Women Do Appreciate Advice

 

Recently, a Ricochet member posted a humorous video skewering a common complaint women make about men. When a woman is talking to her husband about an upsetting topic, he should just listen, women say. His tendency to come up with advice to solve the problem ignores her feelings as well as the fact that she’s not looking for solutions–she just needs to vent. This complaint has become part of our culture, self-deprecatingly accepted by men and referenced as a bit of go-to humor everyone relates to. The video responds to this cultural chestnut by suggesting that this male “problem-solving” they get accused of can be a case of simply pointing out the painfully obvious. Meanwhile, the venting woman is indignant that she is not being heard.

It’s possible, however, that the cliche about women just wanting to vent has it all wrong. And the description of unwelcome input from the listener as “problem-solving” might be framed more accurately as something else. Women would actually welcome advice from men. This male-female divide may have more layers than generally assumed.

First, I’ll tackle the accepted notion that when women are upset they just need to pour out their story and process their emotions. Advice at the wrong time, goes the claim, merely escalates the situation and the man is left puzzled at what he did wrong. Actually, women appreciate input and problem-solving. I’ll go as far as to say that when she’s pouring out her story, advice is ultimately what she is really seeking–some wise counsel, a different perspective. An understanding listener who can offer wise words makes a woman feel loved and cared for. In fact, women give one another happily accepted advice all the time.

To illustrate, I had a friend telephone me years ago very troubled. It seems that she went to visit her sister in another state, but ended up not being able to stay at the sister’s home as planned. Her son was too allergic to the cat to be able to cope there. Far from being understanding and flexible, the sister appeared to harbor resentment over it. I settled outside on the porch steps as the story details unfolded for several minutes, every now and then inserting “I’m sorry,” or “That wasn’t kind.”

Then I explained to my friend that the situation made sense to me. I knew someone who would react a lot like her sister did, and there was a rational explanation for this behavior. Some people just look forward to planning a visit and being with their guests so intensely (especially when it’s family or close friends), that their disappointment when things don’t work out is almost tangible. It doesn’t make their reaction right, but my friend could take it as a compliment that her sister longed to spend time with her. In response to my perspective, the tightness went out of my friend’s voice. She agreed that it made sense and expressed appreciation for my talking it through with her.

Another time, I was on the receiving end of a caring friend’s counsel. I told her a sad tale that had been troubling me: relations with a neighbor were awkward because I had responded in white-hot anger upon finding out that on the first day of school, her new stepdaughter had verbally shredded my daughter. A confrontation ended with my being ordered off the neighbor’s property, and now I didn’t know how to approach the neighbor or whether I could trust her. What would I say? This friend, Margaret, understood why the standoff bothered me and what my own role had been in it. She sweetly set forth her suggestions that included me taking a plate of cookies to the neighbor. I didn’t act on the suggestions, but Margaret’s words made me feel as if reconciliation were possible. More than that, I felt loved by my friend.

Women long for good advice, helpful insights, problem-solving. Bring it on. But the question is, does all input qualify as this highly sought after response women look for? Admit it, you’ve seen this happen: a woman will share a problem and her distress over it. Let’s say she describes her frustration with a work friend who keeps claiming credit for others’ ideas. The input this woman might hear from a male listener is: Well, maybe you shouldn’t work there anymore. Or, You should stop being friends with her. You’re always complaining about it.  Just don’t hang out with her anymore. That’s pretty efficient problem-solving, right? You don’t work there anymore, or you cut off your friend, bingo–no more issues. Yet the woman would not want to follow these suggestions except with extreme cases. And, if he thought about it, the guy probably would not quit his job because of conflicts, either.

I suggest that two dynamics are going on in the male-female scenario above. First, the guy doesn’t want to see the woman upset, and he hates that she is having problems. It’s a caring response. He wants her problem to go away. And, he wants taking care of her pain to be like popping an aspirin, fast and efficient. Second, though, he wishes for the talking part to be over, so he can go ahead with whatever he was doing. Why she has to use so many words, and include so many details, is beyond him. Backstories are for comic book villains, not for conversations. His word processing capacity, especially for a drama-laden, detailed narrative like this one, is running low, and he’s got to say something to stem the tide–and soon.

