By Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD
Most people want to feel emotionally close with their partner, but differing communication styles sometimes get in the way. While some people are inclined to connect through conversation, others prefer actively sharing experiences, no explanations necessary. People most often think of women as the conversationalists and men as the doers, but this division between the sexes is by no means universal. So, consider how well this dynamic fits with yourself and your partner. Then think about how the suggestions below can help you overcome your communication gap, whether it just requires an outstretched arm or an Olympic-sized leap.
If you are frequently frustrated as you probe into what your partner is thinking, try to understand that some people tend to express themselves better in nonverbal ways. They “state” their values and interests by taking action; for instance, volunteering for Habitat for Humanity or learning about (and investing in) the stock market. They show caring by giving gifts or being helpful. This doesn’t necessarily mean that they aren’t willing to open up about their thoughts and feelings, but, rather, that they don’t have as strong a need for this.
If you tend to be someone who is content with minimal conversation and frustrated with what can feel like your partner’s barrage of questions, try to understand that your partner may be wired differently than you. Many people express themselves and connect with others in primarily verbal ways. Truly, they are not trying to get on your nerves. It’s just that they want to understand you and are looking for confirmation that you care by asking you to open up.
It’s easy to defend your own style – whichever it is – if you so desire. As the conversationalist, you are correct in your belief that talking about personally important subjects can bring people closer. Without this, partners remain at least somewhat unknown to each other. As the doer, you are correct in your belief that sharing time and experiences are bonding agents – and that words are not always necessary. In fact, words can sometimes distract from full enjoyment of a situation. For instance, talking can ruin the magical feeling at sunset as you watch the last sliver of the sun disappear behind the horizon. What conversationalists and doers share is that they are both trying to communicate and connect. Each style has its benefits, and each has its limitations.
Talking and doing don’t need to be in conflict with each other. In fact, relationships are at their healthiest when these styles work in concert. So, learn to appreciate your partner’s style. If you are a conversationalist, consider that your partner might not be hiding anything. He just might not feel the need to reveal so much – and may not even know (or care) about what he’s feeling. Consider the benefits of his expressing himself in a quieter way. If you are a doer, accept that she needs more communication to feel close. You might find that sharing – even if you aren’t inwardly compelled to do it – can help you to feel closer, better understood, and happier in your relationship. You might even find that you learn more about yourself as you practice reaching inside in order to communicate more clearly with your partner.
It’s important to honor your style of connecting, as well as your partner’s style. So, reach across the communication gap – offering to give in ways that recognize your partner’s needs and asking for your partner to be there in ways that work for you. Together, you can bridge the gap and create an emotionally close and respectful relationship.
The Art of Relationships blog posts are for general educational purposes only. They may or may not be relevant for your particular situation; and they should not be relied upon as a substitute for individual professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you need help for an emotional or behavioral problem, please seek the assistance of a psychologist or other qualified mental health professional.