I sat in our bedroom feeling sorry for myself. We had only been married a few months and I was excited about my new marriage. My husband had gotten in the habit of washing the dishes after I cooked dinner (I thought it was going to be the other way around; I did not know how to cook before I got married!) and this night I wanted to let him have a break. I wanted to serve him by loading the dishes. I was so full of love as I thought about how much he would appreciate this act of service.
Instead of him taking me into his arms, he said, “You’re just piling them in there any ol’ kind of way aren’t you? Here, give that to me.”
I let the plate leave my limp hand and stormed off into the bedroom, my feelings crushed. “I can’t believe he just said that to me. I was just trying to give him a break from loading the dishwasher. Why couldn’t he appreciate that . . . “
After a few minutes he came into the room and we talked. “It’s not what you said, I explained, it’s how you said it.” He apologized, I accepted, and we pledged to always talk about our feelings with each other.
I laugh about the “dishwasher incident” now, but back then it was a big deal to me. And it’s a story I often reflect on when I’m asked to talk about communication differences between men and women.
In relationships, communication is key and often makes or breaks a union. Both men and women misunderstand and misinterpret each other and breakdown happens! One of the biggest challenges when it comes to communication is what we believe about how we communicate and how others should communicate.
A common belief is that women talk more than men, but it really depends on the situation. For example, in the classroom and boardroom, men often dominate while pillowtalk in the bedroom is often women’s forte.
So why the big differences when it comes to how—and if—men and women talk to each other in (or out) the bedroom?
I suggest it’s because women don’t ask, and men don’t tell.
Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever, authors of the book, Women Don’t Ask: The High Cost of Avoiding Negotiation, discovered that women don’t ask for what they want, whether it’s negotiating for a higher salary or asking for help at home. According to their study, “women have lower expectations and lack knowledge of their worth.” They’ve been groomed to think about the needs of others before thinking of their own. So when it comes time to ask, they often feel nervous, guilty, or selfish (think they should just feel lucky for what they already have). They think that asking for what they want and need might cause them to lose a relationship.
On the other hand, men don’t tell what they feel. Why Boys Don’t Talk and Why We Care : A Mother’s Guide to Connection by Susan Morris Shaffer explains how boys are groomed to share their feelings. If they cried, they were told to “Man up!” which usually meant “Shut Up”! Instead of learning how to manage their emotions, they were taught to shut them down, ignore them, and hide them away. As a result, men don’t think it’s safe to tell you what’s on their mind; it makes them vulnerable. They think they’ll be perceived as weak. Instead of reaching out to someone else, they just try to solve things on their own.
So what is the solution?
Speak up! Men can’t read our minds. If you need help with the kids, ask. If you want to go on a vacation, say so. If you are not satisfied with your sex life (married ladies), say something! Your man loves you and wants you to be happy. He would rather you ask for what you want instead of wondering why the house feels so cold or empty or full of resentment. Remember, you get 100% of the things you don’t ask for.
Once your heart is clear of resentment, guilt, and worry, then you can become a safe place for your man. Remember, he doesn’t like to talk because he’s been groomed that being vulnerable makes him weak and he feels unsafe. But if you show that his heart can trust safely in you, he will be more willing to talk. And don’t pressure him to spill his guts all at once. You may only get a few sentences, or words, from him, but appreciate him for sharing with you.
Whether in the boardroom or bedroom, successful communication with the opposite sex boils down to understanding and honoring each other’s differences and making an effort to move outside your own comfort zone.
So, this sister is asking:
Do you have a story of how you’ve learned to communicate with your man? Please, share, I’d love to hear from you.
Aesha Adams Roberts, PhD, is a dating and relationships expert. She teaches women how to understand men and how to have successful, fulfilling relationships.