The most painful choice is to keep trying and keep feeling inadequate – so he shuts down instead
If inadequacy is a man’s most painful feeling, he will eventually shy away from trying to do whatever makes him feel inadequate.
So if he feels like he often “gets it wrong” when he tries to do things with the kids (for example, because he hears dissatisfied comments from you, teachers, or the kids themselves), he is eventually going to stop doing things with the kids. If he feels like he can’t win in presenting his case for a given decision, he’s going to stop presenting his point and let you have your way. If he feels like every time he cleans the living room you come along behind him and re-do it “better,” he’s going to step back from that chore. Why? Not just because he’s annoyed (although he probably is), but because he feels like he is continuously trying and continuously failing, and it is just too painful to try again.
I still remember one man I talked to who, privately, told me he felt like this a lot. And my guess was that his wife simply had no idea. At the time, he was still smarting from offering to take his kids to their well-check-up at the doctor, because his wife had a big meeting. He understood his wife’s desire to give him detailed instructions (“make sure you ask this and this and this…”). But then she wanted him to write out exactly what he was going to ask. (Uh, yeah, ladies, treating your husband like a boy who needs supervision is never a good thing!)Then during the exam the female pediatrician implied annoyance that he was there instead of his wife, assuming he wouldn’t know the answers she needed. (“Do you have any idea if Johnny recovered from his ear infection okay?” This dad was thinking, “Uh, yeah, I live in the house too, you know.” What he actually said, politely, was, “Yes, thank you. He was better two days after we started antibiotics.”) And then after the check-up, his wife asked many questions and was annoyed that he couldn’t give her minute details on certain elements of the visit. (“Yes, they got their shots, and I got the immunization form. No, I don’t know when the next immunizations are due.”)
This man told me, “No way am I doing that again. My way of handling things clearly isn’t good enough, so she’s welcome to do it. I’m out.”
Of course, we as women usually don’t intend to send the signal that “you’re not good enough,” and we certainly don’t want them to shut down! So what do we do instead?