Even the strongest and most enduring marriages, at some point, can invariably suffer from misunderstanding or arguments, to the point where communication weakens and in some cases, ceases altogether. HEALTH takes a closer look at why men and women communicate in different styles and how we can bridge the gap for a healthier family dynamic
Mary* and Mark* (names changed) have been happily married for seven years but Mary feels that since her mother-in-law expired one year back, her marriage is about to crumble anytime. “I can’t even speak to Mark anymore; I remember we used to be able to talk about anything. Now he gets angry and impatient the moment I bring up anything remotely important. Or he shuts himself in his office and locks the door. Now I have learned to keep my mouth shut. The question is do I speak and create a fight or do I stay quiet and keep peace?” she asks.
It can happen to any of us. Has conversation with your spouse gone from deep meaningful chats about life to a merely mumbled, ‘what’s for dinner?’ To explain this dynamic, Devika Singh, Psychologist in The Dubai Herbal and Treatment Centre states that healthy communication is when a couple is able to discuss sensitive topics and come to a place of mutual cooperation. She adds, “Healthy communication involves listening with empathy, which means you are able to express to a person that you understand what it would be like in their shoes.”
According to Singh, the style in which you communicate is more important that the content of the information you are communicating. “Seemingly neutral topics can become heated arguments if the relationship is in trouble and needs attention,” she says.
In fact, communication can be divided into two different areas; instrumental communication and affective communication. She explains that instrumental communication is the exchange of information that enables individuals to fulfil common family functions, for example; telling a child that he or she will be collected from school at a specific time and location. “Affective communication is the way individual family members share their emotions with one another, for example grief or happiness,” she says and though some families function extremely well with instrumental communication, they may have great difficulty with affective communication. Healthy families, she stresses, are able to communicate well in both areas. “Having said this, it can be less stressful for a couple to talk about other people and events rather than their own personal thoughts and feelings,” she explains and by focusing on an external object, this becomes less of a threat than talking about your inner most thoughts and feelings.
Sometimes males experience uncomfortable emotions because they do not know what to do to solve things. Essentially to better their communication with women, men must realize they don’t always need to offer solutions and to resist that overwhelming urge to take the problem completely off his female counterpart’s shoulders. Just because women talk about their problems does not mean that they do not know how to solve them. Women mainly want men to just listen to them.
The differences in the way the sexes communicate are also a huge factor since men and women communicate differently. This is primarily because their brains are wired differently. In fact, research suggests that men are more able to compartmentalize feelings and women are more likely to attach feelings and events to each other most of the time. “The way this affects communication is that a discussion that begins about one particular topic can end up taking a totally different direction because of the multiple events associated with that particular event,” explains Singh. “And some common issues that are difficult to discuss and problem solve together include money, sex, work, children and housework.” These kinds of problems often begin with partners simply not having a good understanding of each other’s personality types and preferences and how to provide support, she adds and also may be tied to unresolved conflicts from their past.
According to Psychology Today, there are some other interesting facts that can enlighten us as to why it seems that “men don’t talk,” for example women have twice as many words as men. Women speak at 250 words per minute and men speak at 125 and according to Gary Smalley, author of “Making Love Last Forever” in the course of a day women speak 25,000 words compared to a man who only uses 12,000. It seems that by the end of the day men are talked out and women still have a day’s worth of conversation in them. Another is that men and women also have different conversational styles. Women tend to talk faster when they get excited and may interrupt their partners who are struggling to find the right words. When this happens their male counterparts may lose track or shut down because they feel cut off and were unable to express what they were feeling.
Couples with high levels of marital distress fight frequently and their fights do not lead to resolution, but leave the couple feeling tired, tells Singh and essentially, treatment for marital distress is in part building or rebuilding the skills that work in marriage, such as learning to communicate, problem solve, and how to fight without engaging in too much hurt. “Part of marital therapy is about partners working to see each other as people, to understand where they are coming from, and to negotiate those differences that can be negotiated and accept those differences that cannot,” she says. “All couples have issues, however the key is to build a process that can help find a way to talk about those issues, to find solutions.”
While all relationships ebb and flow, if your problems are creating more and more negativity, then this is a red light crying out for attention. “There are things that you can do to try to bring about a shift in the relationship and enhance it,” says Singh and one way is by changing the way you communicate. “Other steps include making a schedule to spend time together which may sound mechanical but actually enhances affectionate feelings due to the proximity.” Other basics she suggests are supporting one another’s goals and achievements and respecting one another. “And taking time to share dreams and goals on a regular basis with your spouse and consider daily dialogue as a means of improving your communication,” she says. “Also remember, when fighting, fight fair and be willing to forgive. Try also to laugh together at least once a day.” Try and share your decisions about finances, disciplining the children, chores, and vacations. She urges couples to take time to be alone together working on your intimacy and even schedule dates or romantic getaways if you have to.
Tips to help you communicate effectively : Remember:
- Don’t communicate when you are upset.
- Get to the point.
- Focus on facts – not feelings.
- Be careful of gossip.
- Demonstrate you are instrumental versus expressive.
- Hear with your intellect – not your emotions.
- Do not engage in power struggles. Walk away if needed.