If you’ve never seen the short video “It’s Not About the Nail,” take a couple of minutes to watch it now: https://youtu.be/-4EDhdAHrOg. You’ll probably enjoy a laugh — and feel a twinge of recognition.
As you can see, “It’s Not About the Nail” captures a common situation in marriage. Spouses often go into an interaction with very different expectations, and that can lead to conflict. For example, one spouse doesn’t get their needs met during the interaction and becomes upset. Then the other spouse becomes confused and frustrated because they don’t know why the other spouse is upset and what they need.
It’s All About Communication
Fortunately, there’s a way to avoid this confusion. It’s simple, but not always easy to carry out. The next time you’re in a situation that could turn into an “It’s Not About the Nail” moment, let your husband know at the outset what you’re seeking from the interaction. For example, do you just need to vent and feel heard? Or would you like him to help you solve a problem? Vice versa, if he’s coming to you with a problem, confirm with him what he really needs — even if you think you already know.
we skip this step because we think our partner should “just know”
what we need and how to respond. But it’s important to remember that each of
you brings different experiences to your marriage, and that affects how you
react to each other. What seems obvious to you isn’t so obvious to him, and
vice versa. This is why being clear about your needs is one of the most loving
and helpful things you can do for each other.
I love how the “It’s Not About the Nail” video uses humor to share some real wisdom about relationships. And I hope you’ll remember it the next time you feel like your husband just isn’t getting what you’re saying. For more advice on communication in marriage, pick up a copy of my book Strong Women, Strong Love.
In my last blog post, on emotional labor, I cited the work of renowned couple’s therapist, speaker and author Terry Real. Real’s work is important, and it has the potential to change your marriage, so I wanted to tell you more about him.
This is an intense read. The couple, Peter and Jenn, struggle with problems that affect many marriages. Their early passion for each other has fizzled. She’s tired of trying to build intimacy, while Peter seems incapable of it. He feels she’s undercutting his authority with their children, while she worries about his toxic temper, especially with their son. To top it all off, Peter has also been unfaithful.
Take a few moments to read and reflect on this case study. As you do, here are a few key points I especially want you to take to heart.
In our culture, we still raise boys to be “hard, logical, independent and stoic,” as Real says. This creates men who are “emotionally distant, arrogant, numb to their own feelings and unconcerned about everyone else’s, as well as contemptuous of vulnerability and weakness.” Real points out something else important here: Men who were raised this way are the norm, not an aberration, especially when we look at older generations.
It might be easy to interpret Real’s work as man-bashing, but that’s not accurate. He emphasizes that men struggle with intimacy not because they’re bad people, but because of the way they were raised and cultural messages. Real believes that, with hard work and bravery, men can change what they bring to relationships. He’s been through such a transformation himself.
Real is not saying that women are perfect. In this case study, he’s clear that Jenn has her own issues to address, but that the most urgent need is for Peter to make changes.
Real believes that what looks like men’s fear of intimacy is really the fear of subjugation. “Many men read emotional receptivity as an invitation to be run over,” Real says. This comes from raising men with an overemphasis on being strong and competitive.
Nurturing and understanding, whether from their partners or through therapy, won’t change men like Peter. Instead, Real believes such men need to “feel proportionately ashamed for (their) bad behavior and yet still manage to hold onto (their) essential worth as an imperfect human being.” Appropriate shame isn’t spending the rest of your days in obsessive self-loathing. It’s about realizing who you have hurt and doing your best to make amends.
Real breaks from the common practice of the therapist not taking sides. “I side with the woman,” Real says. Again, he’s not against the man. He just believes that “business as usual” in therapy doesn’t work. This is because the skills and expectations men and women bring to a relationship can be extremely different.
If you’d like to delve further into Real’s work, there’s a great archive of articles on his website. You may also want to check out recent media coverage of Real in Forbes and AlterNet. To further your understanding of how your relationship is affected by the way you were both raised, enjoy this complimentary chapter on gender expectations from Strong Women, Strong Love.