She’s been stomping around the apartment since she got home from work, muttering about her boss and that girl who works in accounting. Clearly something’s wrong, but when you try to help, she pulls the relationship trump card: “Why can’t you just be supportive?” Cue deer-in-headlights reaction.
The problem: Men are trained to be independent, but women are trained to be inter-dependent, explains Audrey Nelson, Ph.D., a gender communications expert. And yet, for both men and women, being supportive to someone in pain activates the reward-related regions of the brain and increases the connection between partners, according to a recent study in Psychosomatic Medicine.
So let Nelson translate that woman-speak for you. When she says, “be more supportive,” here’s exactly what she’s asking for.
Women are naturally relationship oriented, so they crave affirmation that they’re valued, says Nelson. Compliments are always a good idea, but to really make it count, comment on something specific she’s done to strengthen your relationship.
Instead of: “You’re great.”
Try: “Thanks for being so supportive about that tough client at work this week.”
Verbal combined with non-verbal communication is the best way to show your support, says Nelson. After she shares her story, touch her hand or rub her back—what you say can be just as important as what you do. It emphasizes that you’re listening and sympathetic to her.
Instead of: “I’m sorry that happened to you.”
Try: Say, “I’m sorry that happened to you” while holding her hand. Then give it a light squeeze.
Don’t try to fix it
What she’s looking for is someone to listen, not someone to solve her problem for her, says Nelson. Guys are very task-oriented, so they want to provide women with a how-to guide on what actions to take. Meanwhile, women are just looking for someone to commiserate and connect with them. She’s most likely just wants a sympathetic reaction and some follow-up questions.
Instead of: “Next time your boss tells you to alphabetize the entire stockroom of files, tell him that’s not what you were hired to do.”
Try: “That sounds awful. Does he do that often?”
Show you’re listening
For most men, details are boring, says Nelson. (You didn’t need a Ph.D. to tell you that one!) But for most women, telling stories is how they connect with their guy. It’s not really about the car that cut her off on the highway 12 times, it’s about sharing something with someone she cares about. The worst thing you can do is to not respond to a story at all. Make sure you acknowledge you heard the story in some way by noting what seems frustrating or asking a question to clarify. Even if you don’t think a story needs a response, not saying anything will make her feel like you aren’t listening.
Instead of: “That’s nice.”
Try: “I bet that was really frustrating. It’s so rude when people do that.”
Make her life easier
Women want guys to step in and take some of pressure off of them, says Nelson. Between the office baby shower, your kid’s birthday party, and her mom’s phone calls, your woman is dealing with a lot. So take care of date night plans every once in a while—especially if you notice she’s extra-stressed.
Instead of: “What’s for dinner?”
Try: “Let me make dinner tonight. That grilled salmon that you like?”
Occasionally, it’s as simple as saying “Do I let you know how important you are to me?,” says Nelson. Sometimes it’s about sending a text to see how her day is going, or leaving her a little note telling her you love her. “When it comes to simple little things like making her coffee before you leave, the guy might be going, ‘What? You gotta be kidding me,’” says Nelson. “But that’s how women work. They look for simple things he does for them.”
Instead of: Radio silence until you walk in the door
Try: Shooting her a text on your lunch break. “Thinking of you” will do.
BY: Kasey Panetta/Mens Health