Tuesday, August 25, 2009

"Can't You Just Let Me Feel Bad for Awhile?" -- Understanding Female Emotions in Relationships and Marriage

Sometimes women say they want to feel bad, and it drives us absolutely nuts, because we don’t. What’s happening, and what can you do about it?

As you might guess, the women in my life (wife, mother, sister, friends, readers, etc.) are usually a great source for material for these newsletters, as are their husbands and boyfriends and my male friends on occasion. One such occasion was one day while my wife was having her lunch and was watching television.

My wife, and a lot of other women, because they are inherently attracted to anything where they can see authority figures, will watch just about anything that has a cop, a lawyer or judge, a pilot, or a doctor in it. (They also like mysteries because they enjoy the anticipation and suspense, so take the hint!)

I walked into our living room to join my wife for lunch (lunch at the coffee table while watching a home improvement show was a favorite pastime at that time) as the end of an old episode of “Judging Amy” was on television, and saw a woman jump off the ledge of a tall building after letting her daughter loose to run to the judge. My wife says that Judge Amy had refused to alter a custody agreement due to lack of evidence, and said that the woman had contrived the “drama of the issue” as part of an ongoing fight. Witnesses has described her as “paranoid,” and “dramatic” during the proceeding.

The scene then changes to Judge Amy sitting in front of a fire in the dark drinking something that looked like Scotch on the rocks and her mother, the social worker, walks in looking concerned and sits down, and starts telling Amy how the woman was unstable, Amy had made the right judicial decision, sounding very much like a man would sound under the circumstances. (There’s nothing masculine about Tyne Daly, even in her “golden years,” but there are times when her character is quite direct and masculine, but in a matronly kind of way.)

Amy interrupts her by saying, “Mom, I feel bad because something bad happened today. Can’t you just let me feel bad for awhile?”

Yes, that sounds crazy because no man would ever say something like that, unless of course he was pretty effeminate, but I would bet the farm that eight out of ten men reading this will have heard a woman say that at one time or another because I’ve heard eight out of ten of the women I’ve ever known well enough to want them to feel better say it. Why?

It’s that same problem of our differing emotional scales. (See
this recent archived article for details.) Ours runs from negative to positive, with neutral in the middle, while a woman’s runs from zero to extreme without a lot of discrimination between positive and negative. They would prefer to feel good over bad if handed the choice of two doses of equal intensity, but there are times when a woman has a choice between feeling a little good and really bad that she’ll choose to feel really bad just to feel SOMETHING intensely. Again, why?

We both tend to stay near the middle of our emotional scales, which is our comfort zone. Men don’t like to stray too far from neutral in either direction. Feeling bad creates an urgent need to fix something, while feeling too good makes us irrational (it will be a long time before the world forgets Alan Greenspan’s words, “irrational exuberance” and the fallout from that) or makes us paranoid, wondering so intensely when the good time is going to fall apart that we cause it to fall apart.

Women, on the other hand, have a higher level of emotional involvement and energy at the middle of their scale, and if they go too low, they get bored (and start exhibiting a lot of the same behavior we exhibit when we’re at the low end of our scale – scared, hurt or angry – including in extreme cases nausea, trembling, disorientation, feeling of desperation, etc.), or if they go too high on the scale, they tend to get irrational and get lost in the emotional overload, unable to return to the middle of the scale until they bleed off that excess emotional energy.

So what does this have to do with Amy? She was trying to bleed off that excess emotional energy by just experiencing it and letting it burn her out and make her bored with the issue to sufficient degree that she could get back in balance, recentered, and refocused. So what does this mean to you?

First, that when one of the women in your life is feeling bad, giving her logical, rational reasons why she should feel good isn’t going to do anything but frustrate her. She’s not stupid, and she likely already knows most or all of the reasons available to feel good and has tried thinking about them. Throwing them in her face is the equivalent of telling her she’s too stupid to think of something like that herself. Don’t do it.

Logic and reason can very rarely be used to bring a woman out of a heightened emotional state unless you are a very strong leader, so with a low chance of success and a high risk of insulting her and royally pissing her off, just don’t go there until you have mastered alpha male leadership and can jolt her out of her distress with a strong, alpha male maneuver that will cause a massive and rapid bleed-off of all that emotion. As a novice, there are really only two things you can do.

The first is to do as Amy asked, and just let her get through it. Be supportive if you can without acting like you’re trying to be a father or coddle her; otherwise just let it go. Or, there’s a better option, if you’re a pretty strong leader…

In some circumstances, especially when she’s feeling bad about something that happened to somebody else, such as a friend’s mother dying (as opposed to her own), you can convert that negative energy to positive energy by finding something utterly outrageous to do to distract her, and when she acts pissy and says something like, “Can’t you see I’m upset?” you just turn it up another notch with something like, “Do you think I’d be acting this ridiculous if I couldn’t?” and crack the big naughty grin.

She might smack you a good one, but she’ll be pouting and smiling at the same time, a sign that you’ve won, so keep it up and lead her out. If however, she says something like, “I appreciate what you’re trying to do, but I’m just going to have to get past this myself,” give her a hug and tell her that you’ll be somewhere doing whatever you’re going to be doing when she’s over it or if she wants to talk.

Be perfectly clear on this point: You can lead her if she wants to be lead, but you cannot force her out of a bad mood or emotional pain, so forget any notions you have to the effect of “I have to save her or die trying.” No, you don’t, and if you try to save her when she doesn’t want to be saved you’ll just make her mad.

Besides, as her partner, your job is protection and nurturing, not salvation. Some would say that’s the job of religion, not men; I say it’s the job of the person needing saved. In any case, give her the respect of assuming that she can save herself when she’s ready and will at most let you help a bit. Women who can’t save themselves from their problems aren’t partners; they’re dependents, just like men who can’t save themselves.

As I’ve been saying, lessons are everywhere if you look for them. Some of us are better at identifying them and organizing them than others, and we tend to be counselors, trainers, consultants, and teachers. I’m all of the above, and an author as well, so you lucked out!

I’ve put a whole lot of these kind of lessons in "THE Man’s Guide to Great Relationships and Marriage," so go to
http://www.makingherhappy.com/ and download your copy right now and have the benefit of all the testing and experience that went into it now, while it’s easier to do something with it than after everything blows up in your face. (You can fix it after the blow up, but why do it the hard way when you have an easier choice???)

In the meantime, live well, be well, and have a wonderful day!
David Cunningham

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