When our communication goes downhill because of gender differences
Going to pre-marriage counseling was the best thing that happened to my wife and me. Relationship conflicts by the vast majority are related to how the two genders look at each other’s communication style – it may just not be personal after all. Generally speaking, men get quieter during conflicts and woman get louder because they feel their loved ones are not listening. It is a devilish cycle that can derail your whole relationship for good. That is especially true if any party in this is forced into the lizard brain fight or flight mode. Duck when that happens. It does not need to end up that way.
In our church you could get married only if you went through this counseling session first. We were so skeptical at first but that would change during the course of the session quickly. During this session we were asked to describe typical arguments that we had had during our relationship leading up to the decision to get married. We dissected the events and had to realize that we had indeed fallen victim to the downward spiraling communication loop described above.
On one side my wife would come home from work expecting for me to just listen to the things that happened to her during the course of the day. I would attempt to “help” by attempting to fix her issues and suggesting one course of action or another. Next thing would be for her to get upset as I would not simply be listening to her stories of woe. Since I felt slightly scalded I would get quieter and quieter instead of simply acknowledging her feelings, suggestions, questions, etc. This would further upset her and she would get louder and I would get quieter. All I needed was a little more time to think about what she had said and I would have come back with an opinion etc – just not that very same moment. This would further infuriate her and a potentially full blown argument could ensue.
Ironically, the cohort of people that was there with us ran scared of the two of us as we candidly shared our disagreements and some of them we still could not get resolved that day. To this day I think that they thought we would never make it. It was funny to watch how uncomfortable the other folks were. Long term relationships depend on candor. Say what you mean or get out early. You cannot sustain any relationship if it is not based on trust, candor and love.
Here are some free (well, it was not free for us figuratively speaking as we had to go through a few battle scars to let our communication gel) life lessons that we picked up along the way of this counseling session:
- When she wants to talk to you, just listen. Do not attempt to fix or problem solve anything. It will not work, trust me on this one.
- Make good eye contact while communicating. Genuine and sincere listening skills are essential for men and women in order to make it through another day.
- Just because he is getting quieter, that does not mean that this is related to love or respect. He may need a little more time to think about this and wait to get back with you.
- When he gets quieter, he did hear you. Do not kick it up a notch and start yelling. He will eventually shut down, which is bad news and can lead to more serious issues in the long run. Allow for time to let it sink in. Most men will come back and talk about the issue at hand by themselves.
- At the end of the conversation wrap up and review any potential commitments and potential follow up communication.