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. sawatdeeka Member
    sawatdeeka
    @sawatdeeka

    Matt Bartle (View Comment):
    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.

    There’s a balance between having your perspective skewed by living in one’s own head and processing difficult and upsetting circumstances out loud with people who care.

    Talking out loud about something, like writing, can be very clarifying. And the sympathetic listener validates and draws out the details.  Like when you’ve ticked someone off, and you wonder if you were actually out of line. So you tell the story, and the listener will say, “No, I would have done the same thing in your position.” And you feel so much better. But they might say, “No, that was kind of tacky and you should have paid for her meal.” Then you have a phone call to make.

    • #31
  2. sawatdeeka Member
    sawatdeeka
    @sawatdeeka

    Randy Weivoda (View Comment):

    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.

    She listened and shared with me some words I could say to the neighbor–I didn’t have words. So many times I dive deep for the right thing to say and come up empty. I’ll never forget that Margaret did this for me. The cookies just book ended the session with sweetness.

    • #32
  3. sawatdeeka Member
    sawatdeeka
    @sawatdeeka

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

    “shut up and listen”

    Guys: Take a little time to understand what the issue is and give some thoughtful feedback. Your wife will feel loved and cherished.

    Women: Do learn to summarize–hone it, like a skill. We women not always in the mood for a long, windy story, either. And a less emotionally charged story might go further with your audience.

    • #33
  4. dittoheadadt Inactive
    dittoheadadt
    @dittoheadadt

    Modern Family had a funny episode on this very subject (involving Phil and Claire).

    • #34
  5. Nymeria Inactive
    Nymeria
    @Nymeria

    @sawatdeeka What you have described is an emotive feminine method of communication. A female friend is generally able to naturally communicate in this manner. Hence the ability to receive the advice. Men are not generally wired to communicate in this manner.  The communication is focused on the most efficient way to resolve the issue not necessarily address the emotive underpinnings.

    • #35
  6. Mike LaRoche Inactive
    Mike LaRoche
    @MikeLaRoche

    A (female) friend of mine calls me the High-Maintenance Woman Whisperer because of my ability to listen and empathize.

    • #36
  7. Mike LaRoche Inactive
    Mike LaRoche
    @MikeLaRoche

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

    • #37
  8. Mark Camp Member
    Mark Camp
    @MarkCamp

    I’ve been married forty-some years.  Based on my experience, let respond.  No, let me put in an enhancement request to increase the word limit.

    No, let me just.  Never mind.  Most of you will figure it all out. Except you guys.  You will learn a YUGE number of things that you wish you knew when you were 27.  Or, last Wednesday.  Or, this afternoon, with that thing about the bean salad, the quick  trip for basil, and getting held up by a cool, totally unexpected wine sampling at the Kroger. You don’t want to know.  You can’t solution it, and we are ok now anyway.  But if you want to know, turns out she was hungry. Not the nice woman at the Kroger, the other she.  How would someone be expected to know she didn’t have lunch?

    But you still won’t completely figure it out.  Not it.  I mean them.   I can’t explain. Let me summarize.  I can’t summarize.  Never mind.

    • #38
  9. J. D. Fitzpatrick Member
    J. D. Fitzpatrick
    @JDFitzpatrick

    I think more ladies need to realize that complaining / venting / whatever you want to call long-winded descriptions of what you’ve suffered with no intention of solving the problem–yeah, that habit—is just bad for the soul.

    In the same way that some masculine habits–like burying emotions–are bad for the soul too.

    The problem, ladies, is this: if you’re looking for authentic communication, the sort that involves having a guy share his actual feelings with you, venting about your day ain’t gonna do it.

    Try talking about how you feel, not what you have suffered. There’s a big difference.

    • #39
  10. I Walton Member
    I Walton
    @IWalton

    Of course they do, but I don’t offer advice, because “What do I know about it?” and “Since when did I know anything about that?”