To the woman, I would say this: she needs to be open to recognizing good counsel in what her man is saying. He doesn’t have to frame ideas perfectly for his words to be sound. Also, she can admit that insights from an outside source, like a friend, tend to be better received. Sometimes shared history can make spouses less receptive to one another, even when spousal feedback is solid and if not eloquent and well-timed, from a heart that’s true.

Published in Marriage
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  1. Aaron Miller Inactive
    Aaron Miller
    @AaronMiller

    What if he just fetches her a beer? She can talk to the beer, right?

    • #1
  2. sawatdeeka Member
    sawatdeeka
    @sawatdeeka

    Aaron Miller (View Comment):
    What if he just fetches her a beer? She can talk to the beer, right?

    That’s the true heart talking, there.

    • #2
  3. Randy Weivoda Moderator
    Randy Weivoda
    @RandyWeivoda

    sawatdeeka: She sweetly set forth her suggestions that included me taking a plate of cookies to the neighbor.

    Homemade cookies cannot solve all of the world’s problems but we’ll never find out how many they can solve until we try.*  Unless they’re plain sugar cookies.  Blah.  They’re not going to solve anything.

    *And it might take two plates.

    • #3
  4. JustmeinAZ Member
    JustmeinAZ
    @JustmeinAZ

    There are many times when I want my husband’s advice and suggestions for a solution. At these times I just come right out and ask. However, after 25 years of marriage I am very careful when complaining about small things. Sometimes I just want to tell him the story of how something went wrong or I was clumsy or did something dumb. And he ALWAYS has a solution. I don’t want to seem as though I’m rejecting his input so many times I just say nothing. I don’t always want a solution – just to tell an amusing story!

    • #4
  5. Ryan M(cPherson) Member
    Ryan M(cPherson)
    @RyanM

    Fantastic post!

    I think you’ll enjoy meeting my wife this summer. :)

    • #5
  6. Fake John/Jane Galt Coolidge
    Fake John/Jane Galt
    @FakeJohnJaneGalt

    I knew there would be pushback from that post and its comments.  Any man that answered it was taking a risk that was not worth taking.

    Let the ridiculing of toxic masculinity begin.

     

    • #6
  7. OkieSailor Member
    OkieSailor
    @OkieSailor

    Mrs. OS and I fought this problem for years until we learned that she could tell me up front that she just needed to ‘vent’. Then I knew my role was to listen, not to give advice. Saves quite a lot of conflict. And when she is looking for a solution she lets know that up front too. It helps us get around the male/female communication style conflict problem.

    • #7
  8. Patrick McClure Coolidge
    Patrick McClure
    @Patrickb63

    OkieSailor (View Comment):
    Mrs. OS and I fought this problem for years until we learned that she could tell me up front that she just needed to ‘vent’. Then I knew my role was to listen, not to give advice. Saves quite a lot of conflict. And when she is looking for a solution she lets know that up front too. It helps us get around the male/female communication style conflict problem.

    Exactly. Ladies, when you are clear about what you want, we will provide it. It took over 20 years of marriage for my wife and me to learn this.

    • #8
  9. Matt Bartle Member
    Matt Bartle
    @MattBartle

    sawatdeeka: Second, though, he wishes for the talking part to be over, so he can go ahead with whatever he was doing. Why she has to use so many words, and include so many details, is beyond him. Backstories are for comic book villains, not for conversations. His word processing capacity, especially for a drama-laden, detailed narrative like this one, is running low, and he’s got to say something to stem the tide–and soon.

    Bingo!

    I don’t know about all women, but my woman seems not to know that a story can be summarized. It’s not necessary to re-enact the entire event, recreating every line of dialog, explaining every past event that might relate to it. It’s exhausting, especially when I can’t even figure out where the story is going – it’s just a flood of this happened and that happened and I said and she said. But what’s the gist?? Are we working toward an end, or is this just going to go on indefinitely?

