By Tanith Carey, Daily Mail
When Susie Clements rang her boyfriend and told him: ‘Darling, we need to talk’, she hoped it would be a turning point in their relationship.
Both were saddled with hectic work schedules, so Susie wanted to find ways for them to spend more time together. But instead of opening up the lines of communication, Susie says her suggestion to boyfriend Simon had the opposite effect.
‘As a couple, the time we’d spent together over the previous months had been magical,’ says Susie, 52, a striking blonde divorcee from Lincoln.
‘But we were both busy people — and I wanted to work out a way where we could have more of those good times.
‘When I rang Simon and told him I wanted to discuss where we were heading, there was a long pause. Abruptly, he said he was on his way to play squash and he’d call me the next day.’
Looking back, Susie, who runs her own importing business, realises it was a turning point — but not the one she was hoping for. She says: ‘We had a row about his attitude and after that he grew distant. I tried to bring it up again when we next saw each other — but he just looked at me blankly and said: “You’ve lost me.”’
‘However well a relationship is going, I always find men get that panicky look in their eyes when you say you want to talk, because they know what’s coming next. They just assume they’ve done something wrong before you’ve even said a word.’
Like so many who have felt lonely within a relationship, Susie had come up against that age-old scenario: a woman, feeling distant from her partner, wants to discuss how she’s feeling.
But instead of hearing it as an opportunity to improve their union, her man hears it as a criticism.
A new study by researchers at the university of Missouri has found that most men, rather than being too inhibited to share their feelings, think that endlessly talking about problems is weird, unattractive — and plain unhelpful.
So could it be that talking is not the marital cure-all it’s cracked up to be? After all, despite our obsession with communication and counselling, eight out of ten marriages still fail because couples ‘grow apart’.
A best-selling U.S. relationship book How To Improve Your Marriage Without Talking About It by Dr Patricia Love and Steven Stosny turns the long-accepted notion that you have to talk to improve your relationship with your partner on its head.
Dr Love says: ‘How many women can honestly say that the response they’ve had to the words, “I want to talk” is: “I thought you’d never ask.”
‘In reality, most women expect their men to get distracted, fidgety, defensive, irritated, or roll their eyes. It all ends up worse than when it started.’
The reason talking doesn’t help is down to basic biological differences between men and women, says Dr Love. Because of their roles within the pack, the genders are hard-wired differently to cope with stress and intimacy.
Dating back to pre-history, a woman’s more vulnerable role as childbearer meant she had to depend on the support of the group for security and survival. And thousands of years on, women still deal with fear by sharing their worries.
Men, however, are hard-wired to see their roles as defenders, says Dr Love. ‘Males know females choose them for their ability to protect and provide, so a man rates himself on how well he fulfils that role and how happy his partner is.
‘When a woman suggests there’s a problem with the relationship, he feels he’s not providing well enough.
‘It makes him feel ashamed, so he withdraws emotionally.’
Research has found that even the way males and females respond physically to emotional stress is different, says Dr Love.
‘Talking about feelings is soothing to women. But it makes men physically uncomfortable. Their bodies flood with the stress hormone cortisol. There’s more blood flow to muscles. They get edgy, so that women think they’re not listening.’
The theory is borne out in studies that show women and men respond differently to stress from the moment they are born. ‘When a baby girl hears a loud noise or gets anxious, she wants to make eye contact with someone,’ says Dr Love. ‘But a baby boy will react to the same sound by looking around, a fight-or-flight response.’
It’s easy for couples to slip into negative patterns because their different vulnerabilities are almost invisible — and the miscommunications run so deep.
‘When I said, “We need to talk” my partner’s immediate reaction was to think “Oh goodness, what have I done now?”’
The key to satisfaction, says Dr Love, is to find ways to connect without words: ‘Everyone needs to learn that before we can communicate by speaking, we need to connect non-verbally through touch, sex, and doing things together, which is when the deepest moments of intimacy occur.’
Despite the fact many women believe men are only interested in touching during sex, Dr Love says every man she has ever counselled privately admits he would like to be caressed more at other times too.
It means the best way to improve intimacy is to simply touch your man more.
Dr Love recommends giving your partner a full-body hug six times a day — and for at least six seconds each time — which is how long it takes for the calming, feel-good hormone serotonin to kick in. ‘It may sound a lot, but the six-times-six formula brings a new level of closeness,’ Dr Love says.