Men and women communicate very differently. We have different goals, purposes and desired outcomes in our communication. The first step toward successful communication in any male/female relationship is to become aware of these differences and understand the gender based nature of the differences. Men and women talk two different languages as a general rule and without understanding, communication breakdown is inevitable.
Women want to feel safe. They want to understand their husband inside and out and be understood by them. A woman feels most comfortable with the style of communication she shares with her best girl friend. They want to sit down over coffee, toss their thoughts and feelings out on the table and look at them from every angle. A female values her girl friend’s perspective and understanding. She wants her opinions and thoughts on everything important, even though she isn’t necessarily going to take her advice. This form of communication between female friends makes a woman feel “understood” and “connected”. When a friend listens to them they feel cared about and loved. And a female is more than happy to return the favor. Problems arise in marriages when the woman expects the same kind of communication and closeness with their male partner, becoming angry and perplexed when their spouse would rather watch a football game than go for coffee with them.
But ladies, that isn’t how men feel comfortable communicating (again as a general rule). In fact, it makes them feel uncomfortable, exposed, and inadequate to have these deep, “sharing” conversations and they avoid it any way they can, by watching football for instance. When you want to “have a talk” and probe them about their feelings like you would a girlfriend, they instantly feel guilty and on the defensive. They don’t’ get it! They feel so uncomfortable they actually tend to withdraw putting more distance between you instead of bringing you closer.
Men see their relationships as their “home base”, a place to feel safe and relaxed. They’re happiest when they can sit and watch a football game while their spouse putters around in the kitchen or doing whatever it is they like to do. They feel loved. They feel close. The order and consistency of their marital relationship allows them to relax and feel safe. They don’t need to talk. What’s there to talk about? Everything is perfect! He has you!
These differences in communication style when misunderstood can lead to a rift in a couple’s relationship. Men find themselves avoiding conversations because of the feelings of shame and guilt they elicit. Women feel the men don’t care enough about them to have a thoughtful, personal conversation. Each is frustrated by the others lack of understanding of who they are.
This is exactly the point where communication disasters can occur. Hard feelings and anger grow and a wedge is driven between the husband and wife. Therefore, it is extremely important that each work to understand and accept the other’s basic difference communication style and learn to work with it not against it.
When wives begin to understand that their harmless “sharing” conversations make their husbands feel criticized and guilty, they can soften their approach. They need not give up something that makes them feel close; they just need to make it a little less threatening to their husbands. Begin conversations with by affirming your love for your husband and remind them the conversation is not meant as a criticism nor is anything expected in return. Understand your husband’s instinct to withdraw and turn away when he becomes uncomfortable and converse in small doses; ask for his attention for five minutes instead of thirty five. And remember he loves you, he just loves you differently.
Husbands also need to do their part in trying to understand their wives need for conversation, reminding themselves (even if they don’t understand it) that these conversations are not ever meant as criticism but are their wives way of feeling connected.