Women on average speak approximately 25,000 words a day, where as men speak close to 12,500 words daily. Just based on this information alone we can see the potential for communication problems in marriage. During the evening when the husband is shutting down his wife is only half-way through. It is not uncommon in marriage counseling sessions for a wife to complain that she gets little reaction from her husband in the way of dialogue. On the other hand is common for men to often comment “she doesn’t know when to stop talking “.
Do these differences in our style of conversing indicate that communication problems are a mainstay in marriages? Not really. While there are significant differences in the way men and women communicate there are many marriages in which couples learn to maintain a healthy balance that enables them to successfully navigate the pitfalls of communication. The key focuses on insight and compromise.
For example, it is important for women to understand that men can easily become overwhelmed when engaging in long conversations that touch upon multiple topics. The well-known marriage guru Dr. John Gottman referred to this as flooding. When men become flooded they have a tendency to look for an escape and that route usually leads to withdrawing. When a man withdraws it creates a counter problem with the wife feeling a sense of abandonment.
On the other hand, women are much more expressive when engaging in conversations and will be more likely to provide elaborate details to enhance their stories. If a husband asks his wife about her trip to the shopping mall he will probably hear about the traffic conditions, parking problems, information regarding what was and wasn’t on sale, and where she stopped to have something to eat. If a wife asks her husband the same question she will probably get an answer similar to “It was good. I picked up this t-shirt”. End of story.
It’s not that one style is correct and the other is wrong it’s just that they are different. And therefore that requires each person to be cognitive of the other’s style and willing to compromise when it comes to communication.
Men must learn to be patient and allow their wives to converse in more elaborate terms then they are used to hearing from their male counterparts. They must understand that by spending time listening to their wives they are demonstrating attentiveness, which in turns provides wives with a feeling of bonding.
Women on the other hand need to learn to sometimes “ration” their conversation with their husbands understanding that too much communication at one time can be overwhelming. Therefore taking the story about her trip to the mall and condensing it into a timeframe that is more manageable for her husband to handle. This prevents her husband from becoming flooded and reduces the likelihood of him withdrawing.
Communication in a marriage takes time and energy. But the more insight that couples have about the differences in communication styles between the sexes the more likely they will be able to put together good practices that will lead to stronger and more effective communication.
Suggested reading: “Why Marriages Succeed or Fail” by John Gottman.