In couples counselling, it is amazing how often I hear a woman in an intimate relationship with a man say “he just needs to communicate with me!” And then I hear man say in frustration, “but I do communicate with you. What more do you want?” Both parties look deflated from this on-going unresolved argument that leaves them both confused, increasingly frustrated and hurt. After listening to this common conflict in so many couple relationships I realised there is a lot more going on than meets the eye!
Verbal Communication Differences
The word “communication” actually means something very different to most men and women. Let’s start with verbal communication! The actual reason or purpose behind verbal communication is also different between the genders. Generally men will verbally communicate to address a problem or fix an issue. It is a tool for getting something done.
Verbal communication for women, on the other hand, is often to connect with the other person and share how they feel. It is how they mentally process information (between feelings and thoughts)… it is like an integrating of understanding themselves in relations to the world known through their feelings. Through verbal communication they support and receive support from other people. Women develop closeness and interpersonal connection through vernal communication and mutual understanding. So women do a great deal of relating with others through verbal communication.
So when we clearly lay-out the stark differences between the very agendas of verbal communication between men and women, it is not surprise that there is so much misunderstanding in heterosexual intimate relationships.
Non-Verbal Communication Differences
There is another important distinction between the genders when it comes to communication. So far I have specifically focussed on vernal communication, however non-verbal communication (or subtle communication) is another kettle of fish! Women are more likely to verbally communicate their inner reality and emotions, while men are less likely to do that through direct verbal communication. However this does not mean that men do not feel. They simply do not often have the language for expressing or understanding emotion in the same way that women do. Men are more likely to pick up non-vernal cues of mood or emotion.
About a decade ago, after listening to a lot of men talk about how they operated in the world, I realised that as a woman I had missed an important aspect of men’s reality and communication. I began asking my male friends about it and found out about an important missing ingredient to understanding men’s communication styles. One friend said it is like a ‘code’ that men just know. They are picking up other men’s moods and feelings and agendas through this subtle body language. I started to hear about how important this was for boys and men to survive in Western masculine culture. Men feel intuitively and through physical body tension what is around them and how to keep themselves out of danger.
I already knew from conversations with my brother and other male friends that masculine culture has a strong element of putting other men down to make themselves feel better. There is a very competitive pecking order in mainstream masculine culture that results in boys and men getting bashed if they ignore it. So many men are living a reality of self-protection and trying to relax to de-stress whenever they can.
This is very different from a woman’s reality in Western culture. Women live in the flow and ebb of the colourful world of emotion and interpersonal relating. They often can see multiple perspectives and is more interested in creating a sense of self that attracts what she needs and wants into her life. She is often living in a world of giving and receiving emotional support from friends. Her insecurities are more about herself in terms of her attractiveness. Her shame is often focussed towards body image, sexuality or her emotional self. So unlike her male counterparts who use verbal communication to figure out problems or overcome threats, she verbally communicates about her emotions and seeks to feel accepted by others through that communication.
She is often aware of the emotional landscape around her but she is not aware of the male “code language” or subtle communication between men. Men may not be aware that she does not GET IT and become confused at her reactions. In fact, he is unlikely to be aware that he is doing it… he just does it!!! Likewise, she is likely to be unaware that he is not feeling the world in the way that she does, and is likely to feel hurt and confused when his words or actions show he is oblivious to her emotions, even though she has told him how she feels.
So Where Does This Leave Us?
So you can start to see the basis for so much mis-understanding between the genders and why communication is not as simple as it seems between men and women. Firstly, they are often speaking different languages. One uses vernal communication while the other uses body-language to negotiate interpersonal relationships. Secondly, men and women often have different agendas to their communication. Thirdly, men and women generally experience different internal-felt-realities.
With this awareness of gender differences in communication styles, men and women can begin to consciously enhance understanding in communication and deepen connection. In my next blog I will outline conscious strategies to enhance communication in intimate relationships.
When has communication been difficult in your relationship?
In what way does information in this blog help you to understand mis-communication in your relationship?