When you and your partner discuss a problem, do you seem to end up further apart than when you started the conversation? If so, you can improve the situation. First, though, there are a few things you should know about the different communication styles of men and women based on real life experiences gathered randomly.
WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW
A man thinks of ways to fix a problem while a woman thinks of ways to talk about the problem
- Women usually prefer to talk out a problem before hearing a solution. In fact, sometimes talking is the solution. “I feel better when I have expressed my feelings and know that my husband understands me. After I talk about it, I’m over it—usually within just minutes after the conversation.”—Agatha
- “I can’t move on if I don’t have a chance to explain to my husband exactly how I feel. Talking it out is a form of closure for me.”—Ify
- “It’s like detective work. As I talk, I’m analyzing each step of the problem and trying to get to the root of it.”—Ladidi
Men tend to think in terms of solutions. That is understandable because fixing things makes a man feel useful. Offering solutions is his way of showing his partner that she can rely on him for help. So men are baffled when their solutions are not readily accepted. “I can’t understand why you would talk about a problem if you didn’t want a solution!” says a man named Regg.
But “understanding must precede advice,” warns the book- The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work. “You have to let your partner know that you fully understand and empathize with the dilemma before you suggest a solution. Oftentimes your partner isn’t asking you to come up with a solution at all—just to be a good listener.”
WHAT YOU CAN DO
For Men: Practice empathetic listening. A husband named Ade says: “Sometimes after listening I think to myself, ‘That didn’t accomplish anything.’ But often that’s all my wife needs—a listening ear.” A husband named Julius would agree. “I find it best to let my wife express herself without interrupting,” he says. “More often than not, she finishes and tells me she feels a lot better.”
Try this: The next time you discuss a problem with your partner, resist the urge to give unsolicited advice. Make eye contact, and focus on what she is saying. Nod in agreement. Repeat the gist of what she says to show that you get the point. “Sometimes my wife just needs to know that I understand her and that I’m on her side,” says Ade.
For women: Say what you need. “We might expect our partner to know just what we need,” says a woman named Eleanor, “but sometimes we do have to spell it out.” A wife named Eve suggests this approach: “I could say, ‘Something is bothering me, and I would like you to hear me out. I don’t need you to fix it, but I would like you to understand how I feel.’”
Try this: If your partner prematurely offers solutions, do not conclude that he is being insensitive. Likely he is trying to lighten your load. “Instead of getting annoyed,” says Eve, “I try to realize that my husband does care and want to listen but that he also just wants to help.”
For both: We tend to treat others the way we want to be treated. However, to discuss problems effectively, you need to consider how your partner would like to be treated. A husband named Miguel puts it this way: “If you are a husband, be willing to listen. If you are a wife, be willing to hear solutions once in a while. When you meet in the middle, both spouses benefit.”
THE RIGHT TIME?
The Scripture says: “A word spoken at the right time—how good it is!” Of course, the opposite is also true.
“There is a direct link between bad timing and bad conversations.”—AG
“Hungry and tired are two big no-no’s for serious discussions.”—Ade
“One time I started to vent as soon as my husband came home. Then I stopped myself mid-sentence and realized how annoying and exhausting I must have been! I told my husband that I would finish after we ate dinner. He thanked me, and by the time we continued our conversation, we were both more reasonable and calm.”—Eve
N/B: Names have been changed.