple of minutes, I realized that The Wife was finding me anything but helpful. In fact, she was glaring at me. What was up? Well, I got told that I was doing that male thing of disregarding her feelings. Why was I being so bossy? Why wasn't I being sympathetic? (Bewildered Blowhard response: "But I am being sympathetic!") And what made me think she'd been looking for advice anyway? (I hadn't been aware that I was giving advice.)

A few minutes of minor emotional scuffling ensued. I never know what's going on during these episodes, do you? The Wife on the other hand seems to be in her element. Everything, all the "issues" and stresses that confound me, seem hyperreal and hyperobvious to her. I often suspect that she enjoys the feeling of power she has over me during these moments; the image that usually comes to mind when I think of these scuffles is pretty basic. We're in the ring; she's the young, invincible Mike Tyson; and me, I'm backed into the corner with my head ducked behind my fists, hoping it all ends soon without resulting in too much brain damage.

Somehow, as always, a few minutes later, we were chuckling and snuggling. How we got to this point I have no idea, although I suspect it had something to do with her having wreaked sufficient (ie., outlandish) emotional havoc on my soul -- in her calculations we were now even. Feeling semi-manly once again (hey! I'd survived!), I foolishly dared to point out 1) that I'd made a point of checking in early on in the discussion to see if she wanted to spend time on her feelings before we started actually discussing her project, and 2) that I'd only starting discussing the substance of the topic after --

She stopped me here and said, "No, you were handing out unwanted advice."

"OK," I said, "but I only started handing out unwanted advice after you explicitly told me that you didn't need to do any venting."

And she made this response, with really impressive conviction: "But you should know that when I say I don't need to vent, I really do."

Not for the first time, I find myself ruefully marveling over the number of things a husband is supposed to know about how to handle his wife. Do you suppose there's a school where I might spend a semester working on remedial skills? In any case, I suspect it'll be a few days before I'm once again up to donning my cape and emerging as my alter ego, The Man Who Isn't Afraid of a Woman's Feelings.

The Wife then headed off to lunch with a girlfriend. Afterwards she looked happy and pleased with life -- she's moved on. What had been so great about lunch? Well, she explained patiently, she'd gotten a chance to compare notes with another woman. For several hours, they'd fussed with bits of food, they'd finished each other's sentences, they'd pulled their men's characters apart, and they'd talked about their feelings. So she feels better now; she's once again her usual, fluffed-up self. Me, on the other hand, my head's still spinning. But fondly and adoringly, of course. Do you ever feel like you play George Burns to your wife's Gracie Allen?

I offered The Wife the last line of this posting if she'd let me write up this episode for the blog. Here's what she said, in a sweet if rebuking tone: "I don't want to have the last line. I want you to change."



posted by Michael at October 31, 2003


My advice. Get her to talk about something that she is highly interested in. Depending on how well you guys know each other you may pick up on what is bothering her. When she starts to talk about the unrelated subject, in the back of her mind she is still thinking about what is bothering her. Her word choice and how she approaches aspects of the unrelated topic will drop clues what is bothering her. Pay specially attention to her body posture and language choice. She won’t want to talk about the unrelated topic at first but sometimes after that initial annoyed look she gives you, she will start to talk effortlessly. At the end of 15 minutes to a half hour she may bring up the subject on her own without prompting and it will probably avoid an outburst, because after all she brought it up not you. When you launched into the topic she may have felt like you were interrogating her.

If despite your best efforts she gets irate remember “I” messages.

I am not a big fan of the above link but I can’t find a better example on the web. A lot of psychology books centered on relationships should have a section if not a chapter dedicated to this method of getting along.

This all assumes that you are level and centered when dealing with the wife. If you are not centered your best bet is just to keep quite and let her do all the talking. When she hits one of those dramatic pauses “your right” “that’s awful” “and then what happened” “They didn’t” “what do you think you should do”, pick the one that fits and let her take off again. Every time she hits a dramatic pause pick the most appropriate phrase or make up one yourself. If she becomes insistent on advice say you would like to sleep on it and tomorrow a better solution will come to us while we sleep. She will be a little mad, probably say you are distant. Usually she will make up her own mind by the next day. Depending on the wife it may not be a good idea to give advice. Some think men are stupid anyway.

Since you said lets sleep on it, it may actually be safe for you to bring up the topic the next day. The best way probably is to ask "what have you decided?" So when she comes up with an answer and it is one that YOU can live with tell her how much of a great idea it is. If she comes up with a bad solution don’t tell her a different method, ask her if it is the best solution for all involved and gently get her to talk about it. If she does not want to talk about it now and is hell bent on the solution she came up with. Remember the I messages.

Posted by: ShipShape on October 31, 2003 3:45 PM

Years ago my husband and I watched some show on PBS about male/female communication. It was cute and funny but the gist of it was that women want a "Poor baby!" response from their husbands and men want to give "12 point plans for self improvement." Women want to vent and commiserate and men want to FIX it. So now when something's bugging and the husband notices it, he is wise enough to ask if I want a "Poor baby" or a "12 point plan."

And our new line, after recently rewatching "Cool Hand Luke" is "What we have here is a FAILURE to communicate!"

Quit beating your head against the wall, Michael. It's what makes it interesting.

Posted by: Deb on October 31, 2003 4:57 PM

If you haven't read it, you might take a look at this piece by Dean Esmay that discusses exactly the phenomenon you have encountered.

Posted by: Doug Sundseth on October 31, 2003 4:59 PM

Hmmm. Given my own recent personal experience, I have one thing to say: "you can't make people change." Love 'em or leave 'em.

