Men want to be the answer to the question, no big mystery there. The answer speaks. The answer advises. The answer helps. The answer isn’t silent. As well, men would like to think they give women everything they need, just as she picks up the phone to schedule time with her friends or to simply talk on the phone. Men would like to think they always have the answer, even in circumstances where there is no answer; just frustration from her about a bad day at work or a fight with a friend. There is a bit of a Superman complex in all of this.
The fact is, women don’t always want an answer–they want an ear. They want someone who hears them and listens to them, two distinct things by the way. From their partner they want these things as well as touch and eye contact. Sometimes they want words and advice but not always! She may be upset or stressed about something that isn’t related to the relationship and brings this something up on a date. If his default reaction is to get into problem solving mode, he may very well be missing the point. She may simply want to have an emotional connection with him–it’s one of the advantages of a relationship.
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There is an important answer to glean from all of this: How do we balance the Superman complex and a woman’s desire to often have an ear and support vice a solution? To this question I offer some thoughts:
- Understand your role in the relationship. You are not Superman to your girlfriend or wife’s Lois Lane. If your default view is contrary to this, you will always insist on being the answer, even when there isn’t a question.
- Be patient. She will describe a situation and your default reaction cannot be to problem solve. In this, it’s important to know that a man’s tendency to problem solve can often be attributed to his lack of patience. “This isn’t complicated. Why is she getting emotional about this? Why does it take an hour to talk through this? I really want her to feel better and get past this.” Any of these four questions may cross your mind whilst she speaks her mind. Be patient.
- Listen more than you talk. As she is talking, show that you are present in the moment by maintaining eye contact and asking questions about the situation she is describing. Avoid the constant head nod which says nothing more than you are acting like you’re listening. And remember, you are not yet in problem solving mode.
- Look for cues. As you listen, try and recognize cues that will tell you whether she wants an ear or some advice. Some ways to get clear on this:
- As she talks, is she ending her sentences with questions?
- As she talks, is she putting a lot of options on the table without closure or preference?
- As she talks, is she getting more frustrated as the time passes?
- These may be cues for you to open the door.
- Open the door but don’t walk in. Simply put, after reading the cues, open the door. In this, you will use words like “if I may offer…” or “have you thought about…” as these are unforced openings. She may close that door fairly quickly or she may keep it opened and let you walk in. You are not walking in without her letting you-this is key.
I can’t tell you how important it is for men to avoid the Superman complex. When men jump right into problem solving mode it can make women feel inferior and that their significant other is not emotionally available. Think about these impacts and your own tendencies, as a man.