    • #40
  11. Amy Schley Moderator
    Amy Schley
    @AmySchley

    Apropos:

    http://nypost.com/2017/03/24/this-simple-trick-will-help-you-hate-your-job-less?iframe=true&theme_preview=true

    Two researchers, one in the Netherlands and one in Colorado, studied the attitudes of 112 employees at various jobs, and determined who the good sports and bad sports were. Each were asked to rate how they felt over the course of three days.

    They found that the employees who complained about work were pretty bummed out as a result. In diary entries, they reported feeling crummy and dissatisfied with their work. They also experienced something like a bad-sportsmanship hangover, reporting a lower mood the next morning, and lower pride in their accomplishments that day.

    On the other hand, employees who were good sports — who didn’t complain or stew over the day’s events — weren’t slammed as hard by negative events at work. They reported feeling pretty good throughout the day, and were more engaged with their work for it.

    Mostly, employees complained about task-related issues, like computer crashes or poorly planned projects. About a quarter of the participants whined about their colleagues. Only a small portion moaned about having too much or not enough work.

    A better way to handle those frustrations, per the study authors: Write your gripes down, then look for a fix. Actually solving your problem beats pointlessly venting about it.

    • #41
  12. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    I love this post and the comments. After 42 years of marriage, I’ve learned a bit about communications. Like Amy, I have difficulty listening to some women’s stories with every minute detail. My intolerance is getting worse, too. I just keep breathing.

    With hubby, I told him years ago that I needed to be heard, not fixed (more nicely than that). Since I rarely vent, and I don’t give minute details, he’s pretty sweet about it. I admire his ability to figure out when to just listen. Sometimes I think there’s this little police light that goes around and around on the top of my head that I can’t see, but oh boy, he sure can. Then it’s time for him to just listen. And he actually vents with me a bit, too. Then I’m the one who has to keep my mouth shut!

    • #42
  13. Ilan Levine Inactive
    Ilan Levine
    @IlanLevine

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):
    I love this post and the comments. After 42 years of marriage, I’ve learned a bit about communications. Like Amy, I have difficulty listening to some women’s stories with every minute detail. My intolerance is getting worse, too. I just keep breathing.

    With hubby, I told him years ago that I needed to be heard, not fixed (more nicely than that). Since I rarely vent, and I don’t give minute details, he’s pretty sweet about it. I admire his ability to figure out when to just listen. Sometimes I think there’s this little police light that goes around and around on the top of my head that I can’t see, but oh boy, he sure can. Then it’s time for him to just listen. And he actually vents with me a bit, too. Then I’m the one who has to keep my mouth shut!

    There really needs to be a lol button on this site.

    • #43
  14. iWe Coolidge
    iWe
    @iWe

    I am very, very blessed with Mrs. iWe. When she needs to vent, she first confirms that it is a good time – I try to do the same. “Pre-clearing” this way really helps, and it is how we mutually respect each other’s precious time.

    • #44
  15. Pugshot Inactive
    Pugshot
    @Pugshot

    @sawatdeeka

    Thanks for your comment. This explains what goes on with my wife so well – and why, all too often, my responses are inadequate or counterproductive. I’m going to try to remember your sage advice the next time my wife starts telling me about an issue she’s having with someone.

    And @larry3435:

    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.

    You’ve hit the proverbial nail on the head and provided an excellent listening strategy! Thanks!

    • #45
  16. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Pugshot (View Comment):
    @sawatdeeka

    Thanks for your comment. This explains what goes on with my wife so well – and why, all too often, my responses are inadequate or counterproductive. I’m going to try to remember your sage advice the next time my wife starts telling me about an issue she’s having with someone.

    And @larry3435:

    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.

    You’ve hit the proverbial nail on the head and provided an excellent listening strategy! Thanks!

    I don’t know if this was covered, but it’s helpful for people to feel they’re being listened to. (After all, your ears don’t flop up and down.) Making eye contact (at least periodically), nodding your head, an occasional “mmm–hmm” can be very helpful. Your wife may only repeat herself three times instead of four.

