5 Aspects of Communicating the Average Guy Struggles With
There’s a common perception that men communicate differently than women in life, but especially in their relationships, regardless of who they’re dating..
Whether that’s true or not, it’s fair to say that some guys could stand to benefit from a little communication upgrade. Beyond just helping you iron out disagreements and misunderstandings, becoming a better communicator can seriously improve your connections with the people already in your life and the people you’ll meet going forward — and it might even improve how you communicate with yourself.
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With that in mind, here are five misconceptions about communicating that many men still have (and could stand to improve on) — along with quotes from real women on what they wish men knew about the issue.
1. They Struggle With Talking About Emotions
“[I wish guys knew] when women share their feelings, they are able to be fully accountable for them, and are not always intending to place any amount of blame on their man. This can be very difficult for a man to grasp as they often feel great responsibility for their partner’s emotional well-being.” – Iz, 25
Whether it’s listening to a friend vent, or digging deep and talking about their own feelings, many guys are at a loss. And that’s not entirely their fault — from a young age, girls are typically socialised to be conversant in emotions, whereas boys are … well, not.
“Many men have not been raised to value their emotional selves,” says Jor-El Caraballo, a relationship therapist and co-creator of Viva Wellness. “The ‘man up’ or ‘shake it off’ attitude is rampant in many cultures in an effort to build ‘strong,’ resilient boys and men. The problem is that for people who are socialised as boys, this is reinforced over and over again, and then it becomes difficult for men to discuss their emotions as they get older.”
As Lesli Doares, host of the internet radio program “Happily Ever After Is Just the Beginning” and author of “Blueprint for a Lasting Marriage: How to Create Your Happily Ever After with More Intention, Less Work” points out, that dynamic isn’t just foisted on young boys — grown men are also sometimes shamed for letting their emotions out.
Ironically, it can occur in the very same romantic relationships they’re in; relationships that could greatly benefit from greater emotional openness and transparency.
“Women say they want men to be open and vulnerable, but [many] still want to see them as strong and invincible,” says Doares. “It is a tough line for men to walk, so even if they are aware of their emotions, they don’t feel they can share them. The first step is for men to become aware of all their emotions. They have been taught to shut down some of them without realising that it shuts them all down. Learning to feel them is necessary before they can be expressed in a confident way.”
If you find yourself struggling to get to that place of openness and vulnerability with your romantic partner, it might be worth seeng a professional first. A licensed therapist or counselor could help you understand your emotions, their causes and their end results in a clearer way. As Beth Liebling, founder of sex toy boutique Darling Way and host of the “Love and Laughter With Beth” podcast notes, emotional support — much of which comes through conversation — is a bedrock of strong relationships.
“I like to explain that each of us needs to be a 3-year-old sometimes, but in an adult relationship, we need to take turns,” she says. “[Many] breakups happen when both want to do so at the same time and neither person is willing to take their turn being the adult and giving more than they are receiving in a particular moment.”
2. They Struggle With Being Clear and Direct
“I wish (straight white cis) men understood that women are often already putting up with a lot of annoying things [men do], and so then when those women do or say something annoying to them, instead of being hurtful, they could somehow take into account how much space they’re being given to be flawed instead of instantly being judgmental of these women.” – Lea, 26
One aspect of communication that men struggle with — particularly when it comes to talking with women — is varying levels of directness. Because men are socialised to speak in direct ways with each other, encountering a more nuanced conversational approach can throw ‘em for a loop. It’s that discrepancy in directness that’s to blame for the stereotype many guys adhere to that women are impossible to understand. Rather, it’s just that they communicate differently.
“Men think women don’t say what they mean because, traditionally, they don’t,” says Doares. “Women have been taught to be ‘nice’ and not ask for things, so they do it in roundabout ways.”
What does that look like in practice? Well, according to Doares, it could be as simple as dropping hints rather than making requests.
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“Statements such as, ‘Hey, I heard about this new restaurant….’ instead of ‘Hey, can we go to this new restaurant on Friday?’ Or ‘Susan at the office said she had a great time this weekend when she and her husband went to…’ and you’re supposed to figure out that she wants to go there, too. Some of this is changing, but it’s about not wanting to ask directly and be told no.”
Regardless of your partner’s gender, if you’ve noticed miscommunication around that kind of nuanced approach to requests cropping up in your relationship, consider talking it out and seeing if you can come to a compromise of sorts with one of you being more assertive while the other tries to be more attentive. Even being able to ask a question like, “Wait, when you brought up that new restaurant… Was that a subtle way of saying you wanted to go?” could go a long way towards much smoother and easier communication.