Posted by: Courtney on October 31, 2003 10:16 PM

Now hold on just a sec. Doesn't anyone take this as it's offered -- as an amusing snapshot of the kind of mess we all stumble into even if we've had a decent amount of experience and even if we've read all the books explaining the diffs between the sexes and such? I mean, who doesn't wind up in bizarro misunderstandings, no matter how well you generally navigate things? And the picture of The Wife -- ditsy and flakey and Carole Lombardish, but also more strong, insightful and solid than I am? Pretty vivid and funny, no? (Very true, too -- and how about my gallantry in presenting her in that way? Cute and winning, no?) And that last line, where I've offered her the posting's last line and she declines it but even so it's still the posting's last line -- I mean, how bent-back-on-itself and po-mo can a line be?

Sheesh, maybe it's time for me to give up on these relationship postings. I think they're sorta funny and sweet myself, but if no one else does ... Sulk. Pout.

The Interpersonal Relations and the Dean Esmay are both pretty good, by the way, thanks ....

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on October 31, 2003 11:27 PM

Hey, I appreciate them. As I've long said, marriage is in no way a natural state, and so married people have to develop all sorts of little tricks and dodges to get through the awkward little moments we all find ourselves in. Thanks for cataloging a few of them.

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on November 1, 2003 11:20 AM

The problem is, men's 12-point plans are worthless. It's not about Mighty Joe Guy giving useful advice designed to solve the problem at hand - it's about Mighty Joe Guy putting on a "I'm being manly!" hat and changing the script from her problem to his ego parade.

Not that M.Blowhard would be guilty of this. Or Fried. Or my dad. Or the dear dear friend who is taking me to dinner this evening. No, I'm talking about all those other mens. That "typical" ones. Not you lovely gentlemen.

Speaking of living in the moment - men, at work and in my love life, have a terrible habit of brutally refusing to acknowledge that what happened in the past has an affect on what is happening today. At work, I have project plans and memos to make my case. In love, women have few responsible options. One can't, after all, say "But, darling, we not only have you signing off on this deliverable four full months ago, we have 16 updates mails in which you stated clearly, and unequivocally, that you were on track for the deadline."

"It's no accident that most women who exhibit the tendencies you've described are middle- to upper-class and White." Tim - put down the crack pipe. That shit makes you see things.

Posted by: j.c. on November 1, 2003 12:33 PM

Am told my previous posts were out of line. Did not mean to offend, but did anyway. My bad, and I'm sorry.

Posted by: Tim Hulsey on November 1, 2003 4:03 PM

Thanks, Tim, that's appreciated. Nice to have you joining in with comments...

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on November 1, 2003 7:24 PM

*chuckle* Sorry, lately my thoughts are a bit serious. And Carole Lombard is waaay out of my reality. ;)

Posted by: Courtney on November 1, 2003 10:53 PM

The very funniest thing about this whole comment chain??? MBlowhard needed to "vent"---by writing his blog---everybody jumped in with "advice"---see "shipshpe"---and Michael got all pissed off! "I wasn't ASKING for advice..."

Gee, who does that sound like???

Posted by: annette on November 2, 2003 2:53 PM

My feminine side emerging, I guess.

Not pissed-off, though -- just pouty. I like taking these little relationship snapshots and passing them along, and hope people are amused by them. I'm hoping that everyone's jumping in to give me advice is a sign they're amused, or at least recognize a little something there.

But very, very pleased as well that anyone's paying any kind of attention at all, believe me.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on November 2, 2003 4:11 PM

Michael, I like these posts!

And what I should have said is "Poor Baby!"
Sorry about the 12 point plan!.

Posted by: Deb on November 2, 2003 8:17 PM

I thought the "poor baby" and "12 point plan" thing was great!

I guess I'm just hoping -- whimper, pout -- that someone, anyone will say, Oh, that's so funny and apt, that's just what marriage is like, even a good marriage is full of these moments, gals and guys, eh?

Oh, wait, I did just get patted on the head by Deb.

OK, I'm better now.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on November 2, 2003 11:40 PM

I'm evidently in an applause-hungry mood today. But didn't anyone (anyone!) think the business about me putting on a cape and emerging as my alter-ego, The Man Who Isn't Afraid of a Woman's Feelings, was pretty funny? Have I lost my touch entirely?

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on November 2, 2003 11:42 PM


It is funny. And close to home for a lot of people. If back peddling was a proffessional sport I would be it's MVP.

I will aproach the blogs with a bit more levity.

Posted by: shipshape on November 3, 2003 3:45 PM

Actually, Michael, when I read that bit about the cape etc., I had a brief vision of you in red underpants trailing a bathtowel for a cape, chasing your wife around your apartment demanding to know what she was feeling. Some visuals I just dont need to think about, however.

Posted by: Deb on November 3, 2003 9:16 PM

Between that "climb ev'ry mountain" thing and this, I think Deb has a towel fetish. I have no idea if you do or not. See...there would be an interesting relationship post. Well, maybe...

Posted by: annette on November 3, 2003 10:16 PM

Oh, y'all are sweet to pay any attention at all. Many thanks for indulging me. I was just feeling ... I dunno, pouty or something.

Hmmm, towels ... I like it! And red undies ... Tempting.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on November 3, 2003 10:22 PM

My god, you live up to your name, M. Blowhard.
I can't talk. I'm not married, in any case, and came to an impasse in the last LTR primarily because of redundant and avoidable communication misinterpretations/misunderstandings. (Of course, isn't that impasse the why 90 percent of the time?). I'm rather fascinated by the subject.

Posted by: mr snuggles on November 6, 2003 3:09 AM

and what was going on there ?

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