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Understanding Tidbits

Insights, discoveries, and advice in bite-sized portions from Alison

Do you want the men around you to be more expressed?

To create the kind of situation that enables men to communicate fully, remember this:

  • Make sure it is a good time to ask a question. This means when he is not doing anything else (including things you don’t think are important). To check, you can ask, “Is this a good time to ask a question?” Don’t take it personally if he says no and try again at a later time.
  • After you ask the question, give him time to think before he responds. He is not taking the answer off the top of his head, he is really thinking about it. That is the respect he is paying to your question. Just wait patiently while he thinks. If you prompt him, or rephrase your question, that will interrupt his thought processes and you will likely end up getting very little communication from him, if any.
  • Make sure that you don’t have a “right answer” in mind. If his answer will get him in trouble with you, he can tell this and is likely to not answer at all. Be open and willing to be surprised and learn something from him.

Practicing Being Safe to Talk To

Have you been practicing being safe for men to talk to since the last Tidbit? How do you know if you’re doing it well? Why – if they’re talking!

Once men start talking, it’s important not to stop them accidently. How women usually stop men in the middle of expressing themselves is by interrupting. To us “multi-taskers,” very few things qualify as an interruption. But for our single-focused hunter counterparts, almost everything is!

Avoid most of what women do when we talk to each other: agreeing verbally, rephrasing your question, prompting the answer and nodding excessively. Try this for a couple of weeks and notice how much more men have to say.

The 30-Second Rule

While men are often accused of being shallow, they are actually the opposite. They are like deep, deep wells. When you ask them a question, they consider it seriously and “go to the well” for the answer. First he’ll tell you what’s on the surface. Then he’ll pause, which means the first bucket is empty. If you wait and give him a chance to draw up another bucket, you will get to hear what is beneath the surface. With each bucket, his answer will get more detailed, complex or emotional. When he’s said everything he wants to on a subject, he’ll announce, “That’s all I have to say about that” or something like that.

The key to intimate conversation with men is giving him the time to draw up that next bucket. The way to do this is by practicing the “30-second Rule.” This means that when he pauses, instead of jumping in with your opinion or asking for a clarification or rephrasing your question, count to 30 silently while listening with continued interest.

Try it!

For a list of great questions to ask the men in your life, read Learning About Men From Men.

Learning to Love Opinions

If you’ve been implementing the 30-second rule, and practicing being safe to talk to, at this point you are probably hearing a lot of opinions. This may not be good news to you! Women often struggle with the wealth of opinions men offer, mostly because women don’t know what to do when they disagree with a man’s opinion.

The most natural way to listen to someone’s opinions is to see if you agree or disagree with them. If you disagree with them, then you have two options: argue or bite your tongue. Neither one is much fun and they both create distance – the opposite of promoting true partnership.

We have an alternative that naturally results in more freedom, intimacy and the experience of partnership. It works because a man's values, standards and ethics are always present in his opinions. Try this: While a man is expressing his opinion, instead of asking yourself the question, “Do I agree or disagree?” asked yourself “What is he revealing about himself right now?” or “What is he showing me?” If you listen this way, you’ll hear what is behind that opinion – his commitments, his passions, his integrity or his dreams.

Spare the Details

The tasty tidbits we’ve sent you lately have been about listening to men. But how do you talk to men effectively?

Men tell us they love listening to women talk, especially when we’re excited about something. Listening to a woman share her passions gives men a sense of well-being. But we’ve all seen men “glaze over” in the middle of our conversation. What’s happening there?

This has to do with the way men think and the way men listen. Being single-focused, when men are listening they are totally focused on what we’re saying. They’re trying to figure out “the point.” And they’re trying to remember what we’re telling them. The glazed look happens when we overwhelm men with too many details that they can’t catalog because it’s unclear what the point is exactly.

Of course the point is unclear, because there usually isn’t a point! We are just expressing our thoughts and want to be heard. If you’d like the man in your life to not glaze over, then you must spare the details. Only include the details they need to understand what you most want them to know about you or your experience. Save the play-by-play for your girlfriends.

To help the men in your life understand how you express yourself and really “see” who you are as a woman, send them to Understanding Women to help men understand women!

Where Are The Berries

While men are Single Focused, women have “Diffuse Awareness.” Diffuse means to pour out in every direction. Explains a lot, yes? It is women’s diffuse awareness that causes the ever-popular multi-tasking that women are famous for. Our awareness of many needs causes us to try to meet them all at once!