“The best bet in avoiding miscommunication is to focus on exploring,” says Caraballo. “Ask more questions. Be curious about your partner and [their] needs. Really taking the time to listen to understand, and not respond, can go an incredibly long way.”
3. They Struggle With Listening
“[I wish guys knew] that not saying anything, and responding to open-ended questions like ‘how was your day’ with one-word answers is not communication. But also talking at me for half an hour while I politely smile and nod and maybe try to ask some follow-up questions that you mostly ignore to continue unchanged on your train of thought is also not communicating.” – Meredith, 30
Since time immemorial, men have accused women of being overly chatty. Regardless of who talks the most, however, in recent years, there’s been an increasing sense that in fact, men are the bigger talkers.
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Particularly when they’re in conversation with a woman, many men seem to hold forth at length about their thoughts, opinions, feelings and so forth. Of course, that’s totally fine — so long as you leave space in the conversation for the other person to do the same. And yet the tropes of the mansplainer, the reply guy, the questionless date and others persist. How can guys strike the right balance where they don’t feel walked all over, but neither does the other person?
“The average guy needs to understand two things,” says Doares. “1. He is entitled to think, feel, and communicate in an authentic way, and 2. How to ask clarifying questions so he can get a better grasp of how his partner communicates.”
The notion of asking clarifying questions is a powerful one. In essence, when you ask your partner how they’d like you to communicate, you’re listening about listening. That might seem a little meta for your tastes, but what you’re doing is acknowledging that communication isn’t the easiest thing in the world and it is worth putting effort into. That makes a powerful statement around doing something that doesn’t require saying a single word.
4. They Struggle With Difficult Questions
“[I wish guys knew] that saying ‘yes, dear’/the right thing in the moment is not a good strategy if there’s no follow-through.” – Anne-Marie, 25
The notion that women ask men emotionally fraught questions to which there are no right answers, specifically designed to provoke a dramatic reaction — the classic one being “Does this dress make me look fat?” — is well-cemented by pop culture.
Doares thinks that this “trap question” is more an issue of low self-esteem. In other words, rather than a specific question automatically going south, it’s just one that’s opens up a conversation topic that can easily turn bad because it’s pre-loaded with lots of emotional baggage.
“I’m not sure women are trying to make guys feel bad, but they often don’t believe their guy finds them beautiful, smart, etc., despite what they say,” she says. “This is a woman’s picture of herself. She sees all the imperfections and believes her partner sees them too but is just trying to make her feel better.”
It’s not surprising, then, given how much of our cultural discourse is around women’s looks (specifically, their body shape), that women asking their male partners for reassurance about their looks or their weight could go badly. But it’s also worth noting that, even if it’s not a “trap” question per se, it might not be a healthy question — either to ask or to answer — if it’s becoming a common thing.
“If this is something that your partner does often, could you communicate how that feels for you?,” says Caraballo. “What if you asked, ‘Are you really asking me if you look fat or are you looking for a different answer?’ Odds are, she might want to feel seen and attractive to you in that moment. That’s understandable but posed in a really dubious way which can build resentment over time.”
5. They Struggle With Being Non-Competitive
“[I wish guys knew] that communication requires an intimate level of caring where you welcome the possibility of being in the wrong; that real communication requires openness and depth of feeling.” – Nina, 29
In the world of all-male communication, it’s common for a conversation to become a competition, whether explicitly or implicitly. If you’re used to interacting with your male peers in competitive ways — and many male-leaning hobbies, like sports and gaming, are — it can be tough to turn that aspect of your thinking off.
But a good conversation, especially a serious one, is rarely anything like a competition. In a relationship, trying to outdo or shame your partner in an argument is likely to make things worse rather than better. Caraballo suggests approaching conflict not with the mentality of what someone did wrong, but with how it made you feel.
“When you communicate with your partner, sharing problems from the ‘I’ perspective is often overlooked but so important,” he says. “Instead of saying ‘You did x’ and ‘Why did you do y?,’ which breeds defensive behaviour, try speaking from the personal ‘I’ and saying ‘I felt hurt when you did x’ or ‘I felt so frustrated and confused when you did y.’”
According to Caraballo, this helps to“reduce misunderstandings and demonstrate patience and compassion rather than your communication feeling like an attack on their character or personhood.”
Acknowledging that you have a subjective take on the situation rather than a completely objective one shifts the focus away from a right-versus-wrong mentality to one where you can both share how you felt and arrive at a middle ground — or at least a common understanding.
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