Do you ever say something when talking to your partner that unexpectedly sets him off? Sometimes I’ll make what I think is an innocent comment to my husband, and then suddenly, he’s upset. It’s usually because what I’ve said has made him feel insecure. I went to the experts to find out specific examples of things women say that make men feel insecure. Knowing these things will hopefully help you take their feelings and perspective into consideration, and keep you from making conversational missteps in the future.

You’re just jealous

If you think your partner is feeling jealous, one of the worst things you can do is call him out on it. Instead, Dr. Jess O’Reilly, Astroglide’s resident sexologist, suggests that you find a better way to address their feelings. She told me, “Nobody wants to be judged for perfectly legitimate and universal emotions. If your partner is feeling jealous, they should learn to express it constructively and you need to offer support and reassurance — not make them feel worse.”

She continued, “If you believe that your partner is jealous, tell them that they have nothing to worry about. And if they’re expressing their jealousy in a hurtful or destructive way (e.g. lashing out, withdrawing, attacking others), wait until they’ve calmed down to address the way they’re communicating. But don’t wait until they’ve calmed down to offer loving reassurance.”

If we weren’t together, I’d be able to…

Your partner doesn’t want to feel like he’s holding you back from doing what you want to do, and telling him you’re missing out because of him is a sure way to make him feel insecure.

Dr. O’Reilly told me, “If you really feel this way, you may want to look at your own choices and examine how to address feelings of resentment, but that’s a different issue altogether. Though this statement may not seem directly tied to jealousy, when you suggest that you’d be happier without your partner, it’s likely to make him worry about whether or not you’re committed to the relationship.”

Instead, she suggested, “If there is something you feel you’re missing out on, look for ways to achieve/explore it (at least in part) and ask for support. If you want him to change something, just ask — and be willing to make a similar offer or compromise for him.”

Be a man

Men are raised to hide their feelings and mask their vulnerability, but in order to have a happy, fulfilling relationship, you want your partner to be willing to share with you. Saying “be a man” will make him feel insecure and reluctant to share with you.

Rev. Sheri Heller, licensed clinical social worker, told me, “This is an emasculating statement. It insinuates that if a man is vulnerable and expressive of tender emotions like sadness that he is defective. Saying ‘be a man’ implies that he is a coward or a wimp and doesn’t measure up to a standard of masculinity.”

“Instead of disempowering her partner,” Heller said, “a woman has the option to champion a man’s efforts, including his capacity to reveal his softer side. Requiring a man to live within a stereotypical box is disingenuous and demeaning. Acceptance of who one is communicates love.”

You don’t know how to listen

Sometimes, you may just want your partner to listen and empathize with your experience, and it may be frustrating when instead of listening openly, he offers solutions for your problems. However, giving solutions doesn’t mean he’s not listening — it just means he’s not listening in the way you would like.

Heller told me, “A man may feel he is listening when in fact he is offering advice. Hence telling him he doesn’t know how to listen when he feels he is doing his best comes off as ungrateful condemnation.”

“Instead,” Heller recommended, “specifically explain that you would love for him to just hear you out without any interpretations or gestures to help make changes.” If you help him respond in the way you want instead of condemning him, he will feel better, and your relationship will improve as well.

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