After thinking about this all day, I’ve decided as of right now (who knows if this will ever change) that there’s no way to give a man constructive criticism. Any form of criticism to a man from his woman is always viewed negatively.
All About Men
A man’s exterior may be very strong. He may appear very capable, and in many ways he is. But a man’s ego is very fragile. He can take constructive criticism from his boss, his mother, his grandmother, his buddy, but for some reason, when he hears it from his woman, it feels like a punch in the gut, like he’s somehow failed in a very terrible way.
A Woman’s Powerful Role
This is a hard position to be in if you’re a man’s significant other. You see, a man will never say this, but his woman holds the MOST power in determining how he views himself. This is partly because he cares about your opinion MORE than anybody else in the world.
It is also because he knows deep down that you are the one person in the world who knows him through and through, the good, the bad, and the very ugly. He knows everyone else just gets parts of him, but you get all of him. So when you say something negative, instead of it just coming across as some random person giving some random piece of criticism, he’s more likely to see it as the ultimate truth of who he is as a man.
The Question That Plagues EVERY Man
Basically, he has this question that needs to be answered. I think I read this from the book, Captivating by John and Stasi Eldredge, (I highly recommend this to all women! If you don’t have time to read, get the book on tape and listen to it on your daily commute:)
Anywho, the question that plagues a man his entire life is this:
“Do I have what it takes to be a man?”
Everywhere he goes, everyone he comes in contact with, answers this question in the negative or the positive based on how they interact with him, based on if he feels that he is respected.
If he has guy friends who dig his company, they are reinforcing the “yes” to that question. If their boss says nice things about their work, it also gives him more reinforcement.
But, like I said, NONE of that matters really if a man comes home and doesn’t get that “yes” from his wife or girlfriend because her opinion is the one that truly matters.
So, I state this very important fact that a woman has THAT much power. Her words can truly, truly build him up to believe he is a respectable man and he “has what it takes,” or it can truly crush his spirit to the point where he goes out into the world failing at everything else just because the most important person doesn’t bring him up.
Okay, so, now back to constructive criticism.
I just wouldn’t do it. Guys have this ego thing where they really want to figure things out for themselves. They have to feel like a change is their idea.
Check out how this wife does it: (starting at 5:20)
She makes him think it’s his idea, and she gives him the credit. Wise woman.
First Method: Diversion
If you ever tell a man he has a stupid idea, he doesn’t hear that it’s a stupid idea. He hears that you think he’s stupid.
It may well be a truly stupid idea, mind you, but you never have to tell him that… (ahh to protect his fragile ego, as he protects our fragile hearts– they get their egos bruised easily in the same way a woman gets her feelings hurt easily)
If he tells you a stupid idea, and you call him out on it, he’s going to feel like his efforts for thinking of ideas are wasted. He’s going to lose motivation to keep trying to come up with ideas. So even though you didn’t call him stupid, only the idea, he reads it differently. It doesn’t matter if someone thinks that their criticism is constructive. What matters is how it’s viewed by the recipient.
What do you do instead?
Baby, hmmm… I’m not sure…What do you think about this?
This way, you’re still giving the message “I value your opinion (“what do you think…”) but you’re not squashing his idea.
Second Method: Focusing on Your Feelings
It’s important not to avoid conflict, and it’s important that your man know how you feel, so if you’re dealing with something that involves an action you want changed, the key is to bring up the subject without focusing on his action. The key is to focus on your reaction to his action.
For example, the other night my friend was telling her boyfriend how she found the cause of her lamp turning off. She had switched off the GFCI outlet where her blowdryer was and the whole wall switched off.
Without any malice he said, “I told you not to do that.”
He was just trying to make the point that he remembered them already agreeing that they wouldn’t turn off the switch.
He didn’t realize it came across hurtful to her. She immediately took it as being scolded. How she read it was different than what he intended. Typically in a relationship, intentions are always good, but sometimes the good intention is lost in translation. It was a misunderstanding.
