Every word you speak within earshot of your man can bring you a step closer, or wedge you further apart. You can choose to lace those words with honey or with venom. With compassion or contempt. We can reach inside and bring our words forth from a place
1. Ya' heard? We've learned to use words as a shield, as a sword and as a way to take care of business. But listening is a tool we've overlooked-one that will bring us closer to the men we love, the psychologists say.
Most of us don't listen with the intent of understanding. We listen with the intent of replying.
2. Explain, don't blame. Black men see finger-pointing as a put-down, Wade says. To keep him receptive to what you're saying, "always come from I, not you," advises Wade. She suggests framing your statements like this: "I feel upset when you...," "What I'd really like..," "I get depressed when..."
3. Don't nag, brag. What our men crave is positive reinforcement, emphasizes Cornish. Nagging is just the opposite. With you continually focused on what he doesn't accomplish, he may unconsciously be living down to your diminished expectations of him. Praising him for doing what he should be doing anyway may seem silly and unnecessary to us sisters, whose own extraordinary efforts ordinarily go unsung. But brothers are wired differently. They identify with achievement, with action, with getting it done.
4. Give him time to understand your feelings - and his own. You come to him with a serious concern. It's important, and you need to talk it through - here and now. He puts you off, grabs his keys, his tools or a basketball and saunters off. When he's the one with the problem (he's got that troubled look), you ask him what's up and he shuts you out the same way.
This distancing by the man you love isn't a dis, says Elmore, it's his method of discovery: "Women process their emotions verbally. For men, words distract. Men have the feelings, but they have them a long time before they know what they are." Your man can't share with you what he hasn't accessed himself, Elmore adds. "Brothers are criminalized for turning around and picking up the keys, washing the car. But I guarantee you, 1 percent of him is washing that car, the other 99 percent of his mind and soul is occupied on solving that problem. Activity creates an environment for men to focus," Elmore explains. The more you let him do, the better he can respond to you. Simply request of him, "When you can, would you please get back to me," advises Elmore.
5. Speak to all his senses. Don't forget body language. Does your facial expression and tone of voice communicate openness, love and respect? Wade recalls a woman in couples therapy who would arrive, slink into the chair, fold her arms and glare. "This is what I get at home," her husband pointed out. Though she hadn't yet said a word, her body language spoke volumes about why the couple was in trouble.
Gaze into his eyes. Touch him. Kiss him hello and good-bye each day. Even if you say nothing, he'll hear you loud and clear, says Wade, who offers many more tips for effective nonverbal communication in her six-set audiotape series, Love Lessons: A Guide to Transforming Relationships, available for $49.95 by calling (888) DOC-WADE.
6. Listen for "I love you," but watch for it, too. He brings home his paycheck. He buys your tampons. He walks the dog late at night. Are you getting the message? A Black man's "language" has no vowels, consonants or verbs. Brothers use actions to convey more than words, says Elmore. "If you're not trained to 'hear' his language, you'll miss out on all the heartfelt 'I love you' messages he's constantly sending you," psychologist Elmore notes. Don't forget to praise him for those things. Behavior rewarded is behavior repeated, adds Elmore.
7. Ask for what you want. Myth: If he loved me, he'd know what I want. Reality: Your silence means one thing to your man-that everything's all right. "To him, if you're not requesting, demanding or protesting anything, nothing's broke; and if it ain't broke he won't try to fix it," Elmore explains. "Ask for what you want. Men love to satisfy their women's desires. It makes them feel capable and needed."
8. Choose your opportunities; choose your battles. It may be a cliché, but timing really is everything. Look for opportunities-such as car trips-when you have his undivided attention. Better yet, build them into your lifestyle. Daily walks, weekend excursions and other couple time will create that space and bring you closer.
Sometimes, the best time to bring up that issue is never. Sisters in successful long-term relationships say they've learned to let some little things go.
9. Ask his opinion. By asking and valuing his opinion, you boost your man's self-esteem and "make love" to the intellectual part of him, he adds.
Conversely, when you offer your opinion, especially about some area in which he could improve, tread lightly: "Boo, can I make a suggestion related to your career?" If he says yes, continue. "I heard that this company is a great place to work. I'm wondering if you're interested in checking it out." Leave it there-no follow-up questions, no nagging. Your honey's career choices must be his own. If he's serious about change, he'll do the right thing.
10. Have a three-way with God. "There is nothing you can do with the man you love that is more intimate than to pray," observes Elmore, who is also an ordained minister. "We talk to God about that which is most important to us in all the world. When you pray with, and for, the man you love, you hear from each other's mouths what your most profound yearnings are for each other."
How you pray is up to you. You can attend a mosque or church service or walk in the woods - communing with nature. Keep in mind that couples who reported a high degree of satisfaction in their marriage after 20 years were more likely to have a shared spiritual life."
11. Laugh. Lighten up and let yourself go, Elmore advises. "Your laughter mingling with his is the most passionate form of lovemaking," he says. Keep it both frequent and intense. "Tell him a joke or a funny story," Wade adds. "Laughter is a great healer."