Why Men Don’t Get Your Subtle Hints
If it seems like your guy needs a flashing neon sign to clue him in to what you’re thinking, you’re not too far off: Men have twice as much trouble deciphering emotions from women’s eyes than men’s eyes, according to a new study in the online journal PLOS ONE.
Researchers from the University of Duisburg-Essen in Germany recruited 22 men between the ages of 21 and 52. The men were presented with 36 photos of pairs of eyes (18 male and 18 female) and asked to determine if the emotional state of the person was either “distrustful” or “terrified.” While they were thinking, an fMRI recorded images of the brain processes at work. The men took longer and had more trouble recognizing emotions in female eyes. And the fMRI results told a similar story: The brain regions involved in emotions were more active when the participants were analyzing male eyes rather than female eyes.
So that explains why you can shoot your guy a look that says “I can’t believe you just did that,” and he somehow interprets it as, “We should definitely get pizza after this.” In many cases, your partner just can’t pick up subtle hints—but that doesn’t mean that he doesn’t get you. “The study is actually good news because when women are not understood, we tend to take it personally,” says Paula Bloom, PsyD, coauthor of Why Does He Do That? Why Does She Do That? “But it’s really because we’re wired differently.”
Even though your guy may not be great at guessing your emotions based on your gaze, there are simple ways to boost your communication so you’re both on the same page. Make these tweaks to better understand each other:
Set it up right
As tempting as it is to start ranting when your guy shows up an hour late, take a breath first and wait until you can rationally say why you’re upset, says Bloom. “I’m not suggesting you edit your feelings, but that intensity and tendency to attack when you feel vulnerable can shut someone else down,” says Bloom. Set up the conversation by saying something like “Can we talk about something that’s been bugging me?” Not only will this help your guy get prepared for what you’re about to say, but it also helps you to calm down a little so you don’t launch right into an argument.
Stay away from certain words
If you’re trying to tell your partner you’re upset, avoid words like “never” and “always” while describing their behavior. “It puts someone on the defensive and then they miss what you’re really saying,” says Bloom. So unless you want them to tune out after your first sentence, focus instead on explaining why a very specific event or action set you off—rather than accusing them of always doing something.
Be prepared to repeat yourself
In the beginning of a relationship, there are tons of opportunities for miscommunications—you may not know each other very well or understand the other person’s pet peeves. So don’t be surprised if you have to explain something—like that you dread going to clubs or get annoyed when someone is late—more than once. “Saying something once doesn’t mean you’ve covered it for all time,” says Susan Campbell, PhD, author of Truth in Dating: Finding Love By Getting Real. “Sometimes we need to hear over and over what a person needs—not because they don’t care about us, but because people don’t learn a new behavior that quickly.”
Figure out why you misunderstood each other
If your guy totally misread a situation—like thinking you were cool with him blowing off your date for guy’s night—it can be helpful to backtrack to figure out what went wrong. The best way to do this is actually talking about what went down, even if it’s awkward, says Campbell. First, ask what he saw or heard that made him think you felt a certain way. Maybe you said “Sure, fine” in a sarcastic tone, but he took it as your approval. When you rehash how each of you interpreted something, you’ll figure out where the communication breakdown happened so you can avoid a similar misinterpretation in the future.
Call each other out when you’re confused
Not sure if his silence means he’s upset or just zoned out? Ask! It’s usually the only way to be totally sure of what the other person’s subtle cues mean, says Campbell. “Let’s say you just asked him a personal question and he looks at the floor. Sometimes you can just comment on that,” says Campbell. You can say something non-confrontational, like “I hope that didn’t make you uncomfortable, because you seemed to shut down a little then.” “It helps you to check your assumptions, rather than believing all the stories you’re making up in your head,” says Campbell. Encourage your guy to do the same when he’s not sure what you’re thinking. Over time, you’ll both get way better at reading each other’s emotions.
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