If only you could figure him out.
If you knew what was going through his head.
What it meant when he said X. What it meant when he did Y.
Then you’d never have to feel stressed about your relationship again.
You’d know exactly how to handle him.
You’d know how to get him to admit how much he loves and needs you.
You’d get him to see where he’s sabotaging the relationship. Once he realized what he was doing, he’d stop.
And life would be good again.
The Hours We Spend Understanding Men
Women spend a lot more time trying to figure men out…
Than men spend trying to figure us out.
A man may occasionally wonder, “What do women really want?” but he’d never waste an entire day thinking about it.
We, on the other hand, like thinking about our relationships. We like thinking about what he’s thinking. We spend hours with our girlfriends dissecting male behavior.
And we believe that all this introspection makes us good at relationships.
But does it?
Or does it backfire?
Do Men Need to Be Understood?
A man once told me:
I don’t know why women spend so much time trying to figure out men. We’re pretty simple creatures. We say what we mean. We do what we want to do. And if we don’t want to do something, we don’t do it.”
What if that were true?
Ann Jones and Susan Schechter tell a moving story about a woman who finally woke up to the way she was avoiding dealing with the truth about her relationship.
One of my friends, who had listened to me talk about [my husband] for months, finally said to me, ‘Ida, what would happen if you could totally understand him? What if you had him completely figured out?’ I couldn’t believe what came out of my mouth next. I told her, ‘Nothing would change.’”
That story hit me hard.
Because I used to believe that everything would change if only I figured out the man I loved.
Figuring Him Out Gives Us a Concrete Problem to Solve
How many times have you been struggling in a relationship…
Believing that the ONLY thing standing between you and happiness is understanding him better?
You’ll know what to do once you finally understand him. Figuring him out will unlock the insight to fix what’s wrong.
You’ll be able to show him to himself. “Look, did you know you argue with me so much because you have unresolved feelings about your mother?”
Once he gets it, he’ll slap himself on the forehead and apologize immediately. From that day on, he’ll be different. He’ll have the same insight into himself that you have.
Or maybe you’ll see where you need to change. You’ll understand what you’re doing to make him angry or drive him away. You’ll stop doing those things, and you’ll be happy together at last.
That belief gives us hope.
We need to know we have the power to change our relationships.
Because he won’t do it.
It’s up to us to do the work to understand the men in our lives and help them become the boyfriends and husbands they’re meant to be.
The Explanation Trap
Jones and Schechter call this “getting stuck in explanations.”
And it’s a trap.
The Explanation Trap is when you spend all your time hunting for an explanation of his behavior…
Instead of actually dealing with his behavior.
Knowing why he acts this way might make you feel better, but it doesn’t change the fact that he’s still acting that way.
No matter what the explanation, there are two facts staring you in the face:
- He chose to act this way, and
- He feels entitled on some level to act this way.
If the behavior needs to stop, then it’s not your responsibility to stop it. It’s his.
And he’s the only person who can do it.
Your Understanding Won’t Change Him
Do you believe that the only way you can change other people is by changing yourself?
On one level, this belief is empowering. You stop trying to change other people, and you focus on what you can control: your own behavior.
On another level, this belief is disempowering. You end up twisting yourself into a pretzel trying to get another person to treat you decently.
You might think:
If only I can be more forgiving, more compassionate, more loving, more positive … then he’ll respond with warmth and gratitude, and we’ll live happily ever after.
But perhaps you could look at it a different way.
- Does your partner know that his behavior hurts you or makes you feel bad?
- Does he choose continue engaging in that behavior anyway?
Then you don’t need an explanation.
You have the facts.
And now you have to decide what to do about those facts.
Either you continue to tolerate a relationship with someone who chooses to behave in ways that hurt you or make you feel bad…
Or you set clear boundaries with consequences.
And you enforce those consequences, even if it means leaving the relationship.
Trapped No Longer
Your true power does not lie in doing whatever it takes to change him.
Your true power lies in making healthy choices for yourself.
You are not responsible for him. You are only responsible for you.
You may be the only one in the world who truly understands him, but that doesn’t give you brownie points.
He will continue to live life the way he chooses, with or without your insight into his behavior.
And you get to live life how you choose…
With or without him.
 When Love Goes Wrong (New York: HarperCollins, 1992) 55.