Communication: – What men with prostate cancer hear

Communication issues sometime go like this: A wife wants her husband with prostate cancer to make healthier food choices.  She lovingly suggests: “Let’s go out for fish tonight.”

He thinks: Why is she always ordering me around?  He then becomes irritable and she doesn’t know why. She was just making a suggestion.  Or was she?

In her book, You Just Don’t Understand!, Deborah Tannen writes that the husband perceives his wife’s suggestion as a direct order.

The problem is that a man waits until he’s good and ready to respond to avoid feeling ordered around.

Tannen also suggests that while wives often consult their husbands before making decisions, men may not.  This is because they resent having to run things by their wives.

What you can do: Instead of a “Let’s do this” statement, ask, “Would you like to go out for fish tonight?” He may be more receptive if you ask him a question.

Yeah isn’t always yes

Women commonly use phrases like “yeah,” “yes” and “uh uh” when they are listening to their partners speak.

Men believe this means they are agreeing with them.

So when a wife or partner turns out to not agree with what a man with prostate cancer has been saying, he may believe that his partner is not being honest, or isn’t really listening to him.

What you can do: Ask your loved one if this is true for him. If it is, he will be more aware of it and may not become frustrated if it happens. You can also remind him of this when he starts a conversation with you.

Your problem, their problem

Author John Gray, PhD, writes that when a woman shares her problems or unhappiness, her man assumes he’s to blame, even if the problem has nothing to do with him!

Gray states that “men are motivated when they feel needed” and feel like a failure when their partners are disappointed or upset.

Men may not understand that when women talk about their problems, it helps them feel better. The more details a woman provides in conversation, the more frustrated a man may become.

This is because while you are talking, he is busy trying to make sense of all the details. He mistakenly believes that all the details you are providing will eventually lead him to find a solution to your problem.

What you can do: When you start a conversation, lovingly tell your man that he has done nothing wrong, and that you just need to talk/vent for a while.

Tell him that all he needs to do is listen to you to make you feel better and there is nothing he needs to fix.  Ask him if he can listen to you without offering advice.

You may also want to start at the end of the story (so he knows the outcome), and then give him all the details.

If you sense he is getting distracted, stop talking until he gives you his complete attention, then continue talking.

At the end of your communication, thank him for listening and let him know how much it has helped you.

Avoid “helping” him

Gray writes that when a woman offers a man unsolicited advice — no matter how loving a woman’s intentions are — her man will feel that she is challenging his competence.

Your man may even interpret your “helping” as criticism, which may make him feel weak and unloved.

Competence is very important to a man and his reaction may be very strong. Even when you are trying to comfort your loved one with prostate cancer, he may feel that you are smothering him like a child.

If he senses that you don’t trust him, he may feel rejected and back away.

What you can do: Unless your man asks for your help (or your opinion), try to refrain from offering it. Gray recommends allowing your loved one to work through his problems:

  • Let him know that you trust he is capable of solving his problems on his own
  • Instead of offering unsolicited comfort, instead communicate, “I want to be there for you. Is there anything that you need from me?”
  • Be prepared that he may not be able to answer this question. In that case, you can say, “If you think of anything, please get back to me”

Read our other articles about communication with your man with prostate cancer:

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Communication references:

Gray J. Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus. Harper Collins:New York, NY; 1992.

Tannen D. You Just Don’t Understand! Harper Collins:New York,NY;1990.

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