When men and women communicate, it’s hard to say who gets more frustrated. Men sometimes feel as if women spoke in tongues, and women, on the other hand, often cannot remember the last time they heard anything besides: “What’s for dinner?” from their men. The reason behind this lies in the simple dissimilarities that cause storms in a relationship – in questions about when, why, and what men and women communicate to each other.
So What Are Those Simple Dissimilarities?
Simply put, the main issue is the fact that men and women experience the purpose of communication differently. It may sound strange, but let’s test this. If you are a man reading this, you probably think: “How can it be seen differently? Communication has one simple purpose – to communicate information to someone!” On the other hand, a woman will probably think that yes, there are numerous varieties of conversations, but mostly, they all build some sort of a relationship between the two, and help bring people closer to each other.
Now, it is not just a lay opinion that there are significant differences in communication patterns between men and women. Psychological studies confirm that women in relationships often talk simply to bond, without a real intention to communicate any sort of relevant information. And this is not a bad thing. But for many men, it is utterly difficult to grasp such an interaction, and they get downright confused and frustrated by this.
Men believe that if one speaks, they ought to say something new, informative, practical and logical. They should present a problem, or offer a solution, express an attitude… If a man doesn’t have something useful to say, he won’t speak. Oh, but this is where the problem arises. A woman interprets this as an alarm, a sign that her partner is growing cold – because conversation means intimacy and mutual interest. A woman then wants to talk things through, but speaking about emotions puts a man into a challenging position. Not only does the culture demand him to be strong and composed, but there is a neurological obstacle to these conversations as well. Women can feel and speak at the same time. Interestingly, men actually have to switch from speech to emotions and back, which takes a lot of energy and focus.
Are Men Really Born Reserved?
When this sort of conversation about gender differences is started in a company, one of the first things you will hear is that women are born better (and more prolific) speakers. You’ve probably heard that men are superior at mathematics and science, and women in verbal assignments, and that these differences are biologically (evolutionally) determined. However, even though this idea originates from psychological findings, the disparities are truly not that big. To be more exact, a 1988 analysis of 165 studies, performed by Hyde and colleagues, showed that the belief that females are more verbally skillful is not at all scientifically substantiated, not for any aspect of verbal processing (same goes for math and science skills among males). The differences in the abilities that were found were actually slight and meaningless.
Therefore, if you were convinced that it is a nature given trait of yours that you have to communicate in a certain way, it may not be completely true. What is closer to truth is that in Western culture, girls are believed (expected) to be more talkative and verbally adapt, and boys not to talk much, especially not about emotions. So these expectations are actually the ones that do cause a sort of a Pygmalion effect. Parents raise their children in accordance with cultural beliefs, and that is what causes adult women to speak about twice as much as men. However, knowing that this is not a biological prerequisite may be of help if you wish to improve your relationship.
How to Improve the Communication in our Relationships?
And this is where we get to the question of enriching the communication with our significant others. We now know that there is not an inborn obstacle to it. Also, understanding how differently each of the genders experiences verbal exchange in a relationship may help us all to be more empathetic towards our partners. Finally, the most important thing you can do if you care about the future and happiness of your relationship or marriage, is letting a professional assist you. You may think “I don’t need an outsider teaching me how to speak to my wife,” and that is alright. However, it never hurts to have someone who is an expert in the field give you input on how you can improve further.
In this case, a therapist can provide you with insights you might not be able to acquire yourself, being inevitably subjective when it comes to your relationship. You may also learn how to assertively express yourself without the risk of coming off as aggressive (again). A few visits may save you and your partner a whole lot of time and nerves. And without the risk of exaggerating, it may even save your relationship.
Hyde, J. S., & Linn, M. C. (1988). Gender differences in verbal ability: A meta- analysis. Psychological Bulletin, 104, 53-69