    • #9
  10. Fake John/Jane Galt Coolidge
    Fake John/Jane Galt
    @FakeJohnJaneGalt

    Matt Bartle (View Comment):

    sawatdeeka: Second, though, he wishes for the talking part to be over, so he can go ahead with whatever he was doing. Why she has to use so many words, and include so many details, is beyond him. Backstories are for comic book villains, not for conversations. His word processing capacity, especially for a drama-laden, detailed narrative like this one, is running low, and he’s got to say something to stem the tide–and soon.

    Bingo!

    I don’t know about all women, but my woman seems not to know that a story can be summarized. It’s not necessary to re-enact the entire event, recreating every line of dialog, explaining every past event that might relate to it. It’s exhausting, especially when I can’t even figure out where the story is going – it’s just a flood of this happened and that happened and I said and she said. But what’s the gist?? Are we working toward an end, or is this just going to go on indefinitely?

    We have a female friend that is like this.  I believe her stories actually take longer to tell than they took to happen.  Add to this that she has a singlemindedness to stick with a story once she started and it seems  to be a directive to tell the same stories during a short period.  Well, she can be quite exhausting.  The thing is she is a good person and says interesting stuff if she could just be convinced to tell her tales in condensed form things would be better for all.

    • #10
  11. Kozak Member
    Kozak
    @Kozak

    So too a guy this entire post could be boiled down to

    “shut up and listen”

    • #11
  12. Amy Schley Moderator
    Amy Schley
    @AmySchley

    When I was a teenager, I wondered if I had XXY syndrome, because I simply couldn’t understand doing this and so many other stereotypical female behaviors.

    If you don’t want advice for your problems, shut up about them.  Whining doesn’t make them go away, and the latest psychological research suggests that Aristotle’s concept of catharsis is yet another thing he got wrong. In other words, you won’t feel better after venting about it; you’ll simply strengthen all your negative feelings.

    As a slight aside, this is a large part of why I dislike flamboyantly gay men.  I get wanting to have sex with men — men are great. But wanting to have sex with men does not mean you have to mimic every obnoxious behavior of women!

    • #12
  13. Matt Bartle Member
    Matt Bartle
    @MattBartle

    Here’s another aspect as I experience it. I’m not blaming the wife – it’s not intentional on her part. But when she’s telling a story about something someone did that mad her angry, she gets angry all over again. There’s anger in her face, there’s anger in her voice, and she’s looking right at me! Now I know, rationally, that’s she not mad at me, she’s not yelling at me. But there’s a gut-level reaction to her affect. I tense up when she does that. It’s an unpleasant experience. It makes it even harder to sit through the story.

    • #13
  14. H. Noggin Inactive
    H. Noggin
    @HNoggin

    Interesting post, and so are the responses.

    Here is my situation.  My husband has let me know that unless I am looking for advice, he isn’t interested in listening.  He doesn’t like hearing people complain.  As a result, we don’t have discussions like that.

    Still, we have been married 38 years.

    • #14
  15. Amy Schley Moderator
    Amy Schley
    @AmySchley

    H. Noggin (View Comment):
    Interesting post, and so are the responses.

    Here is my situation. My husband has let me know that unless I am looking for advice, he isn’t interested in listening. He doesn’t like hearing people complain. As a result, we don’t have discussions like that.

    Still, we have been married 38 years.

    Yeah, it’s almost like complaining while rejecting advice isn’t something innate in being female, but rather a learned behavior that can be unlearned.

    • #15
  16. Ilan Levine Inactive
    Ilan Levine
    @IlanLevine

    Thanks for the post. It is great to read this honest and useful perspective from ‘the other side’. It helps me package what I have absorbed from 20 years of marriage. Sure wish I had read this 20 years ago!

    Now maybe explain what to do when encountering:  “If you really cared, you would know what’s wrong” and “If you really cared, you would know what to say”.

    Really!

