As a psychologist, people will ask me what are the essential areas that can affect the success or failure of a marriage. I mention several factors including finances, extended families, and/or sexual compatibility. But by far the most important is communication. This crucial aspect for marital success can be one of the most challenging to overcome. Two sometimes overlooked features, personality and gender differences can contribute to barriers in communication, and if not understood could lead to the breakdown of the marriage. Let me dive into both.
Are you an Introvert or Extrovert? When an introvert marries an extrovert, communication challenges can arise. I am an introvert and married an extrovert. I will tell my husband at the end of the day, “Honey, I have used all of my words.” At first, he didn’t understand this because for him, talking gives him energy. For me, I need quiet time with no talking to recharge and then I am good to go! One can see potential problems when working through a conflict - for example, extroverts need to process their thoughts aloud whereas introverts need time to reflect and do not always want to talk it out in that moment. This can lead to further disagreement as both don’t understand the needs of the other. It can get even more complicated as you will see, when adding in gender differences.
Let’s face it - there are true differences in how men and women communicate. Dr. Deborah Tannen, a sociolinguist who wrote the book “You Just Don’t Understand” describes male/female differences in communication. Through her research, Dr. Tannen identified that status and hierarchy define men, where they give advice/information, just like one might do when giving a report. Women’s communication is more back and forth, with questions and clarification, developing rapport. Women don’t feel heard when men try and fix their problems and men feel frustrated when women don’t take their advice. The thing is both are right. But having successful communication in a marriage is not about being right - it is about focusing on the needs of your spouse and developing strategies where both people feel heard and understood.
Whatever the differences you might find in your marriage, communication is vital for success. Respect, being intentional, and patience is the key.
Let’s get talking!
Dr. Rhonda Perry Rivers Atlanta, GA