The Joke Of Clueless Husbands

Katie Young
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Wednesday - October 03, 2007
| Del.icio.us

Ladies, do you ever find yourself making excuses for your husband’s seeming lack of sensitivity?

“Oh, my man is just clueless,” you tell your friends.

They supportively reply, “It’s OK, all men are.”

It has become a big joke among women young and old, I believe. The “clueless husband” has achieved almost mythical status - like a fairy tale character in a book - but instead of Prince Charming, we’ve got his younger brother, Prince Oblivious. We have come to accept Prince Oblivious’ actions as normal and typical behavior.

To cope, I think, we make jokes about our “clueless” man, even though in truth, this seeming lack of emotional sensitivity frustrates us.

But is the clueless husband really the norm?


According to an article in the online Psychology Today, a new study shows that men are slow at being supportive not because they are incapable, but because they just do it at the wrong time.

The article says that when it comes to dealing with life’s everyday hassles, women say they are more responsive to their husbands’stress than vice versa. Men say the same thing about themselves.

But according to Lisa Neff, a psychologist at the University of Toledo and the researcher who conducted the study, it’s a cultural stereotype that women are more supportive than men.

During her research she noticed that when married couples interact in the lab, men expressed supportive emotions as skillfully as women did. The article states that if, for example, a woman told her husband that she was struggling to lose weight, he generally responded with as much care, encouragement and consideration as a woman would to her husband.

So what happened once the couples left the lab? Well, Neff found that for one, in the real world, women react more quickly to their partner’s stress than men do. Husbands don’t always spring into immediate action like most women would prefer they do.

Neff says maybe some men wait until they are certain their wives are really upset. Or maybe some newly married men are just inexperienced.


Or maybe the failure in communication lies in the hands of the wife, who may have a roundabout way of letting her husband know she needs extra care and encouragement. Men can’t read minds, so why women think their man “should know” what she’s feeling without explanation is unfair, to say the least.

Women can’t read minds either, but what previous research has shown is that women are more empathetic and better at reading nonverbal signals than men, which may account for speedier female reactions during an emotional crisis.

But there is more to this tale as well. Data indicates that during times of higher stress, women report that men have a tendency to compound their distress by becoming hostile and negative, Neff explains. This type of negative reaction from the husband will undermine whatever support he might otherwise have given his wife.

So I guess the lesson here is that Prince Oblivious is, in many ways, a myth. Men are quite capable of offering the support that women want, just maybe not necessarily within the same timeframe or in the same manner that women desire. So to call our men “clueless,” jokingly or not, undermines the very real fact that hubby can be emotionally aware and sensitive during those stressful times just as much as women can. They just do it in a different way.

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