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Inside the male mind

By NAN BIALEK

 

A woman drags herself through the door after a long, stress-a-palooza day at work. "What a day! I am so fed up with that job," she tells her husband. His response, generally speaking, is predictable. "Well, quit," he says.

That’s not the answer she’s looking for, says Barbara Bartlein of Bay View, psychotherapist and author of "Why Did I Marry You Anyway?" A woman wants her man to simply lend her an ear.

The exchange illustrates a primary difference in the way men and women communicate. Women tend to process issues by talking them out, Bartlein explains. The average guy, however, is wired to think about solving the problem. "Women get frustrated because they just want to vent," Bartlein says. "They don’t want somebody telling them what to do."

Francie L. Stone, psychologist and certified sex therapist at Aurora Women’s Pavilion, often sees the same clashing communication styles in her practice.

She points out that it’s not unusual for a woman with an issue to pick up the phone and share it with every one of her girlfriends, female relatives and other women in her social network. She wants to tell the story, Stone says, and she needs to tell the whole story.

When she brings the same issue to her man, he is less inclined to hear every detail. Stone says men are more likely to say, "Can you ‘bottom line it’ for me?" Generally speaking, men are looking for the CliffsNotes.

When a man has a problem to work out, you probably won’t find him on the phone or confiding in his poker pals. You might, however, find him puttering around the basement, where he’ll be fixing whatever’s bugging him. Alone. "Men are likely to go into themselves and internalize and then they’ll come out and they’re ready to go on," Stone says. In other words, they’re done.

So, if men are from Planet Bottom Line, and women are from Planet Speed Dial, is there a way to avoid frustration?

Yes, say Bartlein and Stone. There’s a simple solution for a woman trying to get what she needs from a man: Point-blank ask for it. Bartlein realizes that this may get in the way of romantic notions of those who believe "If he really loves me, he’ll know what I want."

"Trust me," Bartlein says, "they don’t. I’m not saying they don’t try." For example, men are trying to be sweet when they say things like, "You really look good. You’re not as fat as so-and-so." In a typical male mind, Bartlein says, that would be chalked up as a compliment.

Men are definitely not mind readers, Stone says, and neither are women. Maybe your guy believes you are well aware of the fact that he’s crazy about you because he calls you from the road with an urgent warning that there is glare ice out there. "I’m thinking, ‘Big whoopity-do-da, you haven’t told me you loved me in five days,’" Stone says. "I need you to tell me every day that you love me and I need a kiss."

Stone suggests that couples make specific lists of what they need in order to feel loved and appreciated. Then sit down and talk about those needs in a nonthreatening way. "We all have needs, in our relationships, our jobs, in all areas of our lives," Stone says. "We have to keep an open mind and be accepting of our differences."

Acceptance, Bartlein says, is the key to real, lasting romance. "Long-term relationships are about snore strips and flannel nightgowns," Bartlein says. "But more than anything it’s understanding how men and women think differently, because they really do."