Couple Communication: Bridging the Gap

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus" by John Gray. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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What makes for healthy couple communication? What are some communication tips that can repair misunderstandings in romantic relationships?

According to John Gray, the author of Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus, almost all relationship problems can be attributed to errors in couple communication. The fundamental reason these errors happen is that men and women essentially speak a different emotional language.

Keep reading for John Gray’s advice on how to improve couple communication.

What Makes for Healthy Couple Communication?

Almost all relationship problems stem from errors in couple communication. In order to communicate successfully, you have to be respectful of the innate differences between you and your partner.

Good couple communication requires both partners to make small changes that reflect the way their partner would most like to be loved. 

  • Men have to communicate how much they care about their female partner.
  • Women have to communicate how much they trust their male partner. 

Understand the Language of the Opposite Sex 

You probably wouldn’t expect two different species from two different planets to speak the same language—so why would you expect men and women to communicate in the same way? 

A man and a woman can hear the exact same words and glean two completely different meanings. These little misunderstandings often build into big arguments. The first step to avoiding unnecessary arguments is to understand the natural differences in the way you communicate:

  • Men talk to communicate information. They tend to speak literally and succinctly. 
  • Women talk to communicate feelings. They tend to generalize, hyperbolize, and use poetic language to express themselves. 

Because men and women use their words differently, they often misunderstand each other and end up in arguments. 

For example: 

Tammy is frustrated and says “You never listen to me!” Her husband, George, responds earnestly, “I’m listening right now.” This upsets Tammy, and she storms out.

Because George forgot that Tammy is from Venus and likely to hyperbolize, he took her statement literally. He wanted to comfort Tammy with his response, but Tammy only became more frustrated. Tammy forgot that George is from Mars. She interpreted his response as an attempt to invalidate her feelings. 

When you learn to translate your partner’s words and understand the intended meaning behind them, you’ll be able to avoid arguments by eliminating miscommunication. 

Couple Communication: Translate Venusian to Martian

Most of the time when women generalize to communicate their feelings, they are also hinting to their partner that they need a particular kind of support.

Here are some examples of common phrases used by women, what women actually mean by them, and how men often misinterpret their meaning: 

  • Women say: “We never go on dates anymore.”
  • Women mean: “I would love to go out with you sometime. We always have so much fun. Would you take me out to dinner soon?”
  • Men hear: “You aren’t making me happy anymore. You aren’t romantic. I’m bored with you.” 
  • Women say: “Our house is always a wreck.”
  • Women mean: “The house is messy right now, but I really need time to relax. Do you agree that this mess is out of control? Would you please split some of the work with me?
  • Men hear: “You make way too much of a mess. I’m always cleaning up after you. If you don’t stop acting like a lazy slob, I don’t want to live with you anymore.”
  • Women say: “You’re not in love with me anymore.”
  • Women mean: “I feel unloved today. I’m afraid I’m losing you. Will you reassure me of

your feelings? It would feel nice to hear you say that you love me.”

  • Men hear: “I’ve given you everything, and I don’t get anything in return. You are so cold

towards me. I have nothing if you don’t even care about me.”  

Can you see why men are often turned off by the things women say? Can you see why women often feel unheard? 

It is a challenge for most men to correctly interpret a woman’s dramatic language, recognize the implied request, and show support in the right way. Sometimes a man will suddenly stop communicating all together until he can figure out the right response, which is another example of a man going into his cave to find a solution to stress. 

Couple Communication: Translate Martian to Venusian

Because men use speech as a way to convey only the necessary information, they tend to use abbreviated sentences. Here are some examples of common phrases used by men, what men actually mean by them, and how women often misinterpret their meaning:

  • Men say: “I am OK.”
  • Men mean: “I will be OK once I deal with my upset feelings. Thank you for caring, but I don’t need help right now.”
  • Women hear: “I’m not upset because I don’t care about this conversation.” 
  • Men say: “Nothing is wrong.”
  • Men mean: “There is nothing wrong that I can’t handle by myself. Please don’t ask me what’s wrong again.”
  • Women hear: “I don’t know what’s wrong. I need to talk about it until I figure out what’s going wrong.” 
  • Men say: “No problem.”
  • Men mean: “It is not a problem for me to do this task. It’s my pleasure to do this for you.”
  • Women hear: “This shouldn’t be a problem. Why are you asking for help to solve this if 

it’s not a problem in the first place.”

