Alison Armstrong specializes in helping women understand how men think. She started studying men for her own benefit, but soon discovered that what she learned was worth sharing. She now teaches a series of workshops to help both women and men understand their differences, appreciate what they share, and build stronger, healthier relationships. The workshops are filled with laughter and cries of recognition as men nod at her descriptions and women say, "So that's why they do that!"
Before she began sharing her expertise about the opposite sex, Alison worked on children's issues and programs to help the homeless in Orange Country, CA. She hopes that helping people with their relationships will make for better marriages, stronger families, and healthier, happier children.
Interview with Alison Armstrong
How did you become an expert at understanding how men think?
My friends call me a compulsive distinguisher. I'm constantly trying to find out what's really going on here, how does this work, what could we say or do differently to get what we want out of life. It means I'm always trying to improve and make things better.
Are men and women really different?
We are more different than we can imagine! The only way that I have discovered that men and women are alike is in our core desire. A desire to be loved, a desire to be accepted exactly the way that we are. And a desire to love, to love fully and to have one's love fully received and cherished.
Tell me about some of the differences.
A common problem is that women think men are cut off from their feelings. Actually, men's feelings are literally in a different place in their bodies. Women feel happy right in the middle of their chest, like a vibration of happiness. A man, when he feels happy, it's his upper chest and shoulders and neck that fill with energy. If you're watching him, he will literally puff up. He'll look bigger. If he has a moment of ecstasy and is really happy, it flows out through the chest and into his arms and hands, and that's where you get high-fives, or jumping up to hit a cross-beam.
But when I ask men "Where do you feel happiness?" they look bewildered. They actually pay more attention to women being happy than to themselves being happy!
Do men and women think about love differently?
One major difference is that women base more decisions on love. As a woman, if I love you and you love me, we should get married. It's that simple. For a man, that he loves a woman is just one of many factors. One big thing he's going to consider is if she fits with the life that he envisions for himself, his goals. Since he doesn't expect her to give up her life to blend into his, this can be very important. Men listen very carefully to women express themselves about what their dreams are and what they want, and they think, "Could I give that to her? Do I want to give that to her?" It's possible for men to want us to fulfill our dreams, but not want to be the person to be there when we do it.
What else should women know about how men think?
Women pay attention to a lot of things at the same time. We almost never give anything our undivided attention. That's natural for a woman. But men don't tend to be good multi-taskers. They pay attention to one result at a time. They commit themselves to that one result and they're entirely focused on it, and they get very frustrated when they don't have what they need to do it. That can be hard for a woman to understand.There's a great example in the first half-hour of my In Sync CD. It's about a man and a woman on a date. He's trying to accomplish getting them to the restaurant so they can have a nice dinner, and she thinks he's not talking to her because he doesn't like her. And that's not true at all. He's just trying to make sure she has a nice evening! Once they get to the restaurant, he'll be ready to talk. Understanding how men think can turn an awkward date into a great one.
What qualities do men look for in women?
Men look for different things in a romantic relationship than in their other relationships. They are looking for what they are not, and the word for that is femininity. It's the qualities they don't find in themselves or their friends. They're very much looking for nurturing, someone who cares for them and cares about them and pays attention in a way that women are uniquely made to pay attention. Men derive an enormous amount of comfort from a woman's believing in them. If she thinks he can do it, he must be able to do it. It makes them braver. A man is also looking for a woman who will respond to his playfulness. Women tend to be much more serious. He's looking for her to be delighted. To be tickled. To let him make her laugh.
Is there anything else most men want?
One of the terms they use a lot is, "I'm looking for a woman who will have my back." When I say that to women, they're like, "What does that mean?" It's a kind of loyalty that men provide each other in their friendships. When a man commits to a person, he buys the whole package. If someone criticizes his friend, he says "That's just the way he is." He accepts that friendship or business partner or wife or girlfriend all the ways that she is, or all the ways that she isn't.
But it's not something women usually do naturally. Women commit one small acceptance at a time. We don't just say, "That's the way he is." We say, "This is the way he is, and I like these parts, and those parts I'm going to change."
What do men think when we ask them to change?
Criticism ends more relationships than anything I can think of. Criticism does not cause a man to change. Because women tend to respond to criticism, we think criticizing a man will change him. But it just makes a man feel not accepted, like he should keep his distance. It makes him feel he should be less giving and less involved.
So if we're not supposed to criticize, how can we bring out the best in men?
Offer them loads of appreciation when they do things right! And do it in a way that he'll respond to. Men like to hear appreciation, but they're much more responsive to seeing it.
In fact, things that have gone out of fashion, that feminism has put out of fashion, are really appreciated by men. If we're married and living together, anything that supports him in being a provider is going to make him feel appreciated. So if I make him lunch to take to work with him, that's appreciation. It's such a small thing for me, but it makes him feel great.
Is it true that men are intimidated by strong, successful women?
Women think that! But it's not true. Men are attracted to and admire and desire successful women. What intimidates them is the attitude that comes with many successful women. And the attitude is, "What do I need you for?" When a woman is appreciative of men and what they can contribute, she loses that attitude that keeps men away.
Are you saying women should act weak?
No, not at all. To lose the attitude, a woman needs to shift her relationships with men at the core. The more we understand that men are distinct, the easier it is to admire them. There are ways that men think, ways that they approach things that women often don't have. It's ok to need men. There's no dishonor in that. We were made to be partners.
For More Information on Understanding How Men Think
You can learn more about Alison's workshops at her web site, UnderstandMen.com. She also has workshops just for men, to help them better understand what makes women tick. If you can't make it to a workshop site, Alison offers a CD set called In Sync with the Opposite Sex. It's a complete workshop with both men and women, full of candid questions and honest answers.