There’s no denying it: men and women were created differently from each other. They differ not just in their physical makeup and biological functions but more so in how they communicate.
The root of most conflicts is improper, inadequate, or absent communication. Conflict resulting from miscommunication is most agonizingly felt in a relationship between a man and a woman because they are so different from each other.
Here are several scenarios that illustrate how conflicts arise when what is said isn’t what we heard—or need to hear.
Scenario 1: Emotion versus information
• What the Woman said: “I wanted to leave the office early but at the last minute, the boss asked me to prepare a lot of documents for the meeting on Wednesday. The train I rode home, as usual, was late and terribly full. I nearly fainted inside. Now that I’m home, I still have to prepare the kids’ food for tomorrow. But my job does give us an extra income, so… Oh well.”
• What the Man heard: “My wife is telling me that I’m not working hard enough to provide for the family.”
• How the Man reacted and what He said: He took the time to sift all the information that his wife rapidly shared all at once. Once he had identified what he thought was the problem, he offered a solution. He said, “If this job is stressing you so much, why don’t you just resign?”
• What the Woman later on said: “You don’t understand me.”
• What the Woman meant: “I’m exhausted and I feel overwhelmed. I just want you to listen to me talk about how my day went so I can relax.”
Usually, when a woman talks, she goes to great lengths to describe what happened and gives lots of detail. This is her way of processing what she feels. She is expressing emotion rather than simply giving information. On the other hand, a man usually focuses on processing information in order to come up with a resolution. As a result, the man often fails to identify the woman’s emotion and make her feel validated.
Men are designed to solve problems and offer solutions. A man sees solving a problem as a major achievement. In Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus, John Gray says, men “value power, competency, efficiency, and achievement. They are always doing things to prove themselves and develop their power and skills. Their sense of self is defined through their ability to achieve results. They experience fulfillment primarily through success and accomplishment.”
• What the Man needed to hear: “Thanks for doing your best for the family.”
Scenario 2: Isolation versus Companionship
• What the Woman said: “My friend and her husband went to this new Japanese restaurant. She invited us to eat out with them next week.”
• What the Man heard: “My wife wants me to be more sociable.”
• How the Man reacted and what He said: Preferring to stay at home, he said, “Your friends can eat there because they’re rich.”
• What the Woman later on said: “You don’t really care about me.”
• What the Woman meant: “Let’s go out on a date. I don’t care where we go, I just want to be with you.”
Women find solace and validation through relationships. When a woman feels upset, she tries to find support from people. She feels better after she shared with another person what’s been troubling her. She relaxes through talking. Men, however, would rather withdraw and be alone. Or, as John Gray famously puts it, men go to their “caves.”
Marriage and family therapist H. Norman Wright, in his book, The Key to Your Man’s Heart writes, “Boys don’t process their feelings as quickly as girls…. And they can become overwhelmed by a woman’s feelings. They prefer isolation so that they can sort out their feelings. They need to know it’s okay to go into their cave.”
• What the Man needed to hear: “Honey, I’ll give you some time to be on your own and do whatever you want to relax.”
Scenario 3: Correction versus Condemnation
• What the Woman said: “Why did you do that? Next time, read the instructions.”
• What the Man heard: “She thinks I’m dumb.”
• How the Man reacted and what He said: He feels offended and gives up. He said, “I can never meet your expectations!”
• What the Woman later on said: “Just grow up!”
Women show their care by giving advice. However, men see the woman’s caring as criticism or condemnation. A man does not want to receive unsolicited advice. He takes pride in accomplishing a task on his own. A woman, oppositely, feels proud when another person helps her because this shows she has supportive relationships. John Gray writes, “When a woman tries to improve a man, he feels she is trying to fix him. He receives the message that he is broken, she doesn’t realize her caring attempts to help him may humiliate him. She mistakenly thinks she is just helping him.”
• What the Man needed to hear: “I understand it’s not easy doing this. But I’m sure you’ll be able to do it!”
Scenario 4: Immediate affirmation versus delayed reaction
• What the Woman said: “I’m so angry!”
• What the Man heard: “I’m so angry!”
• How the Man reacted and what She said: The man took her statement at face value and did not try to probe deeper into how the woman feels. Instead of asking questions to encourage the woman to talk, he simply said, “Ah, okay”
• What the Woman meant: “I need to feel that you’re listening to me and that you empathize.”
• What the Woman later on said: “You’re ignoring me!”
Men are analytical but can be single-minded. They are not quick to pick up the nuances and ranges of emotions that women feel. When the man doesn’t act or say words to encourage the woman, the woman feels that the man does not care. But in truth, the man does care; he’s just taking his time to think through the subject. H. Norman Wright explains, “Men are basically wired for a more delayed reaction. A man’s brain is a problem-solving brain, so emotional reactions are delayed until the problem is solved.”
• What the Man needed to hear: “I don’t expect you to understand how I feel.”
These scenarios are challenging and the differences between men and women might seem negative. But there is hope. The hope lies in knowing that the differences have a purpose.
You might have heard this one before: You need to listen properly in order to communicate well. But as marriage counselor and author Gary Chapman writes, “The problem is that many of us tend to be judgmental listeners. We evaluate what we hear based on our own view of the situation and we respond by pronouncing our judgment.”
It pays to heed then what Proverbs 12:14-15 remind us: “Wise words bring many benefits, and hard work brings rewards. Fools think their own way is right, but the wise listen to others.”