Women often complain that men, especially when in a long-term relationship, don’t listen to them. Many of these women claim that men can’t communicate. A woman once said to me, “All men want is sex.”
Women may be wise to recognize that many men decide it’s unwise to engage in certain conversations.
For example, a man may predict that listening to his wife or girlfriend “process her feelings” will not make things better. Rather, it will exacerbate her illegitimate feelings of victimhood, often at the man’s expense.
For instance, if a man forgets his wife’s birthday, he might fear she’ll go into a tirade about how it makes her feel unloved. He may worry she’ll exaggerate how bad it makes her feel so she can extract maximum guilt and recompense from him. He may be afraid that, to gain still more brownie points, she’ll bring up some past faux pas he committed—like catching him watching porn or, “John, you insisted on watching that stupid football game when you knew it was important to me and the family that we visited grandma. I feel totally not loved. I don’t count at all!” (Another exaggeration to extract maximum recompense from him.)
In such a conversation, he may be aware she’s overreacting, and to allow her to vent uninterrupted would give undue legitimacy to her grievance. Yet if he defends himself, for example, by pointing out incidents of her selfishness, she’d accuse him of expanding the argument. Nor is she likely to be assuaged if he offers examples of the many ways he has shown his love. She’ll likely feel or assert that she’s unheard, invalidated: “Does that really justify your watching porn or forgetting my birthday? Just listen. Stop defending yourself! I just want to be heard. Can’t you just listen for once?” He’s in a Catch 22; he loses either way.
So understandably, he wants to avoid the conversation, whereupon the women might incorrectly believe that men can’t communicate, that “All men want is sex.”
Indeed, many women demand being listened to and that the man dare not offer a solution to her problem lest he be restricting her agency. “I just want to vent. I want to share my feelings. When I’m ready to solve the problem, I will.”
Many men get frustrated when the woman he loves has a problem he could solve but he’s forced to sit there with his mouth shut. Rather than being frustrated, he preempts or short-cuts the conversation, or simply spaces out, whereupon the woman may say or think, “Men can’t communicate. All they want is sex.”
A study by Georgetown gender communication specialist Deborah Tannen debunks the conventional wisdom that women talk more than men. Fact is, men talk approximately the same amount—16,000 words a day.
The difference may be that many men resist talking unless a constructive outcome is likely—men just may not be as dumb as some women proclaim. Nor is sex sufficient to manipulate a man…although it couldn’t hurt.