Relationship Therapy is a column from relationship expert, Andrea Syrtash.
Like any good dad, my father emails corny jokes to me on a regular basis. Recently, he sent this one-liner: “God made man before woman so the man would have time to think of an answer for the woman’s first question.”
I laughed because it was ridiculous and because there was a kernel of truth to it. Generally speaking, men and women speak differently.
Research shows that men use fewer words than we do. Women use about 20,000 words a day (or an hour, according to my friend Lisa’s husband), which is about 13,000 more words than men speak a day, on average. So, it makes sense that we may argue differently.
Before I continue, here’s my disclaimer: some men are incredibly verbose and can outtalk their female partners on any given day. This breakdown of female versus male communication and argument styles doesn’t fit every single person or couple; but it may shed some light on how to better communicate our needs, wants and issues with our male partners.
Here are common dynamics I’ve seen with the couples I’ve interviewed and have worked with:
“He tries to solve something while I just want to vent!”
Ever been in this situation? You had a hard day, and all you want to do is come home and bitch about so-and-so who ruined your day at work or that annoying competitive mother who makes you feel like crap for not baking perfect cupcakes for the class.
Your husband responds with something incredibly simple like, “So, don’t be friends with that person.” Then he’s ready to move on to the next topic. You’re infuriated because you have many mixed feelings about what you experienced, how it made you feel, what you want to do next, etc; etc. You feel like he’s trivializing your issue, discounting your feelings and isn’t hearing you.
It may be no surprise that men are often more solution-oriented than we are when it comes to relationships. In his own way, he’s trying to be a supportive partner when he offers an easy quick-fix answer. It’s not that he doesn’t care; it’s that he doesn’t want you to get lost in the nuances so it stresses you out.
Here’s a communication tweak you may want to try if you find yourself in this situation:
“I had a tough day. I need to just vent to you for 5 minutes!’
This may sound silly (like paint-by-numbers relationship talk), but men are generally very good listeners when we give them direction and calmly and kindly say what we need.
“When he’s mad, I want to talk about it and he wants to shut down.”
I’ve seen this dynamic play out with many couples.
There are different versions of ‘shutting down’. If your partner never shares what he’s feeling and it manifests in other ways, this can create a roadblock in a relationship. However, if he eventually comes around and communicates with you but sometimes needs a ‘time out’ to process his anger or emotions, this doesn’t mean he’s disrespecting you.
I recall many years ago, my husband was upset during a disagreement and left my place for hours without telling me where he went. I felt like he abandoned me in the middle of our discussion, and it didn’t feel good or like a healthy way to process our disagreement. When he returned to my home hours later, he explained that he needed to clear his head and didn’t feel like he would say anything productive while he was upset. For him, stepping away from the argument allowed him to gain perspective and organize his thoughts and feelings better. Fair enough. We made a deal: it’s okay if he needs to take a step back; but should communicate that with me instead of fleeing the scene.
Tip: If you’re not with a very communicative partner, consider talking through an issue while you do an activity together like walking your baby in the stroller around the block. He may open up more when he doesn’t feel like he’s being interrogated or put on the spot.
Another joke that’s landed in my inbox: “Married men should forget their mistakes. There is no need for two people to remember the same thing!”
Whether or not you find this funny or true, it’s good to know that we’re not alone when it feels like we’re speaking a different language than our husbands during some disagreements. The key is to figure out your argument approach as a couple, so you can find new ways to communicate and actually hear each other.
Andrea Syrtash is a relationship expert and author of the book He’s Just Not Your Type (And That’s A Good Thing) and Cheat On Your Husband (with Your Husband). You can read more about Andrea here or follow @andreasyrtash on twitter.