Are we really speaking different languages?
Ever since relationship counselor John Gray (click here for a bit more about him and his work) wrote his bestseller “Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus”, promoting the idea that communication difficulties among heterosexual couples are unavoidable because men and women speak different languages, I’ve wondered whether that’s really true. Of course, I decided to immediately conduct a bit of sociological research by paying attention to the ways men and women I knew interacted.
I started by looking at the things I and my friends complained about when we talked about the men and women in our lives. Most often, the ladies were saying that when we described problems in our lives to our men, they responded not with sympathy or understanding, but with solutions. “I wish he knew to just let me vent instead of always dismissing my problems with an easy solution!” they said. Men told me that their women didn’t accept or appreciate their efforts to help her deal with her daily struggles. “I wish she knew I only offer solutions to her problems because I care about her and want to help!” they said.
“I wish he knew to just let me vent instead of always dismissing my problems with an easy solution!”
I thought about my own struggles to get what I wanted out of conversation with my dates and even my male friends. I discovered that if I described exactly the kind of response I was looking for and hadn’t gotten that most men, when they knew why I was frustrated, could remind me why their reactions did make sense. And I found that if I asked men to tell me what they were thinking and how they’d reached that conclusion that they’d so matter-of-factly pronounced, they could handle that with no problem.
In time, I came up with a better metaphor for male-female communication, as I see it, than the different language scenario. A couple, a man and a woman, we’re speaking the same language. We’re singing it, even: together, as a duet. The two parts are different, and it’s that difference that makes the music so beautiful and interesting. But because her part and his part have different notes and their duet has no conductor, the singers can only stay together and keep the harmonies flowing by listening to each other – even as they’re singing. Neither party can stop listening to the other, AND neither party can stop singing, either.
“I wish she knew I only offer solutions to her problems because I care about her and want to help!”
This last point is the most important. Women tend to do more talking than men do – on average, women speak 20,000 words a day and men only speak 7,000! While a woman uses speech to express her thoughts (to “talk something out”), men tend to vocalize far less of their thinking processes than women do. A woman pouring her heart out to her man without listening is just making noise and won’t know how to fit her part into the music. On the other hand, a man who is only listening without sharing his thoughts isn’t singing his half of the duet – and of course, it takes both parts of the melody before anyone can hear the tune.
Although none of this exactly a new idea – after all, using both our ears and our mouths for good communication is something we learn from a very young age – it is helpful to stand back and look at what we’re REALLY saying when we say that men and women just speak a different language. It isn’t at all that we’re saying things the opposite sex can’t understand. It’s that we’re not taking time to fit our communication style – our duet part one – together with theirs – duet part two. If everyone does just a little more singing or a little more listening or a little more of both … PRESTO! We’ll have just the sweetest song.