Men talk to inform, women talk to connect
Written with Zivia Reischer
I think I’m a pretty good husband. I know a lot of guys get all caught up in work or business, but I’m very careful to give a lot of time to my family. It’s not always easy, but I make sure to be home for dinner almost every night. When I have to travel, I make sure never to be away over Shabbos. I try to take my wife out pretty often, maybe not every single week, but a couple times a month for sure. But she’s still not happy. She always complains that we never talk.
I don’t know what she’s talking about. We spend a lot of time together. We enjoy each other’s company. We talk all the time. How can she say we never talk?
In fact, I think we talk too much sometimes — she always wants to know every detail about every little thing. “What did he say, what did you respond, then what happened? Where did you go, who did you see there, what did they say?”
It drives me crazy. The worst is when she asks how my day was and I say fine. She gets all upset. “What does that mean, ‘fine’? What happened? You never tell me anything.”
I don’t get her. Fine means fine. Nothing happened. I’m not hiding anything from her. What does she want from me?
I’ll tell you what she wants from you — she wants to feel close to you, like she matters, like she is an important part of your life.
The Steipler Gaon writes, “The main hope of a woman is to have a husband who loves her. When she sees that this isn’t so, it crushes her spirit, and can be close to pikuach nefesh.”
You probably know this already. But you also have to know how to demonstrate it. And it’s tricky, because men and women are so different. The way a man naturally demonstrates love is not the way a woman naturally receives it. That’s why you feel that you’re giving her what she needs, but she doesn’t feel like her need is being fulfilled.
Male friendships typically revolve around the things they do together. Maybe they learn together, or they’re both DIYers, or they work together. They do things together. That’s the way the relationship starts and that’s what keeps the relationship going. What they do together is far less important to the relationship than the fact that they do things together. That’s what creates the connection and keeps it strong. Sure, they talk — but talking is less of a driver of the relationship than the activity they’re sharing.
But that’s not the way women connect. Women form friendships and maintain relationships by communicating. They talk and share with each other. They use communication to bring each other into their own inner world. That’s how they create a sense of bonding.
So we have a man, who bonds through shared activities, and a woman, who bonds through shared communication, and they get married. Then what happens? They each try to connect to each other using the system they’re most familiar with. For a man, that means doing things together. He might invite her to join him when he does the grocery shopping. What matters to him is that they’re spending time together. For a woman, though, connection is achieved through talking. And walking up and down the aisles at Target discussing the benefits of Tide over store-brand detergent doesn’t count. She needs to share the details of her life, and hear the details of her husband’s life, in order to feel connected. In fact, the Chazon Ish writes that a husband should share the small details of his day with his wife — where he went, what he did.
That’s what your wife means when she says, “We never talk.” She means, “We never bond by talking about our lives and what we’re each experiencing and thinking.” It’s wonderful that you make sure to eat dinner with her and take her out, and it’s an important first step, but in order to make it a special, bonding experience for her, you need to talk not only about the food and the venue. She needs to feel like she’s a part of your world, part of you.
Right now, she feels dissatisfied and you feel frustrated. But her dissatisfaction is actually the ultimate compliment. She wants to be close to you. If you can understand and fulfill her need to “talk,” you’ll be fulfilling her need to be loved and cherished, and you’ll both enjoy the most beautiful marriage.
Men talk to inform, women talk to connect.
Deborah Tannen is a social linguist who has authored several best-sellers that focus on the nature of men and women as revealed in their respective styles of speech.
She makes several important observations. One is that men and women talk for very different reasons. Men talk to share ideas or information. Women talk to connect.
For women, talk is the glue that connects the two parties in the relationship. Women talk to bring others into their world and bring themselves into the world of others. Women bond through talking. This couple is making a classic mistake: forgetting that talk means something different to men and women.
Ted Huston, a psychologist at the University of Texas, studied 130 couples intensively.
“For the wives, intimacy means talking things over, especially talking about the relationship itself,” Dr. Huston said. “The men, by and large, don’t understand what the wives want from them. They say, ‘I want to do things with her, and all she wants to do is talk.’ ”
I often ask kallahs, “Before you met your chassan, how much time did you spend talking to your friends on the phone every night?” The typical answer is two or three hours.
When I ask the chassan, he says, “Maybe ten minutes.”
It’s not only the husband who has to learn to be more forthcoming. Women have to learn to accept the male nature.
“My husband doesn’t care about me. He never tells me anything. I have no clue about his day. He keeps everything to himself. My friends tell me more than my own spouse!”
That’s because your friends are women. Your husband is a man.
During the early stages of their relationship — the infatuation phase, when everything feels magical — he wanted to talk for hours on end. Then the magic wore off, and the real work began. He has to learn to share and communicate. She has to learn that he’s not a woman; he probably won’t be able to handle as much talk as she does. Both spouses have a responsibility to the relationship. He has to learn how to connect through conversation and sharing. She has to recognize that it’s not natural for him. As a couple, they have to strike a balance. Together, they find the middle ground.
When both spouses are aware of the differences in their need for communication and their styles of communication, it will be easier for them to meet each other’s needs. Now that he understands that his wife is not interrogating him but merely expressing an interest in being close to him, he won’t mind her detailed interest in his day. It will be much easier for him to share with her to the degree that she longs for. At the core of her essence is a profound need for attachment to her husband. She needs constant reassurance of his love. By fulfilling her need to “talk,” he shows her that he cherishes her and she — and then, of course, he as well — will feel satisfied and happy in their relationship.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 884)
Oops! We could not locate your form.