Diffuse awareness even effects our vision. Women have “scan vision,” which enables us to enter a room and scan for an item. Imagine how useful this was to our ancestors, scanning a meadow for edible food. Scan vision is what allows women to find things much more quickly than our Single Focused counterparts, whose hunter’s vision allows them to cast a spear (or baseball) with remarkable accuracy but makes it difficult to find the needle in the haystack.

What’s the Deer?

While women have Diffuse Awareness, men’s thinking processes function in what we call “Single Focus.” We believe this is because hunting is not something you can do – successfully – while doing anything else at the same time. It requires single focus or the deer will get away.

If you want to understand what is happening with a man at any particular time, just ask yourself, “What’s the deer?” In other words, what is he focused on? What is he trying to accomplish? What is he hunting now? There will always be a deer, even if what he’s after right now is recovering himself for more hunting with a good nap.

Being in sync with men requires understanding what they are hunting at any moment. For example, most men don’t shop. They hunt articles of clothing. If your man is looking for pants and you, as a gatherer, spot an attractive shirt and point it out to him, he might look at you funny or even say, “That’s not pants.”

The Forest vs. The Meadow

A major source of frustration for women and men is the challenge of speaking and listening to one another. This should help.

Think of men as hunters and women as gatherers. If you imagine a man in a forest, you can see he’s very focused on finding “the deer.” To him, this is the whole point of being in the forest. And that’s what he’s listening for in a woman’s speaking: the Point. She, on the other hand, spends her time in the meadow, seeing and cataloging all the present and future possibilities for gathering. The purpose of her speaking is sharing with her partner what she found in the meadow lately, which she often does in great detail. Not having a gatherer’s data base, this detail will overwhelm men. The overwhelm will be exacerbated by his persistent thought: “What’s the point?”

Here’s the solution. Ladies: Watch the amount of detail you provide and stick to the elements you are most excited about; and invent a point. Gentlemen: Remember that there is no point; she’s sharing with you because she trusts you and is delighted by what she found in the meadow; enjoy her delight.

The Pumpkin Hour

By understanding what a difference sex makes in providing peace, intimacy and unity in a relationship, many of our graduates have developed a new willingness to provide sex for their partners on an “as needed” basis. They are not worrying about whether or not they want to; they’re expecting they will “get into it” soon enough. For the most part, this will work great. It will reduce tension while increasing fun, communication and partnership.

To prevent resentment from developing, it’s important for every person to determine their “Pumpkin Hour.” This is the time after which providing sex will result in loss of sufficient sleep. Given how much men need sleep, and women benefit from plenty of sleep, giving up sleep for sex will eventually create some animosity and decrease the willingness to play.

What’s your “Pumpkin Hour?” You may have one on both ends – a too late and a too early time for sex. Make sure your partner knows what it is, so no one’s feelings have to be hurt, and no one has to be the bad guy.

What’s Your Signal?

In Understanding Sex & Intimacy, women are often surprised to learn that men love it when women initiate sex. Many women are surprised to hear this because they have been turned down so many times. Or at least they think that’s what happened. In speaking to their partners, we found out that the men often didn’t even know that they had been invited for sex. Why? Because how she invited him, didn’t register! He never even knew she was indicating a desire for sex!

One of the most important things to work out in a relationship is your “signal.” How do you indicate a desire for sex? Does your partner know that’s what that means? If you’ve ever felt like it was ignored, there’s a good chance he or she didn’t know what it was. The question to ask each other is, “What’s a good way to let you know that I’d like to have sex?”

Once you know each other’s signals – whether it’s high heels, a balloon tied to the bed, or a direct statement like, “I want you bad!” – there’s a much better chance you’ll connect.

Start With Dessert

One of the difficulties couples experience is having their sex drives align. Thinking about it like hunger, we often need to enroll our partners in eating when we’re hungry and they are not. What’s the easiest way to do that? Offer something delicious! Most people will eat dessert when they’re not hungry.

So, what’s your “dessert?” Does your partner know what it is? Another way of saying it is, “What can your partner do that will interest you in sex when it’s the further thing from your mind?” Men often describe these things as “Bell Ringers.” Another man used the expression, “that activates the launch sequence.”

By understanding what will jump start your partner, you greatly increase your ability to have sex happen with much less struggle and effort.

Before You Get In Bed, Consider the Bonding Hormone

A subject of a lot of research these days, and certainly warranting it, is Oxytocin, affectionately referred to as the Bonding Hormone. This hormone is released in the bodies of both men and women during extreme stress and during orgasm. Oxytocin causes us to bond, or attach, with others, and in the case of orgasm, with our sexual partner. It has also recently been shown to shut down the part of the brain responsible for critical analysis and judgmental thinking.

