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Office Hours With Dr. Jim
by James Houran, Ph.D

In this column, "Dr. Jim" honestly and candidly answers your questions about dating, love and sexuality. He doesn’t tell you what you want to hear – he tells you what you need to hear. Dr. Jim is committed to offering you guidance based on responsible clinical practice and hard data from the latest scientific studies. Send Dr. Jim your questions today for consideration in an upcoming issue.

This Week:
Getting Through to a Man who Closes Down
Is it Better to be Funny or Sexy on a Date?

How do I get through to my boyfriend who "closes down" every time we have a disagreement?


This depends on what you really mean by “closes down.” Several interpretations come to my mind when I read that:

» he becomes quiet and non-responsive but doesn’t leave the room

» he becomes quiet and non-responsive and then does leave the room

» he becomes louder and accusatory, trying to bring up any and all issues other than the one you’re discussing

There are several possibilities at work here:

» his “emotional IQ” (social skills and social sensitivities) is not as high as yours – that is, he’s not an effective communicator or negotiator

» he feels guilty or ashamed or otherwise knows his point of view in the disagreement is wrong and so he’s trying to save face

» in a past relationship, disagreements (even little ones) might have led to break ups, so he closes down out of fear

Each of these scenarios can require a different approach, but here’s some food for thought. Consider these tips and how they might work for your particular set of circumstances:

» Don’t bring up issues to debate or discuss immediately when you or he comes home from work. Allow some “breathing time.” Picking what battles to fight is a wise consideration, and so is picking the time and place for them.

» Stick to one issue when arguing, and keep the discussion in the “here and now.”

» Always use “I” statements, such as… “I feel frustrated when you never put the toilet seat down” (as if men really do this, wink, wink). Then, instead of dictating a single solution, ask for feedback and work on a solution together. This approach gives you both power and control in resolving the disagreement. If he feels powerless and disrespected, you’ll be perceived as acting like a parent.

» Use language he can understand. When scientists talk to general audiences they try to avoid jargon. Likewise, if there are major discrepancies in your education levels or life experiences, try to bridge those by using a common level of communication. Don’t talk over his head and don’t patronize.

» Try to sit side-by-side when you’re talking, which is a supportive, non-confrontational position. Having a big disagreement face-to-face often can enflame the situation.

» Let him talk first and really listen before you respond.

Notice that my tips try to address potential issues that might reside in him, as well as in you. It takes two to have a disagreement, so the first step in tackling this dilemma is to seriously question if you’re partly responsible for his “closing down” during disagreements. Or, maybe closing down is how he’s always handled conflict in his life. Remember the whole “fight or flight” response we learned in science class? When people face a perceived threat their body chemistry automatically adapts to deal with the stress by either fighting it or running away from it in some way. Shutting down, or “freezing,” is one of the possible outcomes. If this is partly what’s going on, then it’s unrealistic to expect him to change this coping mechanism in a short period of time.

Finally, thoughtfully consider whether there is a pattern to your disagreements – are these disagreements primarily about a certain issue or topic? If so, it could signal a serious red flag in your relationship… and one that requires a professional to help you two resolve.

Is it more important for a guy to try to be funny or sexy during a date?
This is a false dilemma – a healthy and appropriate sense of humor is sexy to both sexes. Humor communicates optimism and builds rapport with others. And really, who wouldn’t find optimism and openness attractive? In fact, there’s research that’s found that people who report higher levels of libido and feelings of personal attractiveness also report a stronger overall sense of humor. Now, this finding is only correlational, but other research hints that sense of humor might actually be causing some of this stuff.

Humor counteracts the negative effects of stress, by helping to maintain a positive and upbeat mood. Laughter stimulates the release of endorphins (brain chemicals that are released when people exercise, are injured or experience high stress levels). Likewise, stress-related hormones decrease during episodes of laughter. Ultimately, this means people with a good sense of humor and who express it will feel more relaxed and exude attractiveness. Yes, it’s true – people with a good sense of humor are generally liked much more than people who have no sense of humor and people who prefer derogatory jokes. So, express yourself on dates and let your sense of humor shine through. If you do, the “sexy” and “attractive” part tends to take care of itself.

> - The best approach to find the one. <

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