How a Woman Wants to Respond
If you feel attacked, typically a woman’s immediate reaction is to attack back. “Well, you don’t have to be so rude!” or “Well, exCUSE me! You don’t have to get an attitude!” or “I’m not your child! Don’t talk to me like that!” In addition, the volume also escalates…
and nothing makes a man feel more disrespected than a woman yelling at him.
In all of these reactions, the focus is on the man:
“Well, you don’t have to be so rude!”
“Well, exCUSE me! You don’t have to get an attitude!”
“I’m not your child! (You) Don’t talk to me like that!”
How a Woman Can Respond by Focusing on her Feelings
So, my suggestion is instead of focusing on his action, (in this case the retorts are making the assumption that he meant to be “rude,” meant to “have an attitude” or meant to “treat you like a child.”) focus on how you felt in the situation.
This way, you are not making any assumptions and giving him the benefit of the doubt that his intentions were pure. (which in most cases this is true)
So, when her boyfriend said that to her, she looked at him and sadly said,
“I feel scolded.”
And her eyes started to water, because she’s like most women who get their feelings hurt easily.
Why This Method Works for Men
Telling a man how you feel does more than telling him what he’s doing wrong. It does more than pointing out his errors in judgement. It does more than giving him constructive criticism.
Why is this the case?
Because deep down, every man wants to be his woman’s hero. If he really truly loves you and cares for you, the last thing he wants to do is hurt you. So by sharing your feelings (how you’re hurt), his masculine response is to rush to your aid, to be your protector, to shelter you from pain, especially if that pain is caused by him.
So instead of him feeling disrespected, he feels useful and needed. Instead of his ears tuning out (that sometimes starts to happen with nagging and yelling) he’s all ears, ready to listen to every word you say.
A Man Needs to Feel Like a Leader in the Home
Also, know that no matter how “modern” your man is, no matter how pro-feminism he is, even if he views you as his equal, he still wants to feel like he has some kind of leadership in your relationship. Not in the sense that he wants to domineer over you, but in the sense that he feels like you trust his opinions.
Roles of People in a Relationship = Roles of People in a Car
You see, the roles of people in a relationship are like the roles of people in a car. The difference between passenger and driver isn’t about equality, it’s about different roles. Relationships, like cars, only have room for one driver. One leader. The passenger may help navigate, but ultimately, the passenger has to trust the driver to make the decision. Ultimately the driver has the last say.
I truly believe that relationships with this dynamic of man as driver and woman as passenger work best. One of my friends doesn’t agree with this “guy has the last say” method. I asked her, “Well, what if you both disagree on a major decision and you have to make that decision? Who will have the last say?”
Her response was, “We just won’t make that decision.” And don’t think that’s really realistic. There will come a point in every relationship where you will not agree on something, and both of you will feel equally strong about your reasons, and either the woman or the man has to yield.
An Example from My Parents
For example, when I was young, my parents disagreed on whether my mom should go to the United States as an RN during the big nurse draft in the 80’s. If she went, my parents knew they could provide a better future for us here. But, it would mean that my mom would be apart from my dad and me for 2-3 years while my dad worked on getting his visa. She didn’t want to leave me at 3 years old and be separated from me for that long at such a crucial bonding time in my childhood.
This is an example of a decision that HAD to be made. She would have to go and let my dad have the last say, or she would stay and my dad would have to yield.
By deciding to go, she was giving the message to my dad: “I don’t agree, BUT I trust you to lead our family.”
Giving a man your trust is a way of telling him that you respect him.
Third Method: Changing Your Statements Into Questions
There are ways of usurping his leadership. If you say, “We’re not doing that,” you’re in fact sending the message, “I’m the leader here. You can step down and I’ll take over from here because you’re not doing your job well.”
Instead, you can say, “Can we not do that?” The question version invites him into the team, telling him, “I’m not digging the idea but I won’t force my opinion unless you’re on board.” Ultimately it’s reassuring him: “Your opinion still matters.” The first phrase says, “Your opinion doesn’t matter. I’m doing this with or without you.”
So readers, I’ve rambled on and on long enough. Are there any other situations where diversion, focusing on your feelings or changing statements into questions do not apply?
Love to hear!