“He just doesn’t get me” is something it seems every woman has said about at least one man in her life. And his response of “I just don’t understand women” is probably familiar too.
Acknowledging that there are real conversational differences between men and women, and good reasons for them, matters because effective communication is at the heart of every great relationship. Even slight difficulties in getting your message across can quickly leave you with a misunderstanding that leads to frustration, upset, rejection and anger. Instead of creating clarity, understanding and empathy, words can become weapons and simple discussions a combat (or a no-go) zone.
The stage is set in childhood when boys and girls learn to use language very differently. Girls actually talk themselves into small friendship groups; they share secrets and express feelings, monitor and balance their input, and become attuned to reading and interpreting subtle shifts in attitude and mood. Boys on the other hand tend to play in larger groups, where achieving status and dominance is the priority. They learn the value of competition, posturing, ridicule and argument to earn their place in the hierarchy. No wonder that when grown-up boys and girls try to come together in adult relationships, misunderstanding and friction can be the norm.
The good news is that, while such social conditioning runs deep, it is possible to improve your communication skills. Just realising that your partner is not being deliberately insensitive, or lacking respect, interest or wit is a great starting point for change. If you then get curious about what’s going on in your own charged conversations – What are your trigger points? How do you (over)-react? What raises the temperature from discussion to ‘fight’? – without doubt you can start to consciously develop a conversational style that’s more tolerant, relaxed and in-synch, leaving you free to negotiate a way through even the thorniest issues.
If you’re fed up of feeling “he just doesn’t get me” check out some of the main reasons why that might be and try out our top tips for avoiding the classic pitfalls.
1. You expect your partner to be your best friend when it comes to sharing intimate secrets and having deep and meaningful chats but find yourself feeling disappointed and under-appreciated when he only wants to talk about sports or the latest band, cars or photography.
Top tip: Being open with him and not expecting he’ll do the same is a good place to start. If you’re relaxed about what he says or doesn’t say, you’re showing by example that there’s nothing to be afraid of, and maybe he’ll start opening up to you sometime soon. If not, take heart – he’s still much more likely to confide in you than anyone else when the time is right for him.
2. You think asking him questions about your relationship is all part of a positive, healthy conversation that shows you care. He thinks you’re digging for information and invading his privacy. It is not uncommon that women think “The relationship is working, as long as we can talk about it.” Men generally hold the opposite view – “While we keep talking about it, there must be something wrong.”
Top tip: There’s no rule book that says either of these positions is ‘right’, so if you really want to talk about something make it clear that the relationship isn’t on the line and get specific about what’s not working for you. The key is to find the middle ground so you both feel comfortable.
3. You tend to allow your partner to speak without interruption and are more likely to connect the dots between what he’s just said and what he’s trying to express. He doesn’t quite get it that way and often interrupts, sometimes completely ignoring what you’ve just said or focusing only on the facts. It’s no wonder women often complain that “He never listens” and he thinks “You say too much.”
Top tip: Why not agree to take turns to express your viewpoint without interruption. The person listening can then summarise what they think they’ve heard and you can go back and forth until you both have a clear understanding of each other’s position.
4. You worry that there’s a big problem in your relationship when your partner gets assertive, even when he assures you it’s just a conversation. Some couples hold off discussing anything because they fear a heated argument would spell the end of the relationship.
Top tip: Consider that ignoring important issues out of such fear can do more damage than good. Without healthy expression of the range of thoughts and feelings, including the normal human emotions of upset and anger, relationships are more likely to simply wither and fade away.
5. You share a problem to find a sympathetic ear, to share the experience, to seek reassurance. He thinks you’re asking for help to find a solution and comes over all business-like, offering a practical solution or an action plan, a logical interpretation that’s different from yours, or some coaching on how to do it better next time.
Top tip: Let him know how you want him to respond in situations like this. There’s no point in just expecting him to intuit your needs – you probably need to spell it out. It may take a while for the penny to drop, but if you’re persist and he’s keen to support you, he will learn to respond how you’d like in time.
6. You pay attention to what he’s saying by nodding along and making encouraging noise as he speaks. Unfortunately, many men only tend to do this when they agree with the point being made, so the opportunity for conflict here is significant if you later reveal that you actually disagree with him!
Top tip: Watch what happens the next time you have a discussion. If you find that you’re unintentionally showing signs of encouragement or agreement, then we’re afraid it’s up to you to either stop doing it altogether or let him know that this is just something you do and shouldn’t be taken too literally!