The effects of Oxytocin are exacerbated by estrogen and minimized by testosterone. The bonding effect seems to last 2-3 weeks in women and 2-3 days in men. This could partly explain why younger women get more attached due to sex than younger men; and why post-menopausal women experience more freedom around sex while older men want regular sex to feel connected to their partners. It also explains why we see each other in a different light after orgasm (it’s orgasm that counts, with or without intercourse).

Both men and women may want to consider the effects of Oxytocin. Are you ready for that attachment, either by you or to you? Are you ready to abandon judgment?

Let the Beauty Sleep

To get the best qualities out of a woman, make sure she is getting enough sleep. By “enough” we don’t mean the amount with which she’s able to get by. We mean the amount with which she is restored to some of the most excellent feminine qualities, e.g. patience, kindness, resilience, compassion and serenity.

Every woman will be able to figure out what “enough sleep” is. And it’s important that she do so, because all those wonderful qualities will show up in the last 15 minutes of UN-interrupted sleep (you can’t patch it together).

If you’re still not convinced to get enough sleep yourself, or to support the woman in your life in getting it...Patience is one the qualities often reported as a result of sleep. And Patience is the quality we have most observed as needed to celebrate and Understand Men!

The “P” stands for Provider and Particular

Fundamental to being a man is being a provider. Not because society expects men to provide (although it does) and not because women want men to provide (although they do). Being a Provider comes with the package. You can’t separate man/provider. It’s part of his identity and part of his definition of a successful man. When asked what men fear, it’s never some physical danger. It’s almost always “failing to provide what my loved ones need.”

Every man is also particular about what he is willing to and wants to provide. For some it’s homes and cars, babies and bicycles. For others it may be support and encouragement, a backrub and a backstop.

The easiest relationships – whether they be romantic, family, friendship or work related – are those in which what a man wants to provide, in fact, is compelled to provide, is highly valued by the receiver.

The Thirteenth Thing

In Understanding Love & Commitment, Alison Armstrong teaches women the twelve things that make a woman “the right person” for a man. This Tidbit is a message from Alison...

“For many years, I’ve asked men what had them choose their wife as their life-long partner. One frequent response has been that standing beside other women, “there was no comparison.” I always thought they meant that when compared to other women, their wives came out in first place; that they won the competition, and that’s why they were chosen.

Lately I discovered that, once again, men are much more literal than that. What men mean when they say “there’s no comparison” is exactly that – the mechanism of automatically comparing their choice to other women is turned off, no longer operational – shut down completely. They simply find themselves no longer comparing. They experience this as an enormous freedom. For the perpetual hunter, the hunt is over and they can relax.”

The Thirteenth Thing - Part 2

Feedback on the last Tidbit has been fascinating. Men wrote that we articulated something that they have tried to express for years. Women wrote, somewhat in a panic, wanting to know “when does this happen?” As near as we can tell, it happens immediately. That’s both the bad news and the good news, ladies.

The bad news is that if the comparison function doesn’t turn off right way, then it never will – no matter how much he cares about you, loves you or gets to know you better. It’s futile to ask to be “given a chance.”

The good news is that “no comparison” is available! As women, we can feel when we’re being compared to other women and it doesn’t feel good. Even when we “win,” it’s threatening to us and destructive to our relationships with other women. That it’s possible for a man to meet a woman and feel that the hunt is over, that she is the destination, is wonderful. We recommend that women look around to see for what men you are that. With so much at stake, he probably needs your encouragement to pursue you.

The Secret to Who Men Marry

One of the biggest mysteries to single women is who men marry and how they chose a wife. In Understanding Love & Commitment, we teach you the 12 things that make a woman “the right person.” The list is very useful, because it allows women to look at different areas of their behavior with men and correct or develop specific new ways of relating to a partner.

But the secret to who men marry is this: Men marry their wives.

No kidding. Men marry the women who are being their wives before they wed. The woman who already loves and supports them, the woman who already is their future and has their back.

This can create a problem in being chosen as a wife, because many women are unwilling to be like a wife and behave like a wife until after the deal is closed. If you’re single, you may want to rethink this approach.

Pleasing and Protection are not a Trade!

As women, we have an instinctive reaction to failing to please a man which is experienced in the form of tension in our bodies. We have the opposite reaction to succeeding in pleasing him – relief.

Upon examination, we’ve found that this primitive response is connected to our primal fear of being left unprotected. Unconsciously we equate pleasing a man with him protecting us and providing for us. If we fail to please, we’re afraid he will let the tiger eat us.

