How Men and Women Talk to Each Other

True communication leads to happier lives

Norbert Schnabel writes from Germany. This article  was translated by Minodora Kiesler.

In many professions, the worlds of husbands and wives are separated; in our lives as ministers' wives, that is not so. Our situation has pros and cons. As ministers' wives we are in special demand because of our ability to communicate. Often third parties use us in order to present a concern to our husbands. Sometimes we see difficulties pop up for our families, for the church and for our husbands and we communicate such observations to our spouses. Though communication needs vary from one profession to another, it is a must in a minister's profession. As pastors' wives, we are part of that communication process.

Though communication is important, do ministers' wives really understand the concerns of their husbands? Are pastors able to relate their anxieties, joys and thoughts in such a way the spouses understand the whole picture?

The following article opens our eyes to the different ways men and women speak to each other. When two people are talking, they are not necessarily communicating. True listening is a skill, an art to be practiced, a talent to be perfected. It doesn't come easy but the rewards of true communication are rewarding and enriching,

—Introduction by Ulrike Hasel

Why do misunderstandings and hurts occur when men and women dialogue with one another even when both parties have good intentions? Why do some couples have the impression that they talk past each other? In her book You Simply Cannot Understand Me, Deborah Tannen, shows that many such failed conversations can be traced back to the fact that men and women prefer different styles of communication.

In her opinion, women talk to establish and maintain closeness, their primary concern is to nurture relationships and create harmonious understanding in order to avoid isolation. A woman wishes to be understood, to be accepted, and not to remain alone with her questions and problems. Women like to experience confirmation and affirm others. Thus in their conversations, they communicate this concept by using such phrases as: "This has happened to me in the same way." "I know very well what you are talking about." Women emphasize common things in order to create community and in order to strengthen their relationships. Whatever may cause distance or differences is avoided.

Women are disappointed if confirmation is not expressed. When they are offered quick solutions from men they often interpret the message to be "We are not the same. You have problems--I have the solutions." Whoever is ready to pass on counsel presents himself as smarter, more rational, and more mature. In a word: superior. That creates distance.

Men accuse women of refusing to solve the problems they complain about. if men attempt to encourage women by making it clear to them that their situations are not as bad as they think, women feel their emotions are not being taken seriously or they feel devalued. But women like to hear that it is normal to feel bad in certain situations. Men often give women the impression that their problems are relatively simple to solve and therefore, women do not have the right to be unhappy. Men want to act and remove the problems from the world. Women want to talk in order to communicate their problems.

A wife tells her husband that she does not feel well. He offers to take her to the doctor. She is disappointed because she expects compassion and sympathy He, on the other hand, concentrates on what he can do.

For women, the readiness to tell others about themselves is an expression of closeness. Willingness to listen is a sign of interest and sympathy. in the world of a woman, the exchange of information is the basis for intimacy.

In their conversations, men wish to guard their reputations and their independence. They are afraid to be manipulated.

A woman tends to repeat an unanswered wish because she is convinced that the man will fulfill her wish as soon as he comprehends how weighty this wish really is. But the man, states Tannen, hesitates to fulfill the wish because he needs to feel he acts on his own free ()talon, not on the woman's insistence.

Men experience their world as an hierarchical order in which it is essential to remain independent and to avoid defeat. They consider life a competition where the winner is superior and the loser inferior. Dialogues of men often reflect this world view.

Women view life more as a struggle against the danger of being cut off from community. Therefore they have greater difficulties engaging in conflicts among themselves, and they shun confrontation because in their view such disagreements may endanger a harmonious relationship.

It is less problematic for men to express criticism openly and thus to call for an open confrontation. They are convinced that open confrontation strengthens the friendship. For men to quarrel with one another is a sign of intimacy, an expression of closeness. In their opinion, only people who are really close to each other quarrel with one another.

However, men often feel wedged in if they have to lead long debates about something they consider unessential or they have to always discuss with others first what they intend to do. It is normal for men to make decisions alone. Many women consider it as self-understood that decisions should be discussed and then made in unison.

Men do not like to speak about their problems. When depressed, they prefer to keep distance. Women fear this the most because, in their view, silence is isolation.

What is the reason for this silent distance in men? To show weaknesses may translate to being inferior to many men. Men fear the risk of opening up to others. They ask themselves the following questions: How will the other person react if I reveal to him what goes on within me? Can I dare to become vulnerable? How will the other person dealwith the information I impart to him? When women realize men's fear, they can accept the differences in the two genders and not be threatened by the way men react to different situations. Men are not necessarily avoiding intimacy, rather they are coping in their own masculine way.

Men, on the other hand, must learn to listen. They must not interrupt their wives with counsels or lectures. Some men do not like to listen for a long period of time because they believe they are inferior if the other person plays the first fiddle. Men need to take the risk and talk about themselves, their emotions, and their own experiences. It is important that they become better acquainted with the conversational style of the other sex and develop the courage to use it themselves occasionally.

True communication enriches a couple's lives and makes for a happier home. Men and women need to understand the other's communication style and endeavor to incorporate both styles into their lives. It is an art to be practiced everyday. True communication leads to happier lives.