    • #16
  17. Larry3435 Member
    Larry3435
    @Larry3435

    Amy Schley (View Comment):
    When I was a teenager, I wondered if I had XXY syndrome, because I simply couldn’t understand doing this and so many other stereotypical female behaviors.

    If you don’t want advice for your problems, shut up about them. Whining doesn’t make them go away, and the latest psychological research suggests that Aristotle’s concept of catharsis is yet another thing he got wrong. In other words, you won’t feel better after venting about it; you’ll simply strengthen all your negative feelings.

    As a slight aside, this is a large part of why I dislike flamboyantly gay men. I get wanting to have sex with men — men are great. But wanting to have sex with men does not mean you have to mimic every obnoxious behavior of women!

    ^This!  I’m grateful that my wife mostly doesn’t engage in this kind of stereotypical behavior.  She even got a kick out of the nail video.  But I have learned that there are times when I just have to let her talk herself out, even when she has already made her point repeatedly.  It’s frustrating, but it’s one of those things that you just put up with for the sake of a good marriage.  While she is talking, I spend the time reminding myself that she has to put up with plenty from me as well.

    • #17
  18. She Member
    She
    @She

    Kozak (View Comment):
    So too a guy this entire post could be boiled down to

    “shut up and listen”

    Actually, sometimes, that is a very  good idea.

    And it’s why I believe God gave us one mouth and two ears.  So we could listen twice as much as we talk.  When both sides in a relationship of any sort practice that, magic often results.

    • #18
  19. Amy Schley Moderator
    Amy Schley
    @AmySchley

    Ilan Levine (View Comment):
    Thanks for the post. It is great to read this honest and useful perspective from ‘the other side’. It helps me package what I have absorbed from 20 years of marriage. Sure wish I had read this 20 years ago!

    Now maybe explain what to do when encountering: “If you really cared, you would know what’s wrong” and “If you really cared, you would know what to say”.

    Really!

    “You didn’t marry Professor X, so you’re going to have to tell me” and “Please don’t confuse my inability to say what you want to hear with my desire to make you feel better.”

    Seriously, I think one of the problems women have is their assumption that the men in their lives are just actors who are supposed to follow the script inside their heads.

    • #19
  20. Matt Bartle Member
    Matt Bartle
    @MattBartle

    One more aspect of this that makes it difficult. Suppose my wife vents about something that happened, and I manage to sit through it and listen and say, “You were right; she was wrong” a few times. What happens next? Why, she grabs her phone and calls her sister and goes through the entire incident again, in just as much detail, getting angry all over again in the same places. The she call a friend and does it yet again!

    So what was the point of my going through all that? It feels like it accomplished nothing. I can do unpleasant things if there’s a point, but I don’t like doing things that are futile.

    • #20
  21. JustmeinAZ Member
    JustmeinAZ
    @JustmeinAZ

    Amy Schley (View Comment):
    As a slight aside, this is a large part of why I dislike flamboyantly gay men. I get wanting to have sex with men — men are great. But wanting to have sex with men does not mean you have to mimic every obnoxious behavior of women!

    Oh man, this is so true! I recently worked with a gay man that I actually liked a lot. But when he would start in complaining about his partner and what his partner “allowed” him to do and how much money he was “allowed” to spend I would  think “Oh just stop being such a girl!”

    • #21
  22. JustmeinAZ Member
    JustmeinAZ
    @JustmeinAZ

    Ilan Levine (View Comment):
    Now maybe explain what to do when encountering: “If you really cared, you would know what’s wrong” and “If you really cared, you would know what to say”.

    This is totally irrational behavior that, as a woman, embarrasses me when other women do it. Geez, get over yourself!

    • #22
  23. Randy Weivoda Moderator
    Randy Weivoda
    @RandyWeivoda

    Amy Schley (View Comment):
    If you don’t want advice for your problems, shut up about them. Whining doesn’t make them go away, and the latest psychological research suggests that Aristotle’s concept of catharsis is yet another thing he got wrong. In other words, you won’t feel better after venting about it; you’ll simply strengthen all your negative feelings.

