The Definitive Guide to Communicating with Your Man
Somewhere out there is a woman driving furiously to drop off the kids, replaying the morning’s disaster of a conversation in her mind. Or maybe she is sitting across the dinner table from him right now, wondering, “How can I love someone so much and still not understand him? How can I feel so close one minute, and then oceans apart the next? Why doesn’t he get the message when he’s supposed to know me so freaking well?”
Let’s be real, because hiding doesn’t solve any problems: Maybe that woman is you. Yes? It’s certainly been me once or twice (or, ahem, more).
The good news, of course, is that you’re not alone. Anyone in a serious relationship knows that communication problems will rear their ugly heads, and damage will likely ensue. You’re sharing your living and breathing space with another human being who is decidedly not like you, and so wires are bound to cross. It’s inevitable. You’ve been in this relationship for a while, so you know by now that you and your man don’t always speak the same language. You communicate differently because you are different. That is the truth.
“How can I feel so close one minute, and then oceans apart the next?”
Maybe, like me, you too have seen those differences aggravated by becoming parents. These conflicts won’t go away—because you didn’t marry your clone, thank God—but navigating them doesn’t have to be a guessing game.
So, what do you do? First, be thankful that you ended up here, because I’m about to arm you with some helpful resources on communicating with your man! Between Dr. Crane’s advice, my own research in the wee hours of the morning, and testing the waters with my own hubby, I feel confident that I can help you understand how men and women communicate differently, and—more importantly!—how to navigate those differences.
Fasten your seat belts, ladies, because here we go:
1. Always assume the best. Yes, always!
In other words, check your judgement at the door. Know that having a different communication style does not mean men aren’t smart or committed. Sometimes I feel like my attempts at communicating with my man hit a brick wall. Literally. I often hear myself muttering to my husband, “Ok, no worries, I’m just talking to the wall.” Why even try when he’s not even paying attention, right? I’ve certainly been there before.
Wrong, of course.
There is scientific research that shows men process incoming information differently than women. Prevention says that “It’s not that men don’t listen or care… They process what they hear differently because of gender disparities in their brain chemistry, structure, and activity.”
“Know that having a different communication style does not mean men aren’t smart or committed.”
On top of this, men also tend to be better at recognizing “straightforward emotions such as rage and aggression.” Though men are great at seeing basic emotions for what they are, men struggle more than women at “picking up on subtle nonverbal cues.” Ah! This might explain why my man sometimes misinterprets my hurt as anger, triggering a defensive response.
The good news is that these differences can be remedied by simply having an open discussion about it. Rather than retreating when your husband misinterprets your message, press on by asking him questions like these:
- “What made you think I was mad?”
- “How can I explain my hurt in a way that doesn’t come across as aggressive?”
- “Is there a way I can communicate my unhappiness that doesn’t feel like an attack?”
2. Turn towards, not away from, the person you love.
Use moments of confusion and misinterpretation as a path to learning. Seize the opportunity to go deeper. Ask tough questions, not just about the topic you’re discussing, but about the communication itself. When it feels like an important conversation is going downhill, combat your instinct to get defensive; instead, get humble and vulnerable, asking for clarification.
No matter how big the conflict, remember why you care about having a discussion with this person in the first place. You love him, right? You chose to spend your life with him, didn’t you? Well then give him the benefit of the doubt, he’s worth figuring it out. Lean into the conflict, assessing how you can both do better next time.
Resist the urge to stonewall or flee the scene! Ladies, this is tough, I know. Some of you may be thinking, “That’s great in theory, but he is the one who stonewalls me.” My feeling is that in some cases you can be given all the best advise in the world, but if you feel like you’re just not coping or winning, it likely means you need some support. I consider myself to be a self-actualized person but what really helps me is to get a tune up. That’s why I love e-therapy from Talkspace. E-therapy is the new modern take on counseling and allows you to connect with your chosen therapist via chat, anytime, anyplace. For those of us busy moms, this is literally the perfect solution! If you’re a stay-at-home-mom who can’t get out on your own, you can schedule a 30-min catch up when your baby is sleeping. It removes all of that fuss of having to find a sitter and gives you the independence and privacy to prioritize your own mental health. Talkspace will only cost you $32/week. Seriously? Give it a bash, you will be glad you did!
To sum it up, seek first to understand, then be understood. Turn toward him and be open to his thoughts and feelings. I promise it’ll be worth the effort.
“Seek first to understand, then be understood.”
3. Give fair warning when you bring up difficult conversations.
Have you ever tried to have a heart-to-heart on a date night? The glow of wine-soaked conversation turns intimate, and you suddenly say something that’s been on your mind for a while… something that’s been bothering you… something that you know you shouldn’t bring up right here, right now. But you let it slip, and one of two things happens: Either he doesn’t catch the weight of what you’re saying, which makes you feel hurt and inconsequential, or he feels critiqued in a vulnerable moment, and shutters his heart, stonewalling your attempts at authentic connection.
(Admit it, ladies, we have all been guilty of this.)
As you wobble out to the car and endure thick silence on the drive home, you wonder what the hell went wrong.
Here’s what happened: You blindsided him.
“Important conversations deserve forewarning, and it means a lot to your husband when you give him that heads up.”
Understanding how we differ
Important conversations deserve forewarning, and it means a lot to your husband when you give him a heads up. Give him time to disengage from distractions and prepare to dig deep. PsychCentral emphasizes that most men see communication as a means “to get to the root of the dilemma as efficiently as possible.” In other words, most men are fixers. They want to hear the problem, propose a solution, and presto! the conversation is done. We women, on the other hand, use conversation as a means to “increase intimacy” by talking through our feelings. We like to share. The act of talking is the point, not necessarily the end result.
