How Your Communication Style Affects Your Marriage

How Your Communication Style Affects Your Marriage

One of the challenges of working with couples is finding a way to get at the individual pain lying beneath the problems being presented. This requires the ability to read between the lines of what is being said to reveal what is being felt. It is during this process that a couple’s style of communication is exposed. This pattern of communication is a function of each of the partner’s individual style and their way of responding to each other. Changing any one of these three things will result in a new and, hopefully, more effective manner of communication.

Gender differences in communication

The first step in changing a pattern of marital communication is to identify your and your partner’s communication style. This identification begins with the general differences in the ways men and women communicate. Men are often very direct and want to get to the heart of the matter and resolve it quickly. Women, on the other hand, commonly phrase their requests in softer, more indirect terms. They also tend to want to examine an issue from many angles before working to reach a solution.

These gender differences also come into play during a discussion as well. My male clients frequently report feeling outgunned during a conversation with a woman. Their partners fire questions and statements at them so quickly they become lost or overwhelmed. When they try to retreat to gather their thoughts, their partners advance with more words and feelings. It is at this point in a discussion that men give in just to get away. Resentment builds over not being given the time to gather their thoughts and present their case. In therapy this pattern of interaction is known as Pursuer—Distancer. He tries to break away to assimilate all the information he’s been given but she continues pushing for interaction. What he learns at this point is that it is not in his best interest to participate in a conversation so he keeps his thoughts and feelings to himself. His partner feels shut out and fears losing him so she presses him to talk more. This pattern continues to build, along with its accompanying resentments and frustrations, until every conversation leads to a conflict. When this occurs, nothing gets resolved and blame is heaped on one’s partner for not being able to communicate.

Conflict avoidance

Another pattern of communication which appears regularly among my clients is that of conflict avoidance. I have met very few people who deliberately seek out conflict I do, however, know many who actively avoid it. Many of these people grew up in homes where they either never experienced conflict, so it scares them, or it was so much a part of their lives they don’t want anything to do with it. These individuals have learned that expressing their thoughts and feelings is either uncomfortable or actually painful. It is hard to get them to express an opinion let alone ask for a need to be met. They communicate by addressing an issue indirectly, using inference or example. When faced with a direct question they frequently give in even if it isn’t what they really want. Their behavior suggests their viewpoint or feelings aren’t as valid as those of others and certainly not worth creating a disturbance over. When this pattern is present, trying to resolve an issue is like trying to catch a fish barehanded—a lot of effort is expended but usually you end up with nothing.

If any of these patterns sound familiar, or if your level of communication is not where you would like it to be, paying attention to how you approach a discussion or how you handle confrontation may be worth some thought. Changing your part in the established communication pattern may result in better problem solving and a more harmonious relationship. If you would like more information about how to communicate with your partner go to

© 2007 Cary Home Times

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