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Marriage advice: Men need time to process problems, information in their own way

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.The Associated Press
Wednesday, March 20, 2013 12:01 am
We all process the information we receive. Some information is dealt with quickly: It's sunny and warm; you don't need a raincoat. Information involving major life events, whether good or bad, requires much greater processing: A possible layoff at work, death of a friend or the birth of a child.But how men and women process information is different, and these differences can complicate marriages.

Expert John Gray explains that women typically process information by talking. When women are stressed by their day or a personal problem, “they seek out someone they trust and then talk in great detail about the problem.”

Men, however, solve problems by themselves and have two primary “places” to do it: What Gray calls “the Cave” and what Mark Gungor identifies as a “Nothing Box.” Both completely baffle many women.

A man goes alone to his “Cave” to solve problems. It's where he does something familiar and relatively simple, requiring little thought. He's stuck on a problem and “to get unstuck he is drawn to solving little problems,” such as working on an old car, doing physical exercise, watching TV or gardening.

Absorbing himself in something that requires little thought and forgetting the problem allows the rest of his mind to become unstuck. Later, he'll refocus on the issue with greater success.

Sometimes a man isn't “stuck,” he just needs to reorganize the data he has, similar to a computer going through a de-fragmenting program. He does this in his “Nothing Box.” He'll just stare into space with a blank look, and you'll ask, “What are you doing?” He'll answer, “Nothing,” and you'll think that's impossible.

And for women, that's true. Women are wired to be in constant Go Mode. You even process information in Go Mode, for example, by talking to friends. But for men, “nothing” isn't only possible, it's necessary.

Unfortunately, Caves and Nothing Boxes can create problems for couples. When men retreat to their caves to deal with a problem, Gray warns they can appear to be uncaring because they often forget that other people may have problems, too.

A man in his cave has “little awareness of how distant he's become,” Gray says. He's incapable of giving the attention his wife needs. If she demands attention, he may retreat further into the cave.

Most men enjoy being in their Nothing Box. Authors Jay and Laura Laffoon note that a man left to himself will “stay there until someone kicks him out.” But they also emphasize, “please understand: He really doesn't mind leaving.”

He's not just standing there hoping you won't notice him and won't ask him to do anything. He simply needs to be invited back out.

A man in his Cave and a man in his Nothing Box can look very much alike. However, there are two major differences.

First, if something major has happened (loss of a job, death of a family member, a major problem at work or home), he has probably retreated to his Cave to sort things out. Otherwise, he's probably in his Nothing Box.

Second, when you approach him for conversation or assistance, how does he respond? If he seems to “snap out of it,” it was Nothing-Box time. If he remains distant and nonresponsive, he's probably in his cave.

Men need both Cave time and Nothing-Box time. However, wives also need time and attention. Gray emphasizes that husbands need to realize their wives need time to talk about their problems and frustrations just as they need time alone.

Couples with healthy marriages recognize and respect the different ways we process information and deal with problems differently.

2012, All Rights Reserved. James Sheridan’s website is www.marriagedoneright.com. This column is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinion of The News-Sentinel.


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