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Maintain a Healthy Relationship All Year Long

Exponent article by Dr Brian Kassar
Counseling & Psychological Services

Men are not from Mars, and women are not from Venus. Given that both sexes live right here on the planet Earth, it's helpful to understand different communication styles so that you can have a better idea of where your partner is coming from and keep your relationship running smoothly.

Conflict often arises due to differences in communication styles. "Communication" includes what we share, how we express needs/wants, the manner in which we listen, and how we express emotions. How a person communicates is influenced by personality, gender, and past family/relationship experiences.

The gender differences we often joke about certainly play a role in how we communicate. However, these are likely not inherent traits but more likely due to differences in how men and women are socialized. Men are socialized not to talk about problems or show "weakness" by expressing emotions, and they tend to be more solution-focused. Women tend to value the process of problem-solving through discussion and open communication of feelings. Unfortunately, women are often socialized to be passive or indirect in communicating their needs, which can leave both parties frustrated. These gender differences are generalizations and there are, of course, exceptions.

For same-sex couples, other societal factors may impact their communication. For example, internalized homophobia may inhibit a couple's comfort in expressing affection for each other. Because of homophobic prejudices and stereotypes, lesbian and gay couples may have difficulty seeing their relationship as valid, which could inhibit intimacy. This is not to say that, as a whole, gays and lesbians have difficulty with intimacy, but merely to illustrate how the internalization of negative societal messages may interfere with communication, just as similar internalization of stereotypical gender roles can inhibit a heterosexual couple's communication style.

Our families of origin also play a large part in how we communicate. Every family has their own style of communicating: How they argue, how they show anger or affection, what feelings are "allowable" to express, etc. will vary from family to family. We will take these dynamics with us into our relationships and they will likely differ from the communication styles that your partner learned in his/her family. The task for your relationship is to negotiate your own communication style within your partnership.

These styles and differences are illustrated to lead to a deeper understanding of communication and where your partner may be coming from. They are NOT intended to be used as excuses for avoiding change. In a relationship, each partner has the right to ask for what they want or need, and each partner has the right to decide how willing or able they are to make changes. In order to explore these issues, a partner must be assertive in expressing needs. A willingness to explore these issues is a sign of a healthy relationship; inabilities to do so may be a signal that a bigger change is in order.


View Text-only Version Text-only Updated: 12/17/08
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