A big part of communication is not only how we express ourselves, but how we listen. Research has suggested one of the differences between the way women and men listen is that women tend to listen for patterns, how separate topics are related to each other; where as men tend to listen for how topics differ or are unique from one another. In this way, men are like builders - selecting the right materials to use to complete a task from hundreds of options; where as women are like weavers - talking the many options of color and texture and weave them into a cohesive whole.
This is not to say that men and women are unable to recognize or achieve both similarities and differences; it just means that each gender tends to observe one approach naturally, and generally needs to work at seeing the other.
This translates loosely to a rule of thumb: women will generally listen for patterns, men will generally listen for individual tasks. In this way both could listen to each other regarding the same facts about the same event, and still get into an argument that leaves both saying "You aren't listening to me!"
To illustrate this difference I'll use the conversation topic: "I want you to value me."
Wife says: "You don't value my input."
Husband (task focus) hears: 'I'm doing something wrong'
(which is Not what she is trying to communicate).
Husband says: "What do you mean? I respect your input"
(He probably doesn't realize he has changed the word "value" to "respect" which easily could change the meaning of her message.)
Husband goes on to give several examples of how he has respected her input in the past... Individual task examples of how he has achieved the task he thinks she is suggesting he is failing at.
Wife hears the examples, which to her translates to: "You have no idea what you are talking about"
(which is Not what he is trying to communicate.)
Wife says: "You're missing the point."
Husband hears: "Your listening wrong." (which is still not her point)
Husband (with confused look on his face) says: Ok, what do you want me to do? How do you want me to respect you?
Wife gives three examples.
Husband does the first example and says "There, I did it, you happy now?"
Wife responds: "You're still missing the point; and it doesn't mean anything if you do it because I told you to."
Husband is now more confused, and is now frustrated because his efforts, while successful, are not achieving the desired "satisfaction with his effort" response from his wife.
Husband asks for clarification.
Wife give 3 additional examples (because more examples increases the chances that husband will be able to identify the pattern - which would be accurate if he were a woman.)
Unfortunately Husband does not think in "patterns"
Husband (task focused) hears a list of new tasks to accomplish (which is still not what she means). Husband says: "Wait, now you're changing the target and giving me 3 more things I have to do, this is a moving target, you are never satisfied, I give up!
Both are frustrated.
Path to Peace:
The issue in this example is NOT that that husband doesn't care enough to give his wife what she needs; AND the issue is NOT that the wife is ficke and will never be satisfied. The problem is that they are hearing two completely different messages, even though they are using the exact same words.
A good therapist will work to help each spouse listen for the message the other person is trying to communicate, sometimes in spite of the words they are using. Sometimes just knowing there is a difference in male and female communications makes a difference. For example - knowing about the difference might change the way both spouses engage with each other.
The wife might be able to tell her husband:
"I am looking for a pattern in the way you behave with me. I can give you specific examples, but I don't want you to necessarily do the examples, I want you to understand the pattern, so you can come up with examples of your own."
If the husband can change his thinking to understand his job is identifying the pattern, then the examples are not as overwhelming - because he now just has to focus on the one pattern, rather than each of the 15 examples.
The wife might also keep in mind to give her husband a couple of examples, not as many as she can think of.
If she says she doesn't like how he spends all his time with family when they come over, or goes to spend time with the guys at parties, or goes off to get 2-3 items on the grocery list rather than shopping with her, he might be able to identify the pattern of "you want me to spend time next to you when we go places." He might even come up with his own ideas for activities they can do together - like learning to dance.
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 Christian Counseling Centers:
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