Photo: mickaelgresset.com | Adam Aleksandrowicz | 20 minute read
Mastering the art of human interaction and maintaining relationships is a top tier masculine skill.
Even the military genius George S. Patton stressed the importance of it when he wrote, “When a man gets married, he must be just as careful to keep his wife’s love as he was to get it. It would be very sad for both of them if he said to himself, ‘now that I have you I need not worry about losing you.’” He also said, “May God have mercy on my enemies because I won’t.” The man had impressive philosophical breadth.
Managing risk in your relationship isn’t simply a matter of choosing wisely. That’s just the beginning. What use is finding a woman of clarity, maturity, and stability if you’re going to neglect her or drive her away?
I think there are two things men can do right off the bat to improve relationship longevity. First, be wiser than 90 percent of the other guys out there. Luckily, that’s easy to do as you’re reading content like this you can only but increase your value. All it takes is the inquisitiveness of how women work and a daily desire to be slightly better than yesterday. Second, set the right tone with her from the beginning.
In this long form post I’m going to send nine expert tips for setting the right frame in your relationship. This has come from some of the things I’ve done, not done and what other men around me have achieved. When done properly, your actions will set a tone of admiration and respect keeping her interested in you.
A few words about you before we get into this.
Guard against the little resentments you have for her. They grow like weeds in a garden.
I’m sure you’ve heard the metaphor of the frog in boiling water. If you drop a frog in hot water, he’ll jump out. But if you place him in cool water and slowly raise the temperature, he won’t notice the danger until it’s too late.
We could change the name of the metaphor from “frog in boiling water” to “dude in a bad relationship.”
Men who ignore the first signs of trouble usually come to regret their complacency. I’m not talking about little points of friction or disagreement. Differences in style and opinion exist peacefully in healthy relationships. I’m talking about relationship patterns that leave one or the other feeling disrespected.
Here’s an example. We’ve probably all known a guy who thought he had the perfect woman. She was outgoing, affectionate, and beautiful, but early in the relationship she began to get jealous. She wanted him to focus on her, and in order to keep her happy he began eliminating activities—a Friday afternoon beer with his buddies, or a basketball game on Sunday afternoon.
These little self-defeating sacrifices have a way of growing into expectations. She’ll be surprised and a little angry if he takes too much time for himself. Eventually, this cycle evolves into a constant, low-grade anxiety about her anger. He ends up feeling controlled and resentful of the woman who once seemed so perfect.
What started out as her charming desire to spend time with him turned into emotional manipulation. In this little scenario, it’s tempting to blame her for being controlling, but he is the one who allowed the pattern to grow.
Women can also end up feeling aggrieved or mistreated. If you want to be the best version of yourself, and to reduce the chances of ugly breakups and divorces, nip destructive patterns in the bud regardless of whether they start with you or with her.
Here’s another great Patton quote: “Never let the enemy pick the battle site.” I take that to mean we should take the initiative so problems don’t sneak up on us.
In that spirit, here are nine tips to help you avoid some of the most common sources of relationship friction. Use them to start the relationship on the right foot, and to keep the relationship on the right track.
Expert Tip 1: Know When to Problem-Solve and When to Empathize
You’ve probably heard the common old complaint that sometimes women just want men to listen while they vent their frustrations. There’s plenty of truth in it. This doesn’t mean women aren’t interested in solving problems. Men and women simply approach problems differently. Remember some of the content we discussed concerning anxiety in women?
By now you’d know how all women tend to focus on feelings in order to make sense of any situation, while men tend to focus on taking action. Neither is better or worse, they’re just different.
Unfortunately, it’s one of the most common sources of friction in couples. We men sometimes have difficulty understanding why they don’t seem to want to solve the problem, and they don’t understand why we seem unwilling to help them put their thoughts and feelings in order for them.
This simple misunderstanding can lead couples into heated arguments that never need to occur.
Luckily, the fix is easy: Simply ask her what she needs. Does she want you to connect with her and provide an empathetic ear, or is she looking for your opinion?
If she wants you to listen, then do it well, be present and give her your attention. It’s the easiest job in the world.
However, men of value have a lot to do and don’t have the time to listen to endless emotional vomit. She can do that with her girlfriends. So the lesson is to listen to a point.
David Deida says that 1 hour of clear, focused and present time with your woman is enough. I think that’s probably fair to down your tools while you take a break from dominating the world and give her that hour.
However if she’s repeating herself for the second or third time, it enters the realm of counterproductive rumination. Don’t be proud about asking her whether she needs a fixer or a listener.
Smart men ask questions. Just be wary of this troubling response: “I shouldn’t have to answer that question. You should know what I need from you.” Punishing you for inquiring about her needs is a serious red flag. It puts you in a no-win situation, and it may be a harbinger of many no-win situations to come.
Expert Tip 2: Don’t Apologize for Your Masculinity
I remember when that American Ivy League university was offering a course for men in which they could purge their “toxic masculinity” (meaning their normal, healthy, male psychology). The female instructors of the course promised to help men become more like women. Can you even believe this is a thing men would sign up to???