If you ask men about this, they’ll tell you that protecting a woman has nothing to do with being pleased by her; that he would do it regardless. This is because protection and pleasing were not designed as a trade. Men are compelled to provide and protect because that’s part of being a man. He might articulate it as a “duty.” Fulfilling this duty can be a burden or a joy – it’s entirely dependent upon him experiencing being up to the task, and the woman’s appreciation, or lack thereof, for his gift.

The Other “P” in Papa

The other “p” in Papa stands for Protector. It’s important to understand that being a protector is integral to being a man and how each man expresses it in his own way.

Every father defines the dangers he is protecting his children from and the best way to protect them. For some, protection means sheltering them from what they perceive as the biggest dangers, e.g. physical harm, failure, disappointment, heartache, loss of reputation, etc. For others, protection means toughening up the child to handle the dangers the father perceives. The personalization may extend to perceiving some things as greater dangers for one child, and something completely different as a danger for their sibling.

In past generations, a popular way of protecting daughters from some of the perceived dangers in life was finding a strong, capable, resourceful husband for her. In other words, the father replaces himself as the “shelterer.” In the most recent generations, we have found more fathers determined to make their daughters self-sufficient. These fathers protect their daughters by teaching them how to perform traditionally male tasks and giving praise for masculine ways of being.

Whether it is sheltering or causing self-sufficiency, the instinct is the same – to keep their children safe. And as annoying as it may be for the child – who rarely perceives the same dangers – if it’s understood, it can be an endearing expression of fatherhood.

The Anatomy of a Woman’s Feelings

This may be the most important article I have ever written. Please feel free to pass this on to all the women AND all the men in your life. – Alison.

Heart and Lungs, Life and Energy

Imagine, if you will, a woman. Let’s look inside of her. Not the way a doctor might see her, but someone with more intuitive vision. In the center of her chest is a very unique organ. It looks like a disk about the size of a salad plate, up to two inches thick, and it fills her chest. When it is healthy, the color is a vibrant red or magenta or red-orange, and the surface is soft and even bubbly. Like the lungs, it pulls life and energy in from the environment. Specifically from nature, from the joy of loved ones, from beauty. Like the heart, it is connected to every part of her body through a complex circulatory system. As life and energy are pulled into it, life and energy travel to every extremity.

This organ is called “her feelings” and it is the core of her being.

When a woman is delighted or happy, this organ fills with life and energy, expanding and expanding. The life and energy move from her chest to her lungs, and she may breathe more heavily or deeply. From there, the life and energy move to her throat, and she may laugh or giggle or sing. Continuing upward, her mouth turns into a smile, her skin glows and her eyes sparkle. The life and energy flow through her smile and skin and eyes to the people around her and they are uplifted. When the life and energy reach her brain, they fill her head with hopeful, loving, magnanimous, creative thoughts. And as they reach her arms and legs, hands and feet, her step becomes lighter and she may even dance.

This is when she is her most powerful, and paradoxically, her most vulnerable. Bask in her beauty and light and treat her with care.

Pain and Blackness, Silence and Immobility

Imagine now that something happens which “hurts her feelings.” Intentional act or mere oversight, when a woman’s feelings are hurt, the process works in reverse. The rate at which this occurs depends on how harsh or shocking was the hurtful act or comment. It may take three to thirty minutes for the process to be complete.

Within a few seconds the organ has constricted, changing color to black or dark gray and becoming hard and tight like a rock or fist. Vibrant and pulsing a moment before, it lies lifeless. The woman might gasp as she feels the core of her being shrink and harden. Then this new death travels the pathways that life and energy flowed through just moments before.

Being closest to her lungs, breathing will be the first to go. She will feel as if she can’t breathe and her actual breaths will become shallow. Next is the throat. She will be able to speak for only a few moments longer and then the death-feeling will shut down all energy to her throat. The “silent treatment” that others dread is not voluntary. She cannot speak. Her eyes will suddenly become sensitive to light, and especially to people. She’ll have to avoid all eye contact, for it hurts them. After a few more minutes the life and energy is gone from her arms and legs. If she can’t cocoon, she’ll move slowly. If she can, she’ll find a safe place, curl up and become immobile. As time passes, her body feels heavier and heavier, like dirt is being piled on top of her.

In her experience, she has been completely shut down. Then the real mischief begins.

