In the age of modern dating where chatting on social media and dating apps is the norm, it's ironic how navigating communication in a relationship, is the biggest challenge. Amid the trend of flings and situationships dominating today’s dating culture, I feel fortunate to have been in a stable relationship for five years now. However, despite being together for years, I do still struggle to find common ground when it comes to communicating with my boyfriend.
After every argument, I gear up for a post-argument analysis, armed with flow charts and a list of potential solutions, while my boyfriend is peacefully asleep, having swept it all under the rug. Now letting things go isn’t always a bad thing, but it is his nonchalant behaviour that leaves me clutching onto my unresolved issues. And after some heart-to-heart with my girlfriends, it seems I'm not the only one sailing in this boat. I often hear remarks like, “Why is it so difficult for him to understand me?” or “I feel like he doesn’t listen to me.”
And so my quest to find answers (or a solution) led me to Sophia Peermohideen, a psychologist and psychotherapist, who revealed a few factors that lead to the communication gap.
According to Dr Peermohideen, the ancient scrolls of stereotypes may hold more truth than we thought. “Neurological findings indicate that the female and male brains are wired differently,” she revealed. “Men often prioritise tasks, while women are all about relationships. Men’s conversational style? Independence. Women’s? Connectedness.” For instance, a man may favour task-oriented communication, while a woman leans towards relationships. During conflicts in a relationship, these differences can lead to misunderstandings, with men focusing on solutions and women seeking emotional connection.
Turns out it’s not just about brain wiring; cultural factors also play a role in the communication gap. “Family is the first agent of socialisation. There is considerable evidence that parents socialise sons and daughters differently,” says Dr Peermohideen. “Boys will be boys” might have justified the roughhousing, but it's more about how boys are taught to be less emotional and expressive from an early age.
While many men can be inexpressive, women tend to have layered communication styles. For instance, when I tell my boyfriend, “I don’t want to talk right now,” I definitely want him to try to talk to me and give me attention. However, more often than not, he might take it in the literal sense and actually give me space, causing me more distress. As Dr Peermohideen rightly mentioned, “Men complain about problems because they are asking for solutions, while women complain about problems because they want their problems to be acknowledged.” Relatable? Sometimes, feeling heard and loved does most of the healing and we feel confident that it will be all okay.
Men, who aren't very verbally expressive, also tend to exhibit fewer facial expressions as compared to women, creating differences in how emotions are conveyed. Is it possible that due to this, they also sometimes, fail to decipher our expressions? Maybe. This can sometimes lead to missed cues and misunderstandings but understanding the differences in communication styles will help keep expectations in check.
Men frequently use pats, back slaps, and dominant gestures, while women lean towards hugs and supportive touches for connection. Picture this: after a success, a man might celebrate with a hearty pat on the back, while a woman might share the joy with a hug.
Problem-solving vs. empathy
Men often approach complaints with a problem-solving mindset, looking for solutions. In contrast, women express their concerns to evoke empathy and emotional support. Consider a tough day at work—a man might share to figure out solutions, while a woman might simply want someone to calmly listen to her and understand her feelings.
While understanding the distinct communication pattern doesn’t completely solve my problems (and those of women like me), it does give me some clarity. At the very least, it helped me understand that it’s not that my boyfriend “doesn’t care”, but maybe he is wired (or conditioned) in a different way. The best way to bridge this communication gap is to ditch stereotypes and listen to each other with an open heart, embrace the differences in communication styles, and appreciate the fact that there's no one-size-fits-all approach—it's about understanding each other and working together. Another thing to consider is that both partners should put in the work to adjust to each other's communication styles and love languages, instead of going for the 'this is who I am' approach. Don't lose your individuality but meet each other mid-way!