It is no secret that men and women communicate very differently. For example, a wife might come home from a long day at work and relate to her husband some problem she is having with an unpleasant co-worker. He responds by telling her not to worry about it and to just focus on her work. The wife becomes hurt and angry because she feels that her husband is dismissing her feelings and brushing her off. The husband then becomes defensive and wonders why his wife doesn’t value his advice. The situation ends with both partners feeling hurt and neglected because they simply don’t understand one another’s communication styles.
Much of the difference between the way men and women communicate can be explained by the different social worlds inhabited by each. Men see themselves as part of a hierarchal system in which conversation is a means by which they establish their place in that structure, whether that means gaining a higher level or maintaining their current position. Women, on the other hand, exist as individuals within a large network of connections. Conversation is a means through which they gain intimacy with those around them. Strengthening those connections is what is most important in this system, and conversation is the way in which women accomplish this. Understanding these differences is a vital part of learning to communicate with your marriage partner. The following guidelines will help you avoid some of the misunderstandings and frustrations that sometimes arise from gender-based communication styles.
1. Don't blame yourself or your partner
The ways in which you communicate are not wrong or right; they are simply different. Each of you has grown up learning to communicate in a specific way based on gender, environment and family dynamics. By recognizing these differences and understanding the way that your spouse communicates, you can avoid quite a bit of conflict and misunderstanding.
2. Don't assume that there is a “right” way to communicate
Often when men and women try to have a discussion they stubbornly cling to their own style of communication. This leads to miscommunication, which often causes each partner to rely even more heavily on their own approach. The conversation quickly spirals downward as each spouse becomes increasingly frustrated. Try to recognize the intentions of your spouse’s message rather than the way he or she happens to deliver it. If you want your husband to listen and empathize but instead he tries to tell you how to solve your problem, remember that he is trying to help you in the way he would want to be helped. If you want reassurance from your wife that she has confidence that you can solve your problem but instead she continues to bemoan the difficulty of your situation, remember that she is trying to show that she understands how you feel.
Tell your husband if you just want him to listen and empathize or tell your wife if you just want her to reassure you that you can handle it. This may take some time and repetition, but after a while your spouse will learn how to respond to you in a way that fulfills your needs.
A. Lynn Scoresby, founder and president of My Family Track , First Answers , and Achievement Synchrony , and has been a marriage and family psychologist for more than 35 years. He has published more than 20 books and training programs.