Even in my own experience, I still see men who unquestioningly defer to the stereotypical female sensibility concerning relationships. They see male protectiveness as controlling, stoicism as cold, and the desire to end conflict quickly as mindlessly avoidant. My dad was a lot like this.
Men and women evolved together to function together. It’s sad that a few malcontents want to dispose of half of the equation. The happiest couples I know celebrate and capitalize on their differences. It doesn’t bode well when one partner rejects the other’s emotional style, regardless of gender.
Happy couples not only understand each other’s emotional style, they have the ability to shift perspective to their partner’s style. They actually understand where their partners are coming from.
When her skills and sensibilities are better suited to a problem, set yours aside for the moment. But don’t apologize for possessing them.
Ironically, the more we bow to the pressure of a few grumps who want us to emasculate ourselves, the less attractive we become to the great majority of women who appreciate men. At the end of this post, I’ll discuss research clearly indicating that most women are grateful for masculine qualities, regardless of what you may have heard.
However, you should already know this. She wants to release into your trust, your capability and your competency in being a man. So the tip is simple, don’t tone yourself down for her or fawn to her at all. It’s her that needs to adapt to you.
Expert Tip 3: Tolerate Her Discomfort
Back in my early 30’s, I was working a side hustle doing some specialist tech consulting. It was nothing outrageous, but a lucrative earner providing some much needed cash on the side. Despite having to trade my time for an hourly rate and work 2 jobs, it was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.
However my wife at the time, was always unhappy about it. She’d constantly complain about missing me and would always wish I didn’t have to work such crazy hours. After doing this for 6 months, I began having thoughts like, “I can’t win with her”.
She’s mad at me if I work, but she’d be even angrier if I didn’t. Looking back on it now I can understand that it’s a normal reaction. However there’s a trap in it.
I was way too accommodating to her emotional state, taking on the full weight of her being upset through my absence. This is no way to live and you end up resenting her for all of the effort you are putting in.
If I went the other way and was too uncomfortable with her discomfort, I’d run the risk of misunderstanding why she was uncomfortable. In this case, she was uncomfortable because she missed me and the attention I provided.
l became focused on trying to reduce her discomfort, or more accurately, reducing my discomfort about her discomfort. This is a slippery slope as it’s squarely playing into her frame and losing sight of the bigger picture.
Most men are taught to keep women happy and to fix their problems. That’s a fine goal, but there will be times when their comfort is beyond our reasonable intervention. A lot of us have a tough time sitting with the thought of letting her down or watching her suffer through unpleasant emotions. We tend to shoulder responsibility for the way she feels.
If that describes you, then learn to tolerate her discomfort. It won’t kill you. Give her the dignity of experiencing her emotions without rushing in to rescue and without sacrificing a long-term good for some short-term relief. This is on you, not her.
For example, if hypothetically I had rearranged my consulting work schedule to reduce her discomfort, I probably would have created more problems at work than I was trying to solve at home. I might have even lost the contract to do the additional work and lost that second source of income.
My mistake was not being empathetic (“I miss you too”) but assertive enough about my responsibilities to focus on what was actually important. Instead, I’d placate constantly to try and smooth it over and buy time.
In reality she can survive her discomfort, and so can I.
As a thoughtful woman once told me, “I wish men did not feel they are so responsible for our happiness.”
Expert Tip 4: Be Assertive About your Personal Maintenance
Did you know men take more health risks then women, but we use fewer healthcare services? Men represent 70 percent of those who haven’t visited a doctor in more than five years (Courtenay 2003).
Have you found yourself neglecting your own health?
When it comes down to it we’re simply less inclined than women to attend to our basic needs. We frequently eat poorly, get insufficient sleep, and deprive ourselves of exercise. There’s a lot of pressure for men to neglect themselves, especially men who have responsibilities.
There’s always someone who needs our time, or some job to be done, so we have to be assertive about taking time to maintain ourselves. Sleep, diet, and exercise are the basics. They are crucial to bringing our best selves to our relationships, and they help us avoid costly mental and physical problems.
Additionally, men who become depressed have higher incidences of cardiovascular disease, high triglycerides, low muscle strength, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and even urinary tract problems.
Self-neglect is a quick path to depression in men, which in turn can create a small avalanche of problems. Let’s not forget about healthy diversions, like time with other men, fishing, bowling, judo, or whatever takes your mind away from the daily grind.
Successful men pursue them unapologetically. That’s right, I said unapologetically.
Men, much more than women, are still expected to keep our emotions under control. There’s no reason for productive men to bear shame when we need to occasionally escape into a gym session or a round of golf.
Just let her know what you’re doing, and why. No well-adjusted woman will object to her man taking care of himself, especially if it makes him happier at home.
Expert Tip 5: Reject “Happy Wife, Happy Life”
A 2014 study out of Rutgers University found that good marital quality among older couples has particular benefits for wives (Carr et al. 2014). Women who are happy with their marriages report overall higher life satisfaction and wellbeing. Happy wives are nicer to their husbands than unhappy wives, and their husbands are therefore happier and physically healthier.
Husbands’ happiness matters less to wives, according to the study, possibly because unhappy husbands are more stoic about their marital dissatisfaction and don’t burden their wives with complaints.
In short, when wives are happy in their marriages, husbands are happier too. That’s no surprise, and any reasonable man wants his wife to be happy and fulfilled. (That’s much easier to accomplish if you choose a woman who is predisposed to happiness in the first place, by the way.)
However, the expression “happy wife, happy life,” isn’t typically presented as a feel-good bromide about treating your soulmate with kindness. It’s a warning: Buddy, you better get used to saying “yes, dear” because life will be hell if she doesn’t get her way.
I’ve heard the “happy wife, happy life” advice more times than I care to recall. It’s often given by one man who is advising another to back down in a disagreement with his partner. He probably doesn’t want to see his friend suffer the burden of an angry or disappointed woman.
It’s horrible relationship advice because it is precisely the opposite of the kind of compromise and cooperation that characterize healthy relationships. Plus, it’s insulting. You might as well just get to the point and call her a bitch. What man wants to slink around trying to avoid being yelled at? And what kind of woman wants to be treated as if she’s so emotionally frail that she cannot tolerate her man having an independent thought?
If the deprecating nature of the phrase isn’t reason enough to ignore “happy wife, happy life,” bear in mind that women are generally repulsed by men they manage to emasculate.
Of course you want her to be happy, but not at your expense. You’ll resent her for controlling you, and she’ll resent you for being weak and denying her the best parts of yourself.
“Happy wife, happy life” is utter bullshit. Reject it just as any self-respecting woman would reject the reverse idea.
Expert Tip 6: Get some balls about you – speak up when you need to
In my younger days, I was the king of shutting down with girlfriends. There were times I couldn’t speak if my life depended on it. It’s not that I didn’t want to; the words just wouldn’t arrive.
It took a lot of work to learn how to verbalize my thoughts with women, but it had to be done.
Clamming up is one of the most hurtful things men do to women. One woman told me it’s comparable to a woman withholding sex from a man. When I’ve dated women in the past, they’ve had some pretty frank words about men who go silent and how hurtful it is.
One told me, “Men ignore problems until it’s too late. By ‘too late’ I mean they wait until there is no love or affection left to rebuild on.” Another said, “I wish I understood what’s going on in his head when he withdraws.
It’s so hard to see he’s in pain, to know he’s in pain, and to also know he’d damn near rather eat glass than admit it.”
Not only is it unfair to put women in this position, it’s like setting a booby trap for yourself. Men can ruin relationships through their silence. It creates a downward spiral. The less we communicate, the more anxious they become. The more anxious they become, the harder it is to communicate.
Have the confidence and self-awareness to uphold your personal boundaries if they feel threatened. Have the boldness to put her in her place if she’s acting up and all bratty. Withdraw your attention and affection if her behaviour warrants it. Just don’t go and retreat into your head and say nothing.
If you retreat into a position where you don’t manage conflicts head on, then you’ve already failed. The message you’re sending is “I’m avoiding your challenge now, which will also mean I’ll avoid more serious conflict later”. This will take you backward beyond belief.
From their perspective, our silence can seem childish and hostile, regardless of our intent. Can you blame them for filling in the blanks?
Expert Tip 7: Study Human Nature
Anyone who owns a car should know how it functions. They should know how to change a tire, flush the radiator, check and change the oil and fill the wiper fluid reservoir. They should know the trouble signs, and how to keep it running. If you’re a man, you should know the basics of how your car goes.
The same logic applies to people and especially women. If you’re going to be in a relationship, learn how women work.
Be curious. Develop some theories about the human condition and the wild, amusing endeavors between the sexes. Your theories don’t have to be completely accurate, they just need to be a foundation from which to frame the quirks of human behavior.
But be cautious about what you read on the internet. There is a lot of great information on how women work but there’s also a lot of nihilism that can leave you feeling bewildered. By all means read and absorb it, but work out what applies to you. Practically, you’ll learn more from observing your experiences of how people act than you will by reading.
Be especially curious about her history with parents, family, and exes. Not only will it make you a more informed partner, it will make you a more interesting one. People like to talk about themselves, and she will show you exactly who she is if you give her enough time—provide you are willing to observe and listen.
Curiosity isn’t merely for the getting-to-know-you phase, to be disregarded once you think you understand what makes her tick. It’s a lifelong source of fun and entertainment. Your 47th Valentine’s Day together can bring you a level of satisfaction that can be found nowhere else in life if you’re willing to observe and listen. Most men give up on this and become too comfortable inside the relationship.
Nurture that curiosity. A master is always improving. Don’t only strive for mastery over yourself and your goals, but strive for obtaining a level of understanding with women that will serve you well into your future.