by Richard Drobnick, LCSW, DCSW
Many men ask, “Why do women need to talk as much as they do?”
The most helpful insight involves discovering that women communicate for different reasons
than men do.
Women use language, just like men do, to make points and solve problems. However, they also use talking as a way of discovering what they want to say, and sometimes they talk about their feelings in order to sort things out, as a means toward eventually feeling better. Other times women feel a need to share and express their feelings, simply as a means to get closer or to experience greater intimacy. This is how women merge with their partner. Talking is part of sharing - sharing their feelings and sharing their thoughts without solutions and without being judged.
Men don’t instinctively understand these various approaches, because men tend to use language primarily as a way of making points. When men talk about problems, they are generally looking for solutions. A man mistakenly assumes that when a woman talks about her feelings and problems his role as a listener is to assist her in feeling better by offering her solutions. Like a fireman, he feels impatient to get the fire out as quickly as possible. For him, the quickest way to put the fire out is by giving solutions. His overwhelming desire to help her is exactly what causes a woman to feel like she’s not being listened to. It also causes her to feel like she is not important to him. It’s an interesting paradox; if he didn’t care he wouldn’t try to fix things.
Learning to listen patiently
– not just passively
– is not easy for men. Yet repeatedly men report that keeping quiet and resisting the strong tendency to interrupt a woman with solutions has dramatically improved their relationships. Their partners are much happier and appreciative. Lucky is the man who discovers that satisfying a woman’s need to communicate and be heard is the most important requirement to having a harmonious and loving relationship. When a man is a good listener, a woman can repeatedly find the place in her heart that is capable of loving him and embracing him just the way he is.
Occasionally, men misinterpret the term active listening. It doesn’t mean to ignore her while she talks and talks. It means to listen to her words that lead to her feelings. If he truly understands how a situation makes her feel, he can then express how much he understands those feelings. This enables a woman to feel like she’s not alone, and that she truly has a partner who understands her.
For women patience is key when communicating. Try not to expect a man to simply listen. Most communication problems between men and women start because they fail to ask for what they want. The best way to encourage a man to give a woman what she needs is to say something like “Hon, I just need you to listen for a sec. I don’t need advice; I just want to share my feelings about this.”
This question allows the man to decide if he is open and able to give his partner what she needs. If he is not, he can tell her how he feels and they can talk at a later time. In this example, both people have successfully communicated what they need and they can decide what to do from an honest and loving place.
Remember, it takes an entire lifetime to become the way we are and to form our habits. A gentle reminder is necessary when helping couples learn new skills to improve their relationship.