Misunderstanding Communication Styles Between the Genders

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?



9 Responses to “Misunderstanding Communication Styles Between the Genders”

  • Loving your posts Vanessa – such practical, simple information that unwravels some of the mystery of the sexes. I will definitely be watching my husband’s body language more closely! :o)

  • Fiona:

    My partner has come such a long way in his ability to express himself in the two years we’ve been together. When we met he was so used to being shut down by his ex, he would completely freeze up and be unable to get any words out at all. I practiced being with with him, listening , allowing him to express no matter what my reaction was to what he was saying, and no matter how long it took. These days he is so much more confident, he can trust that we have a safe space in our relationship, and that I will listen to him even if I disagree with what he’s saying!! He does the same for me. It’s been a wonderful transformation to be a part of :)

    • Hi Fiona… beautiful!!! Thank you for sharing your process in your relationship regarding communication. It is great to hear about couples who are on the path to conscious relationship and learning how to communicate and understand each other… it is a rare gift!

      Lots of love to both of you

  • Kim:

    This is a great article. Sadly I dont even come close to this relationship of communication with my husband over the last 3, going on 4 years I have gone from being very open to just keeping my opinion, ideas etc to myself or making up something dumb, either way he will see it that way.

    • Hi Kim, thank you for commenting. It is sad that you feel that way in your relationship… it sounds like it could be worth while looking into what is happening within yourself and your relationship. Even if your partner does not want to participate, it is amazing how helpful healing yourself can be. If he does want to participate in counselling… even better!

      I hope you find resolution
      Lots of love

  • So that explains why my sons think I mean slow down, when I am asking them to get a move on (in the mornings!) and when I say “Please come here” – they go the other way… and when I ask them to “Stop annoying each other” they find other ways to teash each other!!! Makes perfect sense that there is a lot of wars created (in the past) over someone saying something and it being taken the wrong way :)

    • Hi Lisa, thank you for your comment :-). That one may also have something to do with the parent/child relationship too!!!! But yes, there are definitely gender differences in communication!

      Lots of love

  • I adore this site – its so usefull and helpfull

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