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Thursday, Sept. 19, 2013 04:06 pm

Going code turkey

I broke up with a boyfriend a few years ago because I wasn’t getting what I wanted from him. I’d give him subtle cues, and when he didn’t respond in the ways I was hoping for, I blamed him for being thickheaded. I’ve ended many a relationship because of this. The dudes didn’t have a chance. I now see that we women can skip years of frustration by getting clear with our partners about what we need from them. Understanding this now, you’d think it would be simple for me to follow through. Yet, I’m continually surprised at how strong my “have him guess!” impulse can be. Letting a man in on my feelings actually takes a lot of courage and stretches me like nothing else.  –Challenged

It isn’t hard for a boyfriend to make a woman happy instead of pissed off for days. He just needs the right answer to “Hey, honey, guess what it means when I put my hair in a ponytail and walk out of the room!”

A guy gets to the point where he can’t be sure whether he’s in a relationship or a really, really long game of charades. (Either way, it helps if there are occasional breaks for angry sex.) Although men and women are psychologically similar in many ways, studies by social psychologist Judith A. Hall and others find that women are more accurate in sussing out the meaning of nonverbal cues. The problem is, we humans all have a tendency to assume others’ minds work just like our own. So, you conclude that a guy is withholding and mean when he seems to ignore what you think should be obvious – that your left nostril flaring is code for “Tell me you love me right this second!” (Not to be mistaken for the flaring right nostril’s “Take out the trash or I’ll kill myself!”)

To your credit, you took a hard look at yourself and admitted that you were wrong. As for why you’re having difficulty putting what you now understand into practice, Yale psychology professor Alan E. Kazdin explained on my radio show, “Knowing doesn’t control doing.” Doing actually takes doing – in your case, repeatedly pushing yourself to express your feelings, despite how uncomfortably vulnerable it makes you feel. Repeating behavior over time actually rewires the brain and, in Kazdin’s words, “locks” the new behaviors in. Eventually, healthier behavior should come more naturally to you – like recognizing, without animus, that the way to get your boyfriend to admire your sexy new haircut is by telling him you’ve gotten one, not by glaring out at him from under the subtly different slant of your bangs. (As every woman needs to understand, his not noticing your new do doesn’t mean he’s stopped loving you; it means you haven’t shaved your head.) 
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