As a result of working with hundreds of couples as a marriage and family therapist, and being in my own relationship for a long time, I’ve learned a few things about what makes men work. And, I’ve learned ladies, what you’re doing that drives your man away.
Just like there are the things that men do that drive you crazy, there are certain things that women do that drive men crazy. And driving crazy means the development of distance, resentment, and often, the ending of relationship.
I know what you’re thinking, though; I’ve been there myself. ‘If I could only get him to do _____, then things would be fine.’
While it’s true there are likely some things your man needs to change, you don’t have any control over that. You only have control over your side of the relationship. So, start where you have the power – yourself.
Things you do that make your man crazy. If you’re doing these, stop it!
1. You’re critical and focus on mistakes
Of course your man doesn’t load the dishwasher, or dress the toddler, or clean up the kitchen, or trim the lawn, like you do. He has his own way. And, as long as the outcome is being achieved reasonably well, then, back off. When you consistently tell your man that what he’s doing is not right, it activates all his failure buttons. Where he’ll end up is sitting on the couch with his hand in his pants, thinking, ‘nothing’s good enough, so why even try’. You have now successfully become Mom to your man. Ewwww, that’s a terrible role for both of you.
To Do: Show appreciation, give thanks, and compliment what’s working. Treat your man like the hero he wants to be. If there are changes to be made, that’s OK, but don’t wait until everything’s perfect before you notice and love his efforts and achievement. We all need appreciation and validation in order to continue making changes. The payoff is that your man feels important to you and successful in your relationship.
2. You talk, talk, talk, talk, talk…
Remember that Far Side cartoon with the bubble over the dog’s head – ‘Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, Ginger…’? That’s what happens to your man when you talk and talk and talk. I want you to be able to have productive and meaningful conversations with your man; however, if you talk in a circle, share everything you’re feeling, and go on and on, your man cannot follow you and won’t remember what you’re saying. He checks out and doesn’t hear you.
To Do: Develop some skills in bullet point talking. If you have a point to make, make it up front, fill in a couple of details, and then shut up. If you need to bring up some difficulties in your relationship, stay with one topic, not everything you’re unhappy about at once. If you need to process some emotional stuff of your own that requires talking something out in a thorough way, use a trusted confidante, or a therapist to help you. The payoff is that your man will be less overwhelmed and more able to listen to you when you really need him to.
3. You expect your man to mind read
If you’ve ever said/thought, ‘If he loved me / was listening to me, he would know what’s important to me’, then you are expecting your man to have the superpower of mind-reading (which he definitely does not have!) And, the follow up to the above statement is: ‘if I have to ask for what I want, it isn’t special / meaningful / genuine, etc.’ That’s all bullcrappy. Your man wants to please you and make you happy and if he knows what to do, for the most part he will do it. If he’s doing his best to guess, and not hitting the mark, and then #1 or #2 are happening, he tunes out.
To Do: Ask for what you want and need specifically and clearly. When you complain or share a feeling and think that’s enough, you’re wrong. Know exactly what you want (or close enough) and share it as a request: ‘What I would like is _____.’ Your man can then respond to that request with yes, no, or not that, but this. You’re way more likely to get what you want and your man is happy that he successfully provided it. The payoff is that you feel like he cares, and he feels successful and competent.
4. You sweat the small stuff
Does it really matter how the dishwasher is stacked, or how the t-shirts are folded, or if the kindergartener’s shirt and pants match? Maybe, but not everything can have the same level of high priority. When you treat the folding of a t-shirt with the same degree of energy as a lie, your man loses ability to pay attention to what you’re focusing on. Don’t treat every mistake your man makes as a global threat – he will tune you out.
To Do: Choose your priorities and make sure you reserve your big guns for those that are at the top of your list. Those towards the bottom of the list you may need to let slide or get used to the way your man does it. It’s not fair for you to expect him to always do things your way; he has his own way that likely works fine (just different than yours). The payoff is that your man will understand when something is a big deal to you and will feel part of the team.
5. You bad mouth him to friends and family
I know you need someone to talk to about struggles in your relationship. However, the moment you complain about your man and air dirty laundry to friends and family, you create the opportunity for these people to view him differently. When you share the big fight and how much of an a**hole he is your friends and family will take your side and wonder what the hell you are doing when the two of you reconcile and move on together.
To Do: Two things are important. First, when you discuss your relationship with someone else it needs to be from a problem solving perspective, not venting or bashing. Second, if you’re going to talk to friends or family, choose one or two who can stay reasonably neutral, not gossip with others, and whom you trust to provide you with clear and honest feedback. You don’t want to confide in someone who will simply agree with you and take your side. You want someone who will tell you if what you’re doing isn’t working. And, if you don’t have any of those folks, see a therapist. The payoff is that that the relationships between you, your man, and your friends and family will remain strong.