For one small, crucial part of her brain has a back up generator, which turns on as the rest herself shuts off. And it has access to a specific set of files. Let’s call it “the Rage Monster.” While she lies breathless, speechless, blind and immobile, the Rage Monster dips into all the records of irritations, annoyances, pet peeves, and any unresolved injuries. With only these to work with, the Rage Monster starts churning out speeches. Its fantasy is all-out verbal warfare. It plots revenge.

As time goes on, the Rage Monster will gather momentum. Physical proximity to the person who her hurt her feelings fuels the Rage Monster, giving it energy. Though lying buried under dirt, mute and blind, the woman may try to move to a distance from the source of the hurt, understanding intuitively that this might quiet the beast in her head. She may move to another room or out of the house altogether.

On the surface, the Rage Monster may take over the woman’s facial muscles, making her look angry or upset. But underneath its rantings, a small voice in her head is pleading for help, hoping the person who buried her might come dig her out. For he or she is the only one who can.

On the Other Side

Now let’s look from the point of view of the man. Why a man? Because women are more vulnerable to the men they love than anyone else on Earth. And because feelings are different for men. Or so they have told me. Men’s feelings, while just as deep and significant, don’t have the circulatory system women have. Scientists tell us that men don’t have as many connections in their brains from the feeling centers and language centers. This is good, by the way. Different but valuable for many purposes.

So, having a different relationship to feelings in general, the man does not realize that he has just hurt the woman. Whatever he did or said was not intended to be hurtful. Healthy men (which most are) never intend to hurt women. And that same remark or action would probably not have hurt him. He has no idea that her feelings are the organ at the core of her being from which all life and energy flow. No one has ever explained that to him.

After a prolonged silence, he starts to worry that she may be mad at him. He hopes this isn’t true. If he loves her, then her being mad at him is the worst thing that can happen. He is hoping, and maybe praying, that she’s upset at something else, but please, not at him. As one man expressed it, “I’d pay a million, billion, gazillion dollars for her not to be mad at me.” For a being designed to pursue success in every area, this is the worst failure. She is the sun and the moon and both have suddenly deserted his life. And he doesn’t know why.

If she does something that clearly indicates that the anger is directed at him, then hope will die, he’ll know he failed, and there is nothing to do now but fix it. If he has been able to fix it in the past, he’ll quickly respond. If he has never been able to fix it, then he’s really sunk.

Until the woman does something that overtly communicates anger, like going to sleep in the other room or stomping out of the house, he’ll keep hoping that it isn’t him. This is how the woman can be left buried under the dirt in darkness and silence for hours. He doesn’t mean to be cruel. He doesn’t know that she’s drowning and that he’s the only lifeguard.

“I’m Sorry I Hurt You” Raises the Dead

When he does go her, he’ll want to confront the anger head-on. Because he thinks it is real. He doesn’t know that it is the Rage Monster’s default program of miscellaneous junk that really didn’t bother her that much at the time. If he engages the Rage Monster by being angry himself - perhaps because it seems unfair to him that she is angry - then he’s likely to hear all the trash that has been being gathered and rehearsed. A smart man will treat it like the garbage disposal backing up. An informed man could avoid it altogether.

Beneath the anger is the hurt that shut down the whole system and enabled the Rage Monster to take over. If he says, “I’m sorry” - and means it - life will suddenly flow back into her chest and make its way to the rest of her body. It will take a while to reach all the different parts, so he should be patient. But as soon as he says, “I’m sorry,” with true kindness and remorse, the generator to the Rage Monster will shut down and its products quickly fade away. Her true self will take over her mind and her vocal chords again.

What should he be sorry for? Women usually need to hear “I’m sorry” for two things. She needs him to apologize for whatever he said or did, or failed to say or do. And here’s the catch - even if it was justified. Suppose he was late because his boss kept him at work. Completely understandable. But she still needs him to apologize for being late.

The second thing is even more important. Sometimes it is all that matters. She needs him to apologize for how he made her feel. She needs him to apologize for hurting her. He should say, and mean, “I’m sorry I hurt you.” If she suddenly sobs when he says, “I’m sorry I hurt you,” he shouldn’t fear. This sob is a powerful release of the hard, black fist that has gripped her chest. These words open her prison, and soon, she will be tearful but almost smiling, and on her way back to breathing in life and energy again.

“Ouch” May be the Magic Word

Having recently discovered that Greg, my husband of ten years, didn’t know any of the above, I became passionate about telling every man I know, and encouraging other women to do the same. I also began to wonder if there is a way to short circuit the whole cycle. I asked Greg what might happen if, during the few moments before my throat shut down, I said, “Ouch.” Would that alert him to my being hurt? Would that have the lifeguard jump into the water immediately and save me? Greg thought it might.

