Male / Female Differences #5 - Words might be the same, Meanings are NOT

Male / Female Differences #5 - Words might be the same, Meanings are NOT

I want to close out this series of discussions with this idea:
that while most couples use similar words to communicate what they are thinking, the meanings that are taken from the words we use can be very different from what we were trying to say.
Research seems to suggest that gender plays a role in the differences: Male communications, especially written, will tend to focus on differences - how one concept is different from the other. Female language will tend to focus on how issues are similar or what they have in common. These research outcomes do not, however, fully explain the common communication difference between husbands and wives that I notice often in session; and I have to admit that I suspect this month's Male/Female difference may have more to do with the cultural language used by men and women than it has to do with physiological or linguistic gender differences.

The important idea to take from this post has less to do with "gender differences" than it has to do with the idea that what each spouse hears is VERY likely NOT what their spouse intended to say, and many times spouses end up arguing "My interpretation of what you said is what you meant - don't try to deny it or change it now that I'm mad!"

For Example:
Wife: "I have told you the same thing a hundred times!"
Where another woman would likely reply with "You're right, I must be missing your point" the husband likely hears something similar to "You must be an idiot to not understand this simple idea" -
Which in this case is not what the wife is trying to communicate.

The husband likely feels attacked (because if another man used the same words the meaning would be that he is being called an idiot); as a result, he is likely to try and defend himself.
Husband: "I am not an idiot."
Wife: "That is not what I meant."
Husband: "What else could that mean?"
Wife: "I just wanted you to know this is not the first time I have mentioned this issue, and I am beginning to wonder if you are simply not listening on purpose."
Husband: "So my choices are I am an idiot, or I'm a jerk."
Wife: "I never said any of those words."
Husband: "You don't have to, I heard your meaning loud and clear!"
Both are frustrated.

He does not realize that his wife is using words differently than another man would. As a result it is difficult for the husband to hear the wife's message: "You are not hearing me. If you can't hear me when I talk, then how can I ever be safe? If you can't hear me when I talk, how will you hear me when I cry out about something more important? If my words are not heard, then I am invisible, not valued, or worse - in danger."

Instead, he hears: "You are apparently incapable of normal human understanding - no matter how many times and how many ways the information is presented - you are just too stupid to be able to take it in."

Pathway to Freedom
The most difficult thing to do is to listen for what the other spouse means, rather than solely focusing on the exact words they used. This is difficult because the moment our brains decode the message we think we heard, there is an immediate emotional response.  The presence of that emotional response makes it difficult to set that emotion (anger, fear, hurt, lonely, etc) aside long enough to make sure what we heard is what they were trying to communicate.
One key behavior a good therapist will discuss with couples is simply pausing before responding. Sometimes just taking a breath, or ever the sage advice of "counting to ten" will work. Then a person can respond with a desire to understand and learn about their spouse, rather than feel they have to defend against them like an enemy.
Of course, when the pain has built up over the years, this simple behavior needs to be supported with other, more sophisticated, tools.  Couples can expect to get these tools from a good family/couples therapist.

If you need help hearing the love in your spouse's heart rather than the hurtfulness in their words, or help in communicating the love in your own heart, we would love to help. Contact us here at Spirit Christian Counseling Centers:

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