When you’re sharing your day or a genuine crisis, is your man’s response, “What’s that, honey?” Yelling at him won’t help him be a better listener. But these talking tips from relationship experts will. You have so much to share with your man – from your boss’s latest passive-aggressive move to the funny things your girlfriend said. But your partner’s eyes desperately dart from your face to the game on TV.
He’s just not listening. Let’s face it. We expect our partners to listen like girlfriends do. But that’s never going to happen. Not because men don’t want to, but because they respond to different cues than women are programmed to provide. “Seemingly senseless misunderstandings … can in part be explained by the different conversational rules by which men and women play,” Georgetown linguistics professor and communication specialist Deborah Tannen points out in her article, “Can’t We Talk?”
“Learning about different conversational frequencies [between the genders] can banish blame and help us truly talk to one another,” she says. How do we do that? By learning a few simple talking tips to bridge that gender gap. Here’s how to talk to men and really get them to hear you.
Why men don’t listen reason #1: You expect him to agree with you.
When you started dating, your guy was a great listener. But then came that day he sided with your boss… and you tore him to bits. That’s because women think that agreement is a show of support, while men often like to play devil’s advocate.
If he thinks you just want him to agree, he won’t have any incentive to listen. Nobody likes suppressing their honest opinions or feeling compelled to agree with someone they think is wrong.
Relationship do: Create a safe space for conversation, says Laurie Puhn, a couples mediator, lawyer and best-selling author of Fight Less, Love More (Rodale Books).
Tell your partner you want to hear what he thinks – and that you’ll listen this time without criticism. Accept that sometimes, you just won’t share the same opinion. And because it may not come naturally to him, let him know that there are other times – like after a fight with your boss – when you really just want to know he’s on your side.
Then do it. If you find yourself biting your tongue or wanting to argue, fight the urge. Also, focus on what your man’s opinion reveals about him, says Alison Armstrong, founder of PAX Programs, an educational forum for gender communication that helps women better understand and relate to men. If you listen this way, you’ll hear what’s behind that opinion – like his commitments, passions, integrity and dreams, she says.
Why men don’t listen reason #2: You get bogged down in the details.
Women often feel that sharing every detail of a story is a way of building intimacy, of helping your man understand what you’re going through. In reality, he’s more interested in getting to the point. From a man’s perspective, women provide too many details, Puhn says. He’s more interested in getting to the point. You might be five minutes into a story before you ask him a relevant question. For some men, that’s too long.
Relationship do: Remember that he is interested in how you feel and what you have to say – but since you’re coming to him for advice, he cares more about how to help you solve the problem than he does about hearing every detail of it.
If you notice him growing impatient, try keeping your comments clear and direct, focusing on the essential points, says Robert Leahy, Ph.D., clinical psychologist and author of dozens of books, including The Worry Cure.
Ask your question first. Then, share the facts – limiting your story to two or three minutes. Pause, ask for his thoughts, and wait. Changing your conversation style takes discipline, Puhn says. But this way, you won’t lose him to the swirling pool of TMI.
Why men don’t listen reason #3: You’re trying too hard to impress him.
He’s impressed. He must be: He’s with you. But feminism did something strange to love and dating: It got women talking about the stuff we do, says Donna Sozio, co-author of The Man Whisperer (Adams Media). Men spend their whole lives jockeying with other guys for status and respect. He doesn’t want to have to compete with you too.
So let him know when things are going well, but try not to brag too much about your new Mercedes or finishing your first Iron Man triathlon. “It’s impressive … but it’s not getting us love,” she says, adding that men are programmed to woo us with their accomplishments, not the other way around. Men need to feel like they’re providing, she says, adding that they fall in love with our quirks – not our trophy wall.
And while lots of men are proud of their high-achieving partners, others are still intimidated by an accomplished woman.
Relationship do: Do what you do. Stay your amazing self.
And at home, make sure you let him know you think he’s amazing too. “You can be masculine in the office,” Sozio says. “But in a romantic situation, be the feminine energy and have him protect you.”
Why men don’t listen reason #4: He’s doing something else.
He’s watching the game or trying to finish an email. But you need advice or an answer to a question, and he can multi-task, right? Not always.
Relationship do: Be patient. If you prompt him, you’ll interrupt his thought process – and you might end up getting little, if any, communication, Armstrong says.
Make sure he’s ready to listen before you start talking, Armstrong says. If he’s watching the game or trying to get to sleep, ask yourself if you really need to talk right then. Men aren’t as good at verbal multitasking as women are – and there are times when he wants to keep his mental focus on something else. To find out, ask him: “Is this a good time to ask a question?” If he says no, don’t take it personally. Just try again later. If you have a serious question, he might need time to think about his response. Ask your question and give him space. Then come back later.
Why men don’t listen reason #5: You forget to use your “pause” button.
You have a lot to say about everything – the movie that won Best Picture, your son’s day-care teacher, your husband’s clothing choices and his mother. You may think you need to get it all out “so everything is heard, or you fear your partner will jump in and take the floor” forever, says Leahy. While men view conversation as a means to an end, some women (not all) just like to talk, and can go on and on without pausing.
Instead, many men will just shut down.
Relationship do: Remember that a conversation goes two ways.
Slow down, edit yourself and ask for feedback. If you want your partner’s help solving a problem, be direct. Ask questions, and give him a chance to contribute, says Leahy, or he’ll start tuning you out.
Why men don’t listen reason #6: Your emotions are running high.
Your girlfriend made you angry today. You know she means well, but how could she think that was the right thing to do? To you, it’s venting. You want him to listen, nod his head, give you a hug and make you feel better. To him, it’s scary. He doesn’t know how to calm you down or give you advice. He can barely even follow your train of thought.
“It’s scientifically proven that when men get emotionally aroused, their pulse rates go up,” Leahy says. Their responses might make you angry: Some men think listening to a rant means validating what they perceive as whining. Or they’ll rush to solve the problem just so the conversation can end, he adds.
Relationship do: Before he shuts down or offers solutions you don’t want to hear, let him know you appreciate having his ear.
Men naturally respond to problems by trying to fix them, so if all you want is for him to listen, let him know. Your tirade probably isn’t fun for him, but he is listening. So remember to thank him for caring enough to hear and support you, Leahy says. And then, maybe switch to a lighter subject.
Why men don’t listen reason #7: You expect him to be interested in everything you’re interested in.
He’s into beer, fantasy football and classic rock. You’re rambling on about wine, “Dancing With the Stars” and Lady Gaga. He yawns and doesn’t bother to suppress it.
Relationship do: Embrace your differences. Strong relationships happen between people with different interests.
It’s OK if he’s not interested in every aspect of your life. You’re not the same person, and you can’t expect to share everything, Puhn says.
Why men don’t listen reason #8: He can’t keep up.
You start out talking about one thing, and it reminds you of something else, so you launch into that topic, then another and so on. Along the way, you’ve lost your guy. For him, it’s like tracking a mouse in a maze – unnerving and exhausting.
Relationship do: Stop “tangent talking,” Puhn recommends. Stick to one topic at a time.
“Men’s brains tend to be single-focused,” Armstrong explains. For them, almost everything is an interruption. When talking to a man, “avoid most of what women do when we talk to each other,” Armstrong says. That means agreeing verbally, rephrasing your question, prompting the answer and nodding excessively, Armstrong says.
Why men don’t listen reason #9: He feels like he’s being nagged.
You don’t think of yourself as a broken record. But when your guy goes out to buy milk, you remind him – again – to get organic 2%. Once again, he brings home the non-organic whole milk, and once again you’re fighting.
Relationship do: Instead of phrasing your reminder as a request, turn it into a question. You could say, “Do you know which kind of milk to get?”
Few people remember by hearing. They remember by thinking through to get to the answer, Puhn explains. Or better yet, encourage him to download the phone app, “Remember the milk,” a reminder and task scheduler all in one. It works because the only thing most guys love more than their phones are new apps. He can enter the milk type once and have it in his phone for good, ending that argument so you can talk about more important things, like what he’s getting you for your anniversary.