I used to think I must be crazy.
Men had called me crazy so many times, it’d begun to sink in.
But, as it turns out, I’m actually sensitive, intuitive, and deeply feeling—not crazy.
In my work coaching women, I’ve found this to be the case for many women and I’ve noticed a common sentiment contributing to their challenges with men: They’re ashamed of the female experience.
They've been told they’re too complicated, too sensitive, too needy, too emotional… the list goes on. It takes a lot of courage for women to risk the “crazy” label and shamelessly be all that they are without trying to be more like a man instead.
I coach men, too, and I realized that when women display any of the aforementioned qualities, a lot of men genuinely don’t know what to do. They simply don’t understand what’s happening and sometimes the easiest explanation is that women are batshit crazy.
So, in the interest of making life a little more sane for us all, I’m sharing my “best of” list of things men need to know in order to evolve from the “She’s crazy” model and take their relationships with women to the next level.
And guys… we’ll thank you for knowing these things. You’ll totally be our hero.
1. Know you don’t need to solve our problems.
If you’re on Facebook, you’ve seen this video dramatizing a common communication dynamic between men and woman. In the video, a woman with a nail in her forehead is telling her partner that something feels wrong. She mentions headaches, lack of sleep, and snagged sweaters but when he suggests that maybe she'd feel better if they removed the nail, she's frustrated that he "always tries to fix it" and insists that it's not about the nail.
This is typical. The man sees an obvious solution to a woman’s discomfort and the woman keeps pointing to something deeper. They're each exasperated by the other's seeming inability to see what’s really happening.
My friend Ken Blackman, an expert on the energetics of relationships, made a great point after watching the video. He says that while men think they're being helpful in pointing out the obvious solutions to our problems, in doing so, they are revealing two things. First, that they must think the person on the other end of the equation is stupid for not seeing the simple, obvious solution. Second, that the actual problem has gone completely over their head.
He suggests that whenever men see a situation that looks like this, before giving the obvious advice, they'd do well to presume that they've missed something about the situation and need to take time to understand it better.
It’s easy to assume the nail is responsible for her symptoms, but in real life it’s not so simple because it’s never about a nail. These types of conversations are usually about more subtle and complex life challenges.
The nail represents anything that may be uncomfortable, but that she can grow from if she leans into the challenge. While he’s quick to remove the nail at the first sign of discomfort, perhaps telling him about how she feels is her way of asking for his support while she navigates through the challenge, not of asking his help to make it go away.
To a woman, a man’s eagerness to fix things can feel like disapproval for where she's at, when what she really needs from him is approval.
This is great news, guys. It means that your value as a man does not reside in your ability to find solutions to our problems. If you want to understand our experience, great! Get curious and ask questions. Understanding, though, is not even a requirement. Your support alone is enough.
2. Know your approval is powerful.
No matter what's happening in your relationship, approval will make things better. Approval for the process you're going through together, and your ability to see challenges as opportunities rather than problems, alleviates the pressure of perfection that can kill a relationship.
Because our culture teaches us what relationships “should” look like, women learn that we should be easy-going, always in the mood, and less complex than we actually are. In that paradigm, our sensitivity can come off as “being difficult” and when we see the way difficult women are portrayed, we stuff down our feelings and try even harder to be easy to handle.
Shouldn’t relationships be a safe haven where we know that we're accepted and approved of just as we are (feelings and all)? I think so, but unfortunately for many of us, our relationships are a source of anxiety, pressure and expectations.
One of the most meaningful contributions a man can make to a woman’s life is approving not only of her but also of the particular stage or challenge that they're facing together in their relationship. Men who are able to honor the downs as well as the ups in relationships help women feel permission to have our feelings, to take our time finding the right path through our challenges, and to be exactly who we are.
3. Know how to speak her language.
Nonverbal behavior is responsible for the majority of our communication. In his many studies of nonverbal communication, Dr. Albert Mehrabian found that only 7% of any message is conveyed through words. He says vocal elements (such as intonation) and nonverbal elements (such as facial expressions, gestures, posture, etc) are responsible for the remaining 93% of the message.
When it comes to masculine and feminine communication styles, the masculine often tends to rely on the most concrete, easily quantifiable method of communication: the words.
The feminine style of communication, on the other hand, relies more on the subtle, intuitive elements.
While I usually avoid broad generalizations about gender whenever possible, they can sometimes be helpful in understanding common phenomenon, so bear with me here (and if it doesn’t exactly apply to you, that’s ok). When I speak of "the masculine" and "the feminine", I’m referring to complementary elements both present in all of us rather than “men” and “women”. However, for the purpose of making this point, I'm generalizing that men tend to land nearer to the masculine end of the spectrum and women land nearer to the feminine end.
A teacher of mine once told a story about masculine and feminine communication. She and her boyfriend each lived in different cities. She told him she’d be in town the following weekend and when she arrived, she found that he’d made other plans. She was hurt that he hadn't kept the weekend open to spend time together. Meanwhile, he was frustrated that she hadn't overtly asked him to.
Upon recognizing where their communication had faltered, she asked him, "At any point did you get the feeling you should leave the weekend open to see me?" and he answered, "Yes, of course. But I didn't because if you wanted to, you should have said so.”
That feeling, she explained, was the result of a message he’d received through nonverbal communication. He’d been able to ascertain that he should leave the weekend open, but because the message didn’t arrive through his preferred mode of communication, he didn’t feel accountable for having heard it. And, he didn’t trust that his feeling was a result of communication between them.
Meanwhile she thought a verbal request was unnecessary, given her clear nonverbal suggestion.
This is where men usually give up and call us crazy.
And sadly, many women believe them. That’s because we tend to consider the masculine form of communication to be legitimate while the feminine is considered less so. But both are crucial.
Women are bilingual. We know how to speak masculine because we have been well-trained. We don’t mind, and we speak it all the time. However, feminine is our native tongue so don’t be surprised when we fall back on it without thinking, or use it to communicate things that are more complex than we know how to say with words.
Have her language be just as valid as yours, and she won't seem crazy. Not only is it the fair thing to do, but it'll help you both communicate better with each other.
Originally published on elephant journal