I understood, of course, that saying “Ouch” would not be easy. When I have been hurt and the system is in the processing of shutting down, making me more vulnerable seems like the last thing I should do. But I was determined to try it at the earliest opportunity.

The very next evening Greg said something that hurt my feelings. Since I was on the way to the market with my mother, my throat didn’t immediately close down, so the Rage Monster could vocalize. I called Greg on my cell phone from the grocery store and gave him a piece of my mind. He reacted in anger and, naturally, fought back. That made the Rage Monster boil to dangerous levels. Some will of mine prevailed and I hung up, thereby gaining some crucial distance.

As I picked out cucumbers and peppers, a small voice in my head said, “Perhaps you should have said ‘Ouch’.” The Rage Monster responded, “It’s too late for that!”

When I arrived home, all the usual symptoms were there. Although I was preparing dinner, I moved slowly, I could hardly speak and I couldn’t look at Greg at all. Then Annie, my youngest, volunteered to get something from the garage refrigerator, where Greg was at the time. Suddenly, I broke through and said, “Annie, tell Dad, ‘Mom says Ouch’.” She looked at her sister like I was crazy so I repeated myself more emphatically. She said okay and went to the garage.

I think he ran. A moment later he was encircling me with his arms and saying, “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry I hurt you. Thank you so much for saying ‘Ouch.’ Thank you so much for telling me what you needed.” Suddenly I could speak. I told him simply what hurt. He apologized. We hugged. And it was over. Just like that.

I haven’t had the chance to try “Ouch” again. By understanding so much of men’s behavior, I am rarely hurt by the things they do. So it was an experiment of only one incident. But since then I have spoken to hundreds of women about our feelings. They have all agreed with the description here.

I encourage you to try “Ouch” yourself. Whether you can do it in those first critical moments, or muster the ability some time later, as I did, I think it is worth doing. I would love to hear how it goes.


What’s Your Model?

This is the first in a series of Tidbits about Relationship Models.

Intrigued? This material has evolved significantly into the audio program: Journey to the Center of You.

Each of us has a clear idea of what the main purpose of a long-term relationship should be. In other words, what the priority of the relationship should be, which becomes the organizing principle. Usually this core purpose, which is clear to us, is unexamined and unarticulated. This is why it can cause a lot of misunderstandings, hurt feelings and persistent, unresolved conflicts.

We call these core purposes “Relationship Models.” The mischief they cause stems from how invisible they are – they just seem like the “right way” to be related. Our model seems so correct to us that we, even, don’t understand how or why a couple stays together when they don’t conform to our model. The most conflict will occur when our chosen partner has a different model.

Here are examples of Relationship Models:

  • The Legacy Model. This is the one we inherited from our ancestors. The focus is usually on the children; making sure they succeed even more than their parents. In the absence of children, there may be another type of legacy that becomes the priority, such as wealth, power, contribution, etc.
  • The Companionship Model. For this model, being together and “doing life together,” is the main priority. In selecting a mate, getting along easily and many common interests are firsts on the list. Variations on the Companionship Model would include “Share Adventure” and “Share Hobbies.”
  • The Support Model. This type of relationship is organized around providing what each other needs to accomplish personal goals or dreams. They don’t expect to “work on” the relationship much; they expect the relationship to support them in what they are working on in life outside the relationship.
  • The Karma Model. The purpose of this relationship is to cause maximum personal growth. Partners will be chosen by how much they challenge each other to expand their physical, emotional, conceptual or spiritual worlds.

What’s Your Model? - Part 2

Since our Relationship Model just seems like the correct way to be related, we are often baffled by couples that don’t conform to our model. For example:

  • Companionship Model folks can’t understand why a Legacy couple stays together when they don’t seem to share a lot of common interests or spend much time together. They also wonder why Support Model couples, who clearly like each other, keep choosing to be apart. To them, no goal is worth being apart for long.
  • Legacy Model folks can’t understand why other people bother to get married if they aren’t going to have children.
  • Support Model folks wonder why Karma Model couples would choose such difficult people to partner with. To them, the relationship requiring minimal attention is a priority to have it support them individually.
  • To Karma Model folks, other easy-going relationships seem unbearably boring.

In each case, our model seems so right, that we can’t really relate to or understand men and women with different priorities. And when asked for advice, we can only provide it from the priorities which seem obvious to us. This is another good reason to only ask for advice from people who actually have what you want!