    Amen.  If someone said to a friend that they are happy too often, they need to try to tamp down that happiness because they might deplete their happiness reserve, you’d think they were nuts.  Happiness is not some physical fluid.  Yet when talking about anger, it’s not unusual for people to believe that if they don’t express their anger and rage it will “build up.”  Maybe a gasket will blow.  When someone works themselves into a rage, they typically don’t feel peaceful and calm afterward.

    • #23
  24. Jimmy Carter Member
    Jimmy Carter
    @JimmyCarter

    Matt Bartle (View Comment):
    I don’t know about all women, but my woman seems not to know that a story can be summarized. It’s not necessary to re-enact the entire event, recreating every line of dialog, explaining every past event that might relate to it. It’s exhausting, especially when I can’t even figure out where the story is going – it’s just a flood of this happened and that happened and I said and she said. But what’s the gist?? Are we working toward an end, or is this just going to go on indefinitely?

    Try this one simple trick: when She finally reaches the end just reply,”I’m sorry, Dear. Did You say something?”

    It’ll take the wind out of Her sails. After a few times, She’ll quit sharing.

    • #24
  25. Ilan Levine Inactive
    Ilan Levine
    @IlanLevine

    Amy Schley (View Comment):

    Ilan Levine (View Comment):
    Thanks for the post. It is great to read this honest and useful perspective from ‘the other side’. It helps me package what I have absorbed from 20 years of marriage. Sure wish I had read this 20 years ago!

    Now maybe explain what to do when encountering: “If you really cared, you would know what’s wrong” and “If you really cared, you would know what to say”.

    Really!

    “You didn’t marry Professor X, so you’re going to have to tell me”

    Lol!

    • #25
  26. Ilan Levine Inactive
    Ilan Levine
    @IlanLevine

    I have seen a fair number of replies that seem to miss the point. I don’t think this is a case of one side being right and the other wrong. In *some* ways, men & women seem to speak slightly different ‘languages’. I learned from living in Japan & Israel that misunderstandings can happen because even when each of the individual words are agreed upon, there is an underlying set of implicit meanings that are assumed common – which is not always true! Once one learns about the unspoken assumptions, communication is much smoother.

     

    • #26
  27. Poindexter Member
    Poindexter
    @Poindexter

    Randy Weivoda (View Comment):
    Homemade cookies cannot solve all of the world’s problems but we’ll never find out how many they can solve until we try.*

    With enough snickerdoodles, all things are possible.

    • #27
  28. TheRoyalFamily Member
    TheRoyalFamily
    @TheRoyalFamily

    Poindexter (View Comment):

    Randy Weivoda (View Comment):
    Homemade cookies cannot solve all of the world’s problems but we’ll never find out how many they can solve until we try.*

    With enough snickerdoodles, all things are possible.

    Wars have been fought over less than misunderstandings over hard vs. soft snickerdoodles.

    • #28
  29. sawatdeeka Member
    sawatdeeka
    @sawatdeeka

    Fake John/Jane Galt (View Comment):
    I believe her stories actually take longer to tell than they took to happen.

    Ha, ha. How funny. I knew someone who repeated every story she told two times in a row. She’d conclude her story and then start again, right from the top. People are interesting.

    • #29
  30. sawatdeeka Member
    sawatdeeka
    @sawatdeeka

    JustmeinAZ (View Comment):

    Ilan Levine (View Comment):
    Now maybe explain what to do when encountering: “If you really cared, you would know what’s wrong” and “If you really cared, you would know what to say”.

    This is totally irrational behavior that, as a woman, embarrasses me when other women do it. Geez, get over yourself!

    I agree. I am flummoxed as to why this statement would be thought productive. It’s actually mean.

    Some of those video enactments of how women talk to men are gobsmacking. One was posted on the nail thread the other day. Hopefully not too many ladies feel so free to nag and fuss and criticize like that. It’s seems like that kind of negative interaction is becoming culturally accepted as a given. Not pretty, and destructive.

    • #30
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