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How To Have Difficult But Essential Conversations With Him

Interview Summary

Below is the summary of the interview with Dr. Duana Welch on how to have tough but essential conversations with him.

One of the common problems women face in dating is how to communicate their feelings with a man without scaring him off or overwhelming him. For example, at the end of a date a man will tell a woman he’ll call her and doesn’t until later. She fears talking about how she wanted him to call sooner without seeming clingy or nagging.

Dr. Duana Welch has provided her insight for all those interested below on how, when, and why women should have uncomfortable but essential conversations, and how they can use them to build a deeper connection and create a stronger bond without leading to a destructive conflict.

Pre-Dating and Early Relationship

Most people have been through the frustrating scenario of having someone promise to call only to never do so or considerably later. In other cases, there may have been some flirty or playful back and forth banter, only to cease entirely once the woman asks when they are going to date. Some key things to keep in mind are:

• One of the reasons women feel afraid they will come off as whiny, clingy, dependent or nagging when they call a man out on his failure to call or his late call is because they probably would be perceived that way.

• Men don’t need to be told to pursue women. They are taught by society and growing up that it is their right, duty, and privilege to pursue women. If they aren’t pursuing you, they just aren’t interested.

• If it’s early in the relationship and he isn’t calling as soon as you wish he would, you have the option to continue dating other men and letting this one go. You should, ideally, be dating until the man makes some form of commitment through exclusivity and caring about you.

• Don’t let them be important enough to warrant the conversation in the first place at this stage. Men like to pursue women who are high-status, which means they can afford to be without them and can tell them ‘No’ or ‘I’m too busy’. They want joy, not a job, someone to pursue, not an ankle weight.

After Commitment

Let’s say you’ve been dating for some time and have a level of commitment beyond a few dates. If he says he’ll call you tomorrow and doesn’t, or delays it for a longer amount of time, then you need to say something. There’s been research done on couples over the course of several years looking into various factors, two of which being why and how you can become one of those happy couples by having conversations that deepen the relationship:

• Research has shown that arguments end on the same note they began on. About 80% of the time in a heterosexual relationship, women are the ones who start the argument, so if it starts harshly it will end that way. Women who come closer to getting what they want are the ones who use the soft approach, starting up gently rather than heatedly or harshly.

• There’s no such thing as helpful criticism in a relationship. It always makes the relationship worse. The most successful relationships bring up the critical issues as they pop up rather than waiting for them to reach a boiling point by using a complaint, rather than criticism.

• The reason criticism doesn’t work is, for people with an appropriate level of mental health at all, they will defend themselves as if attacked. They won’t just sit there and take it. However, a complaint doesn’t leave them feeling attacked and, if you can frame a complaint so gently that it doesn’t even feel like a complaint, they’ll be more responsive.

• These sorts of things should only be discussed when in a committed relationship because when you aren’t exclusive then it doesn’t hold any appeal for a man to pursue, while in a committed relationship it holds weight since they are only supposed to be with you.

Differences between complaints and criticism:

Conversation starters:

• A criticism often starts conversations with ‘You’ and tends to be followed by ‘Always’ or ‘Never’.

• A complaint often starts conversations with ‘I’ and goes on to say ‘I feel’ or ‘I felt’.

Time Issue:

• A criticism is general or global, rather than specific.

• A complaint is specific and stays focused on this one time and place.


• A criticism often focuses on your partner’s flaws or defects, including name-calling.

• A complaint often focuses on your feelings so your partner can hear what you’re saying.

• Example 1: One man in the class was rooming with his brother in college, who ate a piece of pizza he was saving to eat later.

Criticism: The critical response was, “You pig! You ate all of my pizza and you’re just a selfish jerk!”

• It meets all the conditions for a criticism by starting with ‘You’, while the ‘Always’ is implied rather than stated for a general or broad-range, and the insulting and name-calling focuses on the flaw or defect.

Complaint: “You know, I was at work for eight hours and getting hungrier and hungrier, I was really thinking about how much I wanted that pizza, but when I came home it wasn’t there. I felt really frustrated and would really appreciate it if you could leave my food alone when I’m clearly setting it aside.”

• It doesn’t feel like as much as an attack as it does a complaint.

• Example 2: One woman noticed that whenever she and her boyfriend went out he would eye other women, which upset her and made her angry.

Criticism: The critical response was, “You pig! You can’t even keep your eyes to yourself for one second. You don’t care about me at all!”

• It meets all the conditions for a criticism by starting with ‘You’, holding contempt and labeling with name-calling, and referring to a general case rather than this specific instance.

Complaint: “I feel a little ignored right now. I need to be the only woman in your line of sight tonight.”

• It doesn’t feel like a criticism, it relates a feeling, stays focused on the present (tonight), and allows the partner to understand without feeling attacked.


Happy couples view their interactions with a goal of bringing both people onto the same team, while unhappy couples are more focused on winning the argument. Complaining over criticism is a learnable skill, and research shows that couples that learned these skills, progressively becoming more skilled in the gentle approach, were the happiest. It is also important to note that though happy couples complained the most, they also had a lot of positive interactions to overbalance it out.

About Dr. Duana C Welch

Duana C. Welch

Duana C. Welch, Ph.D. is the relationship advice columnist known for applying social science research to reader questions about a variety of romantic-relationship issues.  Her blog, “LoveScience: Research-based relationship advice for everyone” is a best-seller in the relationship and behavioral science categories at, and is also available free at

Duana launched LoveScience in 2009.  She’s also a regular contributor at Psychology Today and eHarmony, where she muses about relationship science.  Duana’s book, Love Factually: 10 Proven Steps from I Wish to I Do, released in January, 2015; it is the first science-based book to take readers from before they meet until they commit to The One.  You can also learn more about Dr. Duana and her book at