"Can We Talk?"

February 5th, 2010

‘We are all androgynous, not only because we are all born of a woman impregnated by the seed of a man but because each of us, helplessly and forever, contains the other — male in female, female in male�. We are a part of each other.’ -James Baldwin

The discrepancy between the male and female forms of communication is the topic of hundreds if not thousands of books. Since John Gray’s, ‘Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus,’ the discussion and awareness of the biological imperatives that drive human communication has been dissected and examined over and over again. We know, for instance, that conversation serves different purposes for the male and the female. We also know that men and women have different comfort levels with personal conversations. Finally, we also know that conversation does not equal intimacy for both men and women.

Despite these findings being expounded upon in new books and magazine articles every month, the biological experience of falling in love continuously tricks us. We believe that loving someone should or will make them communicate, behave and think like us. This is one of those erroneous beliefs we can’t seem to let go of. We insist, to the point of destruction of the relationships that we cherish, to expect our partner to be us. Partly this is because the mirroring and connection that we share in the early phases of falling for someone diminishes the space between two people. For a brief and euphoric time you feel totally together, united. It is a sad awakening to the reality of living and loving someone after that initial connection fades. Many relationships don’t survive it.

It took me about 12 years, maybe even 14, to stop taking my husband’s seeming disinterest in my conversational style personally. It was way longer than that, when I realized that his way of communicating was not a slight to me. I talk to connect, not just to him, but to myself. I learn what I am thinking as I find the words to say it. He thinks long and hard before he says anything. In the time it takes him to organize a response, I can and, sadly often do, move on to a second or even third topic.

Just as he is about to put his idea out there, I run over him with my next brilliant thought. I remember one evening, when I impatiently interrupted his thinking and articulating one time too many. He said, ‘You don’t really care what I think. I don’t even know why I bother. Go ahead talk. All you want is for me to listen anyway.’ I smothered the very connection that I so desperately wanted with him, without even seeing the opportunity come and go. Let me just say right here, this has not been an easy or particularly successful part of our relationship.

It is not just in the timing and frequency of our conversation that we struggle. Human biological evolution has created in us the very different tracks of conversation that men and women pursue. In our early tribal formations, the male communication device, which cemented their strength and position amongst their peers, has always been based around information sharing and problem solving. This makes sense for the hunters and warriors that our men evolved from. Women, on the other hand, have always been the force of community and connection that created the fabric of the living tribe. The female innate abilities in connection and intimacy created the soul and relationships that identified a people. Both of these communication devices engendered a society that worked. Although the traditional roles in our culture have shifted enormously, our communication preferences continue to run in our biological make-up.

Most of my deep intimate conversations happen in conjunction with physical intimacy with my husband. This is when he can access that place in himself. My ability to give up my resentment about not having regular deep self disclosure with him freed both of us. I no longer blame him for my loneliness. In turn, he has more patience in listening to me figure out what I am feeling and trying to say. His solution oriented thinking sometimes opens a window to something that I couldn’t see before. I have gotten better at shortening my dialogue and making requests succinct, which works for both my sons and my husband.

Our progress towards bridging the communication gap has been a long road. Raising sons has helped me to de-personalize the communication issues with my husband. I still recommend and credit ‘The Wonder of Boys’ for the first time that I truly understood that my husband’s communication (and lack of it) wasn’t a punishment directed at me, but was a normal reflection of what it means to be male. Improving your communication with your partner begins by valuing the differences that drive us each to speak. It brings new meaning to the question ‘Can we talk?’

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