Mars vs Venus – How We Show We Care
By Nigel Summerley and Rowena J Ronson
NS: Some people say I’m good with words – and I suppose I should be, as I’ve managed to make a living from them for most of my life. But I sometimes struggle to put feelings into words – especially, like many men, when I’m trying to tell someone that I care about them or am concerned for their wellbeing. I know men have a tendency to offer advice or solutions – but those are often not well received, are they?
RJR: You are certainly good with words, Nigel. What you are saying is really interesting. Can you give me an example of what you are talking about? Speaking from a female perspective, I am not good at being given advice, unless someone really clearly knows where I am at. Otherwise it feels not individualised, not asked for, and undermining.
NS: A simple example would be having a friend who suffers from anxiety to such an extent that it seems to be making them ill. And if I were to say to them that they should stop worrying and try to see how fortunate they actually are, then it would be received in the way that I think you have just highlighted. Well-intentioned advice given from my point of view rather than from fully appreciating the other person’s situation is not likely to be of help.
RJR: Interesting. So is this a male/female thing do you think? Or an advice-giving thing generally? For us to give advice to people only if I asked? I wonder.
NS: There is an aspect of it that is a male/female issue, because I think men generally tend towards problem-solving and being controlling – and women tend not to appreciate either of those approaches, especially the latter. But I think both men and women are not keen on receiving unasked for advice. I know I’m often not good at receiving advice – even if I know that it makes sense. So what do we do when someone we care about is having a difficult time?
RJR: It is a fundamental and masculine/feminine difference, not necessarily a male/female one, I feel. I have female friends who are more in their masculine, and male friends who tend towards their feminine. It is all very interesting! And I guess we all have different approaches for the different people in our lives. I know, for example, that my approach with my parents is not the same as with my patients. I also know it is a big trigger for me to receive advice when I have not asked for it – when wanted I have wanted is something completely different. At those times I have ended up losing out on good listening, care, witnessing, being understood, respected, appreciated etc, and instead get advice that actually doesn’t work for me at all. I think that probably answers your question, Nigel. I will be very interested in your response.
NS: Yes, I see what you mean re masculine/feminine. And I, too, find unsought advice is a trigger – I think it may be for many people. You have highlighted the important thing for most of us – to be listened to. I think that I listen and that I know that is important, but I can’t seem to help myself going straight from there into trying to be “helpful” with advice. There is almost a compulsion to come up with answers – often to things that have no answer. I think this discussion is likely to help me be more sensitive in future – and concentrate on listening and understanding.
RJR: I feel it is a great privilege to be listened to. It is a real gift. Listened to without judgement. There is nothing quite like it.
NS: That seems to be the lesson here. What do our readers think?