6. You take over when he needs to fix something
You asked your man to stop and get milk on the way home and he shows up empty handed. You reminded him that bedtime is at 7:30 and when you get home at 8:00 the kids are not even in pajamas. He agreed to take out the trash and the can is now overflowing. And, then you get angry – either a slow boil of resentment or a volcanic eruption of angry lava. Maybe he then says, ‘OK, I’ll go get the milk now. Or, I was just getting started on the kids.’ And you say, ‘Never mind! I guess I have to do it myself.’ You have just done a great job training your man (and him you!) that he doesn’t need to follow through because you’ll swoop in and do it. You’re now the martyr (mom) and he’s the failure (kid).
To Do: When your man screws up, allow or ask him to follow up. If he arrives home with no milk, then he either needs to go and get it if it’s necessary now, or get it on his next trip home. If the kids are still up at 8 when you get home, then he needs to get the bedtime routine started while you do something else. The payoff is that your man will remember more and set systems in place for himself when he is responsible.
7. You don’t let him think like a man
Men’s brains are different than women’s. Men generally have the ability to focus singularly, while women focus in multiple directions. If you are expecting him to walk in the door and see all the household things that need to be done, you are expecting something that’s not possible for most men. Your man will more likely step over the pile on the floor than pick it up. Men also tend to think in fix it mode. While you may want to hear all the details, or share all the details, likely your man is interested in sharing the solution. If you make it wrong for him to think like a man, then he is always walking on eggshells trying to anticipate how you would think about something, which creates resentment and exhaustion.
To Do: Create a system that works for your man, even if it doesn’t make sense to you. Most of the time he does better with assignments, written lists, and specific requests. He’s generally very good at carrying out things that are clear and specific. So, sit down and negotiate which household tasks he’s responsible for, deliver requests in bite size chunks, and write it down if that’s what your man needs. If you need a conversation that isn’t in fix it mode, say so up front. Make a request that your man simply listen rather than solve your problem. The payoff is your man feels successful and you trust his competence.
8. You think of him as your project
Have you thought, ‘Once we get married (move in together, etc.) he will change? Do you see so much potential in him and think that you can make him a better man? Here’s the reality, your man might change, but only when he wants to (same for you). You are in a relationship with the man who is in front of you, not with his potential. If you don’t like who you’re in relationship with right now, then don’t go forward with the idea that he will change. That’s a fantasy, or an outright lie.
To Do: Accept your man for who is he is right now. Take measure of the strengths and weaknesses that he brings to the relationship. If the weaknesses are things that you can live with now, then OK. If they are not and you need them to change, then rethink your plans for this relationship. The payoff is your man will feel your value for him and there will be more connection in your relationship.
9. You resent his sexual expression
Men have a reputation of wanting sex all the time. Some men do, and some men have a lower desire for sex than what society says. Whatever his end of the sexual continuum, his libido is not all about you. When you get angry because his libido is lower than yours, or that he is ‘on’ you all the time, he withdraws or gets angry himself. Sex is one of the ways that your man connects with you so it’s important. Your anger or negativity about his sexuality pushes his failure or not good enough button.
To Do: Find the sex life that is right for you as a couple. Don’t compare yourselves to friends or articles in Cosmo. Initiate sex yourself, tell him what you want, make your desires and needs knows. Praise and compliment when sex goes right, or in the right direction. Enjoy his advances and set kind and compassionate limits if his libido is higher than yours. The payoff is more connection for both of you and a heated up bedroom.
10. You ignore red flags
Everyone makes mistakes that need to be forgiven, however, if you are aware or suspicious of repetitive bad behavior from your man and you’re letting it go then you’re just being an ostrich. If you’ve discovered a behavior that is harmful to your relationship then take it seriously. I know it’s scary and most likely he will create a story that you will want to believe. If you notice a red flag, but try to explain it away, it can then lead to disconnection and resentment on your part and a lot of attempts to control what he’s doing.
To Do: Address the red flag directly – this could be secret behavior, like porn, gambling, texts/photos, etc. Or, it could be something like telling lies about where he is, what he’s doing, etc. Be clear about your boundaries and consequences. Do not make a threat that you aren’t willing to carry out. If you can’t follow through on a threat, then you have just trained your man that your bark has no bite. If bad behavior continues then seek additional help from outside professional sources. If it still continues you have a decision: leave, or learn to live with it while not enabling it. That’s it.
Just like your man, you are not perfect – no one is. However, you have a lot of power to make your relationship better simply by focusing on what you may be doing that’s not working.
I recommend that you share this list with your man and see what he thinks. Take his feedback seriously, just like you’d want him to take yours.
Caveat: if you are in a relationship in which your safety (emotional, physical, financial, or sexual) is at risk, then all bets are off. If your man is abusive then your only move is to get help and evaluate how to best get yourself (and your kids if you have them) safe. If your man is abusive please don’t think that if you change then he will change too. The abusiveness is his responsibility and the only change you need to make right now is the one that will create safety for you.