“A woman should not be judged for needing this reassurance, just as a man should not be judged for needing to withdraw.” — John Gray
So if you have an important topic to discuss, let him know that you need to be heard. Let him know that you want to talk through something because it helps you to feel closer to him. Don’t allow a great moment to backfire by making him feel attacked, or by setting yourself up to feel neglected. You have to let him know before you drop a bomb on him!
4. Conversely, when your husband has an issue, give him space.
Unfortunately, women sometimes fulfill that stereotype of being a nag. We know our husbands tells us they want space, but we feel compelled to chase after them and “help” them. Ladies, we should know by now that our help isn’t always welcome, right?
I am so guilty of this, especially with my husband being in a transition phase in his career. He is already beating himself up about it enough, so the last thing he needs is me constantly bringing it up and trying to insert myself in his growth process.
Oh, The Cave!
Thankfully, PsychCentral swoops in to the rescue again! They say that when men are feeling defeated, they often retreat into their “cave.” You know your husband’s cave: Maybe he checks out with video games. Maybe he reads the newspaper. Maybe he obsessively goes to the gym. Some men even physically leave, like spending time in the garage or outdoors. Every man is different, but they each have their way of “turning off” for a while. (I swear my hubby lives more in his cave than out the darn thing!)
Therapy has helped me to understand that badgering him when he’s in his “cave” doesn’t help me to get what I want. Matter of fact, it’s quite the opposite. Good old Dr. Crane always says that if what you’re doing isn’t working, try something different. So, I started leaving the room when my husband withdrew, thus physically distancing myself from him. I swear it works like a magnet, because now he’ll approach me after noticing that I’ve left the space!
“He might avoid communication with his spouse during times of duress. If she persists with nurturing questions or criticism, he withdraws even further, fearing that his partner doesn’t trust him to take care of business on his own. However, with her support and understanding, a man will return and be more emotionally available, caring, and loving.” ― PsychCentral
“If what you’re doing isn’t working, try something different.”
5. Never, ever forget that he just wants you to love him for who he is.
We can spend a lot of time talking about how men and women are different. But at our core, we are all human. We want to be loved, understood, and supported. Of course this is true for you both! Your committed relationship means that he has allowed himself to be vulnerable with you, and so it’s just as crucial to affirm who he is in your communications as it is to affirm the things he does.
“Appreciation is a wonderful thing: It makes what is excellent in others belong to us as well.” – Voltaire
The Huffington Post did a piece on the male psyche a couple years ago, and I found it eye-opening. Here’s a snippet:
“He desires someone who can be OK with him even when he is not winning, producing or ‘on top.’ He may not be able to tell you this, so when he is feeling ‘not good enough’ you may not even know it. Unlike women, men generally have more difficulty talking about their ‘weaker emotions..’” — Huffington Post
Make Him Feel Accepted
Keep this in mind and resist the urge to lecture him on how to fix his problems. Men need to feel that they are competent and valued. My suggestion is that you help him through challenges by asking him what he’s thinking (I mean, do you think he isn’t already racking his brain for a solution?), rather than telling him what is best.
“Resist the urge to lecture him on how to fix his problems. Men need to feel that they are competent and valued.”
Express to your man that you trust him, and that no matter what, you’re on his side (barring, of course, situations like abuse or infidelity). Be grateful when he opens up to you, and he will likely open up more! Intimacy in your relationship requires comfort. Neither one of you can be open and vulnerable if you do not feel unconditionally accepted.
6. Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus… except when they’re not.
Most men and women communicate very differently, so much so that we have books inferring that we’re from different planets. And it feels that way sometimes, right? There are entire bookshelves dedicated to the way each gender communicates. Some examples off the top of my head:
Women want love. Men want respect.
Women want to be cherished. Men need to be needed.
Women communicate to connect. Men communicate to fix.
Women are emotion-driven. Men are logic-driven.
Women want to talk it out. Men want to disconnect and think it out.
“We are unique individuals with unique experiences.” ― John Gray
Learn About Him
The truth is, there’s nothing like intensive study on the one person you really need to understand: Your partner.
Learn his communication style. Learn his love language. Learn what sets him off (in good ways and bad!). By all means, look for patterns like the list above. Many couples fit into these categories, but intimate communication means looking beyond male/female and toward you/him.
“It’s not enough to love the one you’re with. You should also learn the one you’re with.”
For instance, I’m an extrovert, while my husband is an introvert. This isn’t a gendered thing, but it is a challenge for us. I have to constantly remind him to connect with me, because he likes to recharge alone. On the flip-side, I have to force myself to pause during date nights to give him a chance to contribute! But it’s getting better because we are both making a conscious effort to know and understand each other more completely.
It’s not enough to love the one you’re with. You should also learn the one you’re with.
So what now?
It might feel like to understand your spouse, you have your work cut out for you. Honestly? That may be true. But the work is so worthwhile, and can even be enjoyable! Work on simple things this week, like assuming the best of your partner, even when their words or actions don’t make sense. Then take it a step further by leaning toward, instead of away from, your love during conflict.
When it comes to different communication between men and women, it is universal that women want to talk to process, so start helping your partner by giving him forewarning when you need to have a difficult conversation or offload. Let him know that you want to connect about something, and schedule a time that is clear of distractions. I know it’s tough sometimes with kids, but turning a tough conversation into an intimate experience is worth it! And remember, if he’s having a tough time, allow him his space.
In the end, remember that communication only gets better with time and practice. Work together to learn each other’s communication style, and enjoy feeling more connected with the one you love.