    • #46
  17. danys Thatcher
    danys
    @danys

    Agreed, Sawatdeeka.

    When I ask Mr. danys’ advice I truly want it. Seriously. I need to know if the dress is too tight through my hips. When I’ve handed him my resume and cover letter, I need his professional evaluation. If a sticky personnel problem arises at work, I seek his counsel. To avoid my husband’s considered opinions would be lunacy. Sheesh.

    • #47
  18. danys Thatcher
    danys
    @danys

    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”.

    Several years ago my mother (65th wedding anniversary this June), responding to a daughter who jokingly complained that her husband couldn’t read her mind:

    “I’ve often thought not being able to read each others’ minds is key to a successful marriage.”

    Sheesh. Some women need to grow up.

    • #48
  19. Randy Weivoda Moderator
    Randy Weivoda
    @RandyWeivoda

    danys (View Comment):
    “I’ve often thought not being able to read each others’ minds is key to a successful marriage.”

    I’ve never thought about that, but yes, it’s very true.

    • #49
  20. Pugshot Inactive
    Pugshot
    @Pugshot

    @susanquinn

    I don’t know if this was covered, but it’s helpful for people to feel they’re being listened to. (After all, your ears don’t flop up and down.) Making eye contact (at least periodically), nodding your head, an occasional “mmm–hmm” can be very helpful. Your wife may only repeat herself three times instead of four.

    You’re right, of course. My wife does tend to get a bit irritated when she’s been talking for several minutes only to have me interrupt with, “What did you say?”

    • #50
  21. Qoumidan Coolidge
    Qoumidan
    @Qoumidan

    Pugshot (View Comment):
    @susanquinn

    I don’t know if this was covered, but it’s helpful for people to feel they’re being listened to. (After all, your ears don’t flop up and down.) Making eye contact (at least periodically), nodding your head, an occasional “mmm–hmm” can be very helpful. Your wife may only repeat herself three times instead of four.

    You’re right, of course. My wife does tend to get a bit irritated when she’s been talking for several minutes only to have me interrupt with, “What did you say?”

    Maddeningly, I have had to stop myself and ask my husband and what I just said because I got lost in my own words.  He rarely has to ask me what I said.  He can often quote it for me word for word even when he’s not paying attention.

    • #51
  22. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Qoumidan (View Comment):
    Maddeningly, I have had to stop myself and ask my husband and what I just said because I got lost in my own words. He rarely has to ask me what I said. He can often quote it for me word for word even when he’s not paying attention.

    Oh I so know how that is! My husband can do exactly the same thing. Although as he gets older, he’s not as snappy at it!

    • #52
  23. JustmeinAZ Member
    JustmeinAZ
    @JustmeinAZ

    Qoumidan (View Comment):
    He can often quote it for me word for word even when he’s not paying attention.

    True here too. I’ll say “you’re not listening to me”, then he’ll just quote back what I said. He just didn’t feel like responding. LOL!

    • #53
  24. sawatdeeka Member
    sawatdeeka
    @sawatdeeka

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):
    I don’t know if this was covered, but it’s helpful for people to feel they’re being listened to.

    Yes, for sure. Sometimes, I find myself going over the same points (without meaning to) because it didn’t seem like they were being heard the first time.

    • #54
  25. sawatdeeka Member
    sawatdeeka
    @sawatdeeka

    J. D. Fitzpatrick (View Comment):
    think more ladies need to realize that complaining / venting / whatever you want to call long-winded descriptions of what you’ve suffered with no intention of solving the problem–yeah, that habit—is just bad for the soul.

    I’m really not talking about complaining/venting/emoting/being long-winded with no intention of addressing the problem. When I air an issue, a feasible, thoughtful response is welcome and sought after. Mere venting must be a thing, and I agree that would not be productive–at least not as a regular habit.

    I can’t think of very many instances where I share a problem and advice is not immediately offered by sister, friend, etc. It’s what I expect and what I usually want. I wouldn’t want the listener merely change the subject, or say, “Oh, that must be rough.”

    • #55
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