Dealing With Your Difficult Woman

Dear Duana,

Women are ALWAYS right. Just ask one. That’s what I’d like to read about. I will admit that they are usually right, but how do you tactfully approach them when they are wrong? I think I’ve learned to do it but I’d like to read about it anyway.



I agree with Ross . Women are ALWAYS right. And, when you are able to convince them that they are wrong … you then have to deal with a bitter woman for days! I’ve always had a very difficult time communicating with women in difficult situations. “Can’t live with them , can’t live without them”. Go figure!! What to do?




Dear Ross and Mark,


You had me at “always”. Seriously, though, it’s not about convincing your Difficult Woman that she’s wrong, nor conceding your point every time. Instead, it’s about three easy steps so your sex life, happiness, wallet, sex life, health, and sex life all win big.

Now that I’ve got your attention…


Step 1: Recognize and respect your Relationship Mechanic’s work.

Most men gallantly discharge tasks including lawn work, car care, and open-flame cooking. Some—God love them—scrub toilets. Meanwhile, women maintain relationships. But whereas men’s chivalry is appropriately acknowledged as important work, women’s efforts are frequently called by another name: Nagging.


Although this can be painful to the more Silent Sex, fully 80% of difficult issues are brought up by the wife in heterosexual couples, according to 35-plus years of research by marital happiness guru Dr. John Gottman. And neither cars nor relationships run well without maintenance. In the happiest couples, the wife does *not* accept a lackluster marriage as the norm, nor does she ignore problems as her anger builds. Instead, she does the vital job of complaining, insisting on protecting and enhancing the marriage.


So make a mental shift to honor your Relationship Mechanic’s work. It’s the couples who are disengaged –living separate, lonely lives under the same roof, often without bothering to fight anymore— who are at the greatest risk of misery, adultery, and divorce.


Step 2: Prevent harsh startup by including her input.

Some women are better Mechanics than others, though. Difficult Women criticize instead of gently voicing a mere complaint about the specific behavior at hand (Just because research shows criticism never helps a relationship doesn’t mean women have gotten The Memo). If “Remember how we used to cuddle? Let’s do it tonight,” has routinely become “You selfish jerk! You never consider my needs,” it’s a statistical guarantee that you’re headed towards the For Worse part of the marriage contract.


Fortunately, you can reverse the Difficult Woman metamorphosis, especially if you still admire and like your wife. Most women only turn Difficult after months or years of feeling disrespected when their input is ignored. So the solution is straightforward: Include her input.


Does this mean saying “Yes, Dear”? No; constant agreement is impossible. In fact, 69% of problems are unsolvable in all marriages, including the happy ones. Instead, convey respect by considering your wife’s perspective in life’s decisions and discussions, big and small—whether or not you ultimately do it her way. Concretely, this means calling her before you agree to a night out with the guys; asking her opinion on what TV to buy; listening if she has ideas about skim vs. 2%; and doing the difficult discussions instead of tuning her out. Some call these men whipped. Researchers use a different term: Happy.


Step 3: Recognize a flooded engine, and know what to do about it.

It’s happening again: Your wife has broached a sore subject, and she’s done it harshly. Take your pulse—really. If it’s over 100 beats per minute, Gottman’s science says you’re “flooded” and won’t process another thing right now.


What most men do at this point is called “stonewalling”—watching their mate’s mouth move while failing to respond in any way, and hoping it will eventually be over. Although research shows that men stonewall to avoid escalating a fight, it usually has the opposite effect. And of the four destructive disagreement techniques (in order: criticism, defensiveness, contempt, and stonewalling)—habitual stonewalling is the deadliest for a marriage’s longevity, heralding an end that is near indeed.


So don’t stonewall. Instead, take a break. You’ll require 20- to 30 minutes of TV or some other non-alcoholic distraction—after which it’s vital for you to return to the discussion. Imagine your Difficult Woman’s shock when she assassinates your character, only to find that your response is to calmly stop her, tell her you want to continue the talk after you’ve had a half-hour break—after which you actually return to consider her opinion. The goodwill you’ll buy will prove priceless. And over time, you’ll win. Not the battle—not the war—the peace.



Extra Credit: Give your Relationship Mechanic the manual.

You’ve probably discerned that Gottman is a research demigod—and you’re right. His “The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work: A Practical Guide from the Country’s Foremost Relationship Expert” is the only relationship book continually kept on my nightstand, and it’s a well-worn copy for good reason. By scientifically documenting the things happy couples do well and teaching the rest of us how, he’s turned many seemingly hopeless cases into happily-ever-afters, and made many a good marriage even better. So here’s the deal: If you won’t make me change the oil, I won’t ask you to read the relationship manual. I will, however, suggest that you give it to your Relationship Mechanic, along with a romantic card that says you respect and appreciate the hard work she does for you and your marriage.


If you follow these steps, your entire relationship will improve, because very few Difficult Women continue behaving badly in an ongoing atmosphere of respect. Plus, you’ll be right in every important sense. Always.





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All material copyrighted by Duana C. Welch, Ph.D., 2009

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Reader Comments (10)

Nice to read something that explains one of the differences between men and women in such a concise and non derogatory and humorous way. Dr. Welch is absolutely right about the woman minding the machine of the relationship, always there with alarm bells and warning lights ready to go off whenever needed. We're not just trying to make noise, there is a reason for it. We just need our mechanic at the ready to go in to set things right again.
I'll also agree that I've read Gottman's books and agree that he is a genius! Great job with the article Duana!

June 1, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCandi Woods

Thank you, Candi. Interestingly, there are also some men who enjoy being the relationship mechanics; and there are women who stonewall, although it's rare. (I'm guilty--or was. Fortunately, these skills are easy to learn!)

Dear Dr. Duana,

I have to admit that I had become and potentially continue to be one of those "difficult" women; however, my second (and forever) husband showers me with such an "ongoing attitude of respect" that it's a challenge for me to be my former difficult self! I really appreciate your insight and research on this subject. Keep up the great work!

June 3, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLouise

Louise, thank you--and kudos to you on being openly grateful for the good man in your life. Sounds like you two have found what works.

Difficult women are generally good hearted women. Looking out for the relationship and valuing the little nuances that made a relationship possible with her. Most just want to make the experience as good as it can be. But I have seen the difficult woman with totally disruptive motives and deceitful agendas. Where lies fly and responsibility is not taken for actions and inactions. Same could be said about some Difficult Men. These I hope are the exceptions to truly being just difficult with sincere motives. Men, just listen to and consider the challenge because accepting some difficulty may make life much sweeter in the sheets, bath, shower, golf course.... HAHAHA. Just like a guy huh!

June 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterGabriel C

I love your thoughts, Gabriel. And is much better sexually for men who know how to Deal!

Men and women get so frustrated with the gender differences, don't they? I like this column because it illustrates the well-meaning intentions and purposes of the behaviors (you know, the things that make us pull our hair out because our partner doesn't get it!). Until you walk a mile in their shoes... By the way, this column is where I started to notice "Duana's voice" really starting to come out, where there was a subtle but important shift in your writing. Keep it up!

June 13, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterTracey Louis

Why thank you, Ms. Tracey. Much obliged!

June 13, 2009 | Registered CommenterDuana C. Welch, Ph.D.

I love the Mechanic analogy, it fits perfectly!!

This is one of my favorite articles (so far). There is so much valuable information, and it gives me an entirely different outlook on talking to a guy about relationship things.

Anyways, can't wait for the next one!


June 25, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterChristine J

Thank you, Christine. I'm so glad you're part of this.

July 14, 2009 | Registered CommenterDuana C. Welch, Ph.D.
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