In my line of work, I’m constantly reminded of the very real differences in the ways in which men and women communicate. One of my best friends, for instance, would complain about her husband in every conversation. Her main grouse was that he never did a fair share of the housework. I asked her once, “Have you discussed what a fair share is?” It turned out they hadn’t divided up the tasks, or talked about him taking on more. “Shouldn’t he just get that that’s what I need? Why do I have to even ask?” she said to me.
I see this so often — women struggling to voice a demand, to a man used to just stating what he needs. When this friend started spelling out exactly how she wanted the chores divided, her husband agreed and years of dissatisfaction were resolved.
Similarly, a lot of men fail at communication in an essential element of everyday conversation — discussing the workday. A couple I’ve been coaching, Rahul and Puja, talked to me recently about how, every time she has a run-in with her boss, Rahul spends an hour telling her how to solve the issue. She just wants to vent, move on and have the pleasant evening she’s been craving.
Where does this come from, this instinct to rush in and try to ‘fix’? I was reminded of a passage from Shawn T Smith’s The Woman’s Guide to How Men Think: “We’re designed to take down the bad guys, to save the children. We’re your weapons, your attack dogs… There isn’t much call for this in the twenty-first century, but this is our baggage.”
Often, a simple way out is to choose empathy. Put yourself in your partner’s shoes, and step up. If you see her struggling with the chores, offer to pitch in. If she’s unburdening about the same thing day after day, don’t cut her short; just listen.
That same sense of empathy would help with a young couple I’ve been coaching. He’s troubled by the fact that his girlfriend keeps bringing up past errors in new fights. He loves her and everything else works, but this hurts him and keeps him feeling insecure.
We must all clear the slate from time to time. It helps to discuss a fraught issue, decide what it will take to move on from it, and then bury it in the past. If it is a smaller infraction, forgive, and then forget. Over all else, don’t weaponise a wrong.
Even as we recognise that gender is a spectrum, and move beyond stereotypical roles in our society, it can help in relationships between men and women to remember that — whether through nature or nurture — some things remain true. For the majority of women, communication takes the form of story-telling; for a lot of men, listening takes the form of problem-solving. Most women are more adept at showing and handling their emotions. Most men are wired to respond to conflict by seeking more data.
The two approaches can complement each other in ways that enhance the whole. But that takes work, and before the work, a recognition of where each side is coming from. Try humour, patience, and when all else fails, try a little empathy.
Simran Mangharam is a dating and relationship coach and can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org
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