10 Statements Guaranteed to Drive Guys Crazy

In Love, Sex, and Relationships by Dr. Keith Witt

iStock_000004398866XSmall-300x225Ten (of Countless) Statements Guaranteed to Drive Guys Crazy
  • “No, I don’t want to have sex.”
  • “You just don’t know how to treat a woman.”
  • “It was on sale, I had to buy it!”
  • “Make your own damned dinner!”
  • “You only think about yourself.”
  • “I don’t know if I want to be married to you anymore.”
  • “I have something important we need to talk about and you’re not going to like it.”
  • “You’re acting just like your mother!” (Or father, or brother—whoever is the most obnoxious.)
  • “We don’t talk anymore.”
  • “That’s just the way I am.”
Men generate “I’ve had it!” checklists, too—especially when hearing statements like the ones above pronounced by women speaking with hurt, angry, contemptuous, or self-righteous tones on a grindingly regular basis. In my last blog, (10 Statements Guaranteed to Drive Women Crazy)  you’ll recall that Cynthia was depressingly exasperated with so many of husband Jim’s hits on her “I’ve had it!” checklist, but there are always two sides to such stories. Cynthia tended to express her resentment in cold silences, sarcastic comments, and—when she popped—angry arguments. When she felt she couldn’t get through to Jim, she tended to give up on contact and become distant and uncommunicative, sometimes for days. Bottom line: Cynthia and Jim just didn’t know how to express their needs and talk to each other productively when something felt wrong. Instead, they bottled up their frustration and made silent, mental checks on their “I’ve had it!” checklists each time they felt injured, instead of talking about their hurt feelings. This is especially dangerous because, when you feel like an irritating situation is either getting worse or not improving, it takes less and less irritating stimuli to generate more and more resentment. In other words, if you don’t believe that your spouse is improving in the areas that drive you crazy, it takes smaller and smaller doses of put-downs, disregards, invalidations, and misattunements to elicit larger and larger reactions of hurt, frustration, and outrage in you. For example, if you’ve told your wife ten times you don’t like boiled broccoli, you’re going to be a lot more irritated the eleventh time she serves it than you were the first time. If you’ve told your husband (or teenage daughter or son) ten times you hate it when they say, “Whatever,” you’re going to especially hate it the eleventh (or hundredth) time. Some checkmarks, of course, are pretty innocuous. A husband expecting his wife to always remember that his night out with the guys is on Thursdays, which conflicts with their daughter’s gymnastics class, is a checkmark that can easily be dealt with if the wife mostly remembers and only makes occasional mistakes. On the other hand, a husband who’s told, “That’s just the way I am” from his wife instead of, “I can see how that’s frustrating and I’ll work on it” is likely to accumulate resentment and load up his “I’ve had it!” checklist—accelerating on the rocky road to a full-on meltdown. We all yearn to be loved in satisfying ways, but we can easily doubt that our spouses share such yearning if they appear to not care about hurting us. We are exquisitely vulnerable in our most intimate relationships—which makes us acutely sensitive to real or imagined slights. We automatically create stories from our experience, but what kind of story do you create when you feel hurt by someone close and you don’t believe they care? Not a very nice story about either them or you. If a spouse doesn’t feel loved and can’t feel they’re able work on it with a willing partner, he or she will try to make sense of the situation. That’s human nature. We look for explanations and reasons to make sense of what happens to us. Our brains (especially our right hemispheres) automatically create stories to explain our experience—we can’t help it. This search for explanations and the stories we create along the way can make life interesting and satisfying, particularly if such stories are about the love we yearn for (like satisfying sex, understanding, or support), or about being able to successfully deal with chronic injuries we feel from our partner (like complaining, whining, analyzing, blaming, punishing, or demanding). When couples can share their stories safely, good things often emerge. But some stories are particularly difficult to process. With men, I’ve found that number one on their list of relationship woes is regularly sexual frustration; for women, it’s often lack of intimate connection. These issues and needs tend to be hard to discuss, often because many people have a hard time knowing how to open up and discuss intimacy problems in general and sex problems in particular—especially with the person they’re conflicted with. When men do finally open up about sex and intimacy, they tend to describe sex as nourishment—the way women tend to experience emotional connection as nourishment. A guy can feel positively tortured and deprived if his spouse doesn’t understand this, and he’ll feel even worse if she puts him down or is contemptuous. Part of the problem is that if a woman understands sex as part of a much larger framework of emotional connection and shared partnership, she might have trouble believing that her man doesn’t see it the same way. She can’t put herself in his shoes because sex + emotional connection is so obvious to her and she needs to feel nurtured in order to feel ready for lovemaking. Men, on the other hand, often believe that no matter how crabby, stressed, or rushed the situation is, everything will get better after sex. And—let’s face it—there is a lot of legitimacy to both these perspectives. Women who would never deny their children hugs and kisses often find their man totally unreasonable when he describes himself as starving for eroticism and touch. I personally think such misunderstandings comes about partly because women are feminine by nature—they’re not starved for the feminine because they embody the feminine—and so they often have trouble empathizing with men who need feminine erotic nourishment. What this means is women tend to especially need to be nurtured regularly by attention, compliments, help, and understanding, while men are nourished by erotic engagement (which can be a happy smile, a casual caress, or a sweet kiss—it doesn’t have to always be full-on sex). In other words, a woman often needs to be nourished to feel hot, while a man often needs to be warmed by erotic light to feel nourishing. Helping women understand this concept of sex-as-nourishment, and helping men understand the idea of nourishment as foreplay has saved countless marriages. Partners who don’t get this can brood and seethe in frustration, silently adding checks to their “I’ve had it!” lists until they reach the tipping point. For example, men can wimp out a la Woody Allen and give in to wives’ demands while passive aggressively being jerks. Or they can make nasty comments, have affairs, or generally get more selfish and self-absorbed—which of course turns women off even more. We all have some version of “I’ve had it!” checklists. The key to managing them is to talk productively about issues—meaning both of you feel like you’re making progress. Unhappy couples keep accumulating checks until somebody pops and explodes, demeans, passive/aggressively suffers, punishes by attacking or withholding, cheats, or leaves.

Don’t let that happen to you!

Happy couples are interested in having as few checks as possible on their partner’s “I’ve had it!” lists. They figure out how to compromise and help each other gradually shrink their lists and cut way down on annoying behaviors over time. If you ask them how their marriage is doing, they’ll give you a variation of what I think is the ideal answer: “We’re not perfect, but we love each other and we’re both working at getting better at loving each other.”