This month Douglas Holwerda, American trained and licensed mental health counsellor, answers the concerns of a woman who is having communications issues with her partner


Dear Douglas,


Something has been bugging me lately about my boyfriend and his friends. These guys are smart and educated, but whenever a serious topic comes up in the group, they turn sarcastic and make fun of anyone who wants to offer a sincere opinion, or express some feelings. I wonder why this is. While sometimes I see the humour in this, I wonder… are sarcasm and cynicism healthy ways to communicate? Why do guys not want to talk about anything serious? I told my boyfriend recently that it bothered me that no conversations ever go anywhere because he can’t take things seriously and dismisses my feelings like they are somehow childish. I am not sure what to do about this. Am I missing something?


— Seriously


Dear Seriously,


It sounds like you are asking an important question about the difference between men and women and how it influences what you can expect from your boyfriend. Being heard and understood is pretty important, and having your thoughts and feelings dismissed produces frustration and resentment.


Communication is one of the great challenges in the human experience. To open up to one another or to discuss difficult ideas is not easy for many people. One way to make it safe to be together is to create unspoken “norms” about what we can say or express with one another. It is safer to stay on the surface of topics than to explore the differences we might have with others or the ways what we say affects one another. Men tend to talk about common interests and experiences much more than women… who do share feelings and opinions more naturally.


Sarcasm is one way that people deal with the discomfort of expressing themselves openly. Sarcasm holds not only the content of what is said, but a tone that indicates power or anger. It can be a “norm” that dismisses the genuine sharing of ideas or feelings to cover the vulnerability that is inherent in openness. Openness requires a trust which is often lacking in groups of people, who can sometimes be socially competitive, even as friends.


We all have a need to believe that our perspective on reality is accurate. Men, more than women, feel the need to be “right” and are often uncomfortable not knowing something or having someone else’s opinion challenge the way they think. In order to keep themselves from facing the fact that they don’t always see things correctly, men use power to determine what the group can talk about or take in. Acceptance or rejection is a part of every interaction and most of us want to feel we are in control as a way of avoiding rejection.


Sarcasm or cynical attitudes are ways to produce an “offensive” defensiveness. There may be times when it is funny or appropriate to use these to deal with a situation. However, if it is the way a person is communicating about another’s feelings or topics that are important to discuss, I feel like it is a “red flag” and may suggest a person who is not comfortable with themselves enough to be open and vulnerable.


We do know that sustainable relationships are predicated on trust and being able to communicate effectively. Being open and vulnerable are part of that. I don’t know that you have influence or can draw conclusions from your boyfriend’s communications in a group, but if you don’t feel like he can follow a deeper conversation with you, and how you need him to understand your feelings and perspectives… I’d think twice about how well he is a match for you. Seriously!
Stay true to yourself and ask for what you need.


Wishing you wellness,


— Douglas


Do you have a question you would like Douglas’s help with? You can email him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Personal details will not be printed

Douglas Holwerda

Douglas is an American trained psychotherapist, writer of the Dear Abby-esque monthly column in the Word, "Dear Douglas". He holds to the notion that the living of life is a creative endeavour... an eternal adventure without promises. And that we are both shaped by the journey and the shapers of what is possible. Our greatest hope is to find love and connection along the way. Live it all.

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