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More Reasons Why Men Stonewall July 30, 2013

Posted by occhristiancounseling in classes, Dr. Debi Smith, emotions, stonewalling, understanding men.
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Why Do Men Stonewall? (and what you can do about it) from Dr. Debi Smith

Why Do Men “Stonewall”? June 10, 2009

Posted by occhristiancounseling in classes, Dr. Debi Smith, stonewalling.
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Dr. Debi Smith

As a couples therapist, I’ve had a lot of opportunity to observe how hard women work at their relationships.

When something’s wrong, it’s often the woman who notices it and wants to talk about it – to figure out what’s wrong and fix the problem.

Here’s an example of a frequent complaint from our Relationship Survey:

“We have problems agreeing on the way in which we will deal with problems. I want to deal with them when they come up, and he wants to think about it on his own for a long time and hope the problem goes away before we talk about it.”

Chances are, this woman won’t be able to wait for him to bring up the problem again. She’ll be miserable waiting on him to say something. At best, she’ll feel like it’s just not that important to him. At worst, she’ll feel like SHE’S just not that important to him. As the hours and days tick by, she’ll start to feel more and more anxious about their relationship.

What is stonewalling?

Stonewalling is withdrawing or refusing to respond to your partner. For men, it may be a response to their own confusion or due to them feeling overwhelmed. Early in life, men learn that they have to come up with the answers to problems on their own, so this behavior makes sense. (More about this later in the course.)

For women, being stonewalled by a partner creates excessive anxiety—and anger.

Now, for the surprising side of stonewalling: It’s actually much more damaging to the relationship if the woman is the stonewaller!!

QUESTION: Do you shut him out when he hurts your feelings or does something you don’t approve of?

The female version of stonewalling can be subtle (refusing to talk to him for a few minutes) or dramatic (pouting, stomping out of the room, slamming doors, not speaking for days, etc.).

EXERCISE: Observe your own behavior today. Notice how often you stonewall in response to something he says or does. Remember, your stonewalling may be more subtle, so you’ll have to be a diligent detective.

Click here to share your thoughts if you wish. Or register for the FREE eCourse: Why Won’t He Talk to Me?

Why Does He Just Sit There? April 18, 2009

Posted by occhristiancounseling in Q & A, stonewalling.
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Sue’s Question: My boyfriend and I have been arguing a lot lately. He just doesn’t get it. Nothing gets resolved, and I am so frustrated with him! Now when I try to bring the issue up, he just ignores me. I can’t get him to talk at all! Why does he just sit there?

Dr. Smith’s Answer: The answer is both simple and confusing in that, despite popular male opinion, men are actually much more complicated than they seem. Most of us (men included) have been terribly misinformed! In reality, men are more emotionally sensitive than women. They will do anything and everything they can to avoid conflict with the women they love. Their fight-or-flight response kicks into high gear at the very onset of a disagreement, and because they don’t want to fight, they take flight (withdraw). Women also don’t realize that men experience the very same emotions that women do, but express them differently. Men don’t just don’t have the words to express how they are feeling, so most of their emotional expression comes out as indifference or anger, two extremes.

It doesn’t have to be like that. Both men and women need a better understanding of the male emotional experience. Click here to learn more.

Men Are Different April 16, 2009

Posted by occhristiancounseling in Stories.
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by Christen

I guess I knew they were always different! Or did I?

This is probably what really peaked my interest in the psychology of men. I have numerous personal stories in my life experiences that have helped to foster this interest. As far back as I can remember I have always been fascinated by boys. I think I liked a new boy each year as I was growing up! I guess I always thought that boys had the same needs, emotions and thoughts as I did. Come to find out this is not the case at all! [read more]

Men and Attachment: Part 1 March 21, 2009

Posted by occhristiancounseling in attachment.
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The maternal role has long been emphasized in seeking to understand the process of human development. Building on the work of Freud and his followers, Bowlby (1969/1982, 1973), a British psychiatrist fascinated by Darwinian theory of animal survival, was among the early theorists to explore the interactions between mother and child. Believing that psychoanalytic theory failed to give appropriate attention to early childhood experiences, Bowlby considered the findings of ethologist Lorenz and American psychologist Harlow in his interpretation of early interactions between human mothers and their offspring (Karen, 1998). Apart from their need to be fed and protected, Bowlby (1979) recognized “the propensity of human beings to make strong affectional bonds to particular others” (p. 201).

It should be noted that since mothers are most often the primary caregivers, Bowlby’s writing often referred to mothers specifically, though he noted that the same observations could also be made in regard to any person who was the child’s primary caregiver. Since the purpose of the present discussion is to explore a particular cross-gender relationship, references to attachment theory herein will be expressed simply in terms of boys and their mothers as primary female caregivers, whether the women are biological mothers, adoptive mothers, or other women.

