Mary Kelly-Williams discusses one of the most difficult aspects of a relationship: communication.
Someone needs to say it. The four dreaded words that most men, if they were being totally honest, would admit are the last words they want to hear after a long day of doing whatever it is they did. Women, I know you mean well when you say, “We need to talk,” but through the eyes of a man, it’s likely you seem a bit antagonistic to him, despite your good intentions.
Why is it that these four words can cause so much dread, so much consternation, and even unwittingly, a call to battle?
I like to talk to my husband. I like to communicate with him, connect with him. A lot of the time this inevitably involves the spoken word.
I like to analyze, dissect, ruminate on, munch on…words.
I like to work it out, resolve it, settle it, come up with mutually agreed upon terms, and I want to do it NOW. (I, I, I, I, I)
When I get like this, my husband prefers the solitary company found only in a cave.
What happened to my soul mate and who now possesses my husband’s body when I WANT TO TALK?
Gender differences. It can be a tricky subject. We want to tread carefully, lest we be accused of being stereotypical or sexist. Yet research clearly shows us that certain realities exist, and differences between men and women are as old as the ages, especially when it comes to communication. Aside from gender differences, research shows that in gay and lesbian relationships, there is often a talker and a non-talker.
When I talk to men about their disdain for these four words, they admit that hearing these words invokes feelings of shame. “What did I do now?” “What did I not provide?” “Where did I screw up?” “How long is this going to take?”
When women say, “We need to talk,” what is most likely being said is, “I want to connect with you.” But that’s not how it’s received. When a woman says, “We need to talk,” most men would love to scream, “WHAT NOW?”
Men get dragged into my office on a regular basis by their well-meaning wives or lovers. These women want to talk, and they want to be heard. Is that so much to ask?
Well, yeah, sometimes it is. And sometimes it’s not even about the talking, it’s about the TONE. Oh, the tone is so important. Personally, I get annoyed with having to worry about the tone. I just want to say the thing, blurt it out, say it with emphasis, and use some hand gestures while I’m at it.
But I’ve noticed over the years that my tone makes all the difference in the world. I came from a big family, so my tone can be rather loud and hurried. I have to get it in before someone interrupts me. Only, I have to remember that when I’m talking to my husband it’s just him and me, not him and me and eight other people.
Once, after a house full of company for the holidays, things had gotten tense between my husband and me. My husband was more withdrawn and uncommunicative. I couldn’t wait for everyone to leave because I needed to talk, to find out what was wrong, to get to the root of the matter.
The last person finally left, the door shut, and I turned to my husband and said, “We need to talk.” He went from tense and tired to uptight, annoyed, and impatient. “You’ve got to be kidding me,” he said as he headed for the nearest remote control.
The nerve! And thus began the dance. The pursuer, the distancer. The in-your-face, the get-out-of-my face. And ultimately, the fight.
Any of this sound familiar? I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one.
Steven Stosny, a marital expert and researcher recently collaborated on a book with another relationship expert, Pat Love, a woman. It’s called, How to Improve Your Marriage Without Talking About It. Brilliant! The authors suggest that marriage counseling, relationship books, and the popular media are more supportive of a woman’s style of communication than that of a man’s. The book provides strong research, as well as other ways of communicating with one another with which men can resonate, for a change.
When I work with couples, I tell them that the work on which they are embarking isn’t going to involve all those thousands of tedious words. The relief on the faces of men is palpable.
Time to get creative. Work on the timing (timing is as key as the tone), be gentle, open, and curious. We can all learn better ways of communicating that don’t involve a dissertation.
And women, don’t despair. The next time you really want to connect with your man, here are four words that are sure to never fail…“Want to have sex?”