Saturday, October 27, 2018

You just don't understand!

In my observation, men and women often make classic mistakes in relating to each other. In one respect, that's surprising–surprising insofar as these are classic mistakes. You'd think men and women could avoid repeating classic mistakes. Because they're such cliches, they ought to be well-known. Why not learn from other people's mistakes? Many parents make classic mistakes as well. Once again, why not learn from other people's mistakes instead of recycling the same counterproductive strategies?

One problem is that many men and women just assume they should be able to automatically understand the other sex. But of course, male and female psychology are different, so that's a risky assumption. Many men and women would benefit from acting like animals trainers. An animal trainer has to master the psychology of whatever species he trains. Or, to take a more dramatic example, there are naturalists who study wolf packs in the wild. Some do it immersively by becoming a member of the pack. They have to learn to think like a wolf. Anticipate how wolves react. Understand visual cues. Submissive and dominance behavior. Play by the rules of the wolf pack since the wolves won't play by their rules. Deborah Tannen wrote a classic book on how men and women frequently talk past each other. 

A stereotypical mistake some husbands make is to neglect the marriage. The ambitious, workaholic father and husband who puts career first. 

I haven't read his new book, but to judge by reviews, Jordan Peterson gives younger men a Stoic, pull-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps pep talk. That might be useful for some men, but it's my impression that it's becoming genuinely harder for many men to succeed in our society. So just telling them to buck up isn't necessarily a solution.  

In my anecdotal observation, some women have two conflicting impulses, but they haven't thought about it clearly. They haven't considered the endgame. On the one hand, they don't want to be alone for the rest of their lives. They don't want to be divorcées or single moms. 

On the other hand, when they get mad at the boyfriend or husband, they want to get even. "He hurt me so I'm going to hurt him back!" Revenge is emotionally satisfying up-to-a-point. Indeed, it can become all-absorbing. But the utterly predictable effect is to alienate the husband from the wife. That drives the husband further away.

Another cliche example is winning arguments by dredging up the past. Keeping a record of grudges. A list of his (real or perceived) slights and failures. That might succeed in silencing the guy, but it makes him resentful, so is it worth it? What's the endgame? 

Marriages are fragile. There's not the built-in bond between parents and kids, or siblings. There's not even the natural rapport in male friendships or female friendships, where friends understand each other because they think alike. Men think alike. Women think alike. 

As a result, marriage can't survive the same degree of emotional punishment. The problem is not so much that couples cease to love each other but that couples cease to like each other. In a marriage gone bad, they go from liking each other to loving each other to disliking each other. Once you develop a dislike for someone you used to like, that's very hard to overcome. A classic example is the philandering husband. 

If you pour defoliant on a marriage to win an argument, that may sterilize the ground. The flowers won't come back. 

There's nothing necessarily wrong with winning the argument. It's a matter of how you do it. 

Some women need to decide whether they wish to save the marriage or give into revenge. They can't do both. Those are divergent paths. If they wish to save the marriage, they must let go of the rage. They must choose. They must decide that marriage is more important than the emotional satisfaction of venting. 

Women are prone to psychological warfare anyway (e.g. teenage girls and cyberbullying), and some of them learn too late that when they practice slash-n-burn tactics, they are raining down napalm and Agent Orange on their own lives in the process. 

The counterpart is the drunk, abusive boyfriend or husband. One of the mysteries of marriages is the variety. Some women stick with abject losers while other women walk out on devoted husbands. Some couples are utterly devoted to each other while some men ditch the workaday wife who put them through college for a trophy wive. It's so unpredictable. Such a gamble.  Fantastic when it works out, hellish when it doesn't. 

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