What Are You Going To Do, If You Don’t Know What To Do?

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By: Mozelle Forman, Lcsw

She wanted him to talk. Her complaint week after week was that they couldn’t resolve any issues between them because he didn’t talk to her. Her husband’s response, “I do talk, but she doesn’t want to listen.” “I do listen,” she asserts. “But then he gets angry and walks out of the room.” “That’s right,” he says. “She doesn’t stop and I just have to get away.” “But the worst part,” – she says with tears in her eyes, “is when he doesn’t talk to me for days.
I can’t stand the silent treatment.”

This scenario is so common and so familiar to me in my work with couples, that I thought it deserved some analysis and explanation. There are a few dynamics at play here, and when combined will lead to the perfect storm of marital disharmony. These dynamics are gender differences in communication styles, the pursuer-distancer “dance,” the concept of flooding, and the abusive silent treatment. Each powerful dynamic deserves its own in-depth exploration and will be explored separately in this column over the next few months.

First and foremost, the intrinsic difference in communication styles of each gender contributes to the inequity in the desire to talk about things. There is a plethora of books written about the differences between men and women in this area. (Email me at mozelleforman@gmail.comfor a bibliography of such books.) While men mostly use words to solve problems and get information, women use words to connect to others. For men, conversations should have an end goal – they are a means to an end. For women, feeling heard or understood is the goal and she may not need anything else to “make things better.” The fact that she has been listened to minimizes any problem she may be describing.

So, when a wife asks her husband to talk to her, she is seeking a connection to him. He, on the other hand, anticipates a short (key word here) discourse about a problem that needs solving. When she begins to tell a very detailed account of why she isdisappointed, he becomes impatient and rushes her along. She, in turn, feels uncared for and dismissed. She may begin to criticize her spouse and claim he doesn’t care about her. He is dismayed, because all he wants to do is solve the problem because he cares about her!

So, the first step in dismantling the negative structure of marital conflict is to learn how to speak in a way that respects both styles of communication. Neither style is “bad” – men need to have practical conversations to get the job done at work and women need to patiently listen and describe details in order to feel connected. Each style serves a purpose. Yet, when men and women communicate with each other, it is not effective to use the style that comes most naturally.

3 Tips for Communicating with Your Husband

Let your husband know the purpose of the conversationbefore you begin talking. Tell him whether you are seeking his advice, just want to share an experience, or would like to brainstorm about resolving a problem.
In this way he will be prepared to listen with a goal in mind.

Edit the message –aim for short, five- to seven- minuteconversations with your spouse. Keep your sentences short, and use fewer details than you would normally use with your friends. Try to clarify your main concern in order to help him focus.

Tell him what you need –not what he is doing wrong. He can hear, “Can you clean out the garage?” but will shut down from, “Don’t you think it would be a good idea to clean out the garage already?”

3 Tips for Effectively Communicating with Your Wife

She doesn’t always need you to fix things.Although it is more comfortable to be in fix-it mode, sometimes she may simply need you to listen. Make the effort to sit down across from her after a long day to discuss work, friends, and your relationship.

Be an Active Listener. This requires patience and concentration. Put down the phone or newspaper and look at her when she is speaking. Repeat back to her what you heard her say.

Opt for being loved – not right.Marriage is not a competitive sport, and there are no winners in marital conflict. Enter each conversation with the goalof understanding your wife, not proving to her why her feelings are wrong.

Next month we examine the dynamics of the distancer-pursuer relationship.