Can you see why women often feel like their male partners don’t care? Can you see why men are often frustrated by their female partners asking them too many questions? 

It is difficult for most women to correctly interpret a man’s abbreviated sentences and recognize his need to process his thoughts alone. But once you have learned to translate Martian to Venusian, you’ll know that these phrases are warnings that your partner needs your support while he withdraws into himself to process his thoughts.

Avoid Giving Unsolicited Advice  

The most common complaint among women in relationships is that men don’t listen. Sometimes a man will completely ignore a woman when she speaks. Sometimes he checks out after listening for a short time. In either case, a man’s intention is usually to stop listening and start trying to find a solution that will make the woman feel better. He wants to be Mr. Fix-It.

The most common complaint among men in relationships is that women try to change men’s behavior. Sometimes, a woman will try to help a man by improving the way he does something. Often, she offers these suggestions without being asked. The woman’s intention is to help the man grow.

Unfortunately, because of the natural differences between men and women, Mr. Fix-It and the Home Improvement Committee often lead to conflict in relationships. The best way to avoid these conflicts is for men to learn to listen, and for women to learn to keep their advice to themselves until a better time. 

Give Advice the Right Way 

Now that you know how important it is to stop giving your partner unsolicited advice or constructive criticism, you might be wondering how to get your partner to change his behaviors that bother you. 

Let’s say that you aren’t a fan of the way your partner dresses. How can you communicate that to him without coming across as trying to change him? 

Remember, the first step is to successful couple communication is to fulfill each other’s love needs. Empower your partner by showing him acceptance. You might find that once he is secure enough in the relationship, he will begin to ask for your opinions and suggestions when he’s getting dressed. 

However, if you have tried patience and acceptance and your partner still hasn’t asked for your advice, you might have to try approaching him with criticism. Follow these steps to avoid conflict: 

  1. Don’t give a lecture. Be brief. Next time he is getting dressed, casually say “That’s not my favorite shirt. Would you try another one tonight?” If he is sensitive to your comment, simply apologize and let it go.
  2. Come back to it another time. Since he was sensitive the first time you mentioned it, wait a while before trying again. Try saying “Next time you wear your green pants, would you try them with your gray shirt?” 
  3. Be direct. One day, you could ask your partner “Can I take you shopping? I would love to buy you a nice new outfit.” If he says no, don’t try to push him. If he says yes, remember his previous sensitivities and don’t give too much advice while shopping. 
  4. Prepare him for the criticism. Say something like “I really want to tell you something but I don’t want to hurt your feelings. Would you listen to me and let me know how I could say it better?” This way, you’ve prepared your partner for the shock of receiving criticism. 

In each of these instances, you should be alone with your partner. Always wait to give your partner criticism until there is no one around for him to be embarrassed in front of.  

Final Words on Couple Communication

Successful couple communication in a relationship requires active participation from both partners. Both the man and the woman in the relationship have to practice translating the language of the opposite sex and communicating in a way that their partner can understand. Little changes have the power to make a big difference.

Couple Communication: Bridging the Gap

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  • Why it feels like men and women come from two different planets
  • How to navigate the gender-based differences in communication
  • The 6 things that men and women need in a loving relationship

Darya Sinusoid

Darya’s love for reading started with fantasy novels (The LOTR trilogy is still her all-time-favorite). Growing up, however, she found herself transitioning to non-fiction, psychological, and self-help books. She has a degree in Psychology and a deep passion for the subject. She likes reading research-informed books that distill the workings of the human brain/mind/consciousness and thinking of ways to apply the insights to her own life. Some of her favorites include Thinking, Fast and Slow, How We Decide, and The Wisdom of the Enneagram.

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