Bowlby (1969/1982) proposed that an inborn attachment system assures infant survival and safety by organizing motivational, emotional, and memory processes in relationship to significant caregivers. When the infant is alarmed or distressed, activation of the infant’s attachment system motivates him to seek proximity (e.g., by crying, moving toward) to the caregiver. The attachment process establishes an interpersonal relationship that assists the infant in using the mother’s cognitive functions to organize his own mental processes. If his mother is consistently available and responsive to him, his negative emotions (e.g., fear, anxiety, sadness) are reduced; he is soothed and begins to develop the capacity to soothe himself. More precisely, he develops an internal working model of self (as lovable) and other (as loving) that is fundamental to secure attachment.
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Understanding Dad March 20, 2009

Posted by occhristiancounseling in Q & A.
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W’s Question: My Dad uses the phrase “I just don’t experience emotions in the way you do,” but I know this can’t be. Our family has suffered a lot and his coping mechanism has been to shut down and ignore the problem, or run away to work.

My question is, now that I understand how helpful it would be for him to recognize and express his feelings, and for me to hear that he has emotion, how can I help him understand himself? I am mostly concerned with the fact that I am suddenly aware of this and want to help, but I would never want to cross the line and make him feel somehow inferior or less of a man because of my interventions.

Dr. Smith’s Answer: This is a problem many women have in understanding the men they love. They confuse the experience of emotion with the expression of emotion. For women, emotional experience and emotional expression are pretty much one and the same.

Although men experience the same emotions that women experience, they often express them very differently. For example, women express their fears by talking about them, whereas men are more likely to busy themselves with activities. Men aren’t ignoring their anxiety; they are coping with it by doing something constructive. It’s not a bad coping mechanism. It’s just a different coping mechanism.

My guess is that your dad understands himself pretty well. What he could use is a little more understanding from you. In short, he needs your empathy. Not “girly” stuff, but something that fits where he is. You’re right in wanting to avoid making him feel inferior or less of a man by what you do and say, so you’ll want to consider the following:

First, male and female communication styles are very different. Women prefer “undivided attention.” However, men are more comfortable talking when they’re engaged in an activity with someone. So it’s better if you are side-by-side, doing something together (e.g., washing the dishes or going for a walk) when you talk to him about anything serious.

Second, when you sense that he’s having a hard time of it, you can say something simple like:

Things have been pretty hard around here lately, and I can only imagine how tough it’s been on you. I really appreciate you being here and taking care of us through it all.

Finally, after you’ve made your statement, stop talking! Shut up. End of discussion. If he wants to talk more, he will. If he doesn’t respond, don’t pressure him. No matter what he does, you can rest assured that your empathy (understanding) will have registered with him, and you will have made a bigger impact on him than you can ever imagine.
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Building Sandcastles March 16, 2009

Posted by occhristiancounseling in Q & A.
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Daniel’s Question: Why do men, including myself, continue time after time to take any situation into their own hands and try to solve problems through trial and error and, after failing, then we get emotional and frustrated?

Dr. Smith’s Response: Thanks for your question, Daniel. It’s an important one! I’ll start with an illustration:

Have you ever watched kids playing in the sand at the beach? Little Annie is having fun with her favorite pail and shovel while her mother watches from a few feet away. Another child, about Annie’s age, comes along and watches for a few moments, then grabs Annie’s shovel. Her mother immediately takes action! She retrieves the toy and promptly returns it to her daughter, comforting her little girl with a hug and scolding the other child as she does so.

What did Annie learn? She learned that others will be there to help her, to take care of her. She feels valued, though she won’t be able to express it quite that way. She feels secure.

A few yards away on the same the beach, little Tommy is building a sandcastle while his mother is reading a book nearby. Another child, about Tommy’s age, comes along and watches for a few moments, then tromps on Tommy’s castle, smashing it flat and destroying his work in a matter of seconds. Tommy’s mother turns her attention toward her son, but she doesn’t move. Tommy starts to whimper and immediately looks toward his mom, but she makes sure he doesn’t notice she’s watching. She waits. The other child walks away, and Tommy again looks toward his mom. She has already turned her focus back to her reading. So Tommy goes back to rebuilding his castle.

What did Tommy learn? No one is going to help you. You feelings don’t matter. You have to figure stuff out on your own.

Now repeat those themes over and over for 10 or 20 years. In what ways do women and men respond differently to problems?

Generally speaking, women turn to others to help them process and understand life’s difficulites. They want to be comforted and understood, and they believe they will be able to find the help they need…or at least that they have the right to ask for it.

Men, on the other hand, have be taught (socialized) that they must figure things out on their own. The thought of asking for help feels weak and unmanly.

Even so, men are not omnipotent (all powerful). They cannot solve everything on their own. They’re human, and they have feelings: strong feelings they frequently have to bottle up. They handle the difficulty for a while, but when it doesn’t get resolved, the emotional pressure reaches explosion level. Then others shame them and tell them they have “anger issues.” Who wouldn’t? They’re trapped: Don’t ask for help. Don’t get emotional. Don’t be weak.

It’s a tough row to hoe.
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