What’s Your Model? - Part 3

“Easy” relationships occur when both partners have the same model and are working toward the same kind of relationship. This is usually accidental, since most people aren’t aware they have a model and often don’t articulate their relationship priorities well.

When our partner does not have the same relationship model, we are often frustrated because our choices will be made according to our core value – and their choices will be made according to theirs. For example:

  • If a Legacy Model (LM) or a Support Model (SM) marries a Companionship Model (CM), the CM will feel hurt every time the LM or SM chooses to work on what they are building or pursuing, rather than spend time with the CM. And the LM or SM won’t understand why they are hurt, since to them, the Legacy or dream is clearly the priority and why can’t the CM see that?
  • Even when two people share the Support Model, conflict can happen because both expect to be the one supported by the other. So they agree in principle – partners should empower their mates in fulfilling their dreams – but they didn’t state which end they intended to be on. Support models work best when one person’s desire is to provide the support the other needs and fully appreciates.
  • If a Karma Model (KM) gets together with a Companion Model (CM), let’s say of the Share Adventure variety, then here is a predictable argument...KM: “We have an issue here. We need to talk about it.” CM/SA: “Why do we have to talk about everything? Why can’t we just enjoy each other’s company and have fun?”

As you can see, the problem is the unarticulated expectations. Because our models seem correct and are obvious truths to us, we don’t take the time to really spell out what we need and desire in our relationship. By understanding what your Relationship Model is, you can avoid heartache and frustration in choosing a mate. If you’re already committed, use the Models to understand each other, and realize the choices you’ve each made were not meant to thwart or hurt the other. Search for middle ground and ways to give you both more of what you need.

What’s Your Model? - Part 4

Conclusion “Are We Doomed?”

Since publishing this series on Relationship Models, we have received a few frantic inquiries: “We don’t have the same model. Are we doomed?” Not necessarily! The key is understanding that a person’s Relationship Model is a reflection of their core values, an expression of what is most important to them in life. It could be what they leave behind (Legacy Model), “doing life” with someone (Companion Model), fulfilling a dream or a mission (Support Model), or being challenged to grow and expand (Karma Model).

Unfortunately, our core values are the only ones that immediately appear completely valid. When others’ differ, they seem everything from interesting to annoying. The real challenge is to grant as much weight to what is important to others, even when we don’t agree. This is a skill that improves all relationships!

If you’re attacking the validity of what is important to another, they have no choice but to defend themselves. Not a good environment for creative compromise. But if you’re not attacking, if instead, you’re protecting their interests too, then miracles can happen. This kind of conversation between a Support Model and a Companion Model might look like, “I see that what’s most important to you is us being together. I like that. What’s most important to me is having the support I need to fulfill my dream. Even though I love being with you, that sacrifice for my goal is one I have to make. Maybe we could meet in the middle – there might be an amount of time together that would be enough for you; not ideal, but enough. And an amount of freedom to pursue my goals that would be enough for me too. Wanna try?”

The key word here is “enough.” If you pay attention to “enough” instead of the “ideal amount,” it’s possible to meet in the middle. Of course, “enough” may be unreachable for you or your partner, in which case the loving thing to do might be to release yourselves to find what you really need and cannot provide each other.

The Little Things Say Thanks Subtly

If there's one thing we've learned from studying men for over 20 years, it's that men and women experience appreciation in very different ways. Unfortunately, one of the ways men feel appreciated, and therefore supported, has gone out of fashion for women. It's even considered demeaning in some circles. Men call it “the little things,” such as ironing a shirt, making one of his favorite dinners, or packing a lunch or snacks for an outing with the guys.

As you might have noticed, two out of three of the above have to do with food. This is often the case with men. And that makes this week an especially good opportunity to not just give thanks for, but also express thanks to the men in our lives.

Giving The Advice That Works For Us

Believing men and women are versions of each other, we expect what works for us will work for them. For example:

  • The masculine way of thinking is Single Focused; moving from one result to the next in singular commitments, connecting and disconnecting from the people around them.
  • The feminine way of thinking is Diffuse Awareness; multi-tasking in response to being pulled by multiple urgent necessities, while maintaining a sense of Velcro-like connection to everyone around them.
  • When a man gets frustrated because he does not have what he needs to produce the result he is committed to, a woman will say, “Just do something else.” When the barrage of needs demanding her attention overwhelms a woman, a man will respond, “Just do one thing at a time.” Neither can do what the other is suggesting! And the advice leaves both feeling misunderstood.
  • We also hurt each other's feelings. Women feel abandoned when men shift their focus away from them. Men are crushed when a woman chooses an interruption over listening to them. In fact, neither of these things is really happening.

