I often write about male and female communication differences based on research on physical, educational, and psychological differences (same brain neural areas, different sizes, make for different processing strengths for each). From a theological standpoint I believe God made man and woman differently but loves them equally - at the same immeasurable level.
The conclusion I have come to from reading multiple research outcomes is that men and women communicate differently - NOT that one is better than the other, only that they are different. Attempting to approach intimate conversations without being aware of those differences, or pretending they don’t exist, makes communication harder than it has to be – which exhausts both participants until they have no energy left.
I am often asked for examples. Here is one difference/translation-required example that I have observed in many sessions. The example below is used for illustrative purposes so it has several generalizations – please do not be offended. If this difference does not describe you, then your relationship is probably at a higher level of intimacy than most. If it is not, there may be other translation examples in your relationship that you may want to explore with a therapist:
Example 1: A Husband asks his Wife “I’m thinking of doing X, is it do-able?”
Wife thinks Husband is informing her of a decision he has already made and asking her if she can handle the consequences. (In session, the husband would begin to shake his head here saying “but that’s not what I meant”). Based on the prevailing female narrative that suggests a successful woman needs to be capable of handling everything while not breaking a sweat, the wife will reply: “yep we can handle that.”
She might think (and not say out loud): “by stretching our already frayed resources and time to their absolute limits.”
Husband thinks “Great, she is on board with this decision!”
Wife gets mad because Husband does things without considering her.
Husband is confused and says “I asked, and you said it was ok so I assumed you were in agreement.”
Wife says “that’s not what you asked!”
Both begin to argue about what words were actually used, and their circular arguments begin.
Part of the problem is in the way humans communicate. We regularly give partial messages for expediency and expect that the other person to fill in the gaps in the way we expected them to. The receiving spouse will even say “yes I understand” (wives often hear this statement from their husbands and reply “no you don’t”) – because they understand what they think the other person is saying – not what the other person is actually saying.
What is unclear is if the message they understand is the same one the sender was intending to communicate. This is not a problem in male communication or female communication – one is NOT better than the other. It happens when couples have to cross the language border because the way men and women use language is truly different.
A good family therapist can help with translation, usually by encouraging each spouse to fill in the gaps. Many times I will hear spouses argue: “I shouldn’t have to give details, my spouse should know how hard I work to make our home a good place to live.” I believe that when stress levels between loving spouses is low, they will observe and acknowledge each other for all the work they do; but, when stress is high (over 100 heartbeats/min), our brains move into a fight/flight mode that makes normal observations difficult.
What is the Path to Peace? Couples can start by filling in the gaps:
Husband: “I’m thinking about doing X and I want your input 'before' I make a decision. What do you think?”
Wife: Are you asking me if it is possible, or are you asking for my thoughts on whether we should do it?”
If you are interested in learning how to translate what your spouse has been saying we are here to help. Contact us here at Spirit Counseling Centers:
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