Recently, I was working with a husband and wife who also own and run a business together. One of the issues that came up was their differences in communicating, and how this creates challenges in their relationship (both personally and as co-managers).
I used a “word picture” that helped illustrate the difficulties they are experiencing in communicating with one another. [Like most things, word pictures have their pro’s & con’s. On the one hand, they can powerfully paint an image that drives home a key concept. On the other hand, if taken too far they “break down” in their ability to communicate clearly.]
Women often say to me, about their husband, “He just doesn’t get it. He doesn’t understand what I am trying to say.” They go on to complain about how he is a poor communicator and a terrible listener. While this may be true, I try to explain the situation this way.
Communication is not “all or nothing”. Most guys can communicate some (give us a break here, gals). But how they communicate and what they communicate are often qualitatively different than the messages their wives send.
It is like this. There is a broad spectrum of communication media. In the old days (only used rarely now), there was morse code. Morse code is made of those beeps that make up dots and dashes on telegraph wires. Beep, beep, (pause), beeeep, beep . . . There is a single tone. It has no words (the sounds make up letters, which make up words) but it is a form of communication.
Then there is AM radio. More information is sent — including words and music. But the spectrum of the frequency of sound communicated is limited — it can sound sort of “tinny”. But it is a lot more full than morse code. We then can move to FM radio — a deeper, richer fuller sound and tone. There is a richness communicated in classical music (and classic rock) that AM radio just can’t do.
But we are still only sending audio information. So let’s move to television — starting with black and white, and then color. Now we have a whole new set of information being communicated — auditory + visual — we get pictures and moving visual images versus just sound. The breadth of information that is communicated has multiplied significantly.
Finally, let’s go to 3D movies (with THX sound, of course). Wow, now you are talking! Rich, loud sound. Beautiful color images that look like real life in three dimensions. The breadth, depth and scope of what is being communicated is amazing.
The problem is: some people (usually guys) are only built with the equipment to send and/or receive morse code or AM radio frequencies. So it doesn’t matter how hard their wife tries to communicate effectively in television or 3D mode, he only “gets” part of the information. The rest of the waves just harmlessly bounce off of his forehead. He truly doesn’t get it. And for many, guys. They just can’t. They don’t understand the depth of feelings and emotions their wives experience and try to share.
So now matter how hard he tries, or how hard she tries, there is an element of lack of connection. It (usually) isn’t because he doesn’t want to; he just can’t communicate at the same level — he doesn’t think that way (e.g. in color, if he is a black & white TV), and the messages don’t get through to him.
Sorry to burst some of your bubbles, gals (some of you younger wives won’t believe me yet) with a shot of reality.
So what is the answer? Several applications, really.
1. Understand the level of complexity at which you communicate. Then try to understand the level at which your spouse/significant other communicates. Do your best to match your communication with their style (“Just the facts, ma’am).
2. Don’t expect your AM radio partner receive and understand TV signals. Adjust your expectations to reality. (A special word of encouragement for those of you married to male, introverted engineers and accountants.)
3. Find others in your life — friends, sisters, mothers — who communicate at the same level you do, and experience your deeper life support and communication with them. Living a life in an AM radio world when you have color TV capabilities is boring and frustrating. Get your needs met in these relationships, and continue to communicate as effectively as possible with your spouse.
A couple of other suggestions. Morse code receivers cannot receive as much information as an FM radio. They can’t process it quickly enough and get overloaded easily. Too many words and too much emotion can do the same for guys.
Also, note that I have been largely talking about male/female differences, but these issues occur within same gender relationships as well. Some guys are wired more complexly than others, and are more reflective and aware of their feelings. These guys have a hard time connecting with those who are more “just the facts, ma’am” type. And some gals want to go “deeper” in their conversations and relationships than others.
Not sure how to end this, except: beeeeeep, beep (pause) beep, beep, beep. Hang in there, gals. I am sure there is a good reason why guys can’t communicate at the deeper levels you do — we just need to figure out what it is. [Kudos to my wife, who as a 42″ flat-screen HDTV, has endured living with an old FM tube radio for 30 years.]