In this series, two of the lessons we’ve looked at are The Five Modes of a Guy (Playful, Middle Ground, Serious, Upset, and Explosive) and The Ten Possible Modes of a Woman (Playful, Playful & Condescending, Positive Middle Ground, Negative Middle Ground, Serious, Serious & Condescending, Upset, Upset & Condescending, Explosive, and Explosive & Condescending). Despite the differences, the most important commonality between men and women is that we crave feeling understood. Dismissing a guy as having anger problems or assuming the woman is crazy only adds to the potential hurt. When we’re misunderstood, we’re very likely to move down the modes to the more angry ones. For instance, if I’m Upset and I get accused of being Explosive that can make me want to explode: “I’m not yelling. I’ll show you yelling!” In general, people want to be understood and we don’t want to be accused of something we’re not. For instance, I may have claimed that women have a mean side, but it will be upsetting if they’re accused of being mean when they’re not: (person) “Why would you assume I’d be that mean?” We need to be careful not to assume the worst of people.
I should also point out that most people who are quick to reach the Explosive Mode are typically quicker to return to a normal state. Conversely, the slower you are to reach the Explosive Mode, the slower you typically are to return to a normal state. One isn’t necessarily better than the other; they’re just different. Seeing yourself as better than your partner will likely fuel more fights. In addition, whether we’re fast or slow to Explosive Mode, we need to be doing what we can to reduce the need to reach that level and to work on our ability to recover. Ultimately, the answer to reducing our risk of exploding and improving recovery time is to help each other feel understood, which looks a lot like love (aka feeling safe) and respect (aka feeling equal and not looked down on).
What many people forget is that being understood doesn’t mean the person admits we’re right. Others don’t have to agree to understand us. Quite often it can feel like the other person needs to agree to show understanding, but that’s a lie. It’s like we think, “If they don’t agree with me, they must be too dumb to get it or I’m too dumb to see what’s really going on.” Both of these feel bad, which makes us want to assume if they don’t agree they must not understand. The truth is, however, we can simply have different opinions and no one is dumb for their belief (sometimes). For instance, my wife would rather live in the worst house on a beautiful street whereas I’d rather the best manicured house on an average street. We understand each other has a different preference (she just doesn’t realize my idea is better… I mean… her idea is dumb… I mean… she’d rather be the loser on a street of winners than the best. Or as she says, “You’re so vain.” No, I want to win… even though it’s a competition no one else knows is going on. I’m like an old dude who wants the nicest lawn. I’m not playing sports, so I need something to be competitive at. Oddly enough, even if I win this “competition” I’m still a loser – get a real competition!)
The other week when I started writing this lesson, my wife gave me a great example (she’s always so helpful for my writing). I was dropped off at my mom’s house after helping someone and my wife had to pick me up with our two girls, so we could take one car to my brother’s house. When she picked me up, without much of a greeting, she started with a story. After several minutes of details I didn’t need and I was wondering why she was telling me all this, she got to her point: “So I stepped on your good sunglasses and ruined them.” Now there are three things I hate: shopping, spending money, and change (you know, like a dude). This event put all three into play – crap. (I’m guessing many women will be thinking “I love all of those things; shopping? Please. Spend money? Yes! Change? Let’s keep it fresh.”) To make matters worse, these were the replacement sunglasses for the previous pair my wife accidentally squished at the beginning of the summer. Add to this I was wearing a new cheaper pair I bought from Costco this summer because they’re very large old man glasses that protect your eyes better. (When you’re 42 and don’t need glasses, you do whatever you can to keep that going). I was wearing these cheaper glasses, but I distinctly remembered looking at both pairs before leaving the house and choosing the more protective ones because I wasn’t driving (the thick arms may block the sun, but they also block my peripheral for driving). I was now in this “why did I choose these sunglasses?” frustrated with myself thought (my first thought is to blame myself) while trying to block out how much I hate when my wife (and the females in her family) don’t get to the point of a story and drag it out making you wonder what’s going on – Just say you stepped on my glasses and then go back! (Maybe that’s how Quentin Tarantino came up with telling the ending first and then going back; he had a partner who would drag a story on and not get to the point.) While I’m thinking about all this and naturally not in a good headspace, my wife said she was sorry, which was nice… but then she started saying how I shouldn’t leave my sunglasses where I do (for the record, it’s the same spot I’ve left them for seven years without incident). After a few minutes of being corrected/criticized I could feel myself moving towards the Explosive Mode. To prevent this, I begrudgingly blurted, “We need to talk about something else.” My wife didn’t like that very much, so now after being told my good sunglasses are ruined I’m in trouble for being “rude” – good times. That definitely didn’t help my wanting to go to the Explode Mode. Fortunately, within a few minutes we arrived at my brother’s house and seeing people always helps reset my brain, and we moved on without an incident. My self control, however, was very tested that drive. What was the main cause? I didn’t feel understood.
So why did my wife start correcting me after she broke my sunglasses? I’m guessing Her Guilt Side was in full motion. She felt terrible about ruining my sunglasses (again), and she wanted to prevent doing it a third time. Unfortunately, it felt like blame with a condescending tone, which made it really hard for me not to want to put her in her place: “You hurt me; you should act sorry and not just say you’re sorry and blame me for it!” That would be my Explosive Side’s argument. That being said, if I really was Explosive, I’d be too dumb to have anything more than “Screw you!” The words of someone who’s lost it and their anger is making them super dumb.
I should note that guys feel guilt (we’re not all psychopaths), but women can generally take guilt to a whole other level as they tend to be better at punishing themselves beyond what a guy can typically do to himself. Of course, when I say “guy” I mean a full 30+, married guy. Before that, young guys can beat themselves up pretty good, too (a point we looked at last week). For men there are only two real bad things – disappointing the woman we love or screwing up our job situation. When you’re younger, there’s the fear of disappointing our friends, parents, family, coworkers, and people in general. Being old, our main concerns become simplified. Interestingly, women tend to care more about pleasing more people. Older guys tend to care less over time while women tend to care more – a point that can cause conflict or balance in a relationship.
This week may you consider how to help others feel understood.
Rev. Chad David, ChadDavid.ca, learning to love dumb people (like me)