Today we continue a discussion begun about women, anger and relationships.
Thanks for being able to hear me so clearly. I know my questions can be provocative and that in some way it’s unfair to ask you to speak for all females. That’s why after this series it will be your turn to challenge me with a question.
Your response makes me wonder – and don’t be shocked or think I’m an idiot – exactly what it is about a woman’s experience that makes them so hungry for validation. According to what you’re writing, at least a part of this has to do with simply being ignored, run over, or not heard.
Let me start by thinking of some of the ways I know this to be true.
Some of the most extraordinary acts of selfless heroism I have ever witnessed have been on the part of modest, unassuming women. You and I both spent a lot of time at Children’s Protective Services, and were witness to such women, either foster mothers or grandmothers, who at great sacrifice to themselves put in the day-to-day thankless work necessary to raise children abandoned by others. I can remember how many times I witnessed their devotion, and was moved by what they were doing and how important it was for the children and society. And how little recognition they ever get. Big men in suits driving expensive cars to meetings to make widgets received more money and more accolades for work that was infinitesimally less important.
The same is true for teachers and day care providers. So certainly in the realm of work, women are, in my view, unsung heroes.
By and large I see it in relationships too. Women are usually the driving force behind a couple getting help. They are usually more resilient and better able to absorb their partner’s failings. And most of this usually goes unnoticed by the men in their lives. The men simply don’t see it or they take it for granted.
So a woman’s rage makes sense. At the same time, that doesn’t make it any less destructive. I think what I am trying to do here is be a male voice which can recognize and validate the feminine, but as a man. As a man I want to say to such frustrated women, who do deserve validation, that they are not going to get it by verbally castrating their men, either directly to them or in demeaning conversations about them with their female friends.
I think the way out is just what you are describing. A woman who feels valid in her feelings doesn’t need to rage about them. She just needs to speak them. And if the man still doesn’t get them – well, that’s the subject for another post.
Dear Josh -
I think that validation is as powerful a need as it is for women, because in it are all of those facets of connection that women are really hungry for. In essence, if you are able to "validate" my experience, you are being present and available, you are listening to me, relating to me, and being empathic. These are the emotional connectors that really matter to women in relationship.
I read an excerpt from the book Hot Monogamy by Pat Love, a psychologist in Austin. She interviewed 1500 couples, and in determining the behaviors of men and women that are most "harmful to their positive feeling about their relationship" she found this: "women shame their men", and "men abandon their women".
This is similar to something I heard Marianne Williamson say: that women need to be cherished, and men need to be respected.
So, when men are unavailable, dismissive, or "difficult", women no longer have their emotional partners. And when women are "difficult" by bringing criticism and full on rage at their partners, men do not have the sense of respect that is vital to their sense of well-being in relationship.
I have just returned from a trip to Los Angeles. I sat next to a man who put on these major headphones. I looked at him and commented on them. He said, "These are for serious ignoring."
I looked out the window and pondered the ways we bump into each other in relationship, wishing things would just be perfect (as we define them), and how we will always bump into each other's sensitivities and competing needs, etc. I thought about the apparent truth that human beings, relational creatures that we are, will always respond to perceived attack or abandonment with strong feelings and powerful defenses.
What to do?
"What I Learned On The Plane":
1) Secure Your Own Oxygen Mask. If you run into trouble, do what you have to do to regain your ground, your calm, your perspective. Then deal with your relationship, when you are breathing again.
2) Life Vests Are Under Your Seat. In this case, know what it is that "saves" you so that you can do something skillful with what has come up, rather than repeating the same scene that hasn't worked yet! Is it self-validation? Is it remembering what you are trying to achieve in your relationship and then identifying one small step in that direction? Do something different! That is in your hands!
3) Clouds. Everyone views them from their own perspective, and sees what they see in them through that lens. Nobody has the "right" take on a cloud. And none of us get to be definitively right in relationship.
4) Perspective changes as you move along….the mountains 50 miles away look pretty different when you are hovering over them. Find ways to remember that perspective always changes. Hold things in a bigger space.
5) KNOW WHY YOU ARE TAKING THE TRIP, WHAT YOU BROUGHT WITH YOU, AND WHAT MATTERS TO YOU AS YOU TAKE THE JOURNEY. If you are paying attention, then you know there is a lot to grow into by being in relationship. It is worth asking yourself what relationship means to you, what you can give, and who you want to be in it.
6) In leaving Los Angeles, I had to say some emotional good-byes, poignant and painful. And I remembered this quote:
"How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard." (Carol Sobieski and Thomas Meehan)
Love in our lives is a blessing. Perhaps if we remember this more often, we will be inspired to behave with caring and respect as much as possible.
Until next time,
Do you have a question about your marriage or relationship? Is there a particular topic on relationships or individual psychological issues you would like addressed in this blog? Ask Josh in the comments below or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Deborah Leeds, MFT, is a couples and individual therapist with offices in Pleasant Hill and Berkeley, CA. Visit her website at deborahleeds.com
Josh Gressel, Ph.D., is a couples and individual therapist based in Pleasant Hill, CA. Visit his website at joshgressel.com.