Sometimes, it seems like all men care about is reaching a solution, when women just want to be listened to. This communication conflict can leave couples feeling stuck, unheard, and frustrated. However, by understanding the motivation behind the Fixer and the Listener you can have a better chance of resolving your communication conflict.
Men Want to Fix the Problem
Traditionally, it seems that men fall into the role of “The Fixer.” Whether this is due to biology, society’s expectations, or both, this seems to be the classic role that men fall into when a couple is having a discussion. Robert Leahy in the Huffington Post writes that men think that the purpose of communicating is to solve a problem, and that venting your feelings is not productive. This thinking can have significant consequences when men are talking with their partners.
For many women, what is just as important to finding a solution is being understood and heard. This means discussing the situation with their partner so that both understand what is going on. In short, their priority is not just about the end result, but also about the process. When that process is interrupted, they may feel hurt, misunderstood, or unheard.
Conflict of Goals
The communication conflict that occurs is one of goals. For the guy, it is to find a solution, for the woman, it is to discuss the problem. Both are important, but they are competing goals, which can result in:
- One or both sides becoming frustrated with the other.
- One or both sides feeling unheard.
- An escalation in tension, such as arguing.
- Shutting down or mentally pushing away the other person.
Over time, these exchanges the couple can build up resentment towards each other that could lead ultimately to a break-up.
Ways to Avoid Communication Conflict
Couples can take steps to avoid this communication conflict. Some ideas include:
- Starting at the start of the conversation what your goals are: “I just need to get this off my chest” or “I am trying to figure this problem out and could use your help.”
- Designating who talks when: it’s annoying when the other person jumps in and starts talking when you aren’t finished.
- Asking if she is open to suggestions.
- Asking to if you can finish what you are saying before he begins offering suggestions.
- Agreeing to take a timeout to pause if it seems like the discussion is turning into an argument.
The Art of Active Listening
For both sides, it can be helpful to practice active listening to avoid communication conflict. Active listening encourages the listener to do the following:
- Make eye contact with your partner.
- Listen to what others have to say.
- Repeat, in your own words, what was said.
- Seek clarification if needed.
- Avoid judgements of what was said. Avoid saying things such as, “that’s stupid” or “that’s ridiculous.”
When practicing active listening, do it in a space that is free from other distractions, such the television or computer. Don’t try to have the conversation when one or both of you is doing a task. This allows you to give your full attention to the discussion.
Effective communication is something that can take time to refine, but the best way to get there is by practice. By making the effort to work on their communication skills, such as by practicing active listening, a couple can both be understood and work together to find resolution to problems. This in turn can help them to avoid any communication conflict and instead help both to feel understood and heard.
To read more about men’s communication styles, visit Phil Fauerbach’s Relationship Counseling for Men page. If you’d like help communicating with your spouse or strengthening your relationship, please call Philip J Fauerbach, LMHC and schedule an appointment at (813) 651-1221.