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Published May 11 2012

Eccher: 'You've got male' column offers answer to questions about male behavior

Why, oh why, should you listen to me?

Is it because I’m charming? Witty? Ruthlessly handsome?

Are those qualities, accurate as they may be, reason enough for you – a savvy, modern woman – to come to me for advice about the men in your life?

Of course not. No, ladies, you should listen to me because I have seen some things.

Those roads a man must walk down before you can call him a man? I walked ’em. That “Mulan” song about being swift as a coursing river and as awesome as the moon? I totally know the words.

I’ve been tough, like when I played sports. I’ve been sensitive, like when I quit sports to pursue musical theater. I have climbed the mountain of Unpacking Gender Roles and planted the flag of Mutual Understanding. I have gazed into the abyss of bro-dom, and the abyss gazed back.

In other words: I’ve been inside your man’s head, and I’m not afraid to tell you what I saw. When I don’t know the answer to your questions, I’ll find someone who does. When I can’t find someone, I’ll make something up. And it will sound good.

No – it will sound great.

On to your questions:

One wife asks: How do I get my husband to help out in the kitchen after dinner instead of playing video games?

Believe it or not, this has less to do with laziness than with the framing of the request.

If it’s overly vague – just “help out” – you’re scaring him away. The tasks are unfamiliar, and the timeframe is indefinite. He’s hearing: “Figure out what I want you to do, then do it forever.”

Instead, break it down into specific, achievable tasks: rinse the dishes, put away the placemats, wrap up the leftovers, and take out the trash. Keep each one simple and quick.

He wants to feel competent and to get stuff done. Empower him to do both.

Tara asks: If he knows I will be mad ... then why does he do it?! For example, ‘I did not tell you because I knew you would be mad.’ Well, I know how to fix it! Don’t do it if you know I will be mad!

First of all, you getting mad or not getting mad shouldn’t be the reason he does or doesn’t do things. Fear and control are poor foundations for a relationship. (The more you tighten your grip, the more star systems will slip through your fingers and all that). Keep it positive.

That said: He keeps doing the thing that makes you mad because he thinks it’s an unreasonable thing to be mad about.

Recall the words of Thomas Jefferson: “If a law is unjust, a man is not only right to disobey it, he is obligated to do so.” I’m pretty sure he was talking about his wife telling him to quit hitting the bars on weeknights.

The good news: He’s not trying to make you mad. He doesn’t think there’s anything to be mad about. Talk with him about the disconnect.

Stacy asks: My husband and I have a combined household. He and I, my kids and his kids. There are many issues that come up from time to time, as you can imagine. So, if something is bothering me or I get upset about something and bring it to his attention so that it can be discussed, he immediately gets in a defensive mode and starts bringing up things MY kids have done wrong. Even from three years ago. Why can’t he ever stick to the topic at hand?

The defensiveness and dredging up the past are classic examples of not knowing how to fight constructively. There’s a lot of good literature on the topic that lays out concrete ways to make disagreements more productive.

For some perspective on your situation, I turned to a friend who married into a combined household himself. His take: “Well, it’s because my kids are perfect and hers aren’t.”

You’ve Got Male is a monthly column in SheSays. Send questions about the male in your life to Forum reporter Marino Eccher meccher@forumcomm.com.