Just to keep things interesting -- in our late 40s and 50s changing testosterone levels cause our brains to re-wire, making women more focused and causing men to multi-task!

What If “Love At First Sight” Is Always The Case?

While leading a workshop where we look at the fantasies and illusions women have about marriage, I mentioned that for my husband, Greg, it was love at first sight. One participant immediately asked, “How was it for you?” My response: It wasn't like that for me. Then I thought about the six months between the time Greg and I started dating and the evening I fell in love with him. And I realized that it was love at first just had taken me six months and 2 hours to see him!

What was different about that night? I'm embarrassed to admit that it was the first time that I really let Greg talk. He had returned from a motorcycle trip and I asked him to bring the map and tell me all about it. This was not accidental. I had decided to really listen to him, after realizing that he was such an amazing listener that I took advantage and never stopped talking!

As he pored over his map, telling me what had happened at each juncture, he was fully himself – his teaching ability, his humor, his joy, his wonder. I fell head over heels.

What if it's always love at first sight? That could mean that if we don't feel the love yet, we haven't seen the person yet. Given how much we have learned about making it safe for someone to show themselves, that would mean that being in love is something we can cause...Interesting notion, yes?

How To Get A Turn

This is what I've heard dozens of times: “Alison, I've been listening to men the way you taught us. And it's amazing. They open up, there is more intimacy and I'm learning so much about them. But they can talk for hours and when they do stop, they don't return that listening with interest in me. But I want to talk how do I get a turn?”

Men rarely get listened to by women attentively and without interruption. So, when they come upon a woman practicing what we teach, they tend to revel in it. Completely understandable!

To get a turn women need to understand a couple of other things about men:

  • Men have a different fundamental relationship to communication, which we call "conceal," versus the "reveal" that women do
  • This comes from being a protector and not divulging information that could be used against them
  • Having a natural inclination to conceal information, men (and women in protector mode) have a stronger sense of privacy and more respect for the privacy of others
  • They consider asking a lot questions to be prying
  • To compound this, he assumes that anything you want him to know, you will tell him -- because that's what men do
  • Since women interpret the asking of questions as interest and caring, this causes a lot of problems!

The solution? When you want to tell a man something, say, “There's something I want to tell you about.” If it's a good time, he'll shift into listening mode and you'll have the benefit of his gloriously single-focused attention on what you want him to know. If it's not a good time, he'll usually propose a better time and then you'll get his attention.

Next time: When you do have his attention, how to deal with the "default listenings" of men...

How To Get A Turn - Part 2

Going Against Their Own Nature

Men are capable of providing the most amazing things -- even things that are completely against their nature. We've asked men to "just listen" as we unload all our thoughts, and they have. We've asked men to listen sympathetically to our problems but do nothing, and they have.

Why is this against their nature? Because the masculine way of listening (which women will have as well when they are in man-mode), falls into two categories:

  • If the person speaking is fine, he will listen for, “What is the point?”
  • If the person speaking is upset or angry, he will listen for, “What is the problem?”

These are the masculine "default listenings." If you want something different, you have to ask for it in advance. And because it will take discipline to provide it, make sure he gets a ton of points for it!

Next time: The "default listenings" of women.

How To Get A Turn - Part 3

You Mean It's Not All About Me?

Women often get accused of having everything be about them. In excess we call this Center of the Universe disease. It is one of the things that has women think men are ignoring them when they never are.

But this isn't a personal problem. It's part of our design and something we need to learn work with to have more satisfying relationships. Like men, we can choose to go against our own nature -- once we understand what it is!

This is one place to start: Just as men will automatically listen for “What's the Point?” and “What's the Problem?” women also have default listenings. Like men, the way women automatically listen falls into two categories:

If the person speaking is fine, she will listen for, “What does this have to do with me?”

  • On the positive side, this allows her to efficiently collect the information that is relevant to her and store it carefully away in her gatherer's database. For example, she records the preferences of others without even thinking about it.
  • On the negative side, this is what has her tune out when the relevance to her life is not forthcoming. She may wonder why someone is telling her something and get annoyed that they are wasting her time.

If the person speaking is upset or angry, she will listen for, “What do you need from me?”

  • On the positive side, this allows her to adapt to the other's needs and care for, nurture and support appropriately.
  • On the negative pole, this is what has her meddle, advise, coach and take over without having permission to do so. When our mates complain, we become their mother and try to save them (not something they are looking for).

When we can see our own automatic, instinctual behavior, we can catch it and, in that precious moment, CHOOSE to be or do something else.

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