Why He Feels Compelled to Fix It

I just started reading The Male Brain by Louann Brizendine. I read her The Female Brain years ago, which was excellent. I have not found any surprises yet, but the book is giving me brain-based reasons for some of what I know to be typical male behaviour. In short, I have proof that some of the crazy things men do are because God made them that way! (Other common causes for craziness are pride and the inability to think when in the presence of a partially or fully nude woman – but those are other posts.)

You know how he interrupts you while you are explaining a problem to offer a solution? According to Brizendine, the Temporal Parietal Junction (TPJ) is the reason for this. The TPJ is one of several “hubs” in the brain that signal other parts of the brain causing behaviours to occur or not occur. The TPM directs the brain to solve distressing problems. During “interpersonal emotional exchanges”, the TPM is more active in men than it is in women. Brizendine says this is actually a form of empathy.

Gender Brain Differences © Sirup | Dreamstime.com

So, while you need to communicate fully, he needs to fix it. Fortunately, the two are not mutually exclusive. I tell men to listen, really listen, to the whole situation, which includes her feelings about the situation, before offering any advice. You can try to get him to do this by telling him you want to hear his suggestions, but you will not be able to hear or processes them well if he has not heard all you need to share with him. Ask him to listen, and then when you are done you will ask him what he thinks. If you let him know he will get a chance to do what he feels driven to do, he should be willing to let you do what you need to do.

My extraordinary wife and I have done it this way for years, and we both feel heard and validated. On occasion, she has even told me my “fix” was of help to her, either as a solution or as a starting point in her thinking for a solution that works for her. It is a win all around.

~ Paul – XY, and very good at solutions.

Speaking of fixing things: The folks in The Philippines hit by Typhoon Haiyan have a lot of fixing to do. If you want to help, I have a good, safe, way to do that. My friend Molong lives far enough south of the destroyed northern part of Cebu Island to be relatively unaffected and able to help those who have been wiped out. He and his fellow disciples are using motorbikes and other small vehicles to get food and water to the places trucks cannot yet go. Because the local port and airport (both major international facilities) are running, there is plenty of food to be bought locally. 

Molong is the real deal. I have known him almost a decade, and I have a number of friends who have visited him and have met the widows and orphans he helps. I know any money sent to Molong will be used wisely for those who need help. House2House, my day job, is collecting money and sending it to Molong to help feed people now, and to help rebuild later. You can go here to read more, and make a donation. All US donations are tax deductible.

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Smell? What Smell?

Odds are your sense of smell is far stronger that your husband’s sense of smell. It is not that he just does not care; studies have found women can detect smells at lower concentrations than men can. Women are also able to improve their ability to smell something with repeated exposure, while men cannot do the same thing. What’s more, women are especially sensitive to body odour, and fragrance is much less effective at masking body odour for women than for men.

Stinky! © PeJo29 | Dreamstime.com

All of this is to say he really does not smell much of what you smell, and when he does smell something, it is not as strong for him as it is for you. This means he probably is not denying he smells something to avoid cleaning; he really does not smell it.

Do I think you should put up with stinky? Not at all! (I happen to be sympathetic to this because I have a very good sense of smell for a man.) I think you should help him understand the gender based difference in sense of smell, and then ask him to work with you to ensure you do not have to deal with too much stink. Explain to him that you smell the garbage when he does not, and that his body odour is very strong to you when he has not showered. Ask him to work on changing things out of love for you.

One final thought – your sense of smell is even stronger during pregnancy and when you are ovulating. I once talked with a woman who could not figure out why she could not stand the smell of her husband a few days every month. Sure enough, it was during ovulation that she was having a problem. Once she understood, she could explain it to her husband and ask him to shower better and more often for those few days.

~ Paul – XY with an XX nose

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Nag, nag, nag?

Yes, there are wives (and husbands) who are guilty of nagging. However, much of what is called nagging is not.

Nagging © artur84

The dictionary definitions I looked up read something like:

annoy or irritate (a person) with persistent fault-finding or continuous urging

  • Fault-finding is not constructive criticism, it is unwanted and often petty attacks on what a person does, how they look, how they speak, and so on. This is unkind, unhelpful, and pretty much everyone hates to be on the receiving end of it.
  • Continuous urging may or may not be about something important. The problem is the continuous part – especially if it is brought up again before the person has had a reasonable chance to do something about it.

Bringing up big problems is not nagging. Telling him something is not working for you and there needs to be a change is not nagging. As long as you do not beat him with such things repeatedly, it is not nagging. If he calls it nagging that is more about him trying to manipulate you or make himself feel less bad about not doing something he knows he should do.

Of course, that is all well and good, but it does not help you.

My first suggestion would be to make sure you are not doing anything that really is nagging. If you are, then it is easy for him to lump everything he calls nagging into one category and feel justified ignoring all of it. By eliminating real nagging, you make it more difficult for him to tell himself you are nagging when you are not.

Secondly, learn how to discuss things with him in a way that works for his male mind:

  1. He likely is not as skilled at communication as you are; that part of his brain is smaller, and it probably gets less exercise. Avoid saying too much. Assume he can only hold so many words, and if you use too many he starts to lose some of it.
  2. He probably has a difficult time turning off one thing in his mind so he can focus on another. Trying to have a serious conversation during a commercial break or when he is working out a problem in his head is a bad plan.
  3. Avoid putting him on the defence before you even start. The infamous “We need to talk” is a sure way to have him ready to reject anything you say without really hearing it.
  4. He is far less moved by feeling than you are. He needs to hear about your feelings, but leading with them is not the best approach.
  5. He is geared to fix problems, so presenting things as problems to be fixed may help you a great deal.
  6. You can combine 4 & 5 nicely. Instead of, “I don’t feel you care about me” you could say, “I have a problem; I don’t feel you care about me. Can you help me see the ways you show me you care for me.”
  7. State your case, and then give him time to think about it. No one likes to be rushed, and when pushed to do something “right now” saying no is the easiest answer.
  8. Prioritize. If you give him too many things at once, he may decide it is too much and reject them all. If he does act, he may not act on the things most important to you.

By the Way: Rosemary had an interesting take on “nagging” recently on her For Better – Or What? blog. Check out Nag Me Some More

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You Gotta Speak Up!

This one is not a guy thing, it is a human thing. (But guys may be less willing to work on it.)

He does something that bothers you. Either you say nothing, or you mention it once or twice then let it drop. However, it keeps bothering you, and it bothers you more and more every time until you cannot stand it anymore and you make a big deal about it. He reacts by looking at you as if you are crazy.

Just wait © David Castillo Dominici

Think about it from his standpoint. You have said nothing about it the last 283 times he did it, and now “suddenly” you are livid. That does look a bit crazy, does it not? From his point of view, his actions were fine with you for months or years, and now you expect him to change right now!

If you can learn to live with something, keeping quiet is fine. If it is not going to drive you bonkers this is a loving way to deal with small things. However, if you cannot learn to live with something, do not try, and do not let it go on unchallenged. Speak up early before it becomes a deeply ingrained habit.

What if you have been silent about something for a long time and you have reached your breaking point? Again, understand it from his point of view: you are “suddenly” making a big deal out of something that he has been doing for a long time. Admit upfront that you have been silent. Tell him you thought you could live with it, but you realise now it really bothers you and it always will. Let him know you understand you are asking him to make a change for you, and that it is going to take some effort on his part. Be sympathetic to that, and to the fact that he will slip into his old habit at times without even thinking about it.

What if you bring it up and he ignores you? Stand your ground. Keep telling him it is a problem for you. Ask if there is some way you can help him change. If he continues to ignore you, let him know you will seek outside help if necessary. Do not threaten; just state it as a fact. If he still makes no effort to change, prayerfully consider where to get help. 

A late addition: The Warrior Wives post for today fits nicely with this – Confrontation Is Not Anti-Submission.

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Anger: His go to Emotion

For many men anger is a “safe” emotion. I say safe because it feels safe for him.

Angry Man © Patrimonio Designs Limited | Dreamstime.com

There are a couple of things at play here.

  • Men are less empathetic than women (proven by testing, and probably based on differences in the brain). This makes it more difficult for him to negotiate emotionally charged situations. Because anger pushes people away, it is a good way to avoid the whole thing.
  • Boys are taught there are manly and unmanly emotions. (Peers will teach boys this even if they do not get the message from adults, and TV and movies reinforce the idea.) We learn to suppress weak or “feminine” emotions, and play up those that are considered masculine. Anger is one of the “approved” emotions. Anger is also a good fall back when a man needs to cover an “unacceptable” emotion.

A man may not default to anger intentionally; for many it is a habit. Once the habit is made, it is difficult to change. Anger becomes his cover emotion, the one he pulls on when he is unsure or when what he is really feeling is not acceptable.

You Can Help Him

First: If his anger results in violence toward you or the kids, get help now!

Obviously defaulting to anger is not a good thing. Changing that would be good for your marriage and for his life in general. However, telling him he has a problem with anger is just going to make him angry.

  • Try to help him find the emotions that are behind the mask of anger. Do this in private, and do not push too hard. Ask him why he feels angry, and give him time to think about it because he honestly may not know. You can also ask him what he feels in addition to the anger.
  • If you see a pattern of him getting angry in response to certain things you do or say, try to find a way to change the situation. I am not saying ignore it or let him walk all over you, just find a different way to deal with it. This can make it easier for him to avoid the anger habit.
  • Tell him how his anger makes you feel. Wait until sometime when he is not angry, and try to give him a short concise explanation of how his anger affects you. You do not have to suggest how he should change or push him to discuss it – just give him the information and let him think on it.
  • Show appreciation when he avoids anger. Words are okay, actions are better. Show him that limiting his anger will make things better with you, and he will have greater motivation to work on his anger.

~ Paul – XY and learning all the emotions.

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I Love God, I’m Just Private About it

I think many men are rather private about their faith – probably too private. Our walk with the Lord is a very personal thing, and for some men it feels even more personal than sex. What’s more, much of society tends to see serious spirituality as feminine.

Couple Praying © Fotografescu | Dreamstime.com

I have not struggled with this much with my wonderful wife, but I have found it to be a problem with my kids. I want them to see me praying and talking about my faith, but it feels so revealing that it is uncomfortable. I think I have done a decent job overcoming this, but it has taken a good deal of effort.

If your husband is this way, with you and/or the kids, realise that pushing the issue too much will only make him feel worse about it, and he will withdraw even more. Find ways to encourage him, and especially to let him know how much you like it when you get a glimpse of his faith in action.

Look for “safe” ways to engage him spiritually. Ask him to “pray about _____ this week” rather than asking him to pray about it right then and there. Ask him what he thought about the sermon after church, or ask his opinion on a particular passage of scripture.

~ Paul – XY and deeply in love with Jesus.

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Things that Make Men Feel Manly

Since we moved to the Eastern part of Washington, we have heated our home with wood. This is certainly a good idea economically (it saves us $1000 to $1500 a year), but there is another advantage: it makes me feel like a man. I drop a tree, haul it home, cut, chop, and stack it. Then there is the daily building and maintaining of a fire to keep the home warm. All of this feels very manly. Moving the control on the thermostat or paying a heating bill does not make me feel manly.

Axe and wood © Grant Cochrane

I think men are hard-wired to need to do manly things to care for their family. Things like building a home, cutting your own firewood, hunting, fishing, bringing in a crop, and so on. It is all hard work, and we ache for it, but it makes us feel right; it makes us feel like we are being good husbands and fathers.

Thing is, it is less and less common for a man to be able to do these things. That leaves a vacuum, and men do some odd things to fill that need. I think things like spending way too much time and money on fishing, or trying to make the lawn look like a golf course are examples of this. I think obsession with sports is also an example of this (sports is just war with fewer deaths).

Do women have a similar need that is difficult to fill in our modern world? I suspect they do. Perhaps “retail therapy” is an attempt to fill that need.

The point here is that your guy lives in a world that does not always appreciate his being male, and does not give him many good ways to express his masculinity. You can help by making a point of appreciating him when he does manly things, and by being understanding (within reason) when he wants to build, destroy, or shoot something.

~ Paul – an XY wood cutting machine.

By the way: We look forward to your comments, questions, and cyber tomatoes. You can comment on the blog, or on the Google+ or facebook sites. Thanks!

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Looking Wrong in Her Eyes

I hate to look wrong in the eyes of my beautiful wife. I know she knows I am not perfect, but I want to look as good as possible to her. Most men are this way, and as far as I can tell it is a much bigger pride issue for husbands than it is for wives.

"You did good!" © graur razvan ionut | freedigitalphotos.net

This desire/fear results in men doing some stupid things. The classic example is the guy who will not stop and ask for directions because that would be admitting he is lost. So, he drives until he finds a clue – or gets lucky.

This fear is also why asking your husband about something can result in him burying you with reasons why he did or did not do something, or why he should or should not do something. If he perceives the question as an accusation of being wrong, he reacts by trying to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that he is right. I have done this because of Lori saying, “Why did you do it that way?” Turns out she asks that kind of question to get involved, to open communication with me. But I use to perceive it wrong, and beat her down with a storm of defensive words.

You may be able to avoid some of this if you communicate differently. If he hears curiosity rather than doubt or accusation, he will be less defensive. Try, “Interesting, I’d have done such and such, but your way works too.” You could also toss in a bit of flattery – something like “How did you think of such a clever way to do that?” or “That’s very creative, what made you think to do it that way?”

Yes, I know your girlfriends do not need these extra words to understand you, but then they do not have that pesky Y chromosome.

~ Paul – XY and mildly hearing impaired. 

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