How to Comfort Your Man
Men Are More Complicated Than We Give Them Credit For
There's a joke that circulates on email every so often about how to please a woman (a list of about 50 items) vs. how to please a man (Show up naked. Bring beer). Sure, that's all well and good for everyday. But what about when your man is hurting? Really hurting? Figuring out how to comfort a man is not that easy. One method does NOT fit all occasions. And picking the wrong approach can leave you needing comfort yourself.
Here are some basic comfort strategies for common male-ments.
Is He Having a Bad Day?
This is by far the easiest to deal with. If things outside the cave aren't going well, he needs to feel safe to come home and vent. Meet him at the door, take his club from him (lest he be tempted to wave it around and possibly make dents in the wall), and suggest he sit down and relax.
I am not advocating you wrap yourself in Saran wrap and get all Marabel Morgan with your man. If you like that kind of thing, go for it.
What I'm suggesting here is help him find his testosterone release valve. Ahhh. Can't you just feel the tension leaving his body ... and entering yours?
He may naturally decompress by sitting in his favorite chair and making the transition from day to evening. That may be all he needs.
Or, he may feel like sharing. If so, listen. Let him talk. He is not asking for your advice. He is letting off man steam. Do not interrupt him asking for clarification. It is not important that you understand the details. They are irrelevant. Nod sympathetically. Be supportive. Never, ever suggest he could have done something differently, or (God forbid) that he was wrong.
Is He Sick?
I don't know about your man, but I can always tell when mine is illin' because he becomes an absolute bear. Where other people cough or sneeze to signal infection, my husband snarls. I think pain is the same as irritation for him.
Dealing with a sick adult male can be tricky and hard on the nerves. When under the weather men become extremely dependent. But at the same time they demand complete solitude. It is your job as nurturer to determine which need to cater to at any given moment.
The "leave me alone, I just want to sleep" part is pretty straightforward. It's the laying in of supplies that can run you ragged. Because there's no way to predict what he'll want/need/tolerate today. Toasted cheese sandwiches were yesterday's whim. Today he wants (of all things) tacos. Do you want ice cream, honey?Ok. But can you get the kind with the marshmallows and chocolate swirls?
I never remember if it's starve a cold/feed a fever or the reverse. I do know one thing, though. When it comes to comforting a sick man, feed him anything he asks for -- and tank him up on Nyquil so he'll stop complaining!
Is He Worried?
For men, fear or worry is often experienced as anger. Come to think of it, every male emotion that isn't sexual in nature is expressed as anger:-)!!
If your man is worried what does he need from you? The best answer is: YOU. He needs to know you are there with him no matter what. Worry is fear over things we can't control or are afraid will happen (or won't happen). Knowing that you are there to help shoulder the burden really is comforting.
Sometimes we can ball ourselves up into such a knot that unraveling it seems impossible. There are many metaphors for this state, but it's basically the inability to see the forest for the trees. An objective person can see the trees, hand you a chainsaw, and voila!
I don't mean to overgeneralize here, but if you see your man struggling emotionally, that's the perfect time to be the rational partner. Talk to him about what he has on his plate. Are there areas or tasks you can relieve him of? How about if you work on some things together? How can you prioritize so that each problem doesn't seem so overwhelming?
There's a saying, "Do the next right thing." If you can focus his attention on that and only that, you've done your job.
Is He Mad at Himself?
Sometimes men can be brutal on themselves. When they fail to meet their own high expectations, they don't take it well. The same basic reaction pattern is used for minor letdowns like shooting 9 over par or major setbacks like getting dumped or fired or totalling his sports car.
If your man is walking around feeling like he's let someone down -- you, his family, his boss/clients -- or "just" himself -- what's a loving woman (or partner) to do? Is he looking for agreement or sympathy if he says, "I'm a bonehead loser" or is that a rhetorical comment?
Actually, it's a trap. Be careful not to fall into it. You may be tempted to say, "No you're not! How can you say that about yourself? That's awful!!" Not only will you not change his mind, your accusatory words may actually have the opposite effect of validating his feelings. Men -- tell me, am I right about this, or what?
A better approach is to diffuse the negativity and replace it with a positive. Don't even acknowledge that he's said something so ridiculously self-deprecating. Respond with a statement he can't dispute. Something like: "I'm so glad you're in my life."
Is He Sad or Grieving?
You know, for all their stoicism, men fall hard when it comes to caring for and letting go of loved ones. All those years of being manly men prepare them for the responsibilities, but not always for the emotions that come with illness and death.
It may catch you off guard to see your usually take-charge man change character like a chameleon. Some moments he's right in the mix with you, dealing with doctors (or vets), hoisting IVs and administering pain pills. The next he's emotionally exhausted and catatonic on the couch.
When the moment of truth comes (as it did recently in our house) to put the beloved pet down, he may turn the job over to you.
In dealing with the long-term decline of parents, I've found there are "on" days and "off" days. It's draining and thankless and scary and frustrating and we wish it wasn't happening this way, but it is.
So how do I support my husband in his day-to-day sadness and anticipatory grief? This is by far the hardest of all. I follow his lead. If he's in hyper-efficiency mode, taking his dad for chemo, I pick up the slack at home. If he needs me to run interference with his mom, or run to the pharmacy, I do that.
It's really sad to watch a parent slip away through Alzheimer's and cancer at the same time. And it's really commendable the way my husband is handling the pressure.
One thing I am trying to do -- and recommend to others in similar situations -- is to take time out. Get away, if only for a few hours or overnight. Feed your spirit. Go to the mountains, the beach, the museum, the opera, the spa -- whatever rejuvenates you as a couple.
I take real comfort in knowing we're in this together. I think my hubby does, too. I would go ask him, but right now he's got a cold, so I'll wait till he's feeling more like himself:-).