The Relationship Couch

That sucks, baby: Less stress, better talk time

Couple laughs and talks easing their stressCrap happens. A coworker pisses you off, you have an important deadline looming, and your family is driving you crazy. Of course you want to turn toward your partner for support and comfort. How a couple handles non-relationship stressors can help make or break their relationship.

One factor in effectively dealing with stressors is communication, but sometimes it can seem like men and women are from two different planets. Although this won’t fit for everyone, when I review this information with my couples they look like bobbleheads in my office. The women I work with are often frustrated because when they talk with their guy, he wants to fix things. The guys are bothered because their woman is in pain but she won’t do anything about it.

As frustrating as this can be, it’s very common that men and women approach communication differently. You both can bridge this gap and avoid making your talk time a stressor with a few tips:


  1. Listen…just listen.

    Women don’t need to be given advice every time they come to you with a problem. Sometimes all it takes is for you to just listen without offering solutions. That actually does make women feel better…no really, it does. Women connect through conversations so your presence is an important part of her feeling close to you. The bonus is you don’t have to do so much work!

  2. Empathize.

    It’s ok if you don’t have the exact same experience as your partner. It doesn’t mean that you still can’t understand what she’s going through. Focus on the feelings of her experience. When were you in a situation when you felt similar feelings? What was that like for you? It can help to put yourself in your partner’s current situation. A simple phrase like “That sucks, baby” or “That must’ve been a real tough time for you” also goes a long way toward empathizing.

  3. Don’t minimize.

    You may think that some of the things your woman brings up aren’t a big deal. You might want to tell her “Relax” or “Things will work themselves out” or “Don’t worry about it.” But if it is important to her, try to understand her point of view without brushing off her reasoning or reactions. The point is not to agree, but to understand her perspective (go back to Point #2).

  4. If you’re unsure what she needs, just ask.

    It’s not realistic to know what your woman needs as every situation comes up. So if you’re not sure what you can do, just ask. Maybe she does want your help, or she may just need a hug, a playful kiss or words of encouragement to make her feel better.


  1. Choose wisely.

    Since it is tough for men to listen without doing something to help you, be aware of how often you go to your man to complain or vent. Pick the most important things or events you want to discuss with him. It can be frustrating for him to listen and not do anything, so be mindful that he doesn’t want to see you unhappy, and he doesn’t want to feel helpless.

  2. Speak up.

    Your guy can’t read your mind so you can help both him and you by telling him what you need when you talk to him. Say “I want to share something and I just need you to listen” or “I just want to vent for a few minutes” to let him know your expectations and reaffirm that you do feel better even when he listens.

  3. Appreciate his efforts.

    Guys can take it personally when they feel like they can’t help their woman or make her happy. Even if he doesn’t hit the mark sometimes, acknowledge his efforts and what he does to try to make you feel better. You can give him a simple “Thank you,” do a nice thing for him and point out his awesome characteristics that you love about him: “Honey, you’re so patient with me. I appreciate that because I know I can be a pain when I’m stressed out.”

  4. Talk with your girlfriends.

    Women love to talk and listen to each other and provide emotional support. If you feel you need a little extra boost, call up your girlfriends. Your guy can’t meet your need every time, and that’s ok.

These gender differences are not absolutes – there are men who want to chat about how they feel and women who like to problem-solve and are action-oriented. But when there are differences, clearly conveying understanding and appreciation can help strengthen your communication and as a result, your relationship as well.