Couples Communication: Understanding Gender Differences

Relationship Help Quick Tip

“Each person’s life is lived as a series of conversations.” ~Deborah Tannen

In her book, You Just Don’t Understand: Women and Men in Conversation, Dr. Deborah Tannen describes the different communication styles that exist between the sexes. One of her observations (something marriage/couples counselors frequently observe) is that women share their experiences verbally, as a means to feel connected with others.

For some women, verbal sharing is an important bridge to emotional intimacy and connection.

But communication is a two-way endeavor, and often women are frustrated that their male counterparts don’t return similar verbal offerings. Dr. Tannen points out that men may not place a high value on what they are thinking; men perceive their own thoughts and feelings as not important enough to discuss under typical circumstances, so they end up remaining silent or curtly reply, “Nothing happened today.” 

If this is the case, then both sexes fail to realize something important about the other:

Men may fail to recognize that for some women the “importance” of what is shared (the verbal content) is less relevant to women than the very act of sharing—mutual sharing shows joint interest and caring;

And women may fail to realize that men may screen what they are thinking and feel that their thoughts and perceptions are not relevant enough to share—the conclusion reached by men is that they have nothing of interest to communicate. 

For some men, joint activities (rather than verbal communication) are an important bridge to emotional intimacy and connection.  

Relationship Help Action Step:

When it comes to creating and maintaining a healthy marriage/relationship, information is king.

Understanding these gender differences is an important starting point that can lead to greater empathy about how your partner experiences emotional connection. You can also use this information to periodically push yourself beyond your gender-informed comfort zone in order to meet your partner’s needs for connection (for instance, men sharing more without judging the content of the discussion as trivial; women engaging in more shared activities even when words aren’t central).

For this understanding to be meaningful, couples must hold this knowledge in consciousness—reminding yourself and each other about how to honor and navigate these important differences. Remember, information that is continuously forgotten is like having no information at all.

Until next time,

Dr. Rich Nicastro

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