Interview With Lauren Trecosta - How To Win a Man's Heart

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August 18, 2014

Interview With Lauren Trecosta

1. Can you walk through some of the major differences in the way men and women communicate?

Men’s and women’s communication styles are not rigid and entrenched in only one way of being.

Having said that, in general, I’m more likely to find men begin speaking from their head and include their heart while women begin with their heart and include their head. I find men’s communication focuses more on action while women’s focus is more on feelings.

As a result, I find that men and women are often communicating on two parallel planes. Men often feel like they’re being told how to be, and women often feel like they’re being told what to do. Both speak with good intentions and with love, but sometimes, in spite of their best efforts, find that their words fall flat. As a result, each is inclined to feel misunderstood, hurt, resentful, and under-appreciated.

Take, for example, a woman talking to her partner about a problem at work. Her male partner is likely to show loving support by telling her how to resolve the problem. For him, this clearly shows that he has been listening and cares. Otherwise he would not be offering her a solution.

A woman, conversely, talks about her feelings in order to feel understood and validated, not to be told what to do. Once validated, she sets about coming up with the solution herself. When her partner tells her what to do or what she should have done, she feels like he is not listening — and becomes increasingly agitated.

They are on parallel planes, never to meet as long as the act of “listening” means something different to each of them.

It is important for her to know that for him, he is actively listening and showing he cares by offering a solution. It is important for her to validate that — even if it is not the kind of support she wants. Furthermore it is important to let him know that she only wants him to validate her feelings; that that feels like listening and loving support to her.

It is important for him to understand that what he intends as support (telling her what to do, should do, or should have done) comes through as judgmental and critical. It is important that he understands that he doesn’t have to tell her how to solve the problem in order to show her he is listening. He only has to actively listen and validate her feelings.

2. I cannot tell you how common the problem is- women wanting to just share their feelings and men wanting to fix problems. Can you talk about why this problem doesn’t appear in the early stages of the relationship? Is it because both men and women are more open to each other during the stage or do they just ignore the minor communication irritants that creep up every now and then. In other words, why does it get worse as the relationship progresses than during the early stages?

I think it happens for a couple reasons.

First, I believe that the role that you fill as a girlfriend or boyfriend is different from the role you fall into as a wife or husband.  We don’t have the same role-models or expectations for dating relationships that we do for married relationships.

Second, I believe that it is possible that women may interpret a man telling her how to solve her problem as someone caring enough to listen and tell her what he think. In short, she may be more prone to interpret it is as a loving behavior whereas years into a relationship it may feel a little too familiar, a little too much like him telling her what to do, and a little too much like him not believing in her abilities.

Conversely, it is possible a man may be more prone to be more stand-offish with advice earlier in the relationship because it may feel too intimate and presumptuous.

‘A knight in shining armor’ in a dating relationship may initially meet the subconscious or fantasized needs of both the man (to be a protector) and woman (to be protected) early on in a relationship.  In a married relationship, the unrealistic fantasy is unsustainable.  The man can’t solve all his wife’s problems, and she gets annoys when he tries.  She wants to be valued as a capable person, and he would likely appreciate being valued as her everyday hero who loves her and has feelings, too.

3. One of the common questions we get from women is ‘Why don’t men listen?’ Many women believe that men hear but don’t listen to them when they talk. Of course this is a sweeping generalization, but it is a complaint we hear again and again. Are there certain changes women can do when they communicate to make it easier for men to listen to them?

Yes. Men and women — people in general — have different interpretations of what listening means to them. Consider the parent who tells their child, “Listen to me,” when in fact the child is probably listening but not acknowledging or doing what the parent expected.

Couples are well-advised to consider what they expect their partner to do or say as a part of listening. It is a good idea for couples to actually sit down and discuss the elements of a conversation that works for them. This may be difficult to do without facilitation, because we’re actually talking about elements that we often take for granted. For example, a woman may want her man to pause and look her in the eye to acknowledge or validate something. A man may prefer that the woman, if she wants to converse, give him some lead time before he has to break his concentration from what he is doing.

There may be levels of conversation to consider. By carefully talking about them, both the man and the woman can develop insight and share what works for them, what doesn’t, what they expect and want, and how they can both go about getting this.

4. I have heard from men that sometimes women take too long to get to the point and don’t truly tell what they want. In other words, men sometimes feel like they are made to guess which many say they are not good at. Again that may be a sweeping generalization but let’s a fairly common problem. On the other hand women say it is ridiculous to expect them to detail each and everything they want and expect their partners to know what they are talking about.

In other words, women feel that if I need to tell my partner that he needs to text at least once a week ‘I love you’ then it really doesn’t count as an act of love because she is asking him to do it instead of him doing it on his own. But men seem to more receptive to taking action as long as it is task oriented or something more specific and definitive or they feel it is ridiculous to do these acts of love and often say, ‘Of course, I love her and she knows it too, why do I have to keep saying that’.

How can couples work on these differences constructively to keep their intimacy and passion alive?

I believe that the best conversation reflects the best of what both men and women have to offer. Conversations can be to-the-point, share emotions, task -oriented, and very effective.

If we take each other’s feedback personally, then we miss the point of what they’re saying. Men who say that it feels like conversations never get to-the-point and leave them wondering what to do to make it better are sharing important information. It isn’t uncommon for men’s feelings in this regard to be minimized, but they are important. Essentially, if the conversation feels endless, without a point, and without a clear way to make it better, a man will likely feel at a loss, discouraged, somewhat resentful, and increasingly reluctant to engage in these conversations.

In the same way men are challenged to share their emotions in a more expansive manner, women are challenged to share their emotions in briefer, more task-oriented manner.

I’ve heard these complaints, too. Men don’t like to guess what their women need, and women don’t like to tell. This has the beginning of two parallel existences.

Men and women are likely to show love in the way they like to be shown love. Just like a birthday gift, you may get something that shows someone’s love for you, but you may not fully appreciate because it doesn’t speak to you in the same way it speaks to them. A woman may get up and make her man breakfast, and he may not be someone who wants to eat in the morning. Or a man may make his wife fresh orange juice every day, but she may prefer a simple I Love You text during the day.

It is why we take the time to tell our partners what loving behaviors really speak to us. Many behaviors we just do because they feel natural to us. Some behaviors we do as a gift for our partner to show our love. We attempt to learn something new, do something different, grow awareness of how we are different from each other. And so, instead of making a birthday or Christmas list, we make a list of loving behaviors. Things we’d like our partners to do to show love to us. As well as try to be mindful and appreciative of the things we already do.

5. It reminds me of Dr. Gary Chapman who talks about the different love languages and how the love language we speak is so different from the love language of our partner. And what you say makes sense, because we tend to do things, buy gifts and express our love in ways that are most natural to us without realizing what we are doing may not be appealing to our partners.

Can you talk about some dos and don’ts for couples when they engage in conflict and are there any common mistakes that you see women making when they engage in conflict?

I’d like to be clear, at first, that communication is a dance of two. So while I focus on what women can do, it is reasonable to assume that, in general, there are changes men can make to improve their communication, too.

In general, I believe that women may get stuck in their emotions. So the men hear them, but don’t know how to make it better. I would encourage women to move toward the specific behavior that is bothering and what specifically they would prefer instead. This helps move the conversation to effective closure.

I would also suggest that women think about what the successful, reasonable, and realistic closure to a conversation would be. Assert, share emotions and where you’d like the relationship to head, and then bring it to closure. Leaving it open-ended is likely to leave both of them frustrated; the man feeling like there is nothing short of complete change that will make her happy and she feeling like she will never be heard.

I also encourage her to not take her partner’s resistance personally. At the first sign of trouble, I recommend trying to find out what is standing in the way of effective communication. By and large, it is because both partners have issues that could use airing. It takes awareness to agree that is more than one issue, an agreement to deal with one issue at a time, and commitment to follow through on each issue in time.

Sometimes, I find that women ask their men to share their feelings, but then don’t recognize or validate the man’s feelings when they do. Instead, the man’s feelings are taken as resistance to the woman being heard.

6. Another question my women readers ask me quite often is how can I be assertive without coming across as a nag? Here is an example, the husband tells his wife that he would clean the garage during the weekend and does not do that. The wife gently reminds him and the husband tells her that he would get it to it. Another weekend passes, but the cleaning never happens. The wife gets increasingly frustrated and she nags because he does not do what he said he would do. The husband on the other hand feels ‘What’s the big deal, I will eventually get it to it’ while the wife feels her husband is deliberately ignoring her feelings. What is the right way to communicate in this type of situation?

This encompasses three issues. One is communication, the next is identification of the problems, and the third is ownership of the respective problems.

As a therapist, I would probe to find out what about cleaning the garage was so important to the wife. Ironically, this is actually in line with what her husband is asking without taking his communication personally. “What is the big deal about this for me?” This will help her get to the next step which is why is this making her upset.

As a therapist, this helps elucidate the underlying theme. Is it that he makes promises that he doesn’t keep? That she feels the workload is imbalanced? She’s neat, and he’s messy? Does she want to be able to park the car in the garage? Is it that he actually contributes a significant amount, and she wants him to contribute either more or what she wants him to do? In other words, I’d be interested in finding out the balance of controlling versus lack of follow-of-through.

In terms of communication, I encourage clients to begin with ownership of their problem or emotion. I give clients a standard phrase, “When I see that the garage is messy at the end of the weekend, I feel upset because I want to be able to park my car in there when it snows this week. I’d appreciate it if you let me know: (choose one, not all, that fit for you):

– what is standing in the way of being able to get it done OR
– if there is anything I can do to help give you time to make it happen OR
– if you choose your words carefully so that when you say you’ll do something in a certain time-frame, you do OR
– if you get it done before Thursday because that is when they are predicting snow.

Of course, this is oversimplified, but it is a start. Usually couples are so entrenched in their own frustration that it is hard to actively listen and validate their partner. Letting both partners air the frustrations and learning a new dance of communication is where therapy comes in.

7. When couples engage in conflict, blaming and criticizing happen quite often which may further aggravate the conflict and damage the underlying relationship. Are there certain words or phrases that you would advise couples to avoid using when they argue? Are there certain words or phrases that can help diffuse the conflict?

In general, I encourage clients to avoid starting with you. “You do this, you do that….” Accusing and blaming will just worsen the situation. If a couple finds themselves so upset that they can’t speak civilly or respectfully (even if they are angry) to each other, it is time to table the conversation until they can.

Ultimately, again it is where I see therapists come in, couples need to communicate about communicating. This way they will understand what works, what doesn’t (and why), and how to create an environment where both people feel respected and heard.

8. Many women play the role of a martyr in a relationship by putting the needs of their spouse, their kids, colleagues at work etc that they almost forget attending to their needs and sometimes even feel guilty when they do so. They may be quietly unhappy and may feel unappreciated without openly complaining or talking about their problems to the point that their spouse may not even know how unhappy they are. How can women express how they truly feel and talk about their problems in a manner that brings a healthy and constructive discussion?

This is very possible, but does not happen at the flip of a switch. As a therapist, that I would look begin looking into four areas. The first is her current behavior of over-doing for others and neglecting herself, the second is the modeling she received as a child, the third is her role as a child, and the fourth is how is unhappiness showing itself. I encourage someone in her position to get help to find her voice.

It is possible. It is easiest to begin to find your voice in a safe environment with someone who has no expectations of you and where you have the time and space to test it out with very low risk attached. It is her private journey, and then, as she is ready, she asserts herself more and more with her family.

9. What would be your single most important advice for women looking to get married in the near future?

My single most important advice for women getting married is two-fold: the first is to make sure they are 100% certain, and there are no ‘but’s’ following after a moment or three pause, and the second is to make sure they are getting married they are getting married for love and healthy reasons and not fear, insecurity, need, loneliness, or because they think it is what they should be doing.

About Lauren Trecosta

Lauren Trecosta

Lauren Trecosta, LPC, is the Counselor on the Road who provides accessible and affordable counseling to couples who want a better relationship. She offers courses, an advice column, on-line individual and couples counseling, and small group work.

To know more about Lauren, visit her website, www.CounselingBreakthrough.com.




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