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July 20, 2010

The Deer In The Headlights Phenomenon--A Communication Blunder In Relationships

I often hear from women that their partners aren’t interested in what they have to say, talk very little and emotionally don’t offer much.  When I check in with the men about this, the men often report that they’re different from the women and don’t need to talk as much.  They also report that at times they have no idea what to say if they were to talk.  Many men complain that the women seem to talk non-stop and they wish the women would quiet down.

After hearing these complaints over and over again, I began to see what both the men and the women were talking about.  The men were indeed offering very little and, in response to the men’s silence, the women would often talk incessantly in an attempt to get a response from the men.  Naturally the relentless talking led to the men tuning the women out and that led to the women persisting in talking.  Obviously this dance was and is a lose-lose for both men and women.

On the male side of the equation, their lack of communication was, at times, nothing short of astounding.  On many occasions, I watched as the men stared at their partners with a blank look on their faces and literally added nothing to a conversation.  They did not nod, utter a word or even sigh in response to what their partners were saying.  This non-reaction was true when the women were giving a compliment, sharing a thought, complaining or even asking a question.  What the women were saying was irrelevant.  The men, almost immediately when the women began speaking, would look like a deer in the headlights and say absolutely nothing.  I have seen this happen so many times that I now call it the deer in the headlight phenomenon.


When I asked the men if they heard what their partner said, without fail they would report they did.  When I asked why they didn’t respond, they either said, because they didn’t think a response was needed or they didn’t know how to respond.  Hmmm.

On the female side of the equation, the women would watch the men not respond and would assume the men hadn’t heard them, hadn’t understood them or didn’t “get it.”  The women would then invariably talk more in an effort to explain what they said or to get the men to see what they meant.  Not surprisingly, the more the women talked, the more the men tuned out and the more the men tuned out, the more the women talked.  YIKES!!!!

If this is happening in your relationship, here’s how you fix it:

Men:  If someone is speaking to you, acknowledge that they have spoken; to do otherwise is just plain rude.  Here’s a list of options to choose from to help you out (Note: don’t forget to mix them up from time to time): 
•    Shake your head (only do this once in a while since it’s not very relational if that’s all you do),
•    Make a comment,
•    Ask a question,
•    Say you understand,
•    Share a similar story from your own life,
•    Laugh if appropriate,
•    Hold her hand if it’s warranted,
•    Say you’re sorry she feels that way if it fits…
•    If you’re really at a loss—tell her you heard her and have no idea how to respond.
The bottom line is: say or do something, and don’t just sit there like a deer in the headlights.  The more silent you remain, the more talkative she will become.  Intimacy requires a sharing of oneself with another—emotionally, physically and spiritually.  Start talking!

Women: If your partner has that deer-in-the-headlights look and is offering little emotionally or in a conversation, don’t keep talking.  Stop trying to explain, pleading for him to talk, showing him how unrelational he’s being, getting him to understand, etc.  Remember that less is more.  Tell him directly and succinctly what you want.  If you want him to answer your question, state, “Will you please answer my question?”  If you want him to be supportive, say, “Can you just say, ‘That sounds hard honey’?”

And if, no matter what you ask for, he continues to not be emotionally available, then be clear that he’s hurting your relationship.  Take the time to figure out what you will do about that and let him know.  Do not make false threats, but make sure you follow up your words with actions. 

Whatever you do…stop chasing him.  The more you chase, the more he will run. 

CHALLENGE:  Pay attention to how you communicate with your partner and make sure you are holding up your part of the equation.  Share yourself and listen when your partner shares.  Don’t over-talk or under-talk, chase or run.  Be present and work your side.





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Lisa,

This is stunningly accurate, and so applies to my relationship.

In my long-distance situation, I can't see his head nodding. And when I email something, and he doesn't respond, it drives me crazy.

I SO get